In praise of secular universities...
So you, or someone you know, is off to a secular university this fall. You're worried, because this was a decision made due to financial realities, or pragmatically, because the desired major wasn't available at an affordable Christian University. This new setting has you on edge. There are cigarettes (both the manufactured kind and the funny ones) everywhere, and swearing, and guys and girls sleeping on the same floor of the dorms, or even worse, in the same rooms.
And that's just the student life stuff. Just wait until you're sitting in the classroom hearing about evolution, and reading Atlas Shrugged or James Joyce. Sure, "Christian Math" and "Secular Math" are pretty much the same thing, but that's where the similarities between Christian and secular universities end. Suddenly you find yourself in the midst of fierce democrats, environmentalists, feminists, anarchists, and God only knows what other kind of people that are making this world so "dark and depressing". What will happen in this post-modern, pluralistic soup to which you or your loved one has been sentenced? Will faith survive?
Surprisingly, I'll be bold enough to suggest that the answer has nothing to do with whether the institution in question is Christian or Secular, for the reality is faith is awakened and strenghened, or decimated and destroyed on BOTH secular and Christian university campuses every year. So I'd suggest that the question isn't whether your faith will survive secular university, but whether your faith will survive university at all, because the reality is that faith hangs in the balance during university years, no matter where the student is attending. And the answer is good news. You can do more than survive; your faith can thrive, grow, and find new life, wisdom and creativity, no matter where you're attending! As one who attended a California State University, and a Christian University, I think the principles and practices that will contribute to a thriving faith are pretty much the same at both "Secular U" and "Jesus U" - what are these principles???
You need real fellowship - When I was at Secular U, real fellowship was easier to find, because at Jesus U, there was this sense that "everyone's a Christian" (even though it wasn't true) and so most of us seemed to take our faith for granted, rather than cherishing our fellows believers as precious allies. I'd suggest then, that no matter where the student attends, he/she should make the pursuit of genuine fellowship a priority. "You become like those with whom you hang out" is a Biblical principle, so find some people with a burning passion to love and serve God and walk with them, run them, play ultimate frisbee with them, pray with them, eat with them. It might be harder to do on at Jesus U, but it can be done there too. Just don't confuse fellowship with using God words and going to chapel.
You need to serve - I liked Secular U because my Christian friends and I were on a mission to share the reality of Christ with those in our dorm who didn't know Jesus. We'd meet to pray for them, we'd build relationships with them by playing basketball together or going to the beach. I played in the marching band and went to the parties after the game, not to get drunk, but because these people were my genuine friends. Some of them came to Christ. There's nothing grander than embracing the mission to be the presence of Jesus on a campus. Again, it's a bit harder to do when everyone assumes that Jesus already lives on the campus because He's the subject of classes, and the topic of chapel. But behind the veil, Christian campuses are filled with young lives who are tortured with doubt and ambivalence about their faith. You can purpose to be a light there too by befriending and building relationships with students, become a safe person for those with questions, doubt, disorders, and failures to share their struggles, all with the goal of helping people see the liberty that's available in Christ.
THINK - I loved that Secular U challenged me at times to think about why I really believed this stuff at all. The challenges made my faith stronger, not weaker, because by forcing me to think about the reasons for my convictions I realized that my faith was, in fact, my own, not just an inheritance from my parents. At Jesus U, I found that people turned their minds off more quickly, accepting propositions offered by their teachers as "gospel truth". I mean no disrespect when I say that sometimes, this had tragic consequences, leaving students with either hollow, untested answers that they'd learned to parrot for tests, or a faith so deconstructed by post-modern uncertainty, that they became overwhelmed with doubt and simply walked away, choosing the bar on Saturday nights as their place of worship, or escape from worship. All of this could be avoided if we'd be willing to engage with both the secular and Christian professors, welcoming new challenges to our thinking, while continually returning to Christ and the Bible as the source of our convictions.
I loved both experiences. Secular U shaped my faith, strengthened it, and brought me out of my shell. Jesus U allowed me to discover my gifts and calling and refined those things.
So you, or someone you love is headed off to Secular U? No worries; at least no more worries than if you're off to Jesus U. Both places need the light that you have to offer. Go for it... and have a great year!!