Reassuring Grandma: Christian kids entering university

I got this vibe from somewhere in my travel and research on creationism. I just keep hearing it, keep feeling it in the background.

“If my kids go to college, they will walk away from the faith of their family”.

Apologetics since Josh McDowell in the 1960s has grown into this huge culture “taking a stand for the faith” by giving arguments for the reliability of the Bible and the resurrection and…against evolution. And sometimes against an old earth

The Josh McDowell crowd…well the mass of well-known apologists along with their books and conferences…try to reassure parents and grandparents that their kids will “survive” the onslaught of professors’ attacks on their faith because the apologists will launch a counterattack…to use ID’s Philip Johnson’s words…they will “sink the battleship” of secularism through arguments.

Hence the culture war over science and religion.

I have spent time with these creationist parents and grandparents. They are terrified and angry when Richard Dawkins says people who don’t believe in Darwinism are insane or evil. (1986 comment).

Terrified their kids will meet Dawkins incarnated as their biology professor. Angry that they are being called insane and evil.

Suppose the relatives of the student aren’t going to agree with EC views.

Is there still a way to talk to them about professors and their agendas in the classroom?
Is there something that can be said to these relatives to reassure them the university experience can be more than an assault upon traditional Christianity?

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Hi jbabraham, what a wonderful post highlighting an extremely important issue.

Firstly, I have kids who are from the ages of 7 to 19. Can i say that your statement above extends to outside of the university environment. One should not always assume that the corruption is only from the academic comunity…it is not. It is equally, if not more likely to come from non academic environments and i say this because one thing i have noticed with my own kids is that more and more individuals who are not educated at university level, are not driven to, or interested in, asking epistomological questions in the first place.

The point is, if our kids are overwhelmed by the speed of life, its throw-away products, why should they even be interested in maintaining religious views? Advertising nowadays is really pushing hard the idea “that life is short…live it to the fullest whilst you can”

To come back to your example of university, another example of the risks of university influence lies in the exposure to those teachers we leave our children in the care of who are teaching religious type subjects but are not Christians…I am thinking in particular of a man by the name of professor Bart Erhman. He is a former Christian who lost his way due to the apparent inconsistencies in biblical writings…he is now an agnostic atheist i believe. I find him an unusual character in that for those of us who are trained in the theology of our faith, we can get past his seemingly overwhelming criticisms of scripture and its apparent unreliability, Bart is an unbelievable stroke of luck as a witness for the historicity of Jesus. However, for “younglings” to be exposed to the likes of him, a highly educated and likable man who claims Christ is not God due to apparent errors in the bible writings, that is a worrying thought as his arguments are very very convincing.

I personally do not believe that the debate is between science and Christianity/religion. Science will not provide any pathway to salvation, and theology does not really explain the physical world around us. Sure theology can talk about how the physical world has been corrupted through sin, and talk about evenings and mornings, but the bible is not a scientific text book.

I would urge that our children have to make a choice…they have to learn to accept that science and the bible serve completely different purposes. one cannot use science to explain the Bible or vice versa…we simply must teach our children that when it comes to the question of time, some things will probably never truly be known in this life and they must accept that the most important focus is their distant future…one day Christians do believe God is going to wipe this earth clean and start anew

Revelation 21

  • 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

  • 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

  • 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

  • 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

It is those who are in the following category who will receive the free gift above…

Revelation 14:12

  • 12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
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Hey, Josh.
Welcome to the forum.

Honestly, I don’t think there is a way to reassure the ones who have have been indoctrinating themselves for decades.

To be clear, I would be considered an american evangelical, and my background is in traditional Liberal Arts with concentration in language and literature, and then later critical theory, education and librarianship. As people fixate on science and Dawkins, they are forgetting that everyone’s basic assumptions will be challenged in every area of learning, if they are indeed learning. Being confronted with new ideas, no matter how neutrally they are presented, is hard. Profs are there to teach their subject matter, not tell kids that they came to the university fully formed, needing only a bit of polish.

The profs I had were ambivalent toward religion, at least in class. However, none of my fellow students ever attempted to highjack a class period to attempt to make it an evangelistic event or argument about faith. A prof might demonstrate antipathy toward the student, the argument, the content, the believe, whatever, if that were the case. Fellow students have the right to protest that a classmate is wasting their time and money as well.

If the grandparents you have in mind have been immursed in not only church itself, but also “evangelical culture” (popular books, christian radio, focus on the family, christian movies (think “God is not Dead”) christian publishing, podcasts, magazines, etc.), then no. They will not believe anything you tell them. How could you possibly know anything about the matter?

I spent much longer than average in state universities after going to public schools in the 1970s and ‘80s. I have a fair amount of experience. “But things have changed since you were last there in ‘02. It’s not the same.” I hear this from people with similar backgrounds to mine, but who have immursed themselves in evangelical culture.

The paranoia is real and then confirmed when college kids are pushy about their faith, believing they have some sort of authority to demand people engage in conversations that they don’t want to have, and then find those people can defend their own positions better, when pushed.

There is a lot more to say about all of this. You probably know that, or you wouldn’t have posed the OP.

A reasonable strategy for talking to paranoid family members is to remind them to pray for the young people’s spiritual development, that they would find a good church or Bible study, where they can grow in and into their faith; that they would approach their studies with real academic vigor and really understand the material, so they can consider well, what it means to and for them; that they would apply themselves with dedication on order to really earn the degree that costs so much money and work to get; that they will be patient in thinking through serious questions that confront them, being willing to chew on them for years, if needed; that they will be humble, faithful servants of Christ, demonstrating real love for the people they encounter and strongly disagree with.

College/university should be a challenging time. No one matures and grows when all their childish thoughts and assumptions are affirmed, and when the “pride of youth” is never challenged with the unexpected, unconsidered, unknown.


This is an extremely relevant question for all of us in the U.S. educational establishment over these last ten years. Here are a couple of responses that might be helpful (or at least partially reassuring) to some.

  1. Ask the the concerned older person: When you were growing up, do you remember being protected from everything that was different from you, your family, even your religion? Were you never allowed to be exposed to or converse with (or even learn from!) anybody who was different than what your parents taught? And a follow up - (presuming that they do remember having such exposure) - do you regret that exposure and wish you could go back and undo it all so that you only were exposed to things you already agreed with?

  2. Do you think evil is a new thing in the world? Was the world just a more innocent place in every generation prior to now - and it is this generation alone that for the first time faces things that no prior generation ever had to struggle with? Or - could it be true that the old biblical wisdom still applies even yet now that “there is nothing new under the sun”?

  3. Yes - it’s hard to “let go” of children. Are you glad your parents eventually “let go” of you? Not as in that they stopped loving you or praying for you, but eventually, you did start making your own decisions independently of them and their approval, right? Was that a good thing? It’s hard because yes, some kids do leave the faith. As has always happened through all generations. It’s also true that some of those (to all appearances anyway) never return to that faith in this lifetime! And none of us ever have a faith that is exactly identical to that of our parents! We are not exact copies - is that a bad thing? Should I as a parent consider myself as “having arrived at perfection” - beyond what the good Apostle even claimed for himself, that I should think my kids’ faith must be faulty at any point where it fails to be an exact copy of mine? Yes, there is for too many a sad loss of faith - that happens too and we need to acknowledge it. And all of them (us) will doubt and struggle with things that you, the parents, wish they wouldn’t doubt. Or you want them to just be able to fast-forward past all those struggles to where you are now after the decades of living that you have more than they do. Did all those decades of struggle benefit you in any way to help you be where you are now? Even though they may have been horrendous, would you willingly trade them away and wish you’d had a life of ease within a protective bubble? Would you be a better person now for having had that life instead?

Okay, all of that dumped on all at once is heavy-handed of course. And making points with a sledge hammer. But any of those thoughts are worth asking today’s generations of parents and grandparents.

Jonathan Haidt wrote an article not too long ago in Atlantic Monthly titled: “Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid”, and I think it’s somewhere (or maybe it was in a yet more recent interview he did with the Long Now podcast) in there that he said when we interact with people who think very differently than we do, engaging with them to understand why they beleive what they do, their brain becomes an extension of our own brain. I.e. Our own brain gets larger, because it now includes their thoughts as well - even if we persist in disagreeing with those thoughts and rejecting them. But when our tribal silos isolate us from all such interactions except with those who already think exactly like we do, then our brains remain much smaller, much more stupid. And yet this is exactly what so many are doing to this generation of growing young men and women.

So the urgency of your question for us here and now is very real.

[I recently wrote a poem that is now up on my classroom wall … it seems relevant here, and because of the spirit of this thread, you here are uniquely positioned to understand exactly what motivated me to write this. … pasted below. I think I may have already shared this in the pithy quotes thread, but I’ll shamelessly repeat it here.]

The Hapless Herald or alternate title: “So How’s That Workin Out For Ya?”

The pious noticed drums and beat and staunchly disapproved.
Let the devil have the music – we don’t join that groove.
And so he took it, yes he did; and much was made for him.
“Remind me how that werked fer y’all?” our herald later mused.

The pious read all ‘bout the world, and marshaled chapter and verse.
We see the devil in this place, this ain’t our universe.
And so he took it, yes he did; his playground it became.
Years gone we hear “how’s that werked out?” - the question’s still the same.

The pious felt the tug of flesh; desires to be sated.
The devil must be in that too, already desecrated.
And so he took it, yes he did; and we just let him be.
We age and ache and dimly hear: “how’d that work out fer ye?”

The pious heard all ‘bout the mind; and perils of education.
Science! It’s the devil’s too – We’re Jerusalem. Not Athens!
The hapless herald disturbs our slumber; prods us still again,
and to our corner the echo comes; as he repeats the question.

Then the pious man was asked, “Now what about yer soul?”
He looked. And looked again.
I know I got it somewhere!
Just gimme a moment – I’ll find it – yes – and afterwards I’ll answer.

And the moment became eternity.

-Merv Bitikofer 2023




They are correct to be concerned as that time of life is when many leave the faith, but their fear is misplaced. My experience is that science teachers in general do not care what their students believe when in the classroom. The real threat is society in general. If my experience in church is typical, those going to state university are probably more likely to stay in the faith than those not going and staying in the community to work.
I was reading a few years back how some Christian college leaders were active in having programs to help students reconstruct their faith as their own after the inevitable deconstruction that occurs when they get to college. The assumption was that the question was not whether they would deconstruct, only what should be done when they do so.


That was my experience too. It’s something that often happens around that age no matter whether they’ve gone off to university or not. And my parents, at the time, did feel threatened with some of it, I recall (especially regarding a sister of mine). hearing whispered conversations between my parents and some of their conservative friends that professors over at that “liberal college” were asking questions or poking at things that ought to be reinforced instead (or at least left alone). Concerns to that effect. That was thirty to forty years ago. It all turned out okay. Both for me and for that sister.

I like to think of it as the personal experience of Hebrews 12:27 - God shakes things so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Turns out that could be a theme verse for science itself as well as faith - and, paradoxically, such pruning is probably the way we grow the most.

Even though I can’t remember where I saw it - I recently saw a quote attributed to John Stuart Mill I think that was to this effect: “He who does not know the opposing case knows little of his own.”


I read an article recently that gave data showing that the level of education that contains the most religious people is a master’s degree, and that those with just a high school diploma are less likely to be religious than college grads, on average. There are always exceptions of course, but I agree that the fear is misplaced if parents are more worried about a philosophy professor their child will see only a handful of times as opposed to a boss or coworkers.


In line with what you said, some data seems to suggest that the formula is:

Increasingly religion has become the enclave for those who have lived a “proper” life. College degree, middle class income, married with children. If you check all those boxes, the likelihood of you regularly attending church is about double the rate of folks who don’t.


That sounds like Alfred P Doolittle in the movie My Fair Lady.

Yep – that sounds like the article I read, just must have been on a different site.

love the poem Mervin…you have absolutely nailed it.

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love this Phil.

One thing that really surprises me in my own experience in the academic world and now out in the real world (if im allowed to put it that way), is that academic individuals have been taught to think critically, and yet quite a number seemingly graduate with what appears to be a complete absence of the ability to do so when it comes to real-world issues (COVID vaccinations being point and example).

I recognize that there are those who had a genuine fear of vaccination, but surely one’s ability to study and think critically should be able to weed out the conspiracies and so at least sound arguments for the pro and nay camps are utilized. I got the feeling personally that that did not appear to be the case. Despite my own pro vax position, i believe each side has appropriate truths but some of the stuff i read about regarding reasoning and choices made in either side’s treatments, was nothing short of the stuff of complete and utter stupidity. We had influential individuals (usually experienced academics) from both sides presenting outrageous rationales for their views.

When we translate that into critical thinking for life as a Christian, we see voids between good sense and nonsense. I find myself trying to stop my own son, for example, from “making bad choices and hurting himself” (both philosophically and physically)…for the purposes of this thread, the philosophical being very worrying even for me.


It is highly likely that a university education will encourage your children to make very different choices than you did. My father was an atheist communist and here I am a Christian telling everyone that the writings of Marx and Lenin were pure evil.

You got two choices: teach your kids to think for themselves or forbid them from thinking anything but what you tell them. In the second case, you want them dumb and as uneducated as possible. To keep them dumb, you can look into what nutrition to avoid in order to deter brain development, or chemicals like lead and mercury which put a stop to it. For education, university is out, and you should probably home school them before sending them to a seminary school or employing them in the family business right away.

But if you want them to think for themselves then the sky is the limit, where they can surprise you in so many ways. And heaven forbid, perhaps they will teach you a thing or two.


Is there some sort of Christian society that they can direct the students to? Or is there a church in their university town with an effective ministry to students?

Here in the UK at any rate, just about every school, college and university has a Christian Union. Students may experience challenges to their faith, and they may find that there are issues and questions that they have to work through, but the Christian Union environment allows them to all face these challenges and questions together and to work out together how best to respond to them. In the Christian Unions I was involved with, losing your faith was very much the exception rather than the rule.

It’s also worth pointing out to them that avoiding university altogether isn’t going to protect them. The challenges that they would have faced at university, they will also face in the workplace, but the lack of a university education may well result in them losing out on learning important critical thinking skills that might help them to effectively respond to the challenges that they face.


In the US, organizations like Cru, Navigators, or Intervarsity would be good places to direct students to – I imagine most major schools have at least one of those.


Good points. My urban state university had a well-led and lively Cru (the Campus Crusade for Christ) ministry, Intervarsity, Lutheran Student something (with a resident chaplain!) etc etc. The worship time together with Crusade was really important to us that went, and for some kids, it was the closest thing to church they had. It was also a beautiful expression of the Body of Christ; for the first time in my life I was worshiping with African-American young people, most of whom were from very different Protestant churches than mine, and students from Jamaica, Korea, etc.

Decades later, my daughter is at different state university in a rural part of the state. It’s really a spiritual wasteland. Cru is immature, Intervarsity closed up shop, etc. There are a few Bible studies that she’s investigated, but feels like they’re there to sell stuff (MLM Bible study??), and there is only one church she feels comfortable at, but stands out , because she’s so young.

Our current church has focused since it’s beginning on ministry to students at Michigan State U. and has just finished planting a church in an different college town, where there wasn’t much support for Christian students. They have just begun the process of a church plant where my daughter’s school is.

Rather than fussing about kids losing their faith, etc, etc. It would be great if those worried folks put their faith into action to help provide effective support for the spiritual development of students.


This does not bode well for the long term vitality of the church.

That is good. It seems a lot of churches have an active high school program, and then seem to have no idea what to do until when and if those kids show back up as young marrieds.


What of those who have no youth ministry because their youth (defined for my purpose as 11-25) is monotypic? In this case, due to a generational gap: there are 12 children under 11, and 10 adults between 25 and 40.


Sometimes we need to think differently about what church ministries look like. Maybe looking at ministry as a kind of mentorship that means life together for the whole body.