10 Things Every Christian Should Know for College by Austin Gentry is available from Amazon.
There are quite a few books and articles detailing reasons why college should not be the option for all young people. The costs, with the added burden of loans, leave parents and graduates severely strapped economically. The environment is rife with dangers and irrelevancies. And, let’s admit it, a college degree can be an idol of a sort. This is especially true is the college is prestigious or if the degree is fashionable.
Young people thinking of college, along with parents and teachers, need to be aware of the wider range of viable options in this world than just attending college. That being said, many 18 to 22 year-olds will heading off to college in August. In my family, my oldest son graduated from Wheaton, my oldest daughter is attending John Brown University, and college is not out of the question for my two younger ones. Both my wife and I are college graduates.
College is a big business in America, and, all criticisms aside, college is formative in the intellectual, social, economic, and spiritual lives of those who attend. People enter college as professing believers in Christianity and leave with total unbelief. People enter college as unbelievers or atheists or non-Christians and leave as solid Christians. Pre-med students become literature majors. Engineering students become artists. Brainy, bearded, slightly edgy young men become philosophy majors.
College education provides networking opportunities, opens doors, forms life-long passions, creates friendships, and expands horizons. A thousand anecdotes can be piled up to show the dangers and obstacles to body and soul in college. There are, tragically, far too many funerals of young college students whose lives ended due to choices and events found on or near to college campuses. Then there is the novel I am Charlotte Simmons by the recently deceased Tom Wolfe. Written when Wolfe was in his 70’s, the novel depicts the sexually charged and degenerate culture of college life.
But another thousand anecdotes can be piled up in favor of college education. I encountered Reformed theology in college. I signed up for an American history class where I suddenly found myself grappling with a whole new way of thinking of God and the Bible. Far from regretting my college years, I would like to relive aspects of that life. I loved the lectures. Writing papers was a painful but powerful experience. The people I met and the things I learned were not just life changing, but life defining. R. C. Sproul became a Christian while in college. Headed down to buy a pack of cigarettes, a fellow student witnessed to him and Sproul began becoming the Sproul we all love and miss.
The pervasive power of college–like the white whale in Melville’s Moby Dick or the bear in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses or the green light in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby–is inescapable and undeniable. So, the need to enter college with the eyes and ears wide open and alert is all the more important.
For that reason, Austin Gentry’s book 10 Things Every Christian Should Know for College is an important read. I would hope that some youth groups, small study groups, and Sunday school classes would be using this book. It is to college what pre-marital counseling is to young couples eyeing the marriage altar. And even for the student already in college, the book is a check list of important matters. For teachers, like me, this is a book that I will need to keep handy and urge upon, or maybe force feed, to students.
I will briefly comment on the ten areas that Austin covers. (I normally don’t call an author by his first name, but Austin is what Augustine’s close friends called him. And Austin is a young, but not naive or inexperienced fellow. I have the “advantage” of lots of years on him, but he has proven himself to be quite mature and realistic in dealing with these topics.)
The first large section of the book, or points 1-5, deal with the mind. Kids heading off to college–You are going to experience having your brain fried, tossed, scrambled, smacked, warped, assaulted, or whatever other painful metaphor you want to use.
The mind and the heart are not separate entities inhabiting the same physical body. What messes with your thinking will mess with your believing and living. What messes with your beliefs and life will change your mind.
Professors are there because they are smart. (Exceptions exist in some sense, but the guys usually know stuff.) But most professors are specialists who are ignorant in areas outside their bailiwick. I remember really good history professors who would make really dumb statements about the Bible. Unfortunately, pride goeth before and after tenure. Professors often exude an air of respectability and brilliance. As Austin points out, they are not omniscient.
Students need the intellectual stuffing knocked out of them. Admit it, most young Christians really don’t know what they believe and why. They have imbibed and embraced the faith because of family and friends and a good youth program and maybe a fear of going to hell. The Bible tells us, “Don’t sweat the difficult doctrines.” Right? If you are using a King James, it will read “Sweatest not thou that which is weighty.”
I hope you didn’t believe that the Bible verse I quoted above actually exists. Christians have been called to account in the Sanhedrin, the Areopagus, the arena, the courtroom, the gallows, and the classroom. When I first entered college, I remember hearing people say, “Well you know that not all of the books in the Bible are actually in the Bible.” Not only did I not know that, but I had never heard it. Supposedly everyone else already knew that there were numerous books that got kicked out of the Bible that really were just as much a part of “it” as the 66 finalists.
Many of the challenges to the faith that are premised with “We know” or “We now know” or “All educated people know” are bogus. But even right now, I cannot readily answer every challenge to the faith that is brought up. But college student, you are the new kid on the block, a novice, a light-weight, an amateur. Embrace that. Hear the objection and recognize that there has not been a totally new and unoriginal objection made to Christianity in ages. Yes, the details change and new ways of thinking and new discoveries alter our approaches, but the objections have been there since the day Adam and Eve believed the lie.
And yet, one of Austin’s best points is that college students who abandon the faith usually don’t cave to the intellectual assaults. Rather, it is the moral, social, and sexual detours that exact the highest cost. In other words, the student doesn’t doubt the Bible because of philosophy class and then engage in recreational sex. Instead, he or she opts for recreational sex and philosophy class suddenly gets more interesting because it explains or justifies the loss of faith. “Thanks, I need that,” the student says who suddenly finds a lecture point, a paragraph in a book, a slight against Christianity, a psychological study, or whatever pays a bribe to the conscience.
The second large portion of the book deals with the need, as in ABSOLUTE NECESSITY, of church, community, fellowship, accountability, and walk with Christ. In college, you will discover that you are really too busy and too tired to go to church. That will never change in life. Sleep in and slip away. But it is not just the hour of sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings. Christians must have other Christians. That is not just helpful, but it is the heart of Biblical theology.
Close Christian bonds doesn’t call for what Austin calls “the Christian huddle.” Every one in college needs a heathen friend. (That is my saying, not Austin’s.) This does not mean that we are to go out and act like heathens with those friends, but we need the benefits, common grace, and the education that comes from interaction with the world. I know from both of my older children, that even on a Christian college campus, there are unbelieving or really messed up kids who are there. Music groups, intramural sports, art clubs, and off campus events provide Christian students a way to live the faith in the world.
Check out Austin Gentry’s blog–found HERE. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Read his book in print…or on Kindle (I hate that word). Read it before you or your kids head off to college. Talk about it. Watch for more from this young Christian who isn’t shy about proclaiming Christ.