Twelve Reasons Why Collegians Lose Their Faith

Written by Mark Farnham

On January 1, 2015

[J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

Losing_faithOf course there are more than twelve reasons why so many college Christians lose their faith, but twelve is a nice round number that enables me to cover most of the territory economically.

A number of these dozen have to do with sex. That’s not a reflection of my own obsessions but of the state of the struggle on campuses today. Perhaps in another age the main tasks of apologetics will have to do with war, with sickness, or with work. In ours they have to do with sex.

Young Believers Think They Can Be Solitary Christians

Many young believers go off to college with what I call the “just you and me, God” view of the Christian life. Separated from their hometown congregation, they think they can worship, pray, study Scripture, and practice the Christian disciplines all by themselves without fellowship with other believers. That’s like a soldier thinking he can stay alive and fight just as well when separated from his unit.

They Don’t Get the “Big Story” of Revelation

Some of the collegians I meet can quote passages of Scripture to me all day, but knowing them by heart is different from understanding them. Their grasp of revelation ought to be like a novel, with every episode adding to the whole. Instead, it’s like a briefcase stuffed with scribbled memoranda: “Meeting Monday,” “Call Tom,” “Pick up eggs.” The proverb “Where there is no vision, the people perish” applies to college students as well.

They Don’t Know the Reasons for God’s Rules

This deficiency is especially acute with regard to the “hot button” sexual issues that rage on college campuses today. When they are attacked for their beliefs, it’s not enough for young Christians to know that God commands abstinence outside of marriage, that he invented marriage for one man and one woman, that he wants marriages to be fruitful–they must be able to explain why. God’s rules must be practiced with understanding of and reflection on what the ancient rabbis called “the reasons of the Law.”

They Don’t Know That behind Every Temptation Is a False Ideology

At college, where gaining knowledge is the name of the game, even temptations gain most of their punch from false ideologies. Take the slogan “Sex is just like everything else; in order to make wise choices about it, you have to experience it. “That’s more than a “line”; it’s a false philosophy. It says that the only way to know anything for sure is personal experience and that the test of experience is how you feel.

They Haven’t Learned to Recognize the Desires and Devices of Their Hearts

It’s an odd thing about us human beings: Not many of us disbelieve in God and then begin to sin-rather, we get involved in some clinging sin or start wanting to fit in, and then we find excuses to disbelieve in God. For this reason, the best apologetics in the world cannot succeed unless students know how to unmask their own secret motives.

They Think Good Intentions Are Enough to Protect Them from Sin

Like so many of the other stumbling blocks, this one is most prominent in the area of sex. For example, a Christian boy and girl may have every intention of remaining chaste but spend every waking moment alone together. This is an impossible combination.

Their Understanding of Christian Virtues Is Too Sentimental

Young Christians often confuse friendship with God with a state of their feelings. “I know the Bible says we should avoid doing such and such, but 1 prayed about it and felt that it was all right.” Anyone who thinks like this is a sitting duck for the adversary, having become fatally vulnerable to attacks that would otherwise be easy to repel.

They Think Faith and Knowledge Are Opposites

Too many college Christians think that when the author of Hebrews said that faith is the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV), he meant that faith is blind-that no reasons can be given for Christian belief. Because their campus adversaries do give reasons for their beliefs, they feel defenseless.

They Think Jesus Forbids Moral Judgment

Young Christians often are easy targets for the accusation of intolerance, not because they really are intolerant, but because they think they are. Just because they believe and try to follow what Jesus taught about right and wrong, they think they must be violating his instruction not to “judge” (Matthew 7:1).

They Are Too Easily Frightened into Playing Defense

Feeling numerically outnumbered by non-believing students and intellectually outgunned by non-believing professors, Christian students are always replying to their critics, never playing critic themselves.

They Don’t Realize That Their Adversaries Have Faith Commitments Too

A single illustration will suffice. When a non-believing biology teacher sneers at the Christian belief of creation by saying that “science” accepts only naturalistic explanations, young Christians usually don’t notice that the teacher also lives by faith. He accepts by faith that nature is all there is-and he is so insistent about his faith that he refuses to consider the evidence in nature of intelligent design.

They Don’t Know How to Call a Bluff

Young Christians let non-believing teachers and classmates get away with saying all kinds of things that they couldn’t possibly believe. Why? They don’t realize that their teachers and classmates couldn’t possibly believe these things. They don’t know how to call a bluff, because they don’t know how to recognize one.

In the next post we look at what churches can do to prepare students for the spiritual and intellectual challenges of college.

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  1. Conway Campbell

    good thoughts Mark, especially number 1. I’m in a position where I am the pastor and I get to see them in college. I look forward to the next post.

    • Mark Farnham

      Conway, I would think you would see both sides of this being a pastor and college administrator. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated!


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