4 Steps to Staying Christian Through College

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Christians can survive college with their faith intact. A major theme in my Biblical Worldview & Apologetics classes and seminars is preparing students for the challenges they will hear to Christianity and central Christian doctrines when they’re in college. Once they know what to expect, I think, they will be better prepared to put the challenges in context and then be equipped to think through the underlying assumptions and evidence at stake.

An article came across my newsfeed this morning (via the fantastic worldview and apologetic website The Poached Egg) that addresses the problem of students who believe in creationism (regardless of whether that is Old Earth Creationism, Young Earth Creationism, or Intelligent Design Theory) but are sitting through courses in evolutionary biology that are the norm at colleges and universities. This article, “Talking Back to Goliath: Some Advice for Students in the Evolutionary Biology Classroom,” is written by Paul Nelson, Ph.D. of Biola University and the Discovery Institute.

How should students respond to professors who assert the “truth” of Neo-Darwinian evolution?

His central piece of advice, which I heartily endorse, is

First, no aggression. David slaying Goliath is a justly famous account of bravery, but that was a literal battlefield. Your task is to persuade, not harm. Your sling and stones should be the evidence — or its conspicuous absence.

We have to be honest that the environment at colleges and universities is increasingly antagonistic toward traditional Christian beliefs and doctrines. That means that while some professors are nobly tolerant of diverse ideas like those of biblical Christianity, most are not. Thus the battlefield of the classroom is generally one in which the profs have the power and the podium, while students have no power and only as much podium as the prof is willing to yield.

Christian students must remember that aggression in social relationships like this are very unlikely to yield positive benefits in the form of a conciliatory or evangelized professor who will concede the significant gaps in evolution evidence. (Here is an article with links to some evolutionists who will admit this.) Keep in mind that your professor’s career and job security most likely depend on their continued belief that evolution is true.

Next, Nelson recommends that students in biology courses review the scholarly literature in the field, to evaluate the claims of Neo-Darwinian evolution for themselves.

Choose any complex structure or behavior, and look in the biological literature for the step-by-step causal account where the origin of that structure (that is, its coming-to-be where it did not exist before) is explained via random variation and natural selection.

You’ll be looking a long time. The explanations just aren’t there, and this fact is well known to evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with received neo-Darwinian theory.

In this context, my general advice to students is this.

1. Know your audience. This is not primarily your professor, but your fellow students. They don’t have the personal investment in evolution being true, unlike your prof, and you can build personal and relationships with them over coffee, via study groups, and so on. Knowing your audience also means you can ratchet your expectations as to what you can accomplish in that class context over the semester.

2. Learn and be able to articulate the evidence and the evidence gaps in evolutionary theory, not just the evidence that supports creationism. By understanding the perspectives and holes in the dominant theory, your faith will not be shaken, and your ideas will have credibility among your peers. (Again, your professor is not your peer!) Moreover, you must be able to articulate the arguments that are used to support evolutionism for a very practical reason–you want to pass the class! This is not the same thing as conceding that evolutionary theory is true. It is comparable to learning the central doctrines of Islam in order to understand its theological gaps to effectively respond to their claims; learning what they are is not the same thing as thinking that they’re true.

3. Learn how to be winsome in the way you undermine others’ faith in Neo-Darwinian evolution and then communicate the opposing view. For a strategic approach to this, I highly recommend the book Tactics by Greg Koukl and other approaches related to conversational apologetics (examples here and here). In fact, I have adopted Koukl’s book for my upcoming class.

4. Develop a support system. Find professors at your school or at other schools who will support your faith as well as who know the literature and theories. Chances are, Christians student fellowships will be able to tell you who some of the Christian profs are on campus. You may have to connect with faculty who are experts in their field at a Christian university, such as Biola or Bryan, or through apologetics groups such as the Christian Apologetics Alliance or Ratio Christi. Connect with Christian student fellowships and a local church that treat the Bible seriously as a historical and theological document. Don’t isolate yourself from other Christians, don’t give up meeting together with other believers (Hebrews 10).

Keep in mind that even though the popular image of David facing Goliath (1 Samuel 17) is that David was a young child, scripture tells us that when he went to meet the giant, David had already honed his battle skills through combat with lions and bears (17:34-37). Don’t wait until you get into the class to prepare your heart and mind for these challenges.

Christian students who go to college often have their faith undermined by new ideas and idealogues who are increasingly intolerant of ideas outside the mainstream–that is, Biblical Christianity. By staying respectful, intellectually engaged, winsome in your conversations, and connected with other Bible believers, you can keep your faith.