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I sat in the large lecture hall a bit astonished and, truth be told, frustrated. I realized that being a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, was going to be a test for my faith. Furthermore, this was a paleontology class, so it was probably not going to be a Bible study by any means. Nonetheless, I was surprised. My professor seemed to take as many opportunities to bash Christians as possible. And these were not well-thought-out jabs. His editorials were ad hominem at best, venomous at worst.

I transferred from Berkeley after that year, not because of its secularism but because God had called me to pastoral ministry that year and I felt led to transfer to Wheaton College. Here is the thing, however: I left Berkeley a more mature believer than when I started. I actually quite miss the context even to this day, for my faith in many ways matured to a depth I don’t think it would have reached in a context where my evangelical convictions would have met only with approval. Most of my youth group friends left the faith during their college years. I grew. What made the difference? In large measure, it was my participation in the local church.

The church I pastor is situated right between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. We have a large student ministry, so I asked some of our students to share their stories of their faith being attacked on campus. Here are some things I learned.

First, not every attack is in class. Attacks come at every place and stage, from social gatherings to social media (a big one) to the subtleties of university ethos.

Second, while my generation felt pressure primarily from science and philosophy, this current generation of college students is also extremely influenced by ethical issues—sexuality, gender issues, racial issues, and the like. In one case, one of our college women was on the rowing team. Her coach and team captains proposed that the team take an opportunity to champion the LGBTQ cause by wearing a particular T-shirt in support of this movement. To add to that, the coach was a lesbian herself. What would this young believer do? More on that in a minute.

Attacks are only as strong as the foothold your heart provides.

Third, I was very impressed by the desire in our students to stand for their faith while also respecting and loving their opponents. Their answers also reinforced the importance of the local church.

The Place Of The Church

The local church is vital—I cannot overcommunicate the importance of the local church in the life of a college student. There is more than can be said here, but let me give you a few reasons that students need to be very connected to a local gospel-preaching body. The secular messaging that students are inundated with on campus erodes them. Every week, with other believers, they need to hear that they are, simply put, normal. They need to rehear the gospel in Scripture readings, songs of the faith, expositional preaching, corporate prayers, and fellowship. Before becoming a lead pastor, I was a college pastor for eight years. In every instance that I saw a student with a devotion to the local church, I witnessed a growing Christian who had a better college experience and who became refined under pressure rather than deluded. I tell students at the beginning of every year this basic stump speech: Put your pivot foot in the local church. You are not first and foremost a student at UNC or Duke who happens to go to Chapel Hill Bible Church. You are a part of Chapel Hill Bible Church who happens to go to college at this stage in your life. College will come and go, but you will always be a part of Christ’s church. Some students heed what I say, and they experience the fruit. They often tell me that a pivot foot in the church made college a sweeter experience by far.

Attacks Persist Through All Of Life

If you are reading this as a student, let me be honest with you: college may have particular attacks that are acute and academic, but your faith is going to be opposed at every stage of life. The Apostle Paul told his young pastor friend Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Read through Scripture and begin to develop a theology of and for persecution.

Stick With The Means Of Grace

Girding oneself against spiritual and theological attack is not rocket science. Frankly, I hope this column lacks novelty. Students who read Scripture with the mind and heart, who are dependent in prayer, who receive the sacraments, and who choose a place of purposeful service to Christ are prepared for attack. You may not have all the answers all the time, but you will seek answers, you will thoughtfully engage, you will love your attacker, you will seek the Spirit to help you stay away from the twin dangers of legalism and license, and you will be honest that your most powerful enemy is not just on the outside but also on the inside. Attacks are only as strong as the foothold your heart provides. The regular means of grace bring that infinite grace to bear against finite opposition. Grace always wins.

Back to our rower. She knew she had to say something, so she graciously yet clearly approached her coach with her concerns and identity as a follower of Christ. In this case, her coach respected her decision. It does not always go that way, but had it gone otherwise, given this young women’s commitment to the above principles, she would have come out stronger on the other side. And, by the way, having attended both a large secular university and a small Christian liberal arts school, I assure you that these truths apply to both.

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From the March 2020 Issue
Mar 2020 Issue