Why Do Students Doubt?

Why do Christian students find college so challenging to their faith? Why do non-Christian students so quickly dismiss Christianity?

There are several ways to answer these questions. We could explain it in terms of temptation – surely, there are many temptations on the college campus that the Christian is called to forego. We could explain it in terms of the history of Christianity – surely, there is a narrative about Christianity's failures that is convincing, even if only partly true. We could explain it in terms of what they are taught by faculty, in terms of the place of science in modern life, in terms of spiritual warfare. All of these explanations have some truth to them. Yet, all of these challenges have been present at other times and places, so the unique challenge we face lies elsewhere.

The experience that students articulate again and again to me reminds me of the premise of Roger Lundin's Believing Again: "To be a modern believer is to recognize that in the deepest personal sense, belief is optional; whatever a person is able to accept and affirm he or she is also free to reject and deny."

Life on a college campus places you in close quarters with people who believe differently than you. People with another religion and/or worldview are your roommates. They become your close friends. If you're a Christian, your faith has to be able to process the fact that other people – people for whom you care, people who are intelligent – believe differently than you. If you're not a Christian, you understand that there are other options for you than Christianity. To state it clearly, the roots of contemporary forms of doubt seem to lie in the fact that there are other compelling options available.

A healthy ministry, especially to students, will have to speak into this doubt. It will have to help students make sense out of the religious (or non-religious) life of their friends, and it will have to hold out the Gospel as a compelling reality. Changing the decorations of the faith (e.g., the musical style, the clothes of the minister, the programming) won't do. The center of the faith has to be held out compellingly, and here is where we find the strength of the Gospel. Returning to Christ – to the goodness, truthfulness, and beauty of God at the cross and the empty tomb – offers all the material needed to present the Christian faith in a way that makes sense of how compelling various dead-ends are even while it draws us into itself.

Jeremy Mullen, Campus Minister at Harvard
July 31, 2013
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