Christian + University = ?

For those of you who are entering college or returning back again this semester (or have children or friends who are doing so), this classic article from Brian Walsh is a must-read!

Here's an excerpt:

What happens when we take a Christian and add him or her to the secular university? We'll end up with at least four possible equations.

1. Christian + University = Christian + University
This equation could be called the isolationist option. Most Christian students see no real connection between their studies in anthropology or engineering and their faith in Christ. They isolate their faith from their studies, and their Christian presence on campus is limited to attendance at a VCF chapter meeting, personal Bible study and maybe a little evangelism. They may find opportunities to share their faith with a non-Christian classmate. but they write their papers on Hopi Indians or their engineering exams without a Christian approach to anthropology or technology.

2. Christian + University = A Bit of Both
Some Christians feel uncomfortable with an isolationist approach. University studies cause them to rethink their faith, and they begin to modify their beliefs. Although this can be a healthy experience (we must all be open to correction in our beliefs so that they become more and more biblically accurate), there is a danger to be avoided here: in its extreme, this position leads to an accommodationist stance. Christians accommodate their faith whenever it is seriously challenged by their studies. For example, the study of psychology could lead them to view conversion as a merely psychological event in which God has no real impact. Studies in commerce could lead them to spiritualize Jesus' concrete teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, which fly in the face of economic practices rooted in self-centered greed (Matt. 6:19-34). Or a comparative religions course could result in watering down Jesus' claim to be the way, the truth and the life.

An accommodationist approach to university studies could well be the first step to the third possible equation:

3. Christian + University = Non-Christian
Sometimes the first two options--isolation and accommodation--become unbearable and Christian students respond by giving up their faith. Although this option is clearly the saddest and most drastic, it may have more integrity than either accommodation or isolation. At least such people have the courage to say that their faith cannot be sustained in the face of academic studies, so it must be abandoned.

They read Freud's The Future of An Illusion (Norton); they are convinced that religion is an infantile projection. So they decide to grow up and leave childish things behind. Or the accommodation of historical Christianity to unjust and oppressive economic patterns becomes too much for their conscience. And they reject Christ and embrace Marx.

Perhaps fewer students would abandon their faith if they opted for the fourth equation:

4. Christian + University = Christian University Student
This option of integration, from a biblical point of view, is the only valid option. Rejecting the irrelevance of an isolationist perspective, the impotence of accommodationism and the death of abandonment, the students who opt for integration strive to think Christianly, to be Christian university students.

This option takes Jesus Christ seriously as both Creator and Redeemer. Listen to Paul's portrait of Christ: "For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions--or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together ... For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross'' (Col. 1:16-17, 19-20).

Do you notice that the words all things recur throughout these verses? Jesus is the Creator of all things, he is before, all things, and all things are reconciled to him. In short, because he is both the Creator and Redeemer of all things, he alone is the rightful Lord of all things. And the passage is clear in its all-inclusiveness. Nothing lies outside the scope of Christ's lordship. He has jurisdiction over all existence. As Lord of all creation, he needs to be accommodated to nothing--everything is subject to him. Perhaps if more Christian students lived as if they really believed this, we'd see fewer people abandon their faith on our campuses.

Read the whole article here.

Another excellent resource is the recent volume of Comment Magazine, "Making the Most of College."

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Ted Gossard said...
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Ted Gossard said...

I wanted to preview a comment I was making. Hit wrong button.

Thanks for this article. This is an important subject to me. And really needs to be one parents wrestle with, no matter what kind of education their children are receiving. And the earlier the better. As well as to look in the mirror at ourselves regarding this.

Ted Gossard said...

Do you know of a book you would recommend that could help either young or old (or both) to better understand and work at this issue?

Of course the Bible and "Mere Christianity" would be good places to start, I would say.

Bob Robinson said...


What specific issue are you seeking a book about? How to think Christianly in college? Or something else?

Ted Gossard said...

I guess I'm thinking of a book that speaks to our culture as Americans on how we can better integrate our faith in our studies in this world. I am thinking particularly of the younger generation, in their formative years. But not discounting the need for help to us older ones, in better doing this.

And I am thinking here, of the possibility, and even necessity, of learning in Athens, though we're of Jerusalem.

I do think there are books aimed in that direction out there, and possibly Intervarsity Press has a good contribution. Sometimes these books really don't help people think that well for themselves, to think critically. Giving formulas that really don't help one to integrate their faith very well into their world, as Daniel did in his.

(though I believe we can learn alot from works such as those of L'Abri with Francis Schaeffer. They brought a strong Christian worldview to bear on the arts and sciences, certainly not perfectly, but in a way that did fulfill, surely to some extent, what you're posting about here.)

The Bose said...

Having just graduated in 2005, my personal experience with this topic is still fresh in my memory. In my four years at Hiram, I saw each of these four equations in the lives of my friends on Campus. During my time as a student there, I participated in the few Christian groups on campus. My favorite, and the one that attracted the most students to its weekly meetings was Hiram Christian Outreach. This was a completely student-led group which often acted as a discussion forum about issues related to Christian living. Being a non-denominational group that encouraged the plurality of faiths and ideologies, everyone was able to be exposed to different sectarian backgrounds. I think that this ecouraged people to take a critical look at their own beliefs in a way that ultimately built on their faith. This was an environment where beliefs were nutured through vocalization and mutual respect.

For some on the extreme right and the extreme left, this kind of forum was unattractive because it challenged them to consider and be tolerant of ideas that their stuborness or insecurity did not allow for. Either they were so set in their beliefs that they saw no point in allowing other ideas to be expressed or felt too much conviction from ideas about the Christian faith that would lead to giving up a sinful lifestyle.

Ultimately, the direction that a Christian will take on a secular campus mostly has to do with how they percieve, experience, and practice their beliefs at the time they enroll. Another important factor will be finding a community of Christians that will allow for that person to express their beliefs. Everything else comes down to the same reasons why anybody stays, leaves, or becomes more active in the church. A person who sees Christians as hypocrites and fakes is going to quickly find a reason to write off Christianity as an "opiate for the masses." Sometimes people are simply lured away by sin; something that is just as (if not more) prevalent on secular campuses as it is in everyday life. Sometimes the critical study of Christianity (just like studying anything critically) can lead to doubt. Sometimes intense study of the metaphisical can lead to an aloof way of thinking that steers people away from thinking in a down-to-earth, practical sense. I think that graduate and seminary students often fall victim to this phenomenon which often leads to a watered-down faith based only in high ideas and lacking the practices of prayer, worship, fellowship, and service to others.

Bob Robinson said...

the bose,

I'd like to know more about your experience at Hiram. I want to reach that campus with our ministry with the CCO. Maybe I could contact the student leaders there and figure out a way we can help.

Bob Robinson said...


Here are some of my favorites. These books have been used in training our CCO campus ministers so that they can lead college students into a holistic worldview. Our campus ministers are called to lead students into the ability to think in clear Christian ways as they integrate their faith with their studies. Some of the following mini-reviews come from my main man in the book business, Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds bookstore.

Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living by Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans).
The perfect introduction to the grand story of the Christian life for the college student. Very valuable is the final chapter, where Plantinga explains how a student should use "knowledge, skills, and virtues" in the service of God.

Creation Regained: Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans).
One of the best basic texts which shows that the Bible gives us a unique worldview that impacts our ability to critically understand the world and our place in it. In the latest edition, Wolters added a new chapter, linking Newbigin's missiology and N.T. Wright's narrative view of Scripture.

Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God by Michael Wittmer (Zondervan).
You've read this so you know how this molds a worldview so that we can view all of our lives in terms that are more biblical.

Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation by Paul Marshall (Word).
Sadly now out of print (but available from Hearts & Minds), this book includes Christian perspectives to various sides of life--from art to politics, work to rest, education to worship.

The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Biblical Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP).
A comprehensive look at worldviews, necessary Biblical teaching, discerning cultural analyses and the radical call to think Christianly, especially in the university.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Word).
An eloquent and elegant book that gently calls us to a faith seen as response to God’s decisive call to us in Jesus Christ and how this affects all aspects of our lives in our vocation before God.

The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior in the University Years by Steven Garber (IVP).
For advanced students, this profound, fascinating and important study has been considered by many to be nearly a classic. Not a simple read, but richly rewarding, this is a treasure-trove of stories, insights, testimonies and cultural discernment.

The Bose said...


I don't know how much of a possibility that would be. From what I understand, things have changed with Christian organizations on campus since I graduated. Hiram Christian Outreach (HCO) has given way to a movement to bring Campus Crusade for Christ to the campus. Leaders of HCO, such as myself, resisted this type of change for a few years because we did not want to see a group with such a defined ideology. Many, including myself thought that a Christian group which required its student leaders to confess to certain deliniated beliefs would end up excluding many students who considered themselves Christian, but did not necessarily adhere to those same beliefs. Historically the college has followed the same line, discouraging Christian organizations on campus that are not student-led.

I'm still in contact with a couple people on campus, but very few. I have heard (but not sure of the details) that Hiram will soon be welcoming a new chaplain who is an alumnus and a founding member of HCO. If you want to, I can try and get in touch with some of my friends on campus who are "in the know" with these sorts of things. However, you might just want to try and contact the college yourself and especially the Chaplain.

Bob Robinson said...


If you haven't checked them out yet, look at the articles from Comment, "Making the Most of College."
These articles deal precisely with this issue. Excellent stuff!

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks so much.