Note: This is a repost from June of 2013. Still very relevant, though. If you’re headed to a school like this in the fall, read on…
The title of this post mentions “Christian Colleges,” but I’m really interested in helping those of you who are going to a specific type of school–those which are Christian in the sense that they market themselves as Christian and have vague ties to various types of Christianity. Messiah and Eastern are the two local examples of these types of schools. So I’m not so much speaking about the bible colleges a lot of you are attending, or schools with distinctly evangelical or biblical approaches like Liberty or Moody.
Here’s the issue–If you go to a regular old secular institution, you know what to expect. You gird up, you get ready to fight temptation and skeptical views of the Christian faith, you prep to share the gospel with non-believers, you plan on looking for friends that believe, and you go for it. Students in these schools face intellectual challenges to their faith, to be sure, but it’s way more out in the open. But when you head off to a Christian school, you probably assume that the professors are there to strengthen your faith. Seems like a safe bet, right?
We’ve come to find that you just shouldn’t assume this kind of thing about schools like this. Why? Because when you’re sitting there in class, and the teacher begins to make statements about the truth of Christianity (or more commonly, about the Bible specifically), it’s way harder to think through what’s going on when the professor claims to be a Christian. And it is very common for these schools to promote ideas that directly challenge and undermine your ability to trust scripture. So instead of being an open, frontal assault on your faith (like you’d get in a secular environment), you get a sort of sneak attack. After all, aren’t they on our team?
The result is lots of people struggle more with their faith at these Christian colleges than people at secular schools. My point here is not to judge the motives or sincerity of any professor or school. Instead, I want to help by providing a couple essential resources that can help anyone be ready to face the kinds of challenges you’ll encounter in these environments.
Get ready, it’s a reading list.
Here are three books (and one bonus book) which, if you read and digest them, will prepare you to discuss the kinds of philosophical, interpretive, and theological challenges to scripture that typically surface in Christian college classrooms. I’ve gone back and forth about this list, because it’s not a list of the easiest books on the topic, but then I think: if you’re going to college, shouldn’t you read college level stuff? Not only that, if you’re going to run in to sophisticated challenges to your faith, with big words, ideas you haven’t encountered before, and footnotes quoting all kinds of philosophers, scientists, and theologians—you should expect exactly this—should you be put off by reading that kind of thing outside of class?
Can I be blunt? If you’re not ready to read the kinds of books on this list, I really don’t think you should go to one of these schools. Talk to me if that bothers you.
So these books are written on that level. They all focus on how to think about Scripture (since that’s where most of the issues are fought in these arenas) Here you go:
- Inerrancy and Worldview by Vern Poythress.
(See the blog post about it here.) This would be the “if you only read one of these, read this” entry on the list. Poythress helps you sharpen your worldview from a scriptural standpoint, and thereby paves the way for you to easily see how the Bible could be without error (“inerrant” is the battle-word here.) If you’ve started to wonder how God could produce a perfect document written down by humans, here’s your book. (download the book for free here.)
- The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame.
(See the blog post here.) This book is only half as long as it looks, so don’t be scared if you go to the bookstore and pick it up. Frame walks you through the Christian view of what the Bible is, in an easy to follow and very persuasive manner. This is essential for remembering the power God has to speak to us and get his word to us in written form. It’s fresh and convincing.
- A Clear and Present Word by Mark Thompson.
(See blog post here.) Thompson takes aim at the claims that the Bible can’t really be understood in any meaningful sense, because of all the differing interpretations, issues of translation, etc. The subtitle is “The Clarity of Scripture” and that sums up the argument of his book: the Bible can be understood because God is a good communicator. This is perfect for people who are getting confused about issues of interpretation, ways of knowing truth, and communication issues. Think post-modernism, English class, Philosophy class, any Bible or religion class, etc.
- Bonus: Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger.
(See blog post here.) For all those discussions about how we know what books should be in the bible (especially the New Testament), Kruger’s book is the new standard. This book will help you put to rest any nagging doubts about how we could know that we have the right books in the bible.
There’s high stakes things going down in Christian lives at college. I’ve become convinced that, given the level of challenges facing students today, you just shouldn’t be at a Christian college without reading these books or some others very much like them. If you’re headed there in the fall, make this your reading list. Grab me at church and I can probably help you get a discount on the whole package, too.