Monday, May 16, 2011

How a Christian Can Thrive at University

It was Youth Weekend at our church and we celebrated the youth groups with a special emphasis on the graduating Seniors. I remembered what a challenge college was for me spiritually. I have friends who went in solid Christians, and came out secular (and remain secular to this day). It’s not a friendly place for Christian thought. Thinking of these young men and women preparing to go into college, it got me thinking: what advice would I have liked when I headed to UCLA?

Find solid fellowship
Make this a priority. It is absolutely critical that you have a solid community to support you through this time. I don’t care how strong you think you are, a secular university can tear you apart without fellowship. If you prefer an on-campus fellowship (sometimes called ‘para-church’ organizations), there are usually plenty to choose from: Intervarsity, Navigators, Campus Crusade (and others). If you want to worship with more than just students, get plugged into a local church. Many people do both. Whatever you do, find strong community. Also, if you have strong Christian friends from high school, make it a point to stay in touch. Continue to hold each other accountable at least until other accountability partners are found.

Study your Bible
This is basic stuff, but don’t forget about it. John Lennox, an Evangelical and Oxford Mathematician told a group me and a group of graduate students to know our Bibles as well as we know our professional fields; a Christian neuroscientist should be as sophisticated in his knowledge of Scripture as he is of the brain. STUDY your Bible and find people who can help (including fellowship). Also, this is the 21st Century. Find Bible teachers online who you like and study under therm. I was greatly helped by Chuck Missler (, especially his “Learn the Bible in 24 Hours”) because of his scientific perspective and how well he’s able to show the beautiful connections in the Scriptures. I’ve also heard Ray Steadman’s “Through the Bible” is a solid series. The Internet is a big place; find someone whose teaching style speaks to you and learn from them.

Read and listen to Christian thinkers
There are three paths for your mind: 1. Apostasy. You may find the claims of Christ unbelievable and reject Him. I have seen this happen to solid Christians. 2. Split Mind. The path of a clear majority of Christians at the secular university is to quarantine Christianity from the rest of their thought. They may deny the existence of the soul, the creation of the universe and the possibility of freewill Monday through Saturday, but start believing in them again on Sunday without even knowing they’re doing this. They are not morally split (i.e. sinful 6 days a week); but mentally split. This is the wide road; this is the easy way. But your mental life is robbed of the vitality of the Gospel and you have no sure defense against a catastrophe of doubt. The third way is by far the hardest: 3. A Living Christian Worldview. You will be alone. In your classes, you will probably be the only one with a Christian worldview. You might even be the only one in your small group thinking about how to understand all of the world from a Christian perspective. You’ll need to work harder than all the other students to learn both what the professor believes, but also what Christians believe about the subject. And this goes for nearly every subject.

To follow this third way, you’ll basically need to get a minor in Christian Thought. Organized programs like this don’t exist yet (to my knowledge); you’ll need to teach yourself. Set aside time to listen to and read Christian thinkers. Make it a habit to listen to Christian lectures when you’re at the gym, or walking to class, or driving places.  You live in a time in history when you can be lectured by the greatest minds who ever lived, living and dead. Read Christian thought in your field.

The secular university is a fire. It has consumed many faithful people. But if you stand firm through it, you will be tempered. The purest gold must pass through the hottest fire. I grew an incredible amount in my faith while at UCLA, more than I could have imagined growing. Though it was very difficult, and there was even a time when I feared I would leave the faith, God delivered me and I am stronger because of it.

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