Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

1 Oct 2013

On College and Faith


A pair of articles on the question of whether to send one’s child to a secular or to a Christian college here and here and discussed further here has recently captured my attention. My eldest son is a high school senior and this decision is imminent for him, so I’m always on the lookout for materials to send his way. I didn’t bother to send him either of these. Here’s why:

  1. I was stunned to find both articles operating from the premise that “Christian young persons…[may] turn their back on their faith” and “lose their faith.” Newsflash: if your son has no faith at the end of college, then he had no faith when he started—he was just pretending. Now one’s college experience may impel a young man to stop pretending he is a Christian (which is arguably a good thing) or, conversely may function as the crucible in which the Spirit grants him faith, but one’s college experience can never take away one’s faith.
  2. Neither article mentioned anything of substance about the role of the local church in cultivating the college student’s faith. Both articles made much of professors, families, peers, and campus-based ministries in alternately advancing/damaging the faith and conduct of young believers, but the church was surprisingly under-represented. I was stunned once again to discover both articles operating from the premise that the church ceases to function during the college years as one of the “ordinary means of grace.” Instead, the responsibility of guarding souls shifts to parents, para-church organizations, and professors that function ad hoc in an en loca ekklesia role.

Honestly, the jury is still out on where my son will go to college. But this I know. He will be very well informed about the nature/permanence of saving faith and of the primacy of the local church as a principle venue of sanctifying grace.

[Update: Parker Reardon had a helpful blog post this morning that develops point (1) above nicely.]

11 Responses

  1. d43v4x

    Although I would add i believe the family is a legitimate institution for discipleship/soul-guardianship/faith-instillation (Duet. 6).

  2. Mark Snoeberger

    Point well made and cordially accepted…though in my defense I’d add that at some point in a child’s life the [i]primary[/i] locus of spiritual accountability shifts from Mom and Dad to the church. Unfortunately, and to my shame, I sometimes find myself doubting that the church will do as good a job at soul-care as my wife and I can do. So I’m tempted to look about for institutions that I trust [i]more[/i] than the local church–a Christian college, campus organizations, etc.

    But you’re right. The Christian family is a valid venue for cultivating faith.

  3. d43v4x

    True enough, and, as the father of a HS Sr. as well, I keep forgetting my first child is very near that point of shift.

  4. Mark Snoeberger

    Tim, agreed.

    I think a reasonable case for Christian university can be made. Regular Bible classes and preaching have the positive effect of keeping the Gospel in front of young men and women who think they are saved but aren’t. And Mohler makes a very good point too–it isn’t necessarily the best idea to test the faith of tender, young believers by shoving them face-first into the lion’s den. I have no interest in bashing the Christian college/university. But the articles I referenced seemed to me a bit misdirected.

  5. Steve Newman

    Are we really saying these young people are “losing their faith”? Or could it be as believers, that they are not continuing to actively follow their faith?
    Don’t you think it’s a little too convenient to just say “they must not have had faith in the first place”? That seems an oversimplification to me.
    Some mature slower than others, and don’t always react well to a “sink or swim” situation in a secular college.

  6. Mark Snoeberger


    The statement that “they must not have had faith in the first place” might be invoked prematurely at times, but it seems to resonate with John’s assessment in 1 John 2:19.

    Granted, sanctification is often uneven and may even appear to stall out entirely for a season (e.g., Lot, Samson, David). So if a believer falters temporarily in his Christian commitments, it is bad form to hurl anathemas hastily. But the concern being expressed in these articles is one of total renunciation of Christ–apostasy. And unless I’m reading the Scriptures completely wrong, apostasy is never predicated of true believers.

    Like I said to Tim, I am warm to the argument that total immersion in the secular university might so overwhelm a young believer’s Christian sensibilities that his growth is severely retarded, but the language of faith abandonment seems contradictory to the biblical doctrines of eternal security and perseverance.


  7. Michael Hixson

    Thank you for the post, especially your emphasis on the local church. While college is still down the road for my kids (God-willing), I’m more concerned about their activity in a solid local church that can provide opportunities for service and accountability. And if I may suggest going a step further by stating the truth of this conviction regardless of whether they attend a Christian or secular university. I wonder how many parents (or pastors) know the local church activity of their out-of-town students – even those attending a Christian school. Not trying to knock them, but my parents never did; I think they assumed that since I was going to chapel everyday and was in Bible class that I would be fine. To them, and perhaps to many, a church in the area was gravy. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

  8. Steve Newman

    Thanks for the clarifications. Do we underestimate the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil at a secular campus? Even for a believer, if they are not committed to faithfulness?
    The temptations of drug and alcohol use, sexual immorality (heterosexual and homosexual), having role models of pagan academics, and a desire for acceptance or feeling “cool” on a secular campus are no small or laughing matter.
    If you are going to send your kids to secular college, you had better pray for them to be linked with a local church ministry and pray for them to have the right kind of people around them that God can use to help them grow in Him.

  9. Good post,

    It is common to blame atheistic professors and the anti-Christian agendas of the universities and colleges for young people renouncing the faith they were raised with but I think that is a bit of a cop-out.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely an anti-Christian bias in many colleges. I have degrees from secular universities and I have experienced firsthand the venom of hostile professors as well as students. As you point out, Local Churches and families are the key to supporting and discipling these kids. The question is really why would the influences of the world be so successful in undermining the faith of students from Christian homes as they attend college?

    The reality is that all too often, in our churches and homes we do not teach our children to think. In particular, we don’t teach them to think critically about what they believe and why. Many of our children enter college with rather disconnected and poorly thought out theological positions. They can repeat what they were taught but they often have never had to process any challenges to it. They have grown up in a protective environment that allows them to think they are believers without ever having to fully process what that means. When they get to college they are often having to face the unblunted opposition of the world to their thinking for the first time.

    It is true that the pressures of the university are formidable but they are nothing compared to the pressures of the coliseum, the flame, and the sword that many young Christians gladly faced long ago because they understood what they were dying for.