“We’re on the roof?!” I squeaked. “How is that possible?”
“I’ve never been up here before,” voiced my friend, a Christian student I’d met here in Holland. “I didn’t even know that door was open.”
Like storybook kids entering a world within a wardrobe, we stepped into a maze of brick ledges interspersed with gravel, rubber tiles, and metal chimneys. Beyond us, I could see the city’s historic streets, canals, and alleyways stretching toward every horizon. My mission to backpack 360° around the world in 180 days documenting Christian students’ university experiences had landed me in some novel places, but never on a campus roof!
Remind Me How I Got Here Again?
Rejection of God’s word unfortunately continues happening in the lives of countless church-raised students today.
Technically, I had come to Holland searching for perspective—not a literal roof-top vista, but a big-picture perspective of how local Christian students keep their faith during secular education. As I explained in my last article, Holland’s secularization began when Darwinism shook many citizens’ trust in God’s Word as the foundation for their thinking. This same rejection of God’s Word unfortunately continues happening in the lives of countless church-raised students today.
Research documented in the book Already Gone revealed that a main reason for youth leaving churches involves early doubts about God’s Word, thanks to unanswered questions regarding topics like evolutionary origins.1 That’s why I’d been traveling and interviewing campus Christians—to discover what’s working in the lives of Christian students who haven’t left their faith, like this Hebraic Studies student. While she wasn’t studying evolution specifically, her professors certainly didn’t uphold Scripture as intellectually reliable. As she’d told me at the student Bible study where we’d first met,
To me, the most challenging thing is the general culture of university. In my degree of Hebrew studies, the context is the Old Testament. There are no Christians among my teachers, and if they are, they’re very liberal. They assume that everyone else is just as liberal, and that no one takes the Bible literally anymore.
So what helped this student keep her biblical worldview uncompromised in this setting?
The Hebraic Studies Student’s Story
“When what you believe is constantly challenged,” my friend mused, “you really have to examine what you still believe, and how you can intellectually explain it. You have to find the roots of your faith. That can be challenging, and you might fall into a certain crisis. But it makes you stronger to have been forced to think about your beliefs—to re-examine them.”
Students who are already confident in their beliefs will be far better prepared to handle new faith-challenging ideas.
Ideally, I reflected, students should seriously examine their beliefs by developing strong intellectual foundations, like apologetics training, BEFORE university. More questions will arise during university too, but students who are already confident in their beliefs will be far better prepared to handle new faith-challenging ideas they encounter in class. In both Canada and the United Arab Emirates, however, I’d spoken with student ministers who’d remarked they felt that all too often, most Christian youth aren’t adequately equipped to defend their faith by the time they reach campus.
“You really have to think critically and stay grounded in your beliefs,” the Hebraic Studies student added, “and if you hear anything that goes against your beliefs, try to process it and figure it out. There are a couple of other Christians in my program, so after each class we get together and discuss everything—what the class was about.”
This strategy, I realized, combined two of the most important assets I’d discovered Christian students need for navigating secular university: intellectual foundations for critical thinking, and interpersonal foundations—a strong Christian support network. On that note, when I asked this student what advice she’d give another Christian on campus, she replied,
Find a solid church. I think a lot of people, once they’re out of their parents’ house, end up skipping church most of the time. But students should look for solid Christians—people they can meet and talk with about things they might not have heard in high school. I think it’s really important for students to find other Christians who are grounded in their faith, so they can encourage each other.
The importance of attending a local church again, I realized, just like what the student minister I last interviewed had emphasized.
Handling Tough Questions
When you do have questions, don’t be afraid of them. Instead, start looking for answers.
“I’d also advise students,” my friend continued, “when you do have questions, don’t be afraid of them. Instead, start looking for answers. Accept that you have questions, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Read solid Christians books, articles, and blogs to keep connected with your faith and to keep learning more.”
“As a student,” I commented, “it’s not always easy to find those apologetics answers when you have a calendar full of exam dates and deadlines. How do you make time for following up on your faith questions during university?”
“You don’t always have to read entire books,” she replied. “There are apologetics videos online you can watch in a few minutes, or you can look up specific questions to see what people have written about them. Even just acknowledging your question by talking about it with other Christian students helps, and you might find that someone else already has an answer. Going to church helps as well, because even if your specific question isn’t answered there, you’re still being encouraged, learning, and being built up in your faith.”
“That all makes sense,” I nodded. “When I was a student, I found it valuable to handle questions that way too—especially after hearing professors cite ‘evidence’ against my beliefs which I’d never heard before. I used to keep track of my questions by writing them down in the back of my notebook during class. Later, I’d look them up on biblical apologetics websites and often found long scholarly articles addressing them. I didn’t usually have time to read the whole paper, but just seeing that answers existed helped.”
As an example of how the Hebraic Studies student thought critically about a faith-challenging question from her classes, she shared,
In my archeology class, my prof said, “We’ve found little statues in Palestinian houses, so that means the ancient Hebrews were polytheistic. So, the Bible must be wrong that they were monotheistic.” But I know from reading the Bible that the Israelites did slip into idolatry a lot, which would explain the statues. There are a lot of things like that which I see as evidence for the Bible that other people would see as going against the Bible.
“In other words,” I grinned, “you need to be able to think critically about what you hear in class, identify the assumptions, and check for alternative explanations.”
“Yes,” she nodded,
And grow more confident in your own conclusions. In my case, it’s really cool to be able to say, “I have taken these classes and looked at the information, and I still believe what I believe.” Before I started, I was really scared that university would change my faith. I actually considered doing a different degree just because of that. But there just came a point where I thought, “if God is real, and he is who the Bible says he is, it makes absolutely no difference what classes I’m going to take or what I’m going to learn. If God is real, nothing about him is going to change.” I’m not scared to find out new information, because even if I might be shaken, that’s not going to change who He is.
That was a mic-drop-worthy story if I’d ever heard one. If students enter university with strong foundations to defend what they believe and why they believe it, they won’t feel obligated to panic when faith-challenging questions emerge. Not even in the most hostile classroom environments.
The Moral of the Story
Christian students can walk through any faith-challenging course with confidence.
As this student’s experiences show, being a Christian in classes that challenge a biblical worldview day after day can be wearing. But armed with a foundation of biblical literacy, an arsenal of apologetics resources, and a cache of critical thinking tools, Christian students can walk through any faith-challenging course with confidence—with God. Like the unlocked doorway leading to the campus roof, the chance to navigate any subject God has put on a student’s heart is also an open door—one the student will not enter alone.
And who knows?
Like the Hebraic Studies student discovered after her tough classes strengthened her faith, going through that open door may not be easy—but on the other side, there might just be a beautiful view.
What other relevant insights would Christian students share as I journeyed onward from Holland?
Stay tuned for Part 26!