A university setting can be a challenging place to be a person of faith for a variety of reasons. However, there are also unique opportunities for deepening and expanding your faith during your years on campus. Here are a few things that are important to keep in mind.
1) Don’t be intimidated by professors who do not share your beliefs. I can remember in my undergraduate days feeling like since many of the really smart people at the front of the room didn’t seem to share my religious beliefs, that perhaps I was being intellectually soft in being committed to the Christian faith. I would later realize that there are brilliant Ph.D.’s who hold just about every religious faith possible. (In fact, a recent Harvard study has challenged the common stereotype of professors as atheists by showing that professors are more likely to hold some kind of religious belief rather than identity as atheist or agnostic.) It’s important to remember that no one can be “neutral” or be completely objective when it comes to these ultimate questions, and no one has any privileged access to special knowledge. We’re all just doing the best we can with life’s big questions, and that is as true of tenured professors as it is for incoming freshmen.
2) Conversely, don’t develop a persecution complex when it comes to professors who don’t share your beliefs. Having worked in a philosophy department for a short time at a state university, I can remember a couple of deeply religious students getting offended that we were even asking questions about the existence of God. College is a time when you should be challenged to evaluate your beliefs and why you hold them. Although this can be unsettling and perhaps disturbing for some, it is such an important part of growing in your faith. Chances are you didn’t get the whole truth and nothing but the truth in your junior high Sunday School class. Holding on to your faith doesn’t mean keeping all of the same beliefs and opinions you entered college with. Be open to the fact that you might be wrong about a particular belief. That’s not weakness, it’s humility. Humility is always a good thing.
3) Be willing to challenge assumptions about sexuality from the church and broader culture. While the Bible supports a very life-giving and integrated view of sexuality, love, and commitment, unfortunately, most churches have done a horrible job communicating a positive perspective on sexuality. They either ignore the topic altogether or simply demand that young people commit to abstinence without giving compelling reasons (other than, perhaps, to warn against STD’s or pregnancy). On the other hand, popular culture often goes to the opposite extreme, naively and willfully ignoring the destructive consequences and disappointments of casual sex. It’s important to observe, though, that in fact several national studies have shown that college students are not having near as much causal sex as is sometimes claimed (or especially as it portrayed in movies and culture). So don’t feel pressured to conform to way of life that is more about perception than reality.
4) Commit to a regular gathering of fellow Christians for the purpose of building your faith. We all need friends to help us along the way, especially when it comes to our faith. We need people who can talk about the Bible with us, who can listen to our questions, who can pray with us, and equip us to be all that God created us to be. You can find this through area churches, informal groups in your dorm, or through a campus ministry. A weekly gathering can be crucial for sustaining and vitalizing your faith.
To all the students starting a new chapter of life, grace and peace be with you, and may “you shine like stars in the world”!