Students are heading back to college soon. What’s it like for Christians on secular campuses? For some it’s a spiritually rich experience where pressures and opportunities come together to build faith. These students often discover great fellowship, see God work through them to lead others to Christ, and build leadership skills for a lifetime of ministry. For others, there is a seemingly unstoppable onslaught of temptation and intellectual challenge and ridicule toward their faith.
College is not necessarily a huge faith-defeater. In fact, it was in college that I met Christ and began to follow him. It depends on the student himself or herself; and also on the college, the department, and the specific professors, roommates, and others the student spends time with. It is certainly dependent on God and his will. A student should be prepared, though. A friend of mine in Midland, Michigan, said,
If you wanted to build a system for young adults that would tear down all the values their parents raised them to believe in, where casual sex and drinking were turned into normal things to do, and where almost everyone in authority tries to beat all vestige of Christian belief out of them—and get the parents to pay for it!—you couldn’t do any better than the University of Michigan.
(He could have named almost any secular school.)
Which is true? What’s college really like today? My friend was not exaggerating. It isn’t that way everywhere, but for many places his description was exactly on the mark. It depends on the university (some are better, some worse), the field of study (business and education tend to be better than humanities and social sciences, for example), and specifics like who one gets as professors and roommates. Christ wants his name known even in the most challenging places, though. And even in the toughest situations, students can thrive spiritually.
I’ve been looking through several books written to help students prepare spiritually for college. Parents could benefit from these, too, to find out what’s happening in college these days, and how to support your student in his or her faith there.
One website on this stands out above all others: Boundless.org Focus Section
I’ve found six excellent books on the topic. The idea is not to read them all (some of them I have only skimmed through, myself). Just pick one. Parents will probably be most interested in one of the first four; all six are appropriate and helpful for students.
Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey by Jonathan Morrow. The most recent of the books I’ve looked through on this topic, it’s also the longest, the most in-depth, and I think also the best. It covers challenges from the dorm room to the classroom, on a well-developed foundation of Biblical thinking about life in Christ, ethical living, apologetics, church and campus fellowship, and effective evangelism.
Fish Out of Water by Abby Nye. I had intended just to skim through this book, but I got so caught up in the author’s personal stories I couldn’t stop reading. She wrote it while still a student at Butler University in Indiana, where she experienced the serious anti-faith pressures like those my friend in Michigan spoke about. Somehow, though, she knew how to handle it, even in classrooms and with faith-hostile professors and administrators. This book tells what it can be like when it’s bad, and it shows how one student trusted God, fought a good fight, and saw good come of it.
How to Stay Christian in College (Th1nk Edition) by J. Budziszewski. Dr. Budziszewski is a professor of philosophy and government at the University of Texas (part of the organizing group for this sadly torpedoed initiative) and a strong Christian leader. This book covers much the same topics as Morrow’s, but it’s a quicker read (and also obviously less in-depth). It’s an excellent overview of what it takes to stay Christian in college,.
University of Destruction: Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus by David Wheaton. Wheaton went to Stanford on a tennis scholarship, and found it to be not the dream he had expected. His focus is on being a “spiritual overcomer,” a Possessor of the faith and not just a Possessor in the face of three “Pillars of Peril… sex, drugs/alcohol, and [secular] humanism.” The topics again cover similar ground as Welcome to College and How To Stay Christian In College, but the writing style is more active and colorful.
Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students and Ask Me Anything 2: More Provocative Answers for College Students, both by (again) J. Budziszewski. Sometimes the question in college is not “how do I hold on to living as a Christian,” but, “How do I answer the actual questions and challenges I’m getting from my profs and friends? What’s the answer?” Dr. Budziszewski helps out, from a Biblical perspective. But these are not just question-and-answer books, they’re written conversationally. Just because the author is a professor doesn’t mean he can’t write an interesting book!
Finally, if you search Amazon on this topic you’ll probably run across one more that I did not include on my list of “excellent” books: Can You Keep Your Faith in College?: Students from 50 Campuses Tell You How – and Why, edited by Abbie Smith. This book does just as it says: it’s a compilation of 50 students’ experiences. Chances are good that any student would find one or more story here that connects to their needs, and for them it might be really helpful, but it struck me as fairly hit-or-miss.