The Christ-centeredness of your heart matters much more than your college choice. Still, your God-given gifts, personality, and background, as well as your spiritual maturity and worldview, affect how well you flourish in a given college setting. So consider these factors in choosing and then thriving in one of the following three educational environments.
Secular college—the Daniel education
Attending a secular college is like parachuting into enemy territory. You must be prepared because you will be bombarded on all fronts from liberal professors to partying peers. Daniel faced a similarly hostile environment. Kidnapped from his homeland and forcibly enrolled in the Babylonian education system, Daniel could have yielded to the pagan brainwashing. Instead, he modeled how to keep the faith and impact the culture.
First, Daniel identified areas of compromise—namely, the king’s food and wine. For college students, compromise could include adopting the dress, language, and lifestyle of the wrong crowd or being deceived by a professor’s humanistic dogma.
Second, Daniel purposed to do right. He was willing to stand alone to honor God. But instead of haughtily demanding his way in his choice of food, he graciously appealed. Follow Daniel’s example by studying apologetics to give respectful answers (1 Peter 3:15). Standing for the truth does not necessarily mean making waves in the middle of class, but it does involve guarding your beliefs and behavior. You must filter everything you hear according to the Word and rely on God’s grace and power to refuse temptations.
Third, Daniel’s strength came from His relationship with God, praying three times a day despite the threat of the lions’ den. Your growing relationship with Christ and witness of His truth may also be maligned and may even cause you to be mistreated (2 Timothy 3:12–17). But God is on your side, and He has power to shut the lions’ mouths.
Prioritize your first love by seeking the Lord in devotions, involving yourself at a local, Bible-believing church, and perhaps joining a Christian campus group. Following Daniel’s godly and diligent example, you will be set apart from your peers—you may even be found “ten times better” (Daniel 1:20). This dark educational environment enables the mature believer to shine brighter for God’s glory.
Christian college—the Apostle Paul education
Some students assume that attending a Christian college frees them from temptations. But often the temptations are simply more veiled. One of those pitfalls is debt. Planning ahead by saving up and searching for scholarships can help you avoid financial compromise.
You must also be wary of deceptive influences, which may include rebellious or hypocritical “Christian” students, inane chapel services that are little more than pep talks, and professors who cast doubt on the Bible’s authority. Sadly, in a Christian college coalition with more than 100 colleges, only about five colleges clearly hold to the literal truth of the creation account.1
As shown by Ken Ham and Dr. Greg Hall’s recent book, Already Compromised, many Christian universities have compromised the Word of God to fit with worldly opinions. Even the few Christian colleges that stand on biblical truth are still fallible institutions with fallible people, so the student with dashed expectations must guard against cynicism.
The Apostle Paul once believed his religious education under Gamaliel was the scriptural truth. Instead, he ended up rejecting and persecuting the Lord of Scripture. After Paul was converted and began serving Christ, he wrote to the new believers at Colossae, urging them to avoid the deceptive and dangerous philosophies of worldly wisdom that can creep into Christian doctrine. To keep them from falling prey to persuasive false teaching, Paul taught the believers that in Christ “
are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–4).
So be on guard against biblical compromise by centering your education on Christ and His Word (Acts 17:11). Education in opposition to God’s Word is foolish, worthless, and corrupting (Psalm 14:1; 111:10; John 15:5–6; 1 Corinthians 3:11–20; 2 Timothy 4:3–4). Growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord will also protect you from other typical snares faced at a Christian college: spiritual pride, hypocrisy, performance-based legalism, or flesh-feeding license. Just because you’re attending chapel services and taking Bible classes doesn’t exempt you from the necessity of spending personal time with the Lord.
Following his encounter with the Lord, Paul took the truth to the world. As a Christian college student, beware of enclosing yourself in a “Christian bubble.” Instead, look for opportunities on and off campus to be salt and light.
Independent study—the King David education
David’s learning consisted of home education as his father’s sheep herder, apprenticeship under King Saul as his musician and armor bearer, and the school of hard knocks as a fugitive in the wilderness learning to trust God and lead men.
If you’re self-disciplined and resourceful, independent study may be your choice method. It’s cost-effective, time-saving, and flexible. You can individualize your degree plan and pace of completion. Depending on your particular life purpose, a degree is not always necessary, in which case you could design your own plan to prepare for God’s calling on your life. Consider learning through an apprenticeship, being discipled by a godly mentor, honing your apologetics skills, or taking a creationist course.
If a degree is needed, you could start your independent study by studying to test out of college courses through exams like CLEP. You could take distance courses through your favorite universities from the comfort of your own home (e.g., My alma mater, Liberty University, has extensive online offerings.). Meanwhile, you could find internships to prepare for the real world. If you’re new to independent study, check out College Plus for guidance and personal coaching.
In conclusion, prayerfully consider the educational options and seek your parents’ counsel (Ephesians 6:2–3). Whichever route you pursue, remember the key: Keep Christ at the center!