Recently I published the first part of an essay from professor Douglas Groothuis and adjunct professor Sarah Geis, both of Denver Seminary. As of this posting, it ominously has 666 shares. In spite of this ill omen (please, all ye who assume evangelicals are idiots, see my tongue firmly planted in my cheek here), I’m going to forge ahead with the rest of the series. The care and nurture of faith in the college years is a subject near and dear to my heart, and professors Groothuis and Geis have solid advice here. So if you know some folks in college, perhaps some rising college freshman, or even if you like to think about faith and the life of the mind, please take heed:
Faithful Christianity in College (Part 2 of 3)
By Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis
Faithful Christianity in college requires more than simply remaining in the faith until you graduate. True, we should not stray from following Christ, but we cannot passionately embrace with our hearts what we have rejected with our minds. Because of the competing truth claims in college, we must strive to gain knowledge of the objective truth of Christianity, and then respond rightly to that truth through obedience and devotion to the one true God. If Christians are to remain faithful to God and thrive in college, we must deliberately cultivate virtuous minds (the intellect) and hearts (character). The following principles are meant to address both, and are a continuation of part 1 of this essay.
1. Remember to honor your parents in college, especially if you attend school away from your home city. It is easy to get so caught up in classes, new friends, and a new city that you neglect your mother and father. But God said: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). Whether or not your parents are Christians, they should be remembered and respected. If they are financially supporting you through college, cultivate and express your thankfulness to them. If they are Christians, they may have very good advice for you to follow. Since we should treat others as we would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), we should stay in touch with them. Your parents will miss you greatly and want to know what is happening in your life.
2. Be careful in choosing friends. College provides a way to meet many new people, some of whom are very different from you. You may meet atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, active homosexuals, cross-dressers, and many others who do not share your Christian beliefs and principles. This is good, since we should be “in but not of the world.” However, our friends should not come between us and the Lord. If someone is tempting or causing you to become slack in your Christian convictions or practices, you should reevaluate the relationship. Boundaries may need to be set. As Psalm One says:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers—Psalm 1:1-4.
We are similarly warned in Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”
3. Be a wise Christian witness. A witness testifies to what he knows. A wise witness is careful and deliberate about how and when to make the truth known. If we know Christianity to be objectively true, rational, and terribly important, we should try to make that known to others, by a godly life and the wise communication of Christian truth. The Apostle Peter tells us: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
4. Choose your battles wisely. You will encounter many ideas and lifestyles with which you do not agree. Bear in mind that the best way to influence people is to show that you love them as fellow image-bearers of God. When people know you care, they are more likely to listen to and consider your arguments. This requires not abusing any platform you are given. Learn to recognize what is most important, and stick to that. Furthermore, be relationally sensitive enough to know when to back off of a topic or person. Unwanted apologetic advances or moral advice can sometimes make the person you are talking to feel attacked, and can do more harm than good. For example, if someone does not even believe in any sort of divine being, you cannot reasonably expect them to see the value in a chaste life. This does not mean that you must condone all ideas or behaviors, but it does mean recognizing that some things are of secondary or tertiary importance.
5. Pursue wise and knowledgeable mentors who are older than you are. Find Christian individuals you highly respect for their intellectual skill and spiritual maturity, and interact with them regularly throughout your time in college. Most adult believers, even busy ones, are more than happy to help a college student navigate the complexities and frustrations of being a Christian in college. Such relationships can provide life-giving encouragement and stability. Even though many challenges you see and hear in college may seem new to you, most of it has already been experienced and confronted by generations past. As the teacher said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). (Who knows, perhaps you will one day even co-write articles with your mentor from college, as is the case here with Sarah’s college mentor, Douglas Groothuis.)
6. Spend time in prayer frequently. The Apostle Paul urged followers of Jesus to pray as a way of life (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He also said: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:19).
The Book of Psalms is the prayer book for the people of God. Spend time reading the Psalms and reflecting on them. Learn to pray along with the Psalmist. By praying, we show our dependency on God for wisdom and courage, we give our requests to God, we worship God, we thank God, and we pray for the well-being of others. This is central to the Christian life, in or out of college.
College presents numerous struggles, but it also may be a time when your knowledge of God and of yourself is deepened and enriched. We believe that applying the twelve principles in parts 1 and 2 of this essay will help you grow in your Christian character and conviction. Growth is not negotiable. College is a dangerous place, but Christians have nothing to fear as they follow the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Keep on the alert for the final installment of this essay, which is a detailed list of highly recommended resources.