College football season has kicked off but for many Christian kids on college campuses this is open season on their faith. Four things you need to know about today's college climate:
- Postmodern social theory and philosophy are assumed in American higher ed.
- Tolerance no longer means what it used to mean.
- The most committed evangelicals on campus are militant atheists.
- AND there are campus ministries and churches in college towns with whom your kids can and should connect. There are also things your church can do to serve Christian kids and Christian professors at colleges and universities in your town.
Most of us don't think about what we're thinking about nor do we think about how we're thinking about what we're thinking about. So to consider that others are thinking about, processing and engaging reality in ways substantively different than the way we're thinking about, processing and engaging those same realities makes our heads hurt. But it is necessary to understand the shift from rationalism to scientism to postmodernism if we want to begin to understand not only what is being taught on college campuses but how its being taught.
I was joined in conversation on Connecting Faith by Ratio Christi's campus director at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, Anna Kitko. Anna laid out the postmodern worldview taken for granted by professors at colleges today. She said that because objective reality does not exist from a postmodern philosophical worldview, everything is relative; you have your truth and I have mine; there is no point of reference for words, a rejection of the sacred, no moral accountability and no coherence. Yikes, right?!
Wondering exactly what is meant by postmodernism? In my book, Speak the Truth, I write:
Postmodernism is a philosophy as well as a movement. It denies objective reality and absolute truth. Postmodern thinkers reject religion because truth claims, ideologies, and grand narratives are considered suspect. Which means they think it's just all made up – examples of some system of social construction in the past designed by one group to somehow control or dominate or subjugate another. Why? Because to the postmodern way of thinking, truth and knowledge are produced. Yes, produced. Knowledge and truth are seen as products of particular historical, political, and social systems. Everything is contextual. All ethics are situational. Morality is relative. Reality is self-referential and the individual's life is simultaneously devoid of any ultimate meaning and held out as ultimately meaningful. (p69-70, Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into every conversation, 2017.)
Now while we rebuff that from a Christian, biblical or Gospel worldview, we must also realize that it is the dominant, pervasive worldview in the world in which we live. It is the cultural water in which we are now swimming. And much like Christians who lived at the advent of the scientific age, we must learn to live and engage and influence our day and time as it is, not as we wish it were.
Once we acknowledge that postmodernity is the cultural water in which we now swim, we will no longer be surprised at the irrational, dis-integrated, illogical decisions people make. It is perfectly reasonable to the postmodern way of thinking that truth changes based on context. So, when the context changes, what is true changes. And within the same context, the truth may be different for different people because their social location differs from yours. This is the social and philosophical water on college campuses today.
Think we're exaggerating? Ask a college student
- what their professors think about God or the Bible
- what their experience in college classrooms has been when they raise a question or express a doubt based on a worldview which includes the possibility of God
- what views are expressed by fellow students and how open people are to a free exchange of ideas when those ideas are contrary to the prevailing politically correct tides of the times.
Campus Reform tracks incidents of intolerance on college and university campuses if you want to know more.
We tend to think of evangelism as expressly Christian but the word has been appropriated by those who advocate for any number of ideas, ideologies and worldviews. There are abortion evangelists and gay evangelists and yes, atheist evangelists. And they are militant.
Look at this course offering for this semester at Swarthmore.
RELG 033. Queering the Bible
This course surveys queer and trans* readings of biblical texts. It introduces students to the complexity of constructions of sex, gender, and identity in one of the most influential literary works produced in ancient times. By reading the Bible with the methods of queer and trans* theoretical approaches, this class destabilizes long held assumptions about what the bible–and religion–says about gender and sexuality.
Re-read the purpose of this course: "This class destabilizes long held assumptions about what the bible – and religion – says..." Imagine for a moment you are a Swarthmore student who believes the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God and bodily rose from the dead, inaugurating his rule as King of kings and Lord of lords. Your university regards the Bible as "one of the most influential works produced in ancient times" and your faith as intrinsically harmful to people who identity as gender queer. Is your college freshman ready for that?
There is a literal "Manual for Creating Atheists" and some professors and students see their role as undermining everything Christian parents, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and pastors have taught those arriving on campus. However, statistics indicated that many young people functionally leave the Christian faith BEFORE arriving at college. Read this round up from The Five-Thirty-Eight blog.
Yes, there's help. Check out Ratio Christi, Summit, Impact 360. InterVarsity, CRU, RUF, ICM, F.O.C.U.S., and the churches and university fellowship ministries on the campuses where your kids attend. If you're Catholic, check out FOCUS. And if you're in a college town, consider engaging the students arriving on campus right now. You don't need a big program, you simply need a heart for Christ, a heart for college students and a willingness to speak the truth on the matters of our day.
For more, listen to my conversation with Anna Kitko from Ratio Christi.