Stepping into your freshman year on a college campus is truly unlike anything else. Everything is completely new. Everything is completely unknown.
It can be incredibly exciting. But it can also be rather nerve-racking as well, especially when it comes to your faith.
If you’re a Christian who is entering into your freshman year of college, you might already be dealing with the thoughts of…
What if the professor challenges my faith?
What if I can’t find Christian community?
What if I lose my way?
Those are daunting thoughts that I, too, grappled with as well. So in light of that, I wanted to write a practical post with 8 points I hope can encourage and help the average Christian who is stepping into the great unknown of their freshman year, and who also is being troubled by similar thoughts as indicated above.
These 8 points certainly aren’t exhaustive, but they do address situations that I think all Christian college students will encounter during the first couple months of their freshman year. Here they are:
#1 Your professor is smart, but not omniscient.
In one of my first religion classes, the professor began by making all these claims that he knew would rock the boat of conventional Christian belief. This will likely happen to you at one point or another, too.
Personally, I didn’t know how to process his claims. I started to think, “Had the church been lying to me all my life? This guy has a PhD at the end of his name… so his statements must be correct, right?”
Not necessarily. He might be partly right. But he might be partly wrong.
He could be emphasizing an obscure interpretation of the evidence that actually doesn’t hold any weight in the scholarly community anyways. In fact, he himself probably knows that, too. But you don’t. And that’s precisely why he can get away with it so easily.
Yes, your professor is certainly smart, but there are people just as smart as he/she is (Christian and non-Christian alike) who may fundamentally disagree with your professor’s conclusions. So, if your professor says something that seems a little too far-fetched or unconventional, it’s totally acceptable to not take their word for it. It is a good, necessary thing to run your professor’s statements through the grid of other scholarly perspectives on the subject. In fact, a truly respectable professor would actually encourage you to do that anyways.
So take their statements with a grain of salt. Realize they have a pronounced advantage in the classroom that they likely do not have in the larger academic realm. So, be at rest there.
#2 Beneath the intellect, the logic, and the evidence is the heart.
Preference is a powerful thing, and often, professors will present information or evidence in a way that agrees with their preferences and dismiss evidence or information that disagrees with their preferences. You can expect professors, therefore, to emphasize one side of the argument and rarely give the same amount of credibility to another side of the argument.
In fact, there could be another side of the argument that may very well be the majority view that stands quite well on its own accord. You just might not know about it since it was not mentioned by the professor or not cast in a fair light. Be assured that there is, in fact, other sides to his/her arguments that are possibly just as compelling or even more.
This all happens because your professor prefers that side of the evidence. Debates against Christianity, therefore, are not so much about the evidence as they are about what the heart does with the evidence.
This truth has some heavy implications for not only for your academics, but also for your social life as well.
There are many Christians from youth group who go off to college and all of a sudden stop believing in Christianity. I read a fascinating article recently that took a poll of these types of students, and discovered that 95% of the time, it was never ultimately because of an intellectual reason.
Sure, they might bring up an intellectual objective in conversation, but it’s never really the main issue. More often than not, intellectual objections are deployed as a mere smokescreen of sorts that they feel justified hiding behind while they pursue the pleasures of college, now doing so without feeling accountable to the ‘Christian’ worldview.
It might be because they don’t prefer the teachings of Christianity any longer. It is not that Christianity’s teachings don’t make intellectual sense. It just disagrees with their preferences. Or, it might be because they love approval and a sense of belonging more than Christ, and at college, they found a sense of approval and belonging with people that just doesn’t involve Christ. Or, it might be because they’re engaging in sexual activity, and can’t simultaneously believe in Christianity without feeling an immediate sense of guilt.
In any case, in order to alleviate the tension of what they want versus what they’ve been taught, they get rid of the system—one that disagrees with them, is irrelevant to them, or produces guilt—so that they can more fully enjoy the preferences of whatever it is they are involving themselves in, whether it is a unbiblical worldview, destructive sense of belonging, or sexual immorality.
It’s never ultimately about the intellectual reasons. The heart always lies behind the evidence, and what you want to believe, you likely will.
Thomas Cranmer hits the nail on the head quite profoundly: “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” That goes for everyone: your professor and yourself.
But even then, intellectual doubt can certainly be a factor too, which leads to the 3rd point:
#3 Doubt is not a bad thing.
Doubt, unfortunately, is too readily looked down upon in conservative churches, but it can merely represent a fundamental gap in one’s understanding—trying to reconcile what you do know with what you don’t know. This means doubt is a neutral thing. How you deal with that doubt, however, can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
There’s 2 unhealthy ways to approach doubt:
- Blow your doubt out of proportion and suddenly concede that everything you have believed must be wrong. This is extreme and dramatic.
- Ignore it and try not to think about it. This is also extreme but apathetic. You might feel better about not having to think about it, but it will always stand knocking at your door. You can’t just stick your head in the sand for the rest of your life. You must confront it.
There’s 2 healthy ways to approach doubt:
- Take it all with a grain of salt. Your philosophy professor certainly believes in gravity, but if you ask him for the mathematical equation for gravity, he might not know in that moment. But just because he is answerless to that particular question does not mean he suddenly disbelieves in gravity, either. So neither should you disbelieve in your convictions when he poses a question you can’t answer. Just because you can’t answer it does not mean he is correct and that you are wrong.
- Engage your doubt and use it to constructively ‘fill’ in those gaps in your understanding so that your faith can become stronger. Don’t give your doubts too much credit. Your doubts themselves deserve to be doubted just as much as they’re causing you to doubt what you believe. Don’t give your doubts an unfair advantage by not doubting them just as much.
Doubt is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing if used in the right way because it can be a vehicle that leads you to answers and to a stronger faith that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
#4 The resurrection of Christ is your confidence.
Having all the answers isn’t necessary; but if there’s one thing to have the answers for, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hone in on the resurrection. Draw every argument back to it. Every argument is much less significant compared to the argument of the resurrection.
Why? Because if it’s true, then Christianity is objective truth. End of story. If the resurrection is true, then Jesus is who he said he is, which means you can trust him–even with the doubts you can’t seem to shake at the moment. The resurrection is the hinge upon which everything else in Christianity hangs.
Go buy Reason for God by Tim Keller, and read 10 pages a night. It will not only encourage you personally, it will also equip you to “give an account for the hope to which you have been called” (1 Peter 3:15).
#5 Plug in to a Christian community.
This one cannot be overstated enough. You could be the coolest, most esteemed Jesus-loving Satan-stomping youth group kid on the block, but you will quickly and quietly die in the college environment if you do not surround yourself with community.
God himself exists in Trinity, and because we were made in His image, this means we were fundamentally created with the need for community programmed into the hard drive of our souls. So, if you don’t plug into community, you will have a system shut down.
So, find a ministry on campus. Find a local church. And invest yourself into them.
You’ll probably feel lonely at first. You’ll feel like no one is making an effort with you. It might be awkward trying to get things started up. Just do it anyways. Lean into that awesome awkwardness. Relationships are worth it.
What you’re not aware of is that everyone around you is feeling the same way you are, and desiring community the same way you are, but they’re having a hard time going about it as well.
So, reach out, continue to plant seeds of intentionality, endure the loneliness even when it looks like there’s nothing ‘relational’ sprouting to the surface, toil with the social awkwardness… but I promise, you’ll reap a harvest after that first hard month.
#6 Seek Christian community, but do not seek only Christian community.
The college campus is a unique place unlike any other that you will ever experience in the rest of your life. It is a tight-knit community woven with hundreds of threads of perspective, religion, ethnicity, and background.
Don’t take this for granted. I don’t know if you’ll be around such diversity ever again in your life. I remember in one of my college classes, there were 2 Christians, 3 Catholics, 1 Hindu-Buddhist, 1 Jew, 1 Muslim, and 9 agnostics. What an incredible opportunity to meet amazing people, sharpen your own perspectives, and be a strategic influence for the gospel.
Therefore, do not wear ‘Christian’ blinders when seeking community. Do not join in on the stupid Christian huddle. When outsiders look at the Christian huddle, all they can see is a bunch of behinds.
Engage the non-Christian community around you, not as evangelistic projects but as images of God who add unique forms of value, wisdom, and inspiration into your life that other Christians cannot.
#7 Don’t Ride the Fence
I’ve heard it said that if you live with one foot in Christianity and with one foot in the world, then you will be miserable in both. But if you live with two feet in one, life will be much better. You’ll save yourself a lot of inauthenticity and exhaustion if you do so.
Of course, I want Christians to jump into their faith with both feet. Don’t divide your interests. You’ll get half the joy, half the authenticity, half the quality of relationships, half the joy of following Christ. Don’t short-change yourself. Do yourself a favor and jump in wholeheartedly.
You’ll enjoy college much more if you don’t ride the fence.
#8 Don’t. Go. Home.
This one is not only for freshman, but also for parents of freshman.
Parents, please do not encourage your child to come home during his/her first hard month of college. I know your child might be having a hard time, and you want to be there for them. But if you encourage them to come home on the weekends because they are having a hard time connecting with others, you are not helping them! You are hurting them and their ability to connect all along.
Be the great parent that you are and show them some tough love. They won’t learn to fly if you don’t let them leave the nest. I know you want to see them thrive. Then encourage them, yes. Love them, yes. But do not take them out of their trials and discomforts. If you do, you will be stunting a very important phase of growth for them that may not happen otherwise. Growth pains hurt, but they’re necessary and good for us. This phase in their social development is to help shape them into the kind of adults you want them to be anyways. So, pray for them in their situation. But do not pull them out of their situation.
Freshman, whatever you do—do not go home. Stay on campus as much as possible during your first several months of college. They might be hard months, but I promise you will look back and be thankful that you chose to stick it out. Because you might not have gained the community you will enjoy for the rest of your college career otherwise.
So, quick summary:
- Your professor is smart, but not invincible.
- Beneath the intellect, the logic, and the evidence is the heart.
- Doubt is not a bad thing.
- The resurrection of Christ is your confidence.
- Plug into a Christian community.
- Seek Christian community, but do not seek only Christian community.
- Don’t ride the fence.
- Don’t. Go. Home.
That’s all I got. It’s my prayer that these 8 points are practical, helpful, and encouraging.
Christian college freshman, you have everything to be excited about and nothing to be anxious about. We have a God who is real, a Savior who is ruling, a Spirit who is active, a Word that is true, and a kingdom-community that will overcome.
Lean into the promises of God. He’ll catch you, I promise—because He promises to.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.