Surviving a Religion 101 Course
Fresh-faced high school graduates all over the country will head to college later this year. Whether their destinations are community colleges or four-year schools, the majority will be leaving home for the very first time. Some will be adult learners, going back to school after having spent some time in the military, or to finish a degree they started years ago but did not complete. Graduates will live on their own or with roommates, and will accept a new world of responsibilities they didn't have before. These young people will have more than a little nervous excitement.
For most of these institutions—from the local community college to Ivy League universities—religion requirements will be minimal. Private schools will feature at least a few religion courses, most likely taught from the perspective of the institution's religious affiliation. For schools without any ties to a particular tradition, religion requirements will be at a bare minimum, whether they are secular private or state institutions of higher learning.
The religion courses offered at these institutions often share similar features. In many cases, freshman may take an introduction to religions course, or possibly an introduction to the Bible, or perhaps an introduction to OT or NT. In some cases, students may expect to experience criticism of the Bible for the first time, and perhaps the first time in an academic environment. The ideal professor will teach the course so objectively that the students may not be able to discern his or her teacher's personal beliefs. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.
Professors can challenge students' beliefs about the veracity of Scripture. A professor may highlight alleged contradictions, errors, or discrepancies in the biblical text. He or she may argue that history and archaeology provide information that contradicts the biblical account, or that the Bible provides a deficient worldview that promotes racism, bigotry, misogyny, or violence. Before long, incoming freshmen may be shaken, reeling spiritually under his or her professor's critical assault.
Students sometimes struggle with their faith at college because they encounter new and more aggressive spiritual challenges. Young Christians may begin to fall away from the church at this time (although the process will have started long before for some). Some do it because they haven't gotten plugged into a good congregation. But some do because of attacks on their faith that come from the classroom.
This hypothetical professor is not merely a mental exercise. There are professors much like this across the academic landscape of the United States. They tend to share the same set of characteristics. Unfortunately, it isn't just the professorate who have them. Christians can see it in interviewees for documentaries, as well as authors of books and articles that are critical to biblical Christianity.
Christian parents spend a great deal of time preparing children for the moral and ethical challenges they will face in college. This is indeed a challenge, given the moral and ethical climate of our country. But equally important is the need to prepare students for the academic and intellectual challenges they will face. The Christian worldview is one that has been held by history's most prominent philosophers, scientists, and other educated thinkers. It is not a worldview for backward rubes. It is intellectually defensible on every level.
What every Christian must remember—from our hypothetical college freshman to seasoned saints in the church—is that opposition provides the opportunity for growth. Challenges to faith give opportunities for believers to dig into recent scholarship, to uncover new worlds of learning they never knew existed. Parallels in other areas abound. Athletes will never reach their full potential without working through grueling physical exercises and learning how to compete against other athletes. Intellectuals will never plumb the depths of their chosen field of study without spending countless hours wrestling with the deepest thinkers in that field—some of whom will share the same viewpoint and others who will be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Similarly, Christians will never possess an intellectually formidable faith without overcoming challenges that present themselves.