I don’t know when it first began — maybe I watched a few too many spy movies when I was a kid, or maybe all of those Tom Clancy novels finally got to me. Certainly knowing that God was telling me to head to the trenches helped. Whatever the reason, when I started college I went undercover.
I jumped into an interdisciplinary program that examined one subject — evolution — day in and day out. We ate, drank and slept evolutionary theory until most of my friends were sick of hearing about it. But I loved a good argument, and given my many problems with the notion that time and lucky mud make a man, I sparked many long conversations over pizza at two in the morning.
The more my reputation spread (“he’s that creationist” was whispered when I raised my hand in class) the less likely my professors were to talk about the problems with evolution. Though my grades didn’t suffer (too much), I became persona non grata when it came to learning about biology’s dirty little secrets.
If I ever were going to be welcomed into the “inner circle” I would have to develop a secret identity as an evolutionary biologist.
Picking Your Spot
My choice of majors was no accident. Right before I started college someone challenged me to pursue a strategic major: a field of study largely dominated by people hostile to the Gospel. My goal was to penetrate the field for the sake of the Kingdom.
All studies, all majors, all disciplines are in one sense strategic for the simple reason that we as Christians are called to go into “all” the world, not just the segments of the world that seem popular. The Christian scholar examining the works of Cicero is in the end as vital to the maintenance of the Truth as the Christian academic in postmodern political philosophy. To ignore the “less relevant” fields is, in the end, to force the body of Christ to always play catch-up, never setting the terms of the debate. That said, there are some needs that are more “immediate,” if not more “important.” The sanctifying presence of Christians in the fields of performing arts, political science, journalism, economic theory, biology, literature and philosophy will affect our culture more profoundly because these are the fields that shape the way our generation thinks and acts.
And while there is no doubt these fields count Christians among their ranks (and in a few disciplines Christian scholars are prominent), for the most part the academic and political agenda has been set, discussed and implemented without so much as an afterthought of the Truth of Christ. It is in such disciplines that the battle for the culture is being fought — and possibly lost.
The Kingdom is about bringing the earth under the Lordship of Christ, which means that it is rather concerned about people. Since the culture we live in affects the way we think, the way we respond to the Gospel, the way we live, it becomes a battleground in which we fight for the souls of our generation. Christians are not called to save a culture per se, but to save souls — and our souls are often bound up in culture. The difference between a fallen and a revived culture is the difference between living in one that trivializes the Gospel and one that respects it. Neither culture will necessarily win souls, but the second will certainly make it easier.
The erosion of authority didn’t happen overnight; it was gradual. It began in universities with academics who envisioned a world apart from reality and truth. Influential theorists influenced their disciplines, which influenced graduate and undergraduate students who formed a generation of students that had osmotically accepted the new ideology. The effect of a few theorists in a few disciplines was profound. Their influence was culture-wide.
That’s why Christians are needed so desperately in strategic majors. The disciplines that create first principles — assumptions by which we order the world we experience — could be greatly changed through the sanctifying presence of Christians. When the gatekeepers of ideas — for that is what universities are — invite enemies of the Gospel to sit at the table, it becomes all the more important to place Christians alongside.
If Christians are called to make disciples of all peoples — even the academics — and the need is so great, should it not be obvious for Christians to rush into the fray? “The need is the call,” right?
Questions like these require the infamous “yes, but …” One of the divine charges the King of Israel received in the Old Testament, was to remove the Philistines from the land (cf. I Samuel 9:16). Yet, before each battle, whether victory seemed inevitable or defeat a certainty, David inquired of the Lord as to if he should fight. At times the Lord said strike; at others, He told the Israelites to wait. The mandate was always present, but each battle required an attentive ear.
So too with the call to academics. The mandate is in the Great Commission, yet not everyone should sign up for courses in post-structuralist literary theory. It is a question of calling; to discern if the Lord is with you in such a thing. To know and understand your calling is vital for effective ministry in a strategic major.
It’s Not for Everyone
Now in the second semester of my senior year, I have some suggestions if you feel called to a strategic major. First, find out if the discipline is immediately and openly hostile to your status as an “orthodox” Christian. (Christians whose faith is more of a hobby than an identity pose no real challenge to the established wisdom; it is those who are fundamentalists — code for people who take Christianity as seriously as academicians take their liberalism — that pose a threat).
Among the curricula that are a priori vitriolic against Christians are evolutionary biology, queer theory and much of literary criticism. Most fields are not necessarily hostile, though core tenets and conventional doctrines (not to mention various practitioners) often relegate Christians to the status of an eccentric cousin that no one likes to notice at parties. How then does a Christian lean over to hear what the world (or discipline) has to say without falling in? In both cases, “identity precedes activity,” and we must constantly check ourselves to ensure that our life and doctrine are faithful to Christ.
When the field of study is clearly hostile, it might be wise not to volunteer your status as a Christian until the time is right (remember Esther). Christians in the early church did not seek martyrdom, nor did they run from it. It is a model that serves us well. With God all things are possible, but it will be significantly more difficult to pass by the guardians of the discipline if a student vocally claims to stand against everything he is learning.
After an exhausting first semester, I stopped arguing with everything my professor taught and instead asked probing questions. Professors who do not know of my freshman zeal take me as a natural skeptic, and freely discuss the difficulties in evolutionary theory. In the context of the classroom, they’d be hard-pressed to offer such candid answers if I boldly proclaimed my Christianity. I am not suggesting in any way that deceit is a viable option; integrity and honesty are characteristics of Christ. If anyone were to ask me if I thought evolution was true, I would tell them clearly, no. I simply don’t volunteer that bit of information. After all, no one suspects a traitor in his ranks.
For fields that are not so hostile, seek out like-minded individuals, Christian or otherwise. Their mentoring and help will prove invaluable. Christians are in the unique position of possessing the Truth, and so the mind of Christ gives us the opportunity to excel in the same way Daniel did in the Babylonian court. Our confession as Christians will attract many interested observers, constantly watching to see to what our responses, actions and life testify. Fellowship and accountability are crucial; they guard against the blind spots and weaknesses that can lead to either excessive pride or intimidation.
My first semester created a faith crisis due in large part to the fact that my identity as a Christian had often been supported with evidence and knowledge rather than a deep intimacy with Christ. When confronted with the thought that (gasp!) there might be evidence contrary to the Gospel, God challenged me through other believers to develop my relationship with Christ on a level of faith — not facts. Nothing can shake me from my belief in God now because I know Him. Not because I know about Him.
I’m almost finished preparing for my assignment in the field of evolutionary biology. Challenging is hardly the word that would describe the constant assault against my sensibilities, but with each class God is gracious to strengthen me and grant discernment into the problematic methodologies and conclusions.
You may be wondering where I go from here. (I wonder that same thing.) If the calling to a vocation in evolutionary biology is real, then graduate school is a must. One of the difficulties Christians face when attempting to influence strategic vocations is they are often ill-equipped. It can be like trying to jump straight to the NBA after high school; a few are capable, but almost everyone does better after playing college ball. To be armed with an undergraduate degree in evolutionary biology is helpful, but the letters that come with a graduate degree will lend credibility in the eyes of the gatekeepers and will equip me with the education, contacts and resources I need to significantly affect the discipline.
Other possibilities include strategically influencing laymen through seminars and presentations, implementing policy measures at a local level, teaching high school and more. The issue, for me and every college student, is effective stewardship of the gifts God has given each of us.
Reflecting back over the past four years, it’s exciting to realize the opportunities God has given me and others I know who are also working to advance the Kingdom. My faith grows with each semester, and there is no other place I would rather be. It is a service I can hardly keep secret.
Copyright 1999 Josh Crossman. All rights reserved.