How To Get The Least Possible Out Of University Religion Classes

How To Get The Least Possible Out Of University Religion Classes September 1, 2015

Michael Kruger has made a video which describes his own experience of having taken classes with Bart Ehrman, who he depicts as attacking Christianity. He complains that youth groups do not prepare student intellectually for their experience at university. That is true – but what Kruger seems to want is not intellectual and academic preparation, but inoculation that will prevent students from learning new things at university. He seems not to realize that it is the inaccurate depictions of the Bible, Christian history, and other religions in fundamentalist Christian contexts which sets up students to lose their faith when they are confronted with more accurate information and other perspectives at university.

Instead, he encourages fundamentalist university students to assume that the perspectives offered by professors are not different from that of fundamentalist students because the professors know more about these subjects, but rather they supposedly differ because God has not opened the minds of these professors. That is insulting to the many Christian professors who disagree with Kruger’s narrow dogmatic stance on the basis of the evidence in the Bible itself, and who are convinced that they are not being unfaithful to God in being honest about these things. And it ignores the possibility that Kruger’s own narrow and unbiblical stance is itself due to God not having opened his mind.

Kruger emphasizes that scholars are not neutral – but doesn’t seem to realize that this applies to his fundamentalist biases, which are far more problematic than the secular ones he decries.

He also says something that fits no scholarly book or classroom I have encountered, namely that secular scholars present issues which have long been known about as though they are a new discovery. Perhaps he means that students from a fundamentalist background will hear them for the first time in this context – but that issue is with the selective teaching about the Bible they have received, and not with professors.

Kruger rightly says that the painful experience of being challenged leads to growth and depth. But he pretends that the ancient apologists merely preserved and did not change the faith they inherited as they had this experience.

And so, if you want to be well prepared for university and avoid losing your faith there, while learning and getting as much as you can out of your studies there, I think there is a good solution: get out of fundamentalism sooner rather than later, and don’t trade it for purely individual exploration, but find a community of people who share your faith heritage but who, unlike fundamentalists, will not hide awkward truths about the Bible from you.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I could not agree with this post more.

    When a professor exposed me to Wellhausen, I immediately shut out anything he had to say about anything because of fundamentalism. Regardless of the merits of Wellhausen, I could have learned a lot from that professor if I had just been critically open instead of ruling him out by default out of the gates. For all intents and purposes, it’s like those six months never happened, and that’s sad.

    A lot of the infamous college crises of faith are unnecessary in the sense that fundamentalism has made them crises.

  • Joshua Brainard

    Yes, as someone who went to a fundamentalist Bible college, this kind of approach is standard fare. About the idea that some scholars present old information as new, this is something I remember hearing specifically about Bart Ehrman, that his popular level books attempt to scandalize conservative readers with textual critical data that conservative Evangelical scholars have known and responded to decades ago. I admit that I remember feeling this way when reading some of Ehrman’s work a few years ago. Not that he is claiming it is new information or that there isn’t a conservative Christian response, just that you wouldn’t know if from the way he presents the material.

  • Pete E.

    Well James–you silly man–when you have the truth, you don’t need your mind opened, do you? You just need to open up everyone else’s mind. Fundamentalist Calvinists. Been around that block a few times.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      Sounds like your reason is being awfully autonomous.

      You’re welcome for taking you back, there.

  • eeenok

    fundamentalists have long thought in terms of “degenerates” who have muddied an earlier state of imagined perfection; and in this case they imagine that their authentic christianity is being attacked by radical new scholarship. but what they are too ignorant and uninterested to understand is that mainstream scholarship hasn’t gone anywhere: in the early 20th century fundamentalists failed to make their case in academia, and insulated themselves in their own institutions of “uncritical scholarship” with the express purpose of promoting a viewpoint that wasn’t supported by honest argument. now, in recent decades, they have developed the confidence of believing their own rhetoric and started to re-engage with the world. and they are getting their butts handed to them

  • It looks more like this is a video made by The Gospel Coalition that starred Michael Kruger.

  • markmatson

    Yes, the resonates so well.

    Again, teaching basic Old Testament, there is no way to be credible but note the strong differences between the two creation accounts (and two flood narratives, etc). My task is to help students actually read the text. Read it with integrity. And ask hard questions.

    But when confronted by “differences”… so many become shaken. That’s not my intention. But it is not my intention to let them be simply ignorant of the text. Once we know the nature of the text, we can seek explanations (authorship, genre, etc).

    But many churches want to start out resisting this, and label us as somehow attacking the faith.

    My comment to students: You should have faith enough to read the text for what it really says….

  • Nick G

    if you want to be well prepared for university and avoid losing your faith there, while learning and getting as much as you can out of your studies there

    If you go with the determination not to lose your faith, surely you have already set tight limits on what you are prepared to learn?

    • It depends what one means by faith. If it is understood as a set of beliefs, then you are absolutely right. If it is a worldview which is open to transformation and correction in light of new information, then not necessarily.

      • Nick G

        Can you describe more specifically what such a “faith” might consist of? Because that formulation is so vague that it is not clear what either retaining it or losing it would mean.

        • I don’t think that faith in the Tillichian sense is at all vague. I apologize if my cursory reference here was unclear. Faith can be understood as the state of being concerned with – having one’s life oriented towards and around – the Ultimate. One can, when faith is so understood, not only change the way one thinks about the Bible or scientific matters, but even what is ultimate, and still be ultimately concerned.

          • Nick G

            Faith can be understood as the state of being concerned with – having one’s life oriented towards and around – the Ultimate.

            OK, thanks, the reference to Tillich is useful. According to wikipedia:

            In 1957, Tillich defined his conception of faith more explicitly in his work, Dynamics of Faith.

            Man, like every living being, is concerned about many things, above all about those which condition his very existence…If [a situation or concern] claims ultimacy it demands the total surrender of him who
            accepts this claim…it demands that all other concerns…be sacrificed.”

            I think faith as so described is a very dangerous and often very destructive thing. Losing faith in that sense – realising that there is no “Ultimate” to which all other concerns should be sacrificed – would be the best possible result of education.

          • I highly doubt (following Tillich) that you can truly say that nothing is ultimate in your life. Something is always ultimate, and if it is not the truly ultimate and all-embracing, then it is something that is by definitionless than ultimate. That kind of focus Tillich regards as idolatry, and the placement of oneself, one’s family, or one’s nation, or whatever else in that ultimate spot is far more dangerous.

          • Nick G

            On what grounds do you doubt it? I’m a value pluralist. Just because neither you nor Tillich can imagine such a possibility does not make it incoherent or psychologically impossible.