Keeping Your Faith

Sep 30, 2004 |Marshall Allen

You can survive college with your faith in tact. Here's a book that can guide you from freshman orientation all the way to graduation.

Reading philosophy usually makes me feel like I'm plodding through snowdrifts, lost and laden with sandbags. There is no promise the slogging will be worth the brain freeze. And the intellectual payoff is sometimes nothing more than the masochistic satisfaction of finishing the task. I am pleased to say that J. Budziszewski, a government and philosophy professor at the University of Texas, does not write like the typical philosopher — as any regular reader of his Boundless columns can verify. Dr. Budziszewski is a thinker and a communicator, which means he will not be anyone's cure for insomnia.

Budziszewski skewers the mythical beasts of secularism by applying biblical truth to everyday life. There was a time in my life when I wondered if secularists were smarter than I was, as they claimed. Did they have evidence I was lacking? My anti-religious friends implied I was weak-minded. Was this true? For a time, I was intimidated and questioned my beliefs. Any student who's had similar feelings will benefit from the way Budziszewski exposes the intellectual fallacies in each of these predominant worldviews.

Budziszewski's book, How to Stay Christian in College, is a straightforward survival guide for the committed Christian student. He says he wrote the book because Christian students have their convictions and discipline assaulted from the moment they step onto the contemporary college campus. People say their faith is a crutch, the Bible is mythology, morality is relative, that people don't need God, and that Christianity is judgmental and intolerant. And if that's not bad enough, for many students college means leaving behind friends and family who previously provided a support network, Budziszewski writes.

Throughout the book, Budziszewski keeps it real. His authenticity starts when he tells his own story. At age 10, he committed his life to Christ. But during college and graduate school he says he let his politics become a substitute for religion. He says he lost hold of God, things started going wrong in life and then disbelieving God seemed a good way to get back at Him. "Sheer, mulish pride" is the main reason Budziszewski lost his faith.

Over time he felt an increasing "horror" about himself. God drew him back. The philosopher relinquished his rights to self-ownership and allowed Jesus Christ to run his life. How to Stay Christian in College, is Budziszewski's attempt to encourage students to seek the light, or avoid the darkness altogether. He wants to equip students to meet the spiritual challenges in college life.

The book provides detailed instruction for students who want to thrive spiritually and be a positive Christian example on campus. It's entertaining, thoughtful and filled with biblical advice on subjects ranging from sex to coping with campus social life.

But the book — and the Christian life, too — should come with a disclaimer. Budziszewski is not writing for those who could be classified as "casual Christians," (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Consider his response to any Christian student who says he must "make more time for God" or "fit Christ into his life":

Christ doesn't want a place in your life; He wants it all. He doesn't want you to fit him into your plans; He wants to fit you into His. You're called to belong to Him. Don't take it from me; check it out in the Bible. Paul says in Romans 1:6, "And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ."

This author takes faith pretty seriously. And we should, too. People who have not given their lives to Christ will not understand Budziszewski's advice as it's intended. Christian practices will always be dissatisfying to those who base their faith on ritual or tradition but lack full submission to God.

The book's strength lies in the insight of its premise: Christian students are resident aliens on the secular college campus. It should come as no surprise then that the Christian worldview is often misunderstood and attacked there. Budziszewski shows how the three dominant belief systems at secular universities — naturalism, postmodernism and do-it-yourself spirituality — are contrary to Christianity, and what to do in the face of them.

How to Stay Christian in College also offers valuable advice for any Christian who has ever been challenged by lifestyle conflicts with non-Christians. How should a Christian respond when her friends pressure her to do something that's wrong? Budziszewski's advice includes four "Don'ts":

"Don't Argue" – don't be drawn into a shouting match or debate.

"Don't Apologize" – don't feel guilty or make excuses about refusing what you know is right.

"Don't Back Down" – stand your ground without wavering or changing your mind.

"Don't Get Trapped" – avoid situations where you may be tempted to give in.

Christian students must decide in advance how they will handle moral conflicts with non- Christians. Not only because doing so will help them stand firm, but how they do so will affect their non-Christian friends' view of Christianity.

When I was a student, I often responded poorly to moral disagreements. I didn't cave to immorality, but I was self-righteous and judgmental as I held my position. This attitude is inconsistent with the example of Jesus Christ. In some cases, I know that my stance toward my non-Christian friends made them want to avoid Christianity, not embrace it.

Finally, Budziszewski doesn't avoid the touchy stuff; questions that may make some people squirm. For instance, in the section on dating and marriage he says some readers will be relieved because he answers difficult questions. But he says others will be angry because they won't like the answers. He addresses several questions Christians commonly ask about marriage and dating, including "Who can I marry?" and "How far can I go sexually before marriage?"

Budziszewski holds that dating is a precursor to marriage. So a Christian should only date someone they could marry — that is, other committed Christians. And what about the "how far is too far" question? C'mon, I've gotta give you something to look forward to! Budziszewski's perspective on this and other issues is sure to generate important conversations among students. Get the book, turn to page 131, and get talking.

Copyright 2004 Marshall Allen. All rights reserved.

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