College is often portrayed as a life-changing experience, and rightly so. Some of the most formative experiences of a person’s young life can occur during those few years on a university campus. In college it isn’t at all uncommon that a student might realize their career ambitions, meet a lifelong friend or date their future spouse.
Religion is one of the potential formative experiences in college that doesn’t get as much attention. Specifically, it’s far less common to hear about how a student who finds their way to or from Christianity, Islam, or Judaism (or even Atheism for that matter) while attending a university.Taking classes and sharing experiences alongside classmates from varying backgrounds can cause even the most religious or nonreligious person to inspect, analyze, and even question their beliefs.
I can personally attest that the college experience can mark a watershed moment for Christians who have had little exposure to other religions and belief systems. It can be a jarring experience to engage people who disagree or take issue with one’s faith, but it can also produce a healthy dialogue on the subject. The purpose of this post is to encourage Christians in college to have that dialogue with believers and nonbelievers.
Welcome the Challenge
I think it’s important that Christian college students welcome the challenge of discussing their faith to others, particularly to people who hold opposing views. Why would I advocate a conversation that so rarely changes minds on either side? Well, I think more (young) people could stand to take time to understand views that aren’t their own, Christians included. When I was in college, it was all too often that I overheard one of my friends generalize about a particular person’s beliefs just because they weren’t their own. It’s not just Atheists and Agnostics who paint faith with a broad brush; it’s all too common of a problem within Christianity itself.
College students participating in such a debate might still feel the same way about their opinions, but they might also gain a deeper understanding about those held by the other person. Sounds reasonable enough, right?
Asking the Hard Questions
I believe in asking hard questions, particularly when it comes to matters of faith. If I’m having a hard day, if the world suddenly ceases to make any sense to me, if the news headlines are too grim to bear, I don’t slink away from asking, “Why?” If anything, asking the hard questions of yourself and your faith is instrumental in coming to understand the power of prayer and God’s plan for all of us.
Refusing to shy away from these hard questions is an extremely healthy exercise in strengthening a student’s faith. Say that a Christian student participates in a debate on religion and they’re asked to consider some of the common critiques against the faith. Is it better for that student to ignore and repel questions calling their faith in question or to address them head on, even if the answer isn’t pretty? I fear that students who ignore hard questions run the risk of letting them fester in their mind unanswered. It’s better to face and reason with any doubts—faith is always stronger for the earnest struggle.
Consult Like-minded Students
Above all, I think it’s critical that college students—particular Christians—seek out a welcoming community of like-minded peers to serve as a support structure. College can be a lot of fun, but it can also demoralize and decenter even the most devout and focused students. The best way to counter that spiritual fatigue is to seek solace from those who’ve been there before and understand what you’re going through.