That World Civ Class

It’s high school graduation time and we’re going through some themes in the new book Game Plan: Practical Wisdom for the College Experience (co-written by Nic Gibson). The first chapter (written by Nic) deals with what he calls “three converging dangers” that students face on secular campuses:

unlimited freedom, the absence of the comfortable Christian community they enjoyed in high school, and the potential assault on the heart and mind that comes from anti-Christian ideologies.

I vividly remember my World Civ teacher who proudly announced to the class early on that we should check our religion at the door, that if she offended our religious beliefs at some point, don’t worry because she’d be offending every religion eventually. She went on to make outrageous claims about the foundations of Christianity, that Jesus was married, and that he was a follower of John the Baptist’s (not the other way around), among other things. She said that this was history, that she had the research to prove it.

Thankfully, I mustered the strength to ask her about her “research,” prepared to write down dense scholarly texts that I’d have to pore through. In both cases, her primary source was…the Bible (yeah, that Bible): Jesus was married because the groom was responsible for the wine at a wedding so at the wedding in Cana (that John says “Jesus and his disciples were invited to”), when they went to Jesus for more wine, it meant he was the groom. And because the Bible reports that John the Baptist baptized Jesus, that means Jesus was a follower of John’s. I was relieved to hear that that was the extent of her research. But other college students may not bother to look for an answer: they’ll hear something like that and assume that what they learned at church is a myth.

How do we help them? Nic recommends spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, and fellowship, but also finding a spiritual mentor with whom the student can talk through any challenges he or she is facing. I don’t think I could have made it through without my mentors, and count it a privilege to be a mentor to others now.

What experiences did you have in your own World Civ classes? How did some of you make it through?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Patrick

    Scott,

    I think every Church ought to have a copy of “The Destruction of Jerusalem”, 1805. Awesome collation comparing various predictions of ultimate judgment on Jerusalem and Josephus’( and others) documentation of their fulfillment.

    It’s as close to a road to Damascus deal as there is, IMO.

    I had my faith challenged as a young man pretty severely. It caused me to look for all manner of ways to re-inforce my faith. That book is great, but, I sort of relied on various historical facts.

    It’s not that difficult with the internet to document various facts that buttress the accounts of His life, resurrection and His miracle working, His execution by the Romans and fortunately God gave us James, Peter and Paul and other eyewitness martyrs.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    I believe your example is the one that I am familiar with but is the least likely to be taken up by students, least of all freshmen. But, if you are a learner, there are constructive ways forward.

    The phrase “[I]/She had the research to prove it”, and similar comments are exactly the signal to all students: Pay Attention. First, understand what the faculty member is “proving”. [I'll leave that word, "proving", alone for the moment] Really take the time to understand what the claims are and the data to support the claims. *Even if you don’t agree with what you are hearing and understanding: make the effort to understand what is being “proved.”*

    Then, go visit the faculty member, and ask if your understanding is accurate: and don’t be smarmy. Get correction if need be: always a good thing. And in the same visit, ask the faculty member, “What are the other arguments for these claims?” Or: “What are the strongest arguments against these claims?” Avoid using some sneer or some thing like that: be a learner. From what I’ve observed in more than 16 years of college ministry: 99.9% of all faculty want students who understand them and who think beyond the content presented. Both.

  • RJS

    This is a very interesting post. I think Nic’s experience is quite common – and his response, asking about the evidence is exactly the right one. Often the evidence or reason behind an assertion from the “anti-christian ideology” is weak.

    But we also need to be aware that some of the assertions of typical evangelical churches are fragile (i.e. the evidence against is very strong). The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, there is no evidence for a global flood. The authorship of 2nd Peter, the date and context of the compilation of the pentateuch, … these are other areas where the arguments are not flimsy.

    This means that we need mentors in University communities who are knowledgable and intellectually honest.

    The faith stands up just fine, but much of Christian apologetic does not. (My perspective for what its worth after 30+ years as student, scholar, and professor at one of those secular universities.)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Wow, I did not know that Jesus was married. That’s great….thanks.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Sorry for my last snarky comment,….

    But I do want to just relay a problem that happens with my family that is not really a mainstream problem (at least I don’t think it is). I live in rural VA and my kids fell away from Christianity precisely because of the lack of support of rational thinking in this rural area. The last thing they want to be associated with is those Christian nuts that don’t know how to think and that are so judgmental.

    My oldest, now a freshman in college is actually starting to benefit from the University. He is see professors that think and philosophize, see students that are christian that are not idiots. He is softening and, depending on the day, is willing to say he believes in god again. So there is another side.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I had a HS teacher do something similar with the story of the Israelites escape from Egypt. He had once been in Catholic seminary and then left it and the RCC altogether. So, to tell HS students that God didn’t exist, he said that it was really the Sea of Reeds and just a swamp the Israelites had escaped, through. A strong wind was sufficient to blow back the water. Although I was pretty shy in HS (really!!) and didn’t make my solid commitment to Christ until college , I commented to him that it was a pretty convenient time to have just the right wind let the Israelites pass through the swamp and then quit in time to drown the Egyptians in a swamp! Thus, his “proof” of God’s non-existence seemed slim.

    I give most of my very liberal college professors credit – many of them were atheists or scornful of religion, but if my arguments were constructed soundly, with good evidence, structure, etc., I was almost never marked down for being a believer. (one prof did, for sure – the books assigned to the class gave her position away.) That said, I saw a lot of students who’d been brought up in the church founder on the arguments vs. Christianity that professors and fellow students gave (often with great glee). I agree with Nic that spiritual disciplines were key to my maturing in Christ and excelling in college. It would have been wonderful to have a mentor, too, and I’m very grateful that one of our children has had mentors. Her experience is all the better, thanks to them!


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