I’m grateful to Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis for this guest series on the practices of a flourishing faith in college.
Faithful Christianity in College (Part 1 of 3)
By Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis
The greatest challenge which lies ahead in college for a Christian is not getting good grades or being taught well by professors, although these are important. The greatest challenge is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Your professors and textbooks will not teach you how to do this, unless you attend a Christian college (but some Christian colleges may neglect this as well). Sadly, your church may also fail to help you in this area. Therefore, we offer the following principles for staying faithful to Christ—heart, soul, strength, and mind—as you continue your studies.
1. Find and attend a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. Every Christian needs to hear solid teaching and preaching and to experience biblical fellowship. Every Christian needs to regularly receive the steadfast truth of Scripture, especially in the midst of a college culture that is often very secular and ungodly. The church, as it follows Christ, gives us another—better— culture from which to derive meaning and significance. As Paul says, the true church stands firm as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
2. Read and study the Bible regularly. The Bible gives us a source of knowledge about God, the world, and ourselves that is not available otherwise. Consider the words of Paul, the Apostle, written to Timothy, a young Pastor:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.—2 Timothy 3:14-17.
The truth of the Holy Scriptures has a unique power to reveal truth.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.—Hebrews 4:12-13.
It makes sense that we should study, read, and even memorize the Bible, so that we may have and maintain a biblical perspective and approach to the world. As Paul says:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.—Romans 12:1-2 (see also 1 John 2:15-17).
Become a walking and talking Bible.
3. Study how to study the Bible. The Bible is not an easy book to read and understand, and therefore it is wise to read books on biblical interpretation. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for all It’s Worth is an excellent place to start (see the attached bibliography for more suggestions). For specific books of the Bible and when trying to interpret more difficult passages, use Bible commentaries by evangelical authors. Your pastor should be able to recommend good commentaries for you to use in your study. The more you understand how to read the Bible, the more you will be able to gain from your reading of it.
4. Be aware that many of your Christian beliefs will be challenged by your teachers and textbooks and other required readings. Be alert for this. Do not simply think, “I’ll do what I have to in order to pass.” Ask yourself, “Is this class teaching me the truth?” Sometimes, intellectual hurdles won’t come directly from the course material itself, but instead, from passing comments made by the teacher. To remain unswayed by these challenges, you need to do some extra work, extra reading. Become familiar with common objections to and misunderstandings of Christianity, so that you will not be easily caught off-guard. Very often, anti- Christian comments in the classroom or in required readings are rife with logical or factual problems that have been thoroughly answered elsewhere. It is also wise to seek some help from people who have been there and who are experts in defending the Christian worldview as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. Please consult the bibliography at the end of this essay for help in this vital task.
5. Keep lists of books to read and topics to research. In college, you will go through periods of time which will require much more coursework than at other times. So, you may not always have ample time to read and study outside of your classes. It is therefore a good idea to keep a list of recommended books to read and important questions to research for when your semester load temporarily lightens. Keep in mind that reading biblical studies, philosophy, and apologetics is not always easy at first, but your reading skill and comprehension will improve with practice. Studiousness takes discipline, but it yields abundant intellectual and spiritual rewards.
6. Consider your use of technologies, in and out of the classroom. Ask yourself whether the technology serves to help you grow more knowledgeable and holy. Although we must all rest and recreate, we are never called by God to waste time. Moses said to God, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12; see also Ephesians 5:16). Some video games, texting, and tweeting may simply be a waste of our limited time on earth. In the same vein, we must take care that we do not allow texting or email to take the place of personal interaction. A large part of learning requires spending time in extended, unmediated, physically present conversations with other people. It is here that you can best articulate to others what you are learning, and perhaps receive further sharpening in the process. Clear communication and nimble thinking require real-world practice.
Moreover, teachers who rely too much on PowerPoint may not be teaching in a way to serve real learning. So, choose your teachers (when you can) carefully. Further, on-line classes are usually inferior to in-person classes. This is because you often need to ask questions of your teachers in real time. In a live classroom, you can also interact with other students and potentially grow more in knowledge.
College can be a trying and testing time; and it is the time when many leave Christianity. Even if you go to a Christian college, you may not be immune to this problem. Too few students realize that Christianity is not meant to be fun or comfortable. Study the life of the apostle Paul for an example of a maximally uncomfortable life! Rather, the truth of Christianity is so solid that it can sometimes hurt when we collide with it. Yet because it is true, it is the only firm foundation for life. If you have identified with Jesus for any reason other than the fact that Christianity is objectively, absolutely true and thus relevant for all people at all times, then your faith is on unstable ground. All it takes to prompt the abandonment of such a shaky faith is finding a more enjoyable social group, seeing professors challenge the faith, or not knowing how to address key objections yourself. So, we exhort you to study, pray, attend church, and watch for parts 2 and 3 of this essay.
Douglas R. Groothuis is a Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, and Sarah Geis is an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary.