Podcast: Surviving College with Your Faith Intact (Michael Kruger)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Keeping the Faith in College

In this episode, Michael Kruger discusses what it takes for Christian college students to make it through college with their faith intact. He highlights the top intellectual challenges to biblical Christianity many students will face on a secular campus including unprecedented pressure to abandon the Bible's teaching on gender and sexuality, how Christians can take the heat out of controversial conversations with non-Christians by remaining humble and asking good questions, and he shares why it's so important for parents and churches to focus on worldview formation for young people before they arrive on campus.

The Plurality Principle

Dave Harvey

This treatment of elder plurality focuses both on how churches can build a healthy elder plurality and thrive as congregations once plurality is established.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

02:01 - The College Experience: Expectation vs. Reality

Matt Tully
Michael, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Michael Kruger
It’s good to be with you. I’m so glad to be a part of the show.

Matt Tully
Your daughter, Emma, is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; is that right?

Michael Kruger
She is. In fact, she is now a sophomore at my alma mater, and her first year was almost thirty years to the day when I started at UNC-Chapel Hill. So it’s been a sentimental and fun experience.

Matt Tully
That’s such a cool dynamic that you guys get to experience. I’m sure there are many things about the school and about your undergrad experience that you guys will be able to share, but I wonder if there are any things that you think have changed about the undergrad experience for your daughter and her generation compared to when you were in college. Do you think things are significantly different now than they were then?

Michael Kruger
That’s a great question. I think I would say it’s a bit of a mix. There are certainly a lot of things that are different and new. It’s a physically different place. I look around and there’s new buildings and new walkways and paths and structures that weren’t there. It’s a different world today than when I was going to school in the late 80s and early 90s in a number of fashions. But, at the same time, you could say there’s really nothing new under the sun. The world is the same and human nature is the same. One of the things that I think is always confirming to me about the way we read Scripture is that Scripture has diagnosed the human heart and the human condition from thousands of years ago, and when you look at people today you realize, Oh wait! It’s kind of the same thing. So when I hear stories from Emma about conversations she’s having with her non-Christian friends, and even theological discussions with her Christian friends, I’m reminded again that this is exactly what I experienced when I was in college. Fundamentally, a lot of it is similar. In fact, occasionally she’ll even call me on the phone with her friends on the line just to dialogue about stuff, so it’s a lot of fun.

Matt Tully
In your new book you talk about entering into undergrad, and you mention that you were not prepared for what that would be like in significant ways. Can you unpack that for us?

Michael Kruger
When I headed off to college, I’m guessing that my experience was probably pretty normal for lots of people in my generation, and I think even still today, where if you’re a Christian and grew up in a Christian environment and a Christian home, you probably were part of a youth group and you probably had a Bible study and you committed your life to Christ and you believed that the Bible is the Word of God. And all that seemed to make you think you’re ready for the next thing in life. So off to UNC I went thinking I had parents who are Christians and good influences on my life, so I’m all set. What I wasn’t ready for was the intellectual onslaught I got there in terms of ideas and challenges to the Christian faith. I’d never heard these things before; I wasn’t trained to think theologically and I wasn’t trained in the Christian worldview. The way I like to say it is I was probably ready in a moral sense and maybe in a sense of trying to live for Christ, but I certainly was not ready in an intellectual sense. Ironically, you would think that would be one of the main things you would be ready for in a university environment, but I just really wasn’t. I found myself in a pickle when I was in a religion class and didn’t have answers to tough questions.

Matt Tully
Do you think that’s a common challenge with young Christians today, that maybe there’s a surface-level understanding of Christian morality, maybe a surface-level understanding of the Bible, but when it comes to a robust, intellectually-grounded Christian worldview—a coherent understanding of the world and who we are, who God is, and our place in the world—is that something that you found is often lacking? I know you work with college students professionally; you’re the president of a seminary and you’re a professor. What are you seeing with incoming students on that front?

Michael Kruger
My experience, and I imagine my daughter’s too, probably reveals a lot about modern American evangelicalism. It has different stripes, and depending on the stripes you come out of, you have strengths and weaknesses. There’s what you might call the revivalistic stripe where the main concern is, Are you converted? And by the way, that’s a really important concern. Then there’s what you might call the pietistic stripe where the main concern is, Do you live like a Christian? Do you follow God’s way of life and are you doing the right things? Of course, that’s important too. Then there’s this third area that I think goes untouched in a lot of churches, and it’s what you just described: What about loving God with our minds? What about our intellectual life? What about understanding more than just factoids about the Bible that I could recite at Vacation Bible School? What about a robust intellectual engagement with the Christian worldview and how to defend it against non-Christian thought? That just isn’t on the radar of many churches. I’ve actually pondered why, and I don’t know why. I wonder if it’s a seminary problem, or is it a Christian culture problem? There’s probably lots of ways to diagnose it, but I had those first two in spades—pietistic and revivalistic dimensions—but I just didn’t have the third, and I feel like that’s probably not that different than today.

Matt Tully
One of the things I hear most often, kind of a criticism of that third category that maybe isn’t as common, is it can be overly intellectual and less concerned about the lived experience of the Christian and faithfulness and obedience in daily life—those kinds of things. What would be your response to that kind of a critique?

Michael Kruger
I hear that a lot. There are wings of American evangelicalism that you could say are suspicious of academic study and maybe a little skeptical about higher training. The reason they’re skeptical is sometimes legitimate, which is that maybe people they know, or experiences they’ve had with people who have a lot of training, tend to be a little bit cold-hard-facts-type of people. Maybe there’s not the heart in it, they don’t want to just be all about data, but about love and loving Christ and loving people. So there’s a legitimate concern in the background of that, but the problem is that for those who think that’s the main problem, you end up having sort of an anti-intellectual version of Christian faith that’s suspicious of everybody who learns more than just your college level understanding of things. Unfortunately, that creates a Christianity that cannot engage the world intellectually. The concerns are valid, but I don’t think you solve it by just chopping off that dimension of the Christian life. The reason you can’t do that is because the Bible doesn’t do that. Paul didn’t do that. Jesus exhorts us to love him yes, with our hearts, and yes, with our lives, but also with our minds.

08:44 - Being Prepared for Intellectual Challenges to Christianity

Matt Tully
Let’s dig into that intellectual dynamic and, in particular, the intellectual challenges, or even threats, to a Christian faith that college students are going to be facing when they enter into a secular university. If you had to boil things down—I know this is challenging because I know there is a lot of variety and diversity on this front—what would you say are the top three or four intellectual threats or challenges to robustly the Christian, biblical worldview that students might be facing?

Michael Kruger
That’s a great question. It is hard to boil it down because there are so many different dimensions to it. It depends on the school; it depends on the student. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is some students are rattled by certain questions, but not others, and it depends on their own background and what they’re used to. But several things definitely stand out. One thing that stands out, I think, in terms of a problem Christians face on campus, is just the issue of being so vastly in the minority. One thing that most Christians haven’t experienced until college is being the odd man out. Most of the reason is because they’ve grown up in a Christian environment and they’ve been in a church and a youth group and so on. Yeah, maybe they went to a secular high school; but even so, it didn’t really feel like they were the odd man out. But when you get to a big university, suddenly you realize, Wow, no one here thinks like me. No one here believes what I believe. I’m really intellectually and theologically in the minority in ways I’ve never experienced before. That raises really important theological questions like, If Christianity is true, why don’t more people believe it? Or to put it even more bluntly, If Christianity is true, why does it seem like the smartest people are the very ones who don’t believe it? So that’s a big challenge. The second challenge I would say that Christians face today that’s really keen is the challenge of diversity. By diversity, I’m not talking about racial or ethnic diversity; I’m talking about the diversity of ideas. They get onto a college campus and there are other religions, other philosophies, other systems. Suddenly, they show up with Christianity that says it’s the only right way to think, and it just doesn’t seem like that flies. They feel like the knuckle-dragging neanderthal in the room where everyone looks at them like, Wow, you still believe that stuff? So there’s this weird sense of feeling like our monotheistic exclusivity is as out of place as ever. Of course, that’s technically not true, although people feel that. One of the things I point out in some of my books is that actually in the first and second centuries, Christians were out of place just like that in the Greco-Roman world, but we don’t ever think of that and we just think of our time as unique. That’s the second category. The third category I mentioned is the attacks on the Bible. Obviously, Christians hold the Bible to be the Word of God, but it will be challenged in so many different ways, of course, by religion professors, by Bible classes, and even by science. That barrage is never ending. So, those are the three main categories that I think people are going to be facing.

Matt Tully
I want to come back to that issue of the Bible in particular because I think that is so foundational and important, but before we go there, just go into the first two that you mentioned that seem, in some ways, interrelated. I know I’ve heard this story—it almost feels clichéd—but the story of the Christian student who goes to college and eventually loses their faith. Often, a part of that story is, as you were saying, a realization—an awakening—to the variety of worldviews that are out there, the intelligence and the genuine sincerity of non-Christians (or maybe even progressive Christians could be in that category), and the morality of those people. Sometimes that can almost be world-shifting for somebody who has been brought up in a context where the Christian worldview was just assumed and everyone else was kind of portrayed as obviously, intentionally, willfully ignorant or rejecting God and his revelation in a very direct and obvious kind of way. Do you feel like there’s a sense in which the evangelical church—whether that’s church leaders, even parents—have done a disservice to young people in not perhaps exposing them to the best of the non-Christian intellectual world before they get to a place like college and then all of a sudden find it to be quite compelling?

Michael Kruger
Absolutely that’s the case. I think you’ve tapped into one of the major challenges that Christians have when they show up at university, which is—I put it this way, often, when I talk to people—they just find out that they like the non-Christians that they meet. I know that’s a weird way of saying it, but it’s honestly what’s happening. They meet non-Christians and think, I really like this person. They’re kind, they’re funny, they’re smart, they’re thoughtful; they’re not Darth Vader out to attack every believer. They have good reasons for what they believe and they actually treat other people well. In fact, arguably, maybe they even act better than my Christian friends. Now, that whole dynamic shakes up many, many believers. What people don’t realize, though, is that the reason it shakes up believers is actually they have entered college with a faulty theology that no one has ever corrected. That faulty theology says that everybody who’s an unbeliever is as bad as they can be, or everybody who is an unbeliever is a jerk, or everybody who is an unbeliever is an idiot, or everybody who is an unbeliever is this or that—and the Bible never teaches those things. In fact, on the contrary, the Bible talks about what’s called common grace, which is that even non-Christians can be highly intelligent, successful, smart, and even thoughtful, kind people because God restrains in them what would otherwise be the case, in terms of their sin. That is something that Christians have always believed theologically, but it’s never taught to young people. So they go in and they say, Wait a second. None of that’s true. But, of course, the thing they thought should be true never should have been true in the first place. So, what you realize is that there’s a price for bad theology, and there’s a real bad price for it sometimes. Now, how can that be fixed? Sometimes it can be fixed just by teaching people about common grace; but, like you said, it can also be fixed by exposing students when they’re younger to the bigger world that’s around them. There’s lots of ways to do that and we won’t necessarily probe into all of those in this call, but I think as long as that’s on the radar for parents, I think they need to think about ways to get that done.

Matt Tully
I would imagine a high school parent listening right now might be feeling like, That sounds good in theory, but that sounds a little bit scary. I’m exposing my kid to something that may actually be harmful and might lead them astray. Just speak to that general concern that parents might have on that front.

Michael Kruger
This is the tightrope balance: on one level, I know parents are very concerned to prevent their kids from being exposed to non-Christian thought. They don’t want them to read the books, watch the movies, or even have the friends that may influence them. There’s a right and proper place to think through those things and how to balance those things. We’re not just going to throw our kids to the wolves, so to speak, when they’re so immature that they can’t handle it. But any good parent, over time, slowly recognizes what their kid can understand and can handle and slowly begins to expose them to it so they can understand why it is the way it is. So I think that’s what they have to think about with non-Christians. One simple way of doing that is for parents to ask themselves how they speak about non-Christians to their kids when they speak about them? Do they speak about them in a way that seems inherently derogatory and dismissive and that they’re kind of all morons and only we are the really intelligent and smart ones who figured this all out? If you have a tone like that in your family, you’re setting your kids up for a real rude awakening. A place to go, in that regard, is 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul tells the Corinthians, Yes, the gospel is offensive to the world out there and they’re always going to stumble over it; but don’t think that you’re Christians because you’re smarter. Paul goes out of his way to say, No, you guys were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Don’t get me wrong; you’re Christians because of God’s grace. So, what you realize is that we need to be reminded that Christians aren’t Christians because we’re sharper and smarter; we’re Christians because of God’s grace, and there’s actually many non-Christians who are a lot smarter than us. Being a Christian or a non-Christian has nothing to do with how smart you are.

Matt Tully
That ties in to this general topic of humility and how do we balance a robust sense of humility with the confidence in what we believe. Speaking about college in particular, I think one of the often-touted benefits of college—one of the joys and exciting things about those undergraduate years—is that it is a time of exploring and learning and expanding your world. That’s kind of what makes it so exciting. What does it look like for a college student—a young person going into college—to approach it in that way, to approach it with a level of openness to learning new things and to seeing new things, and yet, also not to abandon the core tenets of their worldview?

Michael Kruger
That’s a really important thing for people to think through. You use the term humility there. I think that’s the right term, but the term has to be carefully defined. One of the mistakes that’s made is that people, when they think they want to be humble, they actually don’t use the biblical definition of humility; they use, instead, the world’s definition of humility. That’s going to get you off the right tracks from the get go. The world’s definition of humility is basically equating humility with uncertainty. From the world’s perspective, to be humble is to be uncertain. To be humble is to say, I don’t know. To be humble is to say, Who can know such things? That’s the world’s definition of humility. Now, of course, that’s not what Christians believe, and that’s not what the Bible says humility is. Christians can be 100% humble and 100% certain of what they believe. And the reason you can is because you believe it based on the fact that God has revealed it in his Word, not because you’re so smart or you’re so great. So you can be really humble, and yet still certain about the core truths of the Christian faith. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing is that even if we’re certain about the core truths of the Christian faith, there’s still a lot of room for humility about how much we still don’t know, not only about Christianity but about the world. So, one way that Christians can grow, learn, and expose themselves to new and exciting things in college is just to recognize, Wow, I’m 18; I haven’t seen very much and I don’t know very much. Even if I’m certain that Jesus is Lord, there’s a lot I don’t know about what that means. There’s a lot I don’t know about how to process that and about what the Bible says. There’s a lot I don’t know about the world around me, and I just need to take a big, deep breath, admit I don’t know, be humble about it, and dive in. When you dive in, you’re not just turning your brain off, as if you’re not still thinking Christianly. Of course, you’re still thinking Christianly because the Bible is going to guide you in that, but there is a sense of just admitting you don’t know what you think you do. This, of course, is the humor of youth. I always joke with my seminary students and say, You actually are going to know the most the first year that you’re in seminary. What I mean by that is, of course, they’re going to learn a ton of things; but they think they know the most already. It’s only when you learn a lot that you realize how much you don’t know. So there’s this weird paradox of the more you know, the more you know you don’t know, and that makes you more humble. That’s the advice I would give to college students.

Matt Tully
I’m sure every parent of a college student is nodding their head right now, smiling to themselves.

Michael Kruger
Every parent.

19:48 - How to Refocus a Debate on Foundational Issues

Matt Tully
Let’s get into one of the things you mentioned: the Bible as the foundational source of knowledge and authority in the Christian life and for the Christian worldview. A common critique that’s often levied against Bible-believing Christians is related to that phrase—Bible-believing. Arguably, for the Christian, everything core about our worldview ultimately stems in some way from God’s revelation in the Bible, this ancient collection of documents that was compiled over hundreds of years. How can a Christian—a Christian student in particular—effectively advocate for things like a biblical view of sexuality, for example, or the historicity of the resurrection when they’re talking with people who don’t accept the Bible as an authoritative document? I think that’s a very practical question that Christians might often feel when they’re engaged in this way.

Michael Kruger
The Bible has a lot of things in it that our world doesn’t agree with. And not only that they don’t like, but that they would say is pretty offensive. You’ve mentioned a few of those. When you go on campus and you’re like, I believe what the Bible says, and you get laughed off the stage, there’s a number of ways to help people understand why we believe the Bible and why it matters. I think one mistake that’s made in these discussions is to try to debate the particular issue under discussion before you deal with larger issues of how you know what you know. For example, let’s imagine you’re having a disagreement with your non-Christian friend over some issue related to sexuality. You can go around and around on that for days and get nowhere because what you don’t agree on is how you know anything at all and how you make decisions about what’s right and wrong in the world. So, one of the pieces of advice I gave Emma, and that I certainly would give any college student (and truthfully, any Christian), is that you’ve got to back up a minute and leave that issue on the back burner for a moment in order to ask larger questions. Those larger questions would be things like, Is there even right and wrong in the world? If there is right and wrong in the world, how do you know what’s right and wrong? Are you suggesting this is a world that has moral absolutes or doesn’t? If there are moral norms—things that are always right and that are always wrong regardless of cultures and times—how do you know what those are? Where do they come from? Now you’ve just changed the debate entirely by asking those questions. Suddenly you’re saying, Hold on a second. If I’m going to say that something is right or something is wrong, I’ve got to have some ultimate standard for that. Here’s the pickle that puts a non-Christian in: they don’t have an ultimate standard. All they have is their own brain and their own fallible, fallen human mind. Here’s what Christians have: they at least have purported divine revelation. Now, the non-Christian is going to dismiss that and say, I don’t believe in the Bible. That’s missing the point. It makes sense, at least, in the Christian worldview why we would claim something is right or wrong because we at least admit that we think we have something that transcends humanity. And so, what you realize is that as soon as you make that logic clear, it changes the nature of the game because it actually makes it clear why we think you can say something is right or wrong. Actually, only a Christian has a coherent reason for doing so. The non-Christian is going to have to struggle to come up with a reason. Once you put the debate on that territory, it’s going to strengthen the position the Christian is in.

Matt Tully
What advice would you offer to the Christian who is trying to do that, but they’re realizing that maybe the coherence and the logical consistency of the worldview that the non-Christian is advocating for—or, again, maybe that the progressive Christian is advocating for—that actually isn’t that important to them. They aren’t that inclined towards a super locked-down type of worldview. They’re happy with a I don’t really know why, that just feels good to me.

Michael Kruger
You do run into people that think they don’t have a worldview, although they do. You run into people that claim they don’t believe in moral norms, although they do. And one of the things that I would encourage people to recognize is the difference between what people profess versus how they live and how they really believe at a heart level. A good example of this is the standard debate you have with someone over sexuality where they say, Well, there’s right for you and right for me; there’s wrong for you and wrong for me. Morals are relative. And they give you that big, long speech. They’re so convinced that morality is relative. Okay, that’s scene A. In scene B, you cross over the campus the next day and they’re out there protesting environmental pollution and how the world is being destroyed by environmental problems and how it’s wrong and how it’s morally reprehensible and how these corporations should be punished and fined and so on. And you’re like, Hold on. I was just talking to you last night in the dorm and you were telling me that morality is relative and that there are no moral norms. But you don’t seem to believe that today because here you are out picketing and declaring things to be wrong. So there’s this weird intellectual back and forth in the non-Christian. What this means is that the non-Christian is inherently inconsistent with his own worldview, and he kind of hops back and forth between one and the other. There’s a reason they do that, and it’s because they can’t live consistently. Now, the problem from the Christian side is that you’re trying to hit a moving target. As soon as you get them on one side they flip over to the other. But that’s exactly what you want to point out. That kind of inconsistency is a conversation point, which I think you can press as a believer.

24:51 - Engaging with the Discussion around Gender and Sexuality

Matt Tully
Let’s dig into that issue that you just raised there. Probably one of, if not the most, hot-button issues of our day—I think especially on college campuses—is the issue of gender and sexuality. I would imagine there’s a lot of young Christian students who are going into college and they recognize that; they have a sense of that. A lot of parents would have the sense that that’s the case. But they face an uphill battle in a context where the pressure is going to be so intense. Do you sense that there is a unique pressure on college campuses for students on this issue?

Michael Kruger
Yes. This is part of the newness of our world. You asked me earlier in our discussion what has changed—what hasn’t changed is discussions and disagreements over sexuality. That was true when I was in college. That’s been true for generations. But what has changed is the meaning of those disagreements. It used to be when I was in college and you had a vigorous exchange with someone about whether or not something is right or wrong, you could have that vigorous exchange and everyone understood that that’s just the way that ideas interplay with one another. You make your case, I make my case, and we shake hands when it’s over. Now when you bring up disagreements over sexuality, people understand it to be a personal attack; they see it as an aggressive move against their own identity; they see it as abusive or, in some sense, demeaning to them as a person. So what’s happened in our world today, and this, of course, isn’t news to anyone, is that people’s sexuality is so intertwined with their identity that it’s no longer a behavior. It’s not something you do; it’s who you are. Now, that makes conversations really tricky. Now on the college campus you can’t just go out and say, The Bible says these behaviors are wrong. The Bible does say that, but now you’re talking to an audience that doesn’t hear that anymore. Now they’re hearing, Oh, you hate me. You want to destroy me. Therefore, if you want to hate and destroy me, I want to hate and destroy you. Suddenly, you find yourself in a discussion like this and you’re wondering how it got so intense so fast. That’s the complication of our world today. What do you do with that? Obviously, Christians need to give a lot of thought and consideration to tone, timing, and to the relationships they build. You don’t want to go into these things with both guns blazing out of the holster as if you’re insensitive to every cultural scenario you’re in. But at the same time, you don’t want to compromise. This is my encouragement to Christians on campus: the easy way out is just to give up and to change your view, or maybe hold your view in secret and hope no one ever finds out. I don’t think that’s the solution either. It is complicated, and those are the top balance acts that our college students have to face today.

Matt Tully
What advice do you have for the Christian college student who would say, I want to be faithful. I feel convinced in Scripture’s teaching, but I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to myself—or become, even in the minds of my fellow students, professors, and administration—defined by my view on this one issue as if this is all that matters. What would you say to that person?

Michael Kruger
There are so many suggestions I would have for them. I think one mistake that college students make, or Christians who have good intentions, is they think they’re obligated to speak up every time someone says something that’s not true. I don’t think that’s true for Christians; I don’t think we’re obligated to do that. We don’t always have to say something all the time, every time we see somebody mistaken about issues in our world. I know that there are zealous Christians who think that. They think, If I’m in a class and my professor says something, I’ve got to raise my hand.

Matt Tully
That’s my job as a Christian.

Michael Kruger
Yes. It’s my job, and if I’m not doing that, then I’m a coward. No. There are times for things. There are times to be wise in how you do it and when you do it. So, I think the first lesson is that it’s not your job to correct everybody on the college campus. If that were your job, you would have nothing else to do but correct people on the college campus, and then you would, of course, be a very unpopular person. The second piece of advice—and I gave this a little bit earlier, but I come back to it because it’s relevant here—is don’t let the discussion sit only on the narrow issue in debate. If you want to debate homosexual marriage with your non-Christian friend, I guess you could go around and around on that in terms of is it good, is it consistent, what are the legal ramifications, and so on. But I would suggest stepping out of that and going back to the larger worldview questions: How do you know anything is right or wrong? Is there right or wrong in the world that is transcendent over humanity? Are there moral norms? If so, how do you know them? Those are the kinds of questions that really get to the heart of the matter, and the good thing about going there is it takes the heat out of the discussion. They don’t feel like they’re having to defend themselves; they’re just having to think about how you know if things are right or wrong. As soon as they realize that their worldview has no basis for right and wrong, then that hopefully will bring them back to recognizing that their preference for certain sexual things is just that—it’s just a preference, and it doesn’t mean that it’s right.

29:52 - A Word of Caution for Parents

Matt Tully
What would you say to the parent listening right now who has heard all that you’ve said and is thinking in their head, Dr. Kruger, you don’t know my Jimmy. We went to church every Sunday when he was growing up, he was in Sunday school, he was at youth group, we prayed before dinner every night. I’m really not that worried about him going and staying the course at college. I just don’t think this is as big a threat as you seem to be making it out to be.

Michael Kruger
There’s a balancing act there. One of the things I say in the introduction to my book is that I’m not writing the book to scare parents. I’m not trying to create this scenario where everybody at college is part of the Inquisition and trying to destroy your child. Lots of people go to college and have great experiences. Lots of people go to college and even grow spiritually. But, with that said, the parent who has the perspective that you just laid out is, I think, not doing their child a good service. It is a dangerous business, going to college. It reminds me of the line that Bilbo Baggins gives to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” There’s a sense in which when you go on an adventure, you’ve got to realize that there are dangers. So telling yourself, and effectively telling your child, Jimmy, you’re going to be fine. No worries here! Don’t stress yourself out about it. You’re stronger than everybody else and this isn’t going to affect you. I think that is, unfortunately, naive. I could tell parents story after story, and I think they inherently probably know them, of students going off to college and coming back very soon thereafter very, very different than the kids that left. So, yes, we don’t want to have this overly skeptical martyr complex; but at the same time, let’s not be naive about it and be unaware of the real dangers.

31:41 - A Word of Encouragement for Students Questioning Their Faith

Matt Tully
So you’ve spoken to parents there, and now I want you to talk to the Christian college student who is listening right now who has maybe felt the pressures to the Christian faith that we’ve been discussing today (and there are many other ways in which the Christian worldview is brought under stress at a college campus). If this person is being honest, they would say that they have started to wonder whether or not there might actually be some real problems with their faith. What would you say to that person?

Michael Kruger
This is a very common experience. There are several things I would say to this person. First, you’re not the first one to go to college and wonder these things, so you’re in good company. It’s very normal and natural to go to college and get introduced to new things and wonder, Wow! Is what I believe true? And what about that new thing I just learned about—is that true? That is something that people experience. It doesn’t mean that what you believe is false, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad Christian to ask these questions. These are important questions to probe and ponder, and that’s part of the college experience. The second thing I would tell them is that you don’t have to have all the answers to the hard questions in order to believe. This is a big mistake, and I really want to pause on this for a moment. I hear all the time from Christians in college, I got asked all of these questions I couldn’t answer! And they think, Therefore, I have to abandon my faith or, Therefore, what I believe is untrue. But I would go back and say no! Just because you can’t answer a question doesn’t mean that what you believe isn’t true. There are lots of things that we believe that if we were really pressed on them, we probably couldn’t give a reason for them. It doesn’t mean they’re not true. So you have to realize that you can’t expect yourself to be able to stand toe-to-toe with some professor, or some graduate student, and if you fail to do that, suddenly what you believe is false. No! That doesn’t follow at all. So I would say give yourself a break. Of course, you’re going to have questions you don’t have answers to; that doesn’t mean that what you believe isn’t true. The third thing I would say is don’t confuse not having an answer with there not being an answer. You don’t have the answer; fair enough. But there are answers. Christians have been dealing with these things for years. I can tell you this: whatever Christian students are hearing right now at college, I can tell you, generally speaking, it’s not new. Everybody thinks it’s new, everybody thinks, Wow! I’ve never heard that before. And maybe you haven’t heard that before, but I can promise you that that’s been dealt with before, long before your day, and I think you can take comfort by knowing there are answers out there, and the next step is to go find them.

Matt Tully
That’s one of the things I’ve often noticed in talking with young Christians today is that our knowledge of church history and the history of the Christian faith is often so limited that we can fall into the habit of thinking that anything that I’m engaging right now—any critique or challenge to the faith that I’m finding right now—is wholly new and wholly unaddressed in the history of the Christian faith.

Michael Kruger
That’s exactly right. In fact, I deal with this in a recent book I wrote called Christianity at the Crossroads. I talk about the earliest Christians, particularly the Christians in the second century, and how they interfaced with the Roman world. I make the observation that if you read the apologists during this time, and there were many apologists because Christianity was under serious attack, it is remarkable how similar the issues are in that day to today. In fact, you could almost pluck quotes right off the page and think that someone wrote it today. It is a stunning parallel. So when we think, Oh, the church is in trouble, the world is lost, no one believes, everybody is against us and the church is going to get trampled, my answer is well, that was all true in the second century, and the church flourished and grew and grew. So, the issue isn’t being in the majority. The issue isn’t having political power. The issue is faithfully following Christ everyday and entrusting that to him.

Matt Tully
One other thing you mentioned here leads me to that broad topic of doubt—doubt in the Christian life. It seems like it’s kind of in vogue among many Christians today to speak of doubt in very positive terms: Embrace your doubt. It’s actually part of what it means to have faith. We’ve all heard that type of language. What would you say about doubt? How should we think about the doubts that we might be wrestling with when it comes to what we believe?

Michael Kruger
This is pretty common fare for college students to deal with this, and, of course, non-college students deal with doubt too. The first thing I would say is that there’s two extremes you want to avoid. One extreme is this idea that doubting makes you an awful Christian and you can’t ever let yourself doubt something and that we squash all questions under the heading of “Just Believe.” I disagree with that. There are certain churches and segments of Christianity that operate this way where they don’t let people ask tough questions, they don’t let people wrestle with things, and everybody who doubts is shamed, as if there’s something inherently wrong with them. And so I would think we need to reject that extreme. The other extreme is the one you hinted at, which is there are some Christians today who celebrate doubt as if it’s the highest new Christian virtue, and if you’re certain about what you believe then there’s something wrong with you. They would say certainty is the greatest vice and uncertainty is the greatest attribute you can have. I would also disagree with that. Doubt, if unchecked, can become a real problem. So the issue for Christians is not to be ashamed by doubt, but you also have to fight doubt. You want to push back against it and look for ways to anchor your faith more strongly. Just understanding that alone can help people when they think about doubt in the Christian life. The other thing I would say about doubt is there’s different species of it. Some people doubt Christianity because of intellectual reasons, and some people doubt for personal reasons. They doubt whether or not they’re a Christian, so it's not so much that they doubt whether or not Christianity is true, but whether they are a Christian. And then there are some people who just worry about everything, and they also worry about whether or not Christianity is true. So you’ve got to do a little bit of diagnosis of which version you are.

Matt Tully
That’s really helpful. We talked about your daughter at the very beginning and how she is now a sophomore in college. Speaking with an eye towards other parents who might be listening right now who also have children in college, what are you praying for your daughter?

Michael Kruger
That’s a great way to end, I think, is to ask that question. There are so many things I’m praying for her. Certainly, at the center of it, my prayer is that God would bless her with protection and perseverance. By that I mean not that he would protect her from difficult things, because I think those difficult things are important to grow and learn, but protect her from being drawn away from the faith, protect her heart, that its affections remain on Christ, to recognize that that’s always a danger for everybody we send out and to pray that the Lord would keep her, just like we pray for anybody. At the same time, too, the other thing I pray for her is that she would not go through college with this complacent attitude that says, I got it all figured out. I’m glad I was raised in a Christian home, and now that’s all done. She didn’t go in with that attitude, but I do pray that she would be humble and realize, I’ve got a lot to learn. I want to grow. I need to do more to learn about Christianity and to learn what I can learn from my non-Christian friends and learn about the world around me. So that humility is important. And that humility, again, doesn’t mean you doubt your faith. It just means that you recognize your limitations. Those are two very different things.


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