Ratio Christi, which means “The reason of Christ” in Latin, is a non-profit organization which is strategically placing apologetics clubs on secular university and college campuses. They do this with the goal of reestablishing a strong and reasoned presence of Christian thinking in academia. In our exclusive interview, Blake Anderson, Director of Administration for Ratio Christi, offers practical and insightful thoughts on the challenges Christian students face on secular campuses and how their faith can thrive in the midst of intellectual challenges to Christianity.
Keri Williams (KW): What are the key reasons Christian students are losing their faith in secular colleges and universities?
Blake Anderson (BA): There are many reasons for this and the problem shouldn’t be oversimplified. However, in the many studies that have been done there appears to be a current running underneath many of the factors that cause Christian youth to walk away from their faith. It’s not because religion isn’t significant to teenagers. Just the opposite is the case. However, young people don’t have settled convictions about their religious beliefs. A major study published by Oxford University Press, Soul Searching, indicates that students are exiting primarily because of “intellectual skepticism and doubt.” They don’t believe that Christianity is true the same way that the physical world around them is true. Due to intellectual influences after high school they come to believe that there is no real evidence for their former beliefs and that there are too many questions that can’t be answered by Christianity.
(KW): What are some of the specific challenges to Christianity?
(BA): When someone with a Ph.D. behind their name suddenly confronts a student with supposed evidence that the New Testament books were forgeries and dismisses the historicity of the Christian narrative, if that student has not been well grounded in the evidence for the historical accuracy of the accounts of Jesus’ life the odds are heavily in favor of that student dismissing their parents’ and pastor’s faith as outdated. In philosophy class when the professor appears to eloquently demonstrate how Immanuel Kant showed two hundred years ago how we can’t really know anything unless it is of the physical world, what chance does a young adult have if all they have for equipping is some Sunday School Bible stories? And when the most articulate current defenders of neo-Darwinian evolution essentially mock anybody that doesn’t agree with them it will take much more than a good feeling in your heart to keep you from being demoralized and eventually giving up on a supernatural Creator.
The frustrating thing in all of this is that there are good answers to these assertions. The problem isn’t that there aren’t answers on the same academic level as those that are challenging Christianity; there are. The problem is that so few Christians are aware of where to go to get answers.
(KW): What can we do to better prepare Christian students for these types of confrontations?
(BA): This may sound harsh, but first, get our heads out of the sand and realize that our methods for the last thirty years have resulted in five to eight out of every ten solid Christian teens abandoning their faith in some way. It’s not pretty. It’s truly a massacre, and until we face into that hard reality our teens will be the unfortunate fodder. This is not a game and no one will be benefited by pretending it isn’t happening.
Second, encourage your children to express their doubts, hard questions, and objections. Don’t suppress these and run from them. You won’t know all the answers, so be prepared to dig in yourself and spend serious time in learning. Your faith will be shaken, but if you truly trust in Christ you won’t use avoidance you will engage. There is nothing to fear. God isn’t afraid of your children’s questions so you should not be either.
Third, remember that teens are influenced by their parents’ beliefs far more than is thought. You and other adults have massive influence in their lives. They need older mature mentors who can show them how to integrate their faith and their interests in life.
Fourth, teach critical thinking skills and logic to your junior high and high schoolers. In this extremely emotive culture, students need to know how to think rather than just what to think. If young people are taught how to think and process information and critically evaluate ideas that they are presented with, they will be able to stand head and shoulders above their peers (and professors for that matter). Then ground them in why Christianity is true and matches objective reality. It’s not enough to know the basic tenants of Christianity. They must know how to defend those beliefs as objectively true in the face of attack. They need to be exposed to anti-Christian ideas in a controlled environment prior to being sent out on their own. Inoculate your children by allowing them to explain and defend their faith against opposing ideas, instead of hiding them from false philosophies until they go off to college.
(KW): What would you advise a Christian student to do to keep their faith strong?
(BA): Be prepared to face questions to your faith that you didn’t even know existed. Don’t be surprised about new “evidence” against Christianity. When faced with a question or attack on your faith take it in stride and realize that even if you don’t know the answers right now, there are good answers. Your “brilliant” professor isn’t presenting you with a dilemma that hasn’t been thought of and addressed at length in some fashion by the Christian community. Go about finding the resources you need to properly address the issue and don’t panic in the meantime. Remember that the best Christian intellectuals of the last two thousand years are on your side and there is nothing to fear.
(KW): How would you characterize the student who does not lose their faith in secular colleges?
(BA): I don’t know that I can give a neat answer to this as it is too easy to oversimplify. I will, however, offer some basics. First and foremost, they have a personal trust in Jesus Christ. They have strong relationships with other Christian mentors who understand what it means to integrate all of life, including the student’s specific academic discipline, with their Christianity. The student has learned to critically evaluate everything instead of simply believing what they are told. They have at least a basic understanding of the reasons why their faith is objectively true and they know where to find the resources for issues they do not understand. Further, these students are learning how to present their convictions to others instead of simply keeping them private. Their faith is grounded not just in emotionalism or through ignoring the difficulties of life, but through solid discipleship and a clear vision for what it means to be a disciple of Christ with our minds and our entire being.
(KW): What is Ratio Christi doing to equip Christian students?
(BA): Ratio Christi is a global movement that equips university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ. We set up student led clubs on college and university campuses where students can openly and honestly seek the out the reasons for the truth of Christianity and understand how to engage the ideas of the day. The clubs teach critical thinking skills and share the gospel with Christians and non-Christians in an intellectually stimulating environment. We hope to reverse the trend of de-conversions that occur during a student’s college career. An open forum is provided for non-believers to ask questions and seek answers without feeling awkward or the odd-man-out. Our goal is to reverse the trend of secularism within the academy, to demolish the false wall between faith and reason, and to equip Christian students to become confident witnesses for Jesus Christ. Ratio Christi serves other campus ministries, brings resources to local churches, and promotes campus wide events focused on the Christian mind. There are weekly meetings to discuss the most pressing questions of life and we promote mentoring relationships within the academic environment. In all of this, we always point people toward the cross, redemption, and the rationality of Christ.
What are some challenging questions that you’ve been confronted with about Christianity? We want to know! E-mail us at NicoleO@goodnewsfl.org!