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A Message from Tony and Will
"I used to be a dedicated Christian," said the man looking intently at my teeth. "Then, like a lot of people, I went to college. I took a couple of religion courses that did more to destroy my religion than to teach me anything about it. Those professors asked some tough questions about the Bible and made me see that it's mostly just a bunch of myths and ancient fables. That was the beginning of the end of my faith."
I couldn't say anything to counter his comments with all those dental tools stuck in my mouth. But what I would have said to that dentist if I could have, I now say to you: College can be a place where you grow — not only intellectually, but also spiritually. The Christian faith is not threatened by tough questions, and you don't have to endure a lobotomy to be a believer. Some of the greatest minds that the human race has produced — Paul, Augustine, Blaise Paschal, Soren Kierkegaard, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O'Connor, to mention only a few — put tough questions to Jesus and came away more firm in their faith, not less, and more convinced than ever that the narrow way of Christian discipleship was the only way for them to go.
A recent conversation with a college student exemplifies the struggle to maintain faith on a university campus.
"So you are in a campus Bible study?" Will asked.
"Yep," the student answered. "I love my Bible study group. We meet every Wednesday in the basement of the dorm."
"You were big into Bible study in high school?"
"No. I grew up Episcopalian. I don't think we do that sort of stuff."
"Well," Will continued, "I find it interesting that, though you have not been in a Bible study group before, you come here to college and get into Bible study. Why is that?"
He looked at Will as if he were dumb, then said, "Dr. Willimon, have you ever tried to be a sophomore and a Christian at the same time? It's not easy."
We expect that many of you know exactly what this sophomore is talking about. Here you are in college for the time of your life, some of the most important years you will ever have, among the world's privileged few who are able to go into higher education. What a great place to be.
And yet, you're also a Christian. The modern college or university campus can be a challenging place for a Christian. Perhaps this is your first time away from home. That means you must learn to get along with roommates, do laundry, spend weekends away from your family. Or perhaps you are one of the growing number of commuter students, having to balance the commute to class, a demanding work schedule, and tight finances. With so much to do, there's not much time left for religious things. Then on the weekends, you have to contend with the sometimes intimidating social scene and the challenges and pressures of dating, drinking, or worse. And then there's church — which has an odd habit of usually meeting at eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning — a very inconvenient time of the week for most college students!
Intellectually, your life is now in the fast lane. You are growing every day, in class and outside of class. You are reading books they never told you about in high school. Your mind is expanding. Almost every day some new insight or idea assaults your consciousness. Will the Christian faith you brought to college be able to hold up under the scrutiny of all you are learning?
The way we see it, God has called you, at this stage in your life, to the ministry of study. Just as God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery and Paul to preach the gospel to Gentiles, so God has called you to study, grow, and witness on a college campus. Some Christians have as their primary vocation service to others in need. Others serve Christ by witnessing for Him where they work on the assembly line or in the office. Your ministry is as a student on a modern campus. That probably will not be your ministry forever, but right now, the most important thing you can do for Jesus is to study, to use all the intellectual gifts God has given you, to grow in your faith, and to become more steadfast in your commitment to Christ, more disciplined in your faith, and more determined to spend your life walking Christ's way rather than the world's.
The two of us are brash enough to believe that we can help you in your Christian discipleship. We have given most of our lives to working with students in a variety of situations. Both of us are college professors. (Have you ever tried to be a professor and a Christian at the same time? It isn't easy.) Tony is a sociologist who has spoken to students on every continent and who has created and supported dozens of social justice ministries for students around the world. Will is a chaplain, preacher, and theologian who has spoken to students around the world, usually in places that wanted Tony but couldn't get on his schedule! Will tries to rescue a few students every year from the clutches of the American upwardly mobile rat race. In a good year, he will get more than a few to go with Jesus. Will is Tony without the caffeine. Tony is Will without the thick southern accent.
We expect that some of the students who read this book are committed Christians who want to remain committed Christians while in college. Others of you may not yet think of yourselves as Christians. You are thinking about the Christian faith and exploring the possibility of following Jesus as His disciple. You know some good things about Jesus and the Christian faith, but you are not yet ready to put your money down on Him and follow Him.
We want to speak both to those who have committed to Christ and to those who have not. We want to be helpful to those who have been Christians since childhood and now want to grow in their faith while they are students. We also want to assist those who may know very little about Jesus and His way but are open to learning more about Him and thinking seriously about His claim upon their lives.
You may want to read this book alone, keeping it close at hand, reading it along with all of your other class assignments, perhaps tracking down some of the scripture references as you come across them. Or you may want to get with a group of friends and read and discuss the book together. We think this is the best way to do it. As we will note later in the book, Christianity is a uniquely group experience. Following Jesus is too demanding to do alone. The ideas in this book are meant to be explored together. Why not covenant with a couple of friends to give about ten weeks of the semester to reading this book, along with the Bible. We've provided questions for each chapter to help stimulate your thinking and provoke discussion. (You'll find the questions at the end of the book.)
The Gospels begin with Jesus going forth and calling a group of ordinary, everyday people to follow Him as His disciples. No sooner does Jesus begin to preach "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 4:17), than He calls ordinary people to help Him. With a simple "Follow me," Jesus calls His disciples to drop what they are doing and walk with Him (Matthew 4:18-22). You might think that, if Jesus is the Son of God, He could do anything He pleased on His own. But that's not the way this Savior works. Jesus is God's way of reclaiming the world, of turning it around, of restoring the beauty and innocence of the original creation. But Jesus does not work alone. He graciously calls ordinary women and men to work with Him. It's as though Jesus is saying, "I'm going to take over the world, and guess who's going to help Me?"
After you read this book, we'd like to hear your reactions to what we've written. Email Will at Duke (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to Tony at Eastern College (1300 Eagle Road, St. Davids, PA 19087) and let us know how this journey was for you.
We believe you are being called by Jesus to join in His saving work. We believe Jesus wants you to join His revolution. We hope this book will help you be true to your vocation, that what we have written here will be a means for you to say, when the call of God comes upon your life, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8).
1. How do I know if I'm a Christian?
2. How can I read the bible and get something out of it?
3. Do I have to go to church to be a good Christian?
4. Am I a sinner?
5. How do I know what's right?
6. Am I supposed to try to convert people to Christianity?
7. How can I listen to a sermon and get something out of it?
8. What's the point of worship?
9. And what about sex?
10. What about Pentecostalism?