Escaping the Christian Cloister

The name of the game on many college campuses is friendship evangelism. The problem is that in most cases we settle for too much friendship and too little evangelism.

“For a Christian, it is not a thing to be assumed, that he be allowed to live among fellow Christians. Jesus lived among his enemies.”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gemeinsames Leben: Das Gebetbuch der Bibel

These words appear in the opening paragraph of Bonhoeffer’s book on life in the Christian community, and address one of the key challenges that have always faced us: living in the world while being not of it. We need one another as brothers and sisters in Christ to be a strong, healthy community — a living body of Christ. However, we also have a mandate to engage the unbelieving world around us.

The danger is not always that we are silent for fear of censure from unbelieving neighbors, classmates or professors, though this danger certainly does exist. The danger is that we often isolate ourselves from developing deep friendships or any friendships at all with unbelievers. We opt only for the safety of relationships with fellow believers; what a former pastor at University Baptist here in Champaign called “the holy huddle.”

Bonhoeffer commented on this behavior also, writing, “The Christian does not belong in the sequestry of cloistered life, but rather amid the enemies.” He went on to quote Martin Luther, who called those who would rather live “among the roses and the lillies” traitors to Christ. Strong words? Yes, but entirely appropriate. If we are to have an influence for Christ in the intellectual and cultural life of our nation, we need to present unbelievers with a solid witness for Christ on college and university campuses.

I’ve heard it said on this campus that the name of the game is friendship evangelism. The problem is that in most cases we settle for too much friendship and too little evangelism, letting the eternal fate of our friends and associates take a back seat to our common interests, likes and dislikes. Instead, we should be making clear to those we know and live with what we believe and why.

It does our non-Christian classmates and friends no good if we ourselves engage in heated discussions of apologetics or Christian ethics at an Intervarsity or Campus Crusade meeting, yet balk at presenting the truth of the Gospel when opportunities arise in the dorm room, in the student union or in the weight room.

In some cases you may have to make the opportunities yourself, and not every circumstance lends itself to giving a good witness. Going to talk to the drunk at the end of the hall about Jesus might not work at 2:30 a.m. the night before the chemistry final. Pearls before swine, you know. On the other hand, showing Christ-like character in the face of the same student’s drunken tirade about religion could be just the opening the Holy Spirit wants you to use. The important thing is not where or when the conversation occurs, but that it occurs.

Don’t fault yourself for using discernment and picking your battles. Christ calls us to do just that.

The same is true of classroom confrontations with professors. If you are attending a secular university, it is practically guaranteed that you will face a professor who assails Christianity in some way or another. The important thing here — on top of standing firm — is chosing the right response to the assault.

If a professor assails the historical reliability of the Bible, point out the mountains of verfiable, testable evidence that supports its historical, archeological accuracy. The works of Frederic Kenyon, William Allbright and Pinchas Lapide are resources I would recommend.

If, in biology class, the notion of special creation comes under attack (it will!), respond with studies such as those published in recent issues of Nature which indicate that there has been no evolution in the male line of humanity — ever. You could also point to William Dembski’s book, The Design Inference, which offers a scientifically testable method to determine whether or not a given system or object is the product of directed, intelligent design.

The conclusion about our universe? It is certainly the product of a guiding intelligence.

Even more convincing is the fact that the people who reached these conclusions — in the fields of history and biology — were not Christians, and in some cases, not even theists. Their conclusions, however, lead to a theistic view of reality. These are the facts that we, as Christians, must confront unbelieving professors with. It does no good when Christian students are afraid to stand up for their worldview.

Christ spoke the truth about Himself, His Father and humanity in the face of His enemies. We must speak the same truths in the face of the same kind of opposition. We must also remember that Jesus didn’t use the same words with the Syrophoenician woman that he used with the scribes and Pharisees.

The Lord will supply us with the right words for the right people, if we ask. But we have to be willing to speak them.

Copyright 2000 John D. Martin. All rights reserved.

About the Author

John D. Martin

John D. Martin, Ph.D. lives with his wife, Susan Martin, Ph.D. in Champaign, Ill. They are members of New Covenant Fellowship.


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