It is not uncommon for Christian students to reject their faith while attending secular colleges and universities. Studies show that upwards of 60 percent of Christian students abandon their faith during those formative years. Unfortunately, the antidotal evidence of this often comes directly from our own families and church communities. This is a disturbing and real problem that concerns all Christian parents—especially those whose children are part of the upcoming freshman class.
A 2007 study by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research expressed serious concerns about the overall climate on campuses for evangelical Christians after finding that faculty’s general religious tolerance is not equally extended to evangelical Christians. The study found that only 11 percent of faculty members feel “very warm/favorable” towards evangelical Christians, by far the lowest ranking of any religious group. “Many professors on secular college campuses view it as their job to disabuse Christian students of any notion of truth as absolute, a personal God as existing or the Bible as authoritative,” says Christian apologist and high school Bible teacher, Tricia Scribner.
Christian students are particularly vulnerable when they arrive on highly permissive secular campuses, often unprepared to face intellectual and social challenges to their faith. However, as part of their newly found autonomy they must make important decisions about their belief system and values.
Sophie Moore, now a sophomore at Appalachian State University, found herself in just this position last year. Moore was raised in a Christian home and attended a Christian high school, but once on a secular campus she says, “I realized for the first time that I could not be both a follower of Christ and of this world. For the first time in my [Christian] walk, I had to decide.”
Moore’s faith was specifically challenged by her philosophy professor. On the first day of class her professor asked if any of the students were evangelical Christians. “I raised my hand and was targeted from there on out,” she says. The professor asked Moore questions nearly every class period—questions she was unable to answer. “Their arguments [against Christianity] are logical,” Moore says, admitting that she found herself questioning own her beliefs as a result.
When Christian students find their faith confronted in class after class about everything from absolute truth to the historicity of Bible, they are often unable to respond adequately for their professors and peers, or more importantly, to placate their own doubts. Many Christian students quickly realize that saying, “You just have to have faith,” is not an adequate response, according to Scribner. “When Christian students have not prepared intellectually for the assaults on their faith, they are blindsided, easily intimidated and swayed.”
Moore says that the attack on Christian students’ faith is not only on the intellectual front—it also comes from the social aspect of secular campus life. As a freshman, Moore says, “I honestly thought that I wanted to be a ‘normal’ college kid. I felt so abnormal because alcohol is so normal.” She says she hated having to tell people that she does not drink or party because she is a Christian. While Moore has made the decision to live her life for Christ, she says it has been disappointing to see friends from high school give excuses for their behavior and assimilate into the secular culture.
Scribner believes that this type of moral compromise may be what actually precipitates many students’ rejection of Christianity. “When they feel guilty about their failures it’s much easier to buy into the mantra that there is no absolute right or wrong,” Scribner suggests. This may explain, in part, why staggering numbers of Christian students are abandoning their faith on secular campuses.
Moore believes that secular campuses are a proverbial crossroad for Christian students where they are forced to make a pivotal, personal decision about their faith. Moore’s own faith has taken root and flourished, out of necessity, while attending a secular university, but she says, “I am not going to tell anyone that it was an easy decision.”
Scribner encourages Christian students to research the objections to Christianity that they will inevitably face, rather than just accepting them. “Enduring doubt, struggling with the hard questions, and tackling the issue of whether faith is one’s own or just a parroted vacuous message from church and parents is a valuable experience,” Scribner says.
Scribner offers encouragement to the parents of prodigals who seem to have abandoned their faith on secular campuses. Pointing to the faithfulness of God, Scribner says confidently, “Taking a snapshot during college years may not tell the end of the story.”