“How to Stay Christian in College” (Book Review) - A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 12

Stephen J. Drain's picture

“[From] the moment students set foot on the contemporary campus, their Christian convictions and discipline are assaulted. ‘Faith is just a crutch,’ they hear from friends and teachers. ‘The Bible is just mythology.’ ‘Christianity is judgmental and intolerant.’ ‘Morality is different everywhere.’ ‘Everyone must find his own truth.’ ‘I can be good without God.’ ‘Jesus was just a man who died.’ No wonder so many lose their faith!” (J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College).[1]

Drip, drip, drip. I witnessed the constant attack on Christianity, Christian beliefs and morals, while I was in college. At times I felt totally alone. Many times I wanted to fight. Many times I just stayed quiet, silent, while within my blood boiled. Oftentimes I argued with myself about responses or lack-thereof. I was sometimes so spiritually oppressed (Ephesians 6:12) that I needed some time of refreshing. I needed my tank refilled, needed a good influence, needed to be reminded how I could answer the enemies of Christ and the cross (Philippians 3:18). And then, by the grace of God, I ran across J. Budziszewski’s How to Stay Christian in College at an online Christian bookstore.

Dr. Budziszewski is a philosopher, and a professor who, according to the website at the University of Texas at Austin, “specializes in political philosophy, ethical philosophy, and the interaction of religion with philosophy. Among his research interests are classical natural law, virtue ethics, moral self deception, family and sexuality, and the problem of toleration.”[2]

Good stuff… and right up my alley, as was this book, with chapters entitled Worldviews, Talking with NonChristian Friends, Campus Myths (knowledge, love, sex, politics), and How to Cope. Aaaaah, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise” (Proverbs 13:20). Reading How to Stay Christian in College was a blessing and a help in my battle against the enemies of the Christ.

To begin his book, Professor Budziszewski points out that for many young people college is the first escape from the structure and boundaries of home. College can be a strange world of adult personal freedom combined with, in some cases, an atmosphere that still protects, provides, and pampers. Unfortunately, “colleges and universities are [also] magnets for extreme beliefs, ideologies, and cults.”[3] For the young Christian, raised by Christian parents, who was part of a Christian youth group and church, and who may have even attended Christian schools, campus can be culture shock.[4] Finding oneself with an unbelieving roommate, and/or suddenly outgunned and outnumbered in a place where the Bible, the Christian faith, and Christian values are held up to constant ridicule is a face-slapping reminder that the world is the enemy. Unfortunately,

“As students grow older, the intellectual level of their Christian training often drops instead of rises! Many of them never get beyond a child’s understanding of the faith. They carry it right into college, where it’s all too often blown away.”[5]

So Dr. Budziszewski begins the book by underscoring the basics of orthodox Christianity.[6] (A good place to start!) God, creation, and then the bad news (Satan, sin, hell): We are broken and cannot fix ourselves. “We’re just plain guilty. Disloyalty to your family, your country, your friend, or your spouse is bad enough, but disloyalty to God is the worst thing in the universe. The worst thing carries the worst penalty.”[7] But then he presents the good news: Jesus Christ, the God-man, redemption, the cross, the resurrection. And Jesus is the only hope, the only way… no matter what they tell you at college.

Following that the author introduces the false philosophies and beliefs systems that the Christian student may run across in the halls of academia: Naturalism (“Naturalists like to think of themselves as brave defenders of clear reasoning against irrational superstition, but actually naturalism itself is the superstition. It isn’t supported by reasoning, but by blind hostility to the evidence of God.”),[8] Postmodernism (basically a self-refuting “There is no such thing as truth” belief system), and Do-It-Yourself Spirituality (as in “I’m a very spiritual person”, a wonderfully ridiculous western buffet of pick and choose what you want kind of religion you want).[9]

He introduces the reader to many other lies that will be commonplace in the halls of academia such as, “Faith and reason or faith and truth are mutually exclusive” (untrue),[10]  “Truth is whatever you sincerely believe” (i.e. relativism), and “Truth is whatever works” (pragmatism), and “We can’t really know anything for certain” (Can you say that for certain?).

He covers a lot of ground in this easy to read, fairly short book. Here I highlight some of the things he points out:

·        Sinners look for reasons not to believe

·        “Many cults take Christian words and pour nonChristian meanings into them…”[11]

·        False worldviews often build upon a grain of truth.

·        Lessons on evolution often depart from science and evidence.

·        Look out for contradictions in worldviews and teaching. (Contradictions cannot be true; they are self-refuting.)

·        Christians being labeled as arrogant and intolerant by people who contradict themselves by being arrogant and intolerant towards anything Christian.[12]

·        Prepare for ridicule: “Things like sneering, name-calling, and intimidation. For example, when a teacher at my own university opened her class by saying, ‘All of you here are too intelligent to be pro-life, right?’”[13]

·        Note unproven statements, especially by professors, for instance: Dismissal of Christian beliefs and biblical worldviews offhand, without any reasoning, debate, or argument (making note of give away phrases like “as-we-now-know”[14] and talk of certain ideas and beliefs as being archaic or belonging to the Dark Ages).

The book is filled with great examples of professors and students giving off hand comments about and against Christianity, not only off-hand comments, but blatant attacks. Still, the author offers some good advice, even offers some great examples as to how one might answer attacks, point out unproven assumptions, etc. One great piece of advice he gave is one I tried to follow even prior to reading this book: “[Be] such a hard worker that even an unfair teacher will find it difficult to complain about you.”[15] (See 1 Peter 2:12.)

In a section entitled “How to Deal with Questions”, he points out that some people’s questions are nothing but smoke screens. “Some questions and objections aren’t intended seriously. They’re not real…. They’re not ways of getting at the truth but ways of hiding from it.”[16] (Lord knows I have experienced that!)[17] In such a case the author suggests that we need not have to fret about answering such people/questions/objections. He suggests we leave the person alone and leave them in God’s hands.

He also helps to remind us that not only will the Christians beliefs of the student be attacked, but their lives and lifestyles will most likely also be attacked. Let us not forget that the devil is cunning (2 Corinthians 2:11). Beware the subtle attacks against one’s emotions, heart, relationships. Love, sex, acquaintances, friends, can all be used against the Christian student if he or she is not on guard. He writes,

“You belong to Jesus Christ. God wants to use you to reach your nonChristian friends—but Satan wants to use your nonChristian friends to reach you…. Satan will try to turn the tables by making you feel embarrassed about your faith—by making you think that its childish, silly, or intolerant…. Still another way is to weaken your discipline and suck you into sin—especially into an entwining, addicting sin like drunkenness, drugs, or sex. That strategy is one of the Enemy’s favorites….”[18]

Remember what Scripture tells us: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Remember, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28, NIV). 

Thus he covers basics for dating and marriage,[19] friendships and relationships, clubs and activities. Staying close to Christian friends and church is foundational. Trying to be a “solitary Christian” is not good. He even has a great section on what to look for and what to avoid in a church.[20] All of this requires a lot of prayer, something he continuously advises (as do I).

Lastly, Dr. Budziszewski suggests that to cope in the classroom we must submit ourselves to Christ and in return our minds will be renewed. He says that when we are aligned with Christ, we will be able to sense, spy, smell when something fishy is going on or being taught:

“[You] need to have a spirit of obedience to Jesus Christ. If your spirit is in rebellion, your nose will be in rebellion too. [You also] need to study the Word of God and other Christian literature. We’re talking about a mental, not physical, sense of smell. In order to develop it you have to use your mind.”[21]

This is so very important always in our Christian walk, certainly it is not something to put aside when on the college campus. Romans 12 speaks of this:

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-3).

In conclusion, the Christian student does not always have to win the debate; all one needs to do is plant a seed, a seed of truth, or a seed of doubt in questioning unquestioned assumptions, “truths”, and worldviews. And while many young college aged Believers are often thinking about what their future vocations and callings may be, they should never forget that they have a calling here and now, while in school, while on that campus, and while in that classroom. You are God’s representative, ambassadors, called to be witnesses with your lives and in your speech. Salt and light, remember? (Matthew 5:13-14). Therefore your time, your classes, your professors, your classmates, your seating choice or seating arrangement, your schedule, your semester, etc., none of it is by mistake but it is by divine appointment. You are there for a reason.

So “set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).

If you’re a Christian in college, or have a child or friend attending, get this book.



Feel free to read my other columns at http://www.examiner.com/christian-perspectives-in-philadelphia/stephen-j....


How to Stay Christian in College, copyright 2004 by J. Budziszewski, published by NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, page 17.

[2] http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/government/faculty/jb397. See the write up about him at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Budziszewski

[3] How to Stay Christian in College, page 27.

[4] I am reminded here of non-Christian’s saying, “Well, of course, it’s going to be tough. The kid’s been brainwashed by his parents, his church, and other Christians his whole life, now he’s got to enter the real world and he was never prepared for it. By teaching him all these lies and myths, he never learned what the real world was like.” I’ve heard this more than once. But I have to let the conservative Jewish commentator Dennis Prager answer them:

“Most people assume that any person who is exposed to only one way of looking at the world for all of his or her life can hardly be regarded as open-minded. Now ask those same individuals how they would describe a person who attended only secular schools from preschool through graduate school. Your friends would probably look at you with incomprehension. What kind of question is that? After all, they and the great majority of people in our country attended secular schools, and they consider themselves perfectly normal and open-minded.

“‘Brainwashed’? ‘Closed-minded’? Such terms cannot possibly be applied to the secular or the ‘progressive,’ only to the religious and conservative. But, of course, such a response is logically untenable. If a person is to be considered brainwashed for having only received a religious education, a person who has received only a secular or liberal (as in politically liberal) education should be regarded identically.

“In fact, when secular people and those on the Left deny this, it actually illustrates that they probably have been brainwashed. The secular/Left immersion they underwent has been so effective that it has rendered them incapable of realizing that they have been so immersed.

“This is one reason it has become more and more apparent that the most closed-minded people in American and European society today are not the religious but the secular, not the Right but the Left. The majority of even fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews are exposed to far more secular thought and behavior than the secular are exposed to religious thought and behavior. Virtually all religious Christians and Jews study secular subjects, have been taught by secular teachers, read secular books, and watch secular films and secular television. Virtually no secular people have studied religious subjects, been taught by religious teachers, or read religious books, let alone watched religious films or television, neither of which exists in any number” (See Dennis Prager’s entire column, Who's brainwashed in America?, at http://www.dennisprager.com/columns.aspx?g=f6d9b15b-32bf-473b-b2bb-f1af18b7074a&url=whos_brainwashed_in_america).

[5] How to Stay Christian in College, page 35.

[6] In one of my favorite moments, he writes, “God didn’t have to create, and nothing made him create. He wasn’t lacking anything. Some… think He must have been sitting around in the dark before Creation, doing nothing and getting lonely. They think He created so that He would have someone to talk with, someone to know him. That’s a sub-Christian view of God…. Does it hurt your feelings that God doesn’t need you? ....We love not only to fulfill the needs of other people but also to fulfill our own…. His love isn’t like ours. It’s not need-love; it’s pure gift-love. Though He needs nothing from us. Nothing drove Him to create us, yet He did” (How to Stay Christian in College,  page 39).

[7] How to Stay Christian in College, page 43.

[8] How to Stay Christian in College, page 54.

[9] See my previous column which ends quoting some of what he writes about Do-It-Yourself Spirituality: http://blogs.bible.org/impact/stephen_j._drain/a_christian_conservative_goes_to_college_part_11__world_religions_the_blind_leading_the_blind

[10] Interesting enough: Pointing out that even reasoning depends on faith, the author writes, “Imagine that someone says to you, ‘All reasoning is baloney.’ He’s wrong, of course, but can you prove it? Guess what? You can’t. The only way to show that reasoning isn’t baloney would be to reason about it. But in that case your reasoning would be circular—and one of the rules of good reasoning is that circular arguments don’t prove anything! So how do we know that reasoning isn’t baloney? We take it on trust. And trust is another word for faith” (page 86).

[11] How to Stay Christian in College, page 35.

[12] Accusing Christians of being arrogant and intolerant is simply a fallacious way of arguing, a form of ad hominem attack intended to prejudice listeners against Believers, or in attempts to simply shut Believers up.

[13] How to Stay Christian in College, page 155.

[14] How to Stay Christian in College, page 52.

[15] How to Stay Christian in College, page 154.

[16] How to Stay Christian in College, page 71.

[17] I am reminded of my agnostic friend Nate, to whom I once said, “You say you can’t become a Christian because Christians are idiots for believing in a seven day creation, but if I somehow ceded evolution to you, and then asked you to become a Christian, you would then ask how we could believe in a literal Adam, Eve, with a snake and a  tree with forbidden fruit, and if I offered you answers to your objections and then asked you to become a Christian, you would then give me some objection, about the patriarchal, tribal, war mongering God of the Old Testament, and if I gave reasonable answers to that objection and then asked if you were ready to become a Christian, you would then tell me that the Bible was filled with contradictions, and if I was able to explain each of those supposed contradictions to you and asked if you were ready to become a Christian, you would then bring up some objection to the reliability of the texts themselves, and if I provided a reasonable answer to that objection and asked if you were ready to become a Christian, you would then tell me that believing in the miracles of the Bible isn’t tenable, and if I gave you some reasonable answers to that objection and asked if you were ready to give your life to Christ, you would then raise objections about how people don’t rise from the dead and therefore Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead either, but if I provided reasonable evidence in response to that objection and then asked if you were ready to surrender your life to Christ, you would say, ‘No, because I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot do’; so it doesn’t really matter if all your objections and questions were answered because you’re not interested in becoming a Christian in the first place.”

[18] How to Stay Christian in College, page 77.

[19] Here I also recommend another one of the author’s books entitled Ask Me Anything where he gets more into the topics of love, sex, and relationships for the Christian student. This book and it’s follow up, Ask Me Anything 2, are based upon his blog/column at Boundless.org (See http://www.boundless.org/bestofchronological/author.cfm?authorname=J.%20Budziszewski).

[20] I really liked the “avoid” list: “Avoid groups that reject or twist the Bible…. Avoid groups that demean or dilute the Bible [You’ll run across plenty of that at college, so why go to a “church” that does that?]…. Avoid groups that treat exotic or emotional experiences as the main feature of the Christian life…. Avoid groups that idolize their human leaders…. Avoid groups that try to cut you off from your family…. Avoid groups that try to mix Christianity with other religions…. [and] Avoid groups that try to mix Christianity with cultic practices….” (How to Stay Christian in College, pages 142-143).

[21] How to Stay Christian in College, page 151.

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