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THRIVING AT COLLEGEMake Great Friends, Keep Your Faith, and Get Ready for the Real world!
By Alex Chediak
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Juan Alexander Chediak
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCOMMON MISTAKE #1: Chucking Your Faith
Thrive Principle: Grow Closer to God
The day before you entered college, you were a kid in your parents' home. But you'll hopefully exit college as an adult, fully owning your life, your choices, and the consequences of those choices. If you started college as a Christian, you probably did so because your parents raised you in a Christian home. Thank God for that blessing; chances are it has helped you more than you know.
But college is a season in which you can—and must—really take ownership of your faith. You can't truly grow in the Christian life on borrowed faith, and most find college to be a season in which their Christian faith is put to the test. Even at a Christian college, you'll probably experience some influences that could draw you away from God. At non-Christian colleges and universities, the pull away from Jesus Christ often comes from every angle and can be quite fierce.
So Mistake #1 is abandoning the Christian faith. In fact, even to neglect your Christian faith is to commit Mistake #1 because a Christianity not practiced today becomes a Christianity that is absent tomorrow. To thrive in college you'll need to spread your wings from the firm foundation of your Christian faith. Let's unpack what you don't want to do (abandon or neglect your faith) and what you do want to do (grow closer to God).
INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGES TO CHRISTIANITY
There are basically two lines of attack that your Christian faith may encounter in college: intellectual attacks and moral attacks. Let's take a look at them one at a time.
Particularly if you are at a non-Christian campus, here's the sort of thing you can expect to hear:
"The Bible is mythology." "Christianity, in claiming to be the only way, is intolerant."
"Morality is relative, not absolute."
"Truth is subjective. What's true for you does not have to be true for me."
"Jesus was a great moral teacher, nothing more."
"We can be good people without God."
"Organized religion causes divisions and wars."
"There can't be a good God because there is so much evil in this world."
"Evolution has proved that 'God' had nothing to do with the origin of the universe."
"To be a tolerant person, you can't believe in moral absolutes."
Many of your professors will be overtly anti-Christian. That may seem hard to believe, but it's true. In the United States, 4 percent of the overall population is either atheist or agnostic. That percentage, among college professors, varies from 24 to 37 percent. It increases the more elite the university. My wife, Marni, attended Stanford University and was told within the first two weeks of her biology class, "Some of you may believe that God created the world. That's nice. But your faith is personal, and it has no place in this classroom." You see, the professor wanted to privatize Marni's faith—as if Christianity were a nice, warm fairy tale that made her feel good, but of course could not possibly be true.
What should you do if this happens to you? First, recognize that you are not alone. Other Christians have been and are right there with you, and even at your school, you can find them if you look in the right places. You are not alone in another sense, either. The struggle with these questions is not new. Whole libraries are devoted to books by intelligent, scholarly, godly Christians that respond effectively and in detail to each of the criticisms I listed. I'll mention a few in this chapter, and your pastor or parents may know of others.
Let's lay out some of the nuts and bolts of how Christians can not only stand firm, but be emboldened to live their Christian faith in every facet of their lives, including the classroom setting. With regard to intellectual challenges, we can more or less put them into two categories. The first has to do with the evidence or believability of Christianity. Can the Bible, written thousands of years ago by various men over many years, really have ongoing validity today? And could Jesus Christ really have risen from the dead? I mean, don't we now know that miracles are impossible?
THE BIBLE IS RELIABLE AND ACCURATE
If you test the Old and New Testaments the way a historian would test any old book, you'll find more supporting evidence for the sixty-six books of the Bible than for any other ancient book. No other book even comes close. That means we can be very certain that the Bible we have today is the same Bible that early Christians had.
But does that mean our Bible is accurate? Well, no other historical book, written by Christians or non-Christians, has ever successfully contradicted it on a matter of history. It has never been disproven. In fact, archaeological findings over the last fifty years have strengthened, not weakened, the case for the Bible's historical reliability.
But what about Jesus? Consider the alternative of accepting the Bible's message. Could a group of monotheistic Jewish men really have concocted the story of a man claiming to be God—and not just a god, but the one God who made the entire universe? And then this man is horrifically killed, after which he rises from the dead? And the guys making up this stuff are so certain of it that they are willing to get themselves killed for it? It takes more faith to think that such a wild story could be made up than to accept it at face value!
Jesus was the most amazing person who ever lived. Most regard him as a profoundly wise moral teacher. But what they neglect is that he also claimed, repeatedly, and to his own demise, that he was the Incarnation of the one God who made the entire universe. That sort of claim is either lunacy, the most sophisticated lie, or the utter truth. Again, which explanation takes more faith?
Now, of course, if there is no God, believing Jesus was deluded or a liar is easier than believing in the Resurrection. The disciples could have evaded the Roman guards, stolen Jesus' body, and then convinced the world that he rose from the dead. They could have been experiencing a series of mass hallucinations (some form of wishful thinking) when they thought they saw him after his death. Or they could have made up the whole story, and Jesus of Nazareth never lived. Many bizarre things are more possible than a man rising from the dead, because a man rising from the dead is impossible if there is no God.
But that's just the point. The person seeking to discredit Christianity has generally assumed that the miraculous is impossible. Just as your non-Christian friends may be questioning your assumptions, feel free to examine theirs. We need to compare which perspective or assumptions make better sense of reality. What's more "open minded," to believe that miracles are possible or to believe they are impossible?
CHRISTIANITY MAKES GOOD SENSE
That brings me to the second category of intellectual objections to Christianity: coherence. In other words, is Christianity self-consistent? Does it explain and make sense of what we see in the world? Let me show you what I mean.
The Christian view
Christianity teaches that men and women were created in the image of God, as moral, intelligent agents, capable of abstract thinking and possessing consciousness. The fact that the universe exists means that something or someone must have always existed—the created order screams that God is real (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20). As humans, we are all born into a fallen world and are, individually, fallen. What the Bible calls "sin" has infected every aspect of our lives. We often think bad thoughts and do bad things because, let's face it, our very nature is corrupt. There is evil in the world, and there is evil in us. (The world, after all, is just a bunch of "us" multiplied billions of times.)
But God remains infinitely good and pure. And since we're made in God's image, we have an innate sense of right and wrong embedded into our conscience. Because God is good, he must be opposed to that which is evil—which includes us. Part of goodness is justice, and it is just to punish wickedness. The punishment is death, both physical and spiritual (eternal). That may seem harsh, but if we consider that God is infinitely worthy of our obedience, then our disregard of him is an infinite offense. So the punishment fits the crime. To reject God's rightful rule in this life is to invite his rejection in the life to come.
But because God is also merciful, he has done something amazingly kind: He has chosen to become one of us and, as a man, succeed where we have failed. We (humanity) failed the test, disobeyed God, and became corrupt, while Jesus aced the test, obeyed God, and was exalted (Philippians 2:6-9). That obedience, for Jesus, included receiving God's punishment on behalf of every person who would ever trust in him, love him, and obey him. For every Christian, there is a "double exchange." Jesus takes all our corruption (our sin) upon himself, paying for it in full, and his perfect record of obeying God is transferred to our account. After that, God begins the work of remaking us in his image, the image that was corrupted by our rebellion against him. In fact, he puts us into a community (the church), which corporately is meant to be a reflection of the glory of God's grace in redeeming (or buying back) people who had rebelled against him.
All evil in the world will eventually be punished by the just, merciful, and omnipotent God.
The atheist view
The atheist view claims there is no God who created the world. The world is an accident that came together as a result of time and chance. Human beings are just complex collections of molecules. Our brains are not the product of any sort of intelligent design—there was no Designer. Consequently, life cannot possibly have any transcendent meaning whatsoever—there is no Person who stands outside of history and gives purpose to the events of our lives or lends validation to our instincts about right and wrong. That said, each of us can create "meaning" for ourselves through living in a way that gives us satisfaction, by choosing our own values and pursuing them. We can and should pursue what is in the universal interest of mankind, since we ourselves make up mankind. And precisely because there is no God to enforce or eternally reward the right behavior, or punish the wrong behavior, doing what's right is all the more virtuous than if we were to do good merely to be rewarded by some deity.
The "spiritual but not religious" view
This view is an eclectic tossed salad in which people pick and choose what they want to believe from various religions—Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, New Age, you name it. Or they make up their own principles from popular self-help or psychology books. There isn't one clear set of beliefs for these people, but there are a couple of common threads. They tend to believe that truth is relative, not absolute, and that all the religions of the world have something valuable to offer because they all teach us to be basically "good" people, whatever that means. They think God won't particularly care about their religious beliefs when they die. The true higher power is much bigger than the tribal "gods" of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all the other "-isms" we foolishly divide over and fight about. Even internally, organized religions cause conflict because they inevitably degrade into battles over power, ego, and money.
This is the religion of Star Wars, Avatar, and John Lennon's "Imagine," a song played for mandatory meditation in a psychology class I once took. Being sincere and trying to do good is what counts. Peace out.
Okay, so which of these three views makes the most sense of reality? Notice that the Christian view is the only one that gives any meaning to morality—or to humans themselves. In the atheist scheme, you and I are just accidental blobs of molecules. Telling us it is wrong to kill each other is meaningless. The funny thing is that many atheists today (like Christopher Hitchens) are intensely interested in justice in the world, but if they are consistent, they'd know that there cannot possibly be any true justice, since morality is just a human construct. From their perspective, there can be no "objective good" because there is no true, universal standard of good that comes from outside us. Only God can supply that.
The old atheists like Nietzsche, who influenced Adolf Hitler, at least were more consistent. Unlike Hitchens, they didn't display moral outrage over atrocities like ethnic genocide. They realized that, from their perspective, there simply was no fixed moral standard from which to critique such actions, even if many find them to be heinous. Neither was there any basis for transcendent beauty or meaning (only a subjective beauty or meaning that each defined for himself). As a result, the writings of men like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus are basically depressing.
Our moral core—our conscience—makes the most sense within the Christian worldview, where it is understood to be a reflection of God's nature that we, as God's image bearers, have hardwired into us, no matter how much our corruption may have warped it.
Plenty more could be said on this topic, but the bottom line is that the story of Christianity is intellectually credible. But more than that, it is deeply satisfying. C. S. Lewis once said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." Life (even the academic pursuits of biology or physics) makes more sense from the framework of Christianity than from any alternative framework.
Particularly at secular colleges, face the fact that you'll be swimming upstream. Your beliefs will be questioned if not overtly attacked in most academic disciplines. Your Christianity won't relieve you from conflict; it will guarantee that you have it. But your belief is the one that consistently coheres with reality. Your non-Christian friends—trying to make sense of the world and develop a moral framework—are the ones who are truly conflicted. Be sustained by a deepened faith in Christ, and speak words of truth and life to them.
At Christian colleges, you'll want to be aware that there may be a measure of theological diversity among the faculty. Some may subtly undermine the authority of the Scripture or the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. It is wise to stay connected to your parents, youth pastors, or other mentors who can help you work through new ideas. College is a great time to really examine what you believe and why you believe it. But remember what G. K. Chesterton once said: "The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." Perpetual uncertainty is not a virtue. Yet precisely such uncertainty is promoted in our day under the guise of "tolerance."
THE "TOLERANCE" ISSUE
Before we go on to talk about moral challenges, let's hit on an intellectual challenge that is particularly big in our day, especially on the college scene: the issue of "tolerance."
In a 2007 Associated Press (AP) poll among thirteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, about 68 percent agreed with the statement "I follow my own religious and spiritual beliefs, but I think that other religious beliefs could be true as well." Only 31 percent agreed with the statement "I strongly believe that my religious beliefs are true and universal, and that other religious beliefs are not right." And generally speaking, these were religious people. Of those surveyed, 44 percent said that religion was "very important" to them, and only 14 percent said that religion played "no role" for them. The others were somewhere in between.
So here we have a group of mainly religious people—people with specific religious beliefs—most of whom think that other religious beliefs could also be true. You've probably heard the phrase "What's true for you is true for you, but what's true for me is true for me."
And as a society, isn't agreement with that concept considered a necessary ingredient for being "tolerant"? But is that really how we should understand the concept of tolerance? Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines toleration as "the act or practice of allowing something" and tolerance as "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own." To be tolerant is to allow people to believe or do things that you don't agree with. But the very lack of agreement means that you think they are wrong. So to tolerate someone, you need to think they are wrong, but be willing to accept them or allow them to be that way. Perhaps an example will help.
Excerpted from THRIVING AT COLLEGE by Alex Chediak Copyright © 2011 by Juan Alexander Chediak. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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