Christian Resolve on the Secular Campus
The excitement of a new chapter in life was palpable as Mark crammed his backpack on the tile floor between his chair and the next. He sat spellbound among nearly 100 other eager freshmen philosophy students as the department chairman opened the semester. The bearded professor lowered his black-rimmed glasses and began the lecture with a quote, “Man makes religion, religion does not make man.”
There was little movement in the classroom, but deep in Mark’s heart a subtle shift was underway. The foundation of his faith, like sand, would not withstand the encroaching tsunami of skepticism. over the course of four years, to the dismay of his evangelical parents, he would earn a degree at the expense of his faith.
Mark’s story is multiplied countless times on college campuses across America. The tenor of the academic elite is rarely favorable of conservative Christianity. Thus, the gospel often finds few friends among the academic guild. Lest we forget, however, the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation for anyone who believes, of this we need not be ashamed.
Moreover, the story of Christianity on the secular campus is as promising and as hopeful as the gospel is powerful. Therefore, the Christian student or parent should operate with both wisdom and gospel-centered optimism. As Jesus said, we should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).
Scripture speaks clearly to the anxiety many face when considering the temptations of academic atheism. The apostle Paul expresses similar concerns to young believers in Colossae:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you … that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach the full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:1a-3 ESV).
Paul’s struggle was not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities. He was struggling for young believers in prayer. And, like a good Baptist sermon, his prayer has three essential points. Paul prayed that they would be encouraged, that their hearts would be united in love and that they would grow in their understanding of the gospel.
Perhaps restating Paul’s positive petition in the negative will shed some light on the situation:
1. He prayed that their hearts would not be discouraged;
2. He prayed that they would not drift away from fellowship with other believers; and
3. He prayed that they would not stop meditating and growing in the truth of the gospel.
These three categories accurately frame the contemporary crisis of faith. In my experience, students are first disoriented by the assault on their faith, which can quickly lead to discouragement. If a student faces these attacks in isolation from a faith community committed to the gospel, the result will be disastrous.
From disorientation to disillusionment, you can often clearly track a student’s departure from the faith. One educator summarized the process with these words, “Apostasy works on a dimmer switch. It’s a slow fade.” It truly is a slow and tragic fade. As C.S. lewis observed, “indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one.”
The apostle Paul’s approach to this phenomenon is not a psychological pep-talk or merely an intellectual manifesto. He prays that they might “reach the full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” Ironically, the remedy for apostasy from the gospel – is the gospel.
The context for a robust gospel-grounded faith is a local community of believers. It is in the church that a Christian’s faith is encouraged, sharpened and deepened. That is why Paul prays that the Colossians’ hearts might be united. The key to this unity is found in community. Apart from regular fellowship, worship, accountability and instruction, their hearts would falter leaving them prey to the intellectual vogues of the day.
Paul prays that they would be encouraged, united and grounded in the gospel. in the midst of what might seem like a gloomy admonition he thanks God for their steadfast faith: “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Col 2:5).
Their faith was growing, even in the midst of carnal Colossae. And your faith, or your student’s faith, can thrive on any college campus. Our confidence in the sustaining power of the gospel is evidence of our belief that it is the power of God to save the sinner or convert the skeptic. Romans 1:16 is God’s universal antidote for anxiety over the world’s influence. There is nothing that can prevail against the sovereign rule of God. As Paul asks later in his epistle to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) if the gospel was enough for you it will be enough for them.