Back to School

Thanks to Becky for sharing the notes that she took from a webinar recently.  The presenter was a professor of mine from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, Dr. Joel Biermann.  He teaches in the systematics department, which focuses on doctrine – what we believe, why we believe it, how it relates to other beliefs, etc.  His topic was the Top Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to College (in reverse order).  I’ve included my comments and thoughts in italics after her notes on his presentation.  

Ten top Things you Need to Know Before Going to College (in reverse order)
10.  Those who teach beyond high school are referred to as “the Academy” so these are college 
professors wherever they teach.  They hold the “majority viewpoint” which is the worldview today 
of schools of higher learning.  (we’re living in the post-church era right now, also referred to as postmodernism).  
This can sound intimidating and scary, but it is just a way of describing the philosophical climate of today.  Modernism was a philosophical mindset that placed trust in systems and institutions and by and large viewed the world as a puzzle that we would be able to sort out with the right combination of tools.  World peace, for example, would be inevitable as education and standard of living increased.  However the 20th century demonstrated soundly that this is not the case, leading to frustration and disillusionment with systems and institutions of all kinds (the church included).  Post-modernism is defined in part by a lack of trust in systems and institutions and external authority, and a much more personalized description of truth.  Truth is seen as relative, not absolute, and is largely determined by personal experience rather than the assurances of authority or institutions.  Which ironic, if you think about it, since academia is built upon the idea of conferring knowledge and attitudes based on the inherent authority vested in the institution and those who teach there!
(Don’t be intimidated by professors; they don’t know everything, and they’re only human.  They may know a lot in their particular field, but other than that, they’re just “dudes”.)

Hugely true!  You will encounter skeptics as well as outright belligerents against any form of religion (but particularly Christianity) in both secular universities and even some universities that are nominally Christian.  Remember also though that university is based at some level on the exchange of ideas.  If the class is designed to allow for such an exchange, don’t be afraid to speak your view respectfully (and as articulately as possible!).  
9.  What is being taught today is that God is no longer relevant…and that religion is only a sociological phenomenon.   Professors may be interested in looking at religion from a sociological viewpoint but hold a dismissive attitude toward those who believe.  (“Expect to be treated w/ patronizing condescension).  
This is one of the hardest things, being viewed as silly, foolish, or childish at that point in your life where you are finally expecting to be treated as an adult.  Yet this social pressure is what is more often brought to bear against Christian values and beliefs, rather than hard data and evidence that proves such beliefs and values incorrect (see #6 below).  Being able to discern when someone is using pressure on you rather than presenting evidence is an integral part of critical thinking.  If you have the opportunity, take a class on critical thinking skills and logic as soon as you can!  
8.  People reject faith for a variety of reasons, not just out of ignorance.
Remember that people have histories and experiences that help to shape who they are and what they believe.  Empathy can be a powerful means of building relationship through which the Gospel might be shared.  
7.  Our worldview is that there is a God, a Father who is all-powerful, all-knowing and loves us.  He also created us and sent Jesus to earth to pay for the things we do wrong (sins).   Mostly those in academia (professors) have a different worldview.  Mostly they do not believe in a God. (A worldview is the way you look at things.) Their view is a scientific world view that is dominant in our culture today.
Defining terms is very important when discussing theology.  Believing in ‘God’ may not mean believing in the Biblical triune God.  It may not mean believing in Jesus as both true man and truly divine.  It may not mean believing in creation, or in the resurrection.  Be careful to clarify what someone actually believes before assuming that because they believe in ‘God’ they should be trusted implicitly.

The scientific worldview posits, in part, that everything occurred through ‘natural’ (explainable) causes.  There is no need for God and God is seen as a weak attempt to offer explanation for complicated things.  What we don’t understand now, we will someday as science and technology improves.  Everything is a matter of cause and effect.  Yet even with the scientific worldview, faith is required at some point.  Those who believe that certain things must have happened a certain way but don’t have hard evidence that proves this operate on faith.  Like Christians, they may not see this as such, but it’s true.    
6.  Academia will be critical of those who believe in faith in a God.  They will have all sorts of reasons why it is stupid or doesn’t make sense.  But there isn’t even one attack on the Christian faith to which there isn’t an answer.  There are plenty of good resources out there by Christian authors who have stood for the faith and have answers to the questions and unkind remarks made to believers. (one award winning journalist – Lee Strobel – investigated the faith and through his study became a Christian).  Don’t feel like a fool for hanging on to your faith. AND, you do not have to make an argument to do so.  You don’t have to defend it; you don’t have to have an answer to everything.

One logical fallacy (something you’ll learn in a good critical thinking or logic class) is sometimes called the burden of proof fallacy.  It falsely asserts that if you can’t refute an assertion, the assertion must be true.  Many Christians are intimidated because they are unable to answer, personally, the various claims made against the truth of Scripture or the Christian faith.  Someone who brings up a point or an argument that you can’t refute has not just destroyed the credibility of Scripture or the Christian faith.  What they have done is given you food for thought, and the appropriate response would be to investigate the issue further, not to agree that they must be right and you must be wrong.

Another fallacy says that if you make a poor argument, your opponent wins the argument by virtue of demonstrating what a poor argument you’ve made.  Truth is not dependent on your ability to express it.  Obviously, you want to be able to articulate the very good reasons you believe what you believe.  But you are not required to discard your belief just because in a moment of surprise or anxiety you made a poor argument, or offered up a premise that was easily dismantled by the person you’re talking to.  Take a deep breath!

There is nothing wrong with simply saying ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I’ll have to look into that further’.  It demonstrates your humility and willingness to investigate things and apply the mind God gave you to the mysteries of the world and of the faith.
5.  It is never good to argue with a professor during class; it can do more damage than good.
Very true.  There is a time and a place for everything.  However, if the format of the class allows for or encourages dialog and argument, don’t shrink from it out of fear.  I’ll never forget the freshman honors humanity course I took.  The professor was very matter of factly dismissing the Christian faith on the basis that a God who created something as flawed as our world could not possibly be called a god.  I restated what the Bible asserts – that God created something good and gave that creation the ability to either maintain that goodness or abandon it.  I offered a very simple analogy (in hindsight!) that completely took the professor off-guard.  He had no response to it, no way to refute it.  The exchange was respectful and appropriate based on the nature of the class, and it clearly demonstrated to everyone in the class that things were not necessarily exactly as the professor insisted they must be.  Don’t be afraid to question, but do it appropriately and always with respect.  Your professor has earned that respect through a great deal of study and education, and they are entitled to respect even if what they are teaching you is not necessarily true.  \
Coincidentally, even non-professors are entitled to respect – it’s a good idea to cultivate the willingness and ability to engage everyone around you respectfully, even if you need to disagree with them strongly!
4.  Cultivate your faith.  Jesus says he is the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except 
through him.  Do not be surprised if your professors do not believe in absolute truth.
There is a lot in the academy that seems to make sense.  It will be taught that Christianity has caused more bad than good.
Hugely important.  There are good reasons you believe what you believe.  Good reasons your parents and pastors and friends and relatives taught you to believe those things.  Good reasons why they believed them as well.  Once again, their inability to explain those reasons to you (or even their complete ignorance of those very good reasons) does not mean that what they believe and taught you is not true.  

Get involved in a campus ministry where you will hear the word preached.  Many universities have Christian student groups that focus on apologetics and learning about the intellectual groundings and defenses of the faith.  Here you’ll find out that a ton of hugely intelligent people have given the faith a lot of thought.  While faith is just that – something that you must trust because it cannot be empirically proven – it doesn’t mean that there aren’t really good reasons for believing as we do.  Learn them.  You’ll definitely be presented with critiques and attacks of the Bible and Christianity.  Good scholarship should require you to personally (since you likely won’t get it in your coursework!) seek out the responses to those critiques and attacks.  
3.  A worldview is less chosen than absorbed.   In the Academy you’ll be encouraged to embrace 
diversity.  Be aware of new ways of thinking that will creep in that go against your core beliefs.  You will be encouraged to be open minded and that’s fine as long as you have convictions.  You don’t need to be afraid; don’t be easily persuaded.  You can say, “No, I’m not close minded; I just choose …..”
Many inroads against the historic and traditional Christian faith and the Bible come with very reasonable and desirable sounding labels such as  “Diversity”, “Tolerance”, “Open-mindedness”.  Many times the faith is described using terrible sounding words like “Mysoginistic”, “Closed-minded”, “Intolerant”, or “Bullying”.  These are very loaded words, culturally.  They tend to shut-down discussion, and often function as short-cuts to eliminate discussion rather than facilitate it.  

The Bible celebrates diversity and tolerance and open-mindedness, but within an appropriate context, and a context that more and more differs from what our culture demands.  Culture may claim that it has no context, that it is truly tolerant and diverse and open-minded.  Yet what you’ll find is that tolerance and diversity and open-mindedness often mean the rejection and repression of anything that challenges them or suggests limits that they don’t like.  There are always limits.  The issue is who is defining them and why.  Don’t assume heavy-handed slogans and catch-words automatically have the moral high ground.  Ask questions.
2.  Talk to someone you trust before you reject the truths you’ve learned about your faith.  You can talk to your parents,  your pastor, or a youth leader so that you can get some perspective.
Or you might not be able to talk to your parents.  Or your pastor may not be very helpful.  Or your youth leader may not be able to handle such a discussion.  Find someone who you can trust.  Find someone who truly believes the historic teachings of Scripture and the Christian church and ask them to talk with you.  Share your doubts.  Share your misgivings.  And listen.  Give them time to talk with you.  Examine your motives.  Why are you willing to discard your faith now?  Is it strictly a matter of intellectual honesty?  Does it have something to do with other things that your friends want you to join them in, and that are really enticing?  Be honest with yourself as well as honest with someone you can trust.  
1.  MOST IMPORTANT – Cultivate your faith by worshiping regularly at your church.  Join a Bible class on campus or at your home church.
Again, as with number 4, if you’re going off to college it’s very possible that you’re going off with a Sunday School level faith.  You’re about to encounter collegiate doubt and disagreement, from people who have had many years or even a lifetime to cultivate their tactics, approaches, arguments, words, etc.  If you’re surprised to be caught off-guard and without an answer, don’t be surprised.  You didn’t go off to college intending to have your faith challenged, but many professors see it as their duty to do exactly that, and they’re very convincing.  

You must ground yourself in Christian worship and study.  Having spent almost 20 years in a campus ministry, I know how many young folks show up at church on Sunday with their parents in tow, never to be seen again once the parents go home.  If you’re a college student, be an adult and act like one in regards to your faith.

If you’re a parent, be involved with your son or daughter regarding their worship life.  Talk about the importance of this in the years and months leading up to their departure.  Work actively with them in advance to identify potential places for worship.  Contact pastors and youth workers in these congregations ahead of time to establish a relationship.  Spend time finding these places and mapping out bus routes or other means of reaching them.  Don’t be afraid to ask these congregations if someone would be willing to come and pick up your s
on or daughter.  Ask what they’re learning in church – or if they’re going!  Get the pastor’s name and ask them how your child is doing.  You have a role to play!  You can’t force your child to maintain the faith, but you don’t have to abandon them to sort it out for themselves completely.  There should be a healthy role to play, and find what that healthy role is and play it vigorously!
Thanks again to Becky for sharing her notes, and to Dr. Biermann for giving good food for thought to students & their families.

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