A Professor’s Advice to Christians

final examIn Christians in Academe: A Reply, former evangelical Adam Kotsko minimizes a very real problem (recall that one study shows that 53% of faculty disdain evangelicals), but he nonetheless says things worth listening to.

A few bits stood out to me:

Above all, parents and pastors need to stop giving a blank check to anything that professes to be “Christian.” Conservative evangelicals have long been skilled at sniffing out what they consider to be pseudo-Christian liberals — developing some discernment on the other end of the scale would be a welcome shift.

I think he and I would differ considerably on the application of this point, but I like the fact that he brings it up. The truth is that there is a ditch on both sides of the road, and it matters little whether you wreck in the ditch of being too insistent on irrelevant details (theological conservatism) or whether you wreck in the ditch of being too unconcerned about important details (theological liberalism). Both will mess you up, yet most evangelicals practically ignore the ditch of being too theologically conservative.

He goes on:

For instance, if the professor Larsen describes in his opening paragraphs didn’t realize that he would get a paper like Larsen’s student handed in when he assigned an opinion piece on “traditional marriage,” then he or she was incredibly naïve. Personally, I would never assign a paper on abortion or evolution in an intro-level class, because I know doing so would basically mean condemning conservative evangelical students to do poorly. Many of them would simply parrot the stock arguments they’d heard from their leaders with very little reflection or fresh argumentation of their own — and the inevitable bad grade would only feed the persecution complex, turning me into yet another “secular indoctrinator.”

All I have to say in response to this is that I wish more professors were as wise as he. I’d like to order that paragraph to be read to every professor in America once a year.

But the part I like best is this:

More immediately, though, if conservative evangelicals are not willing to abandon their siege mentality, I would urge them to at least adopt the practices that the New Testament authors recommended to persecuted communities: live quietly, seek to be at peace with all, respect authority, work hard — in short, keep the moral high ground. The sober advice of the Apostles has stood the test of time and will endure long after whatever radical preacher is in the ascendant now is forgotten.

This is Biblical and good advice and should be the baseline for Christians at secular universities. If a university actually prevents you from obeying Christ, then by all means take a stand and deploy every peaceful tool in your arsenal to stymie them (this is to follow the example of the apostles — Acts 5:25–32 and Acts 16:36–39). But if a university is merely teaching you things you consider to be untrue, then suck it up, master the materials, and excel academically (this is to follow the example of Daniel and his friends in Babylon — Daniel 1:17–20). In the long run you will accomplish far more for the faith by getting good grades than by causing lots of disruptions in class.

Kotsko’s essay is worth reading and pondering (and so is the piece he is responding to, No Christianity Please, We’re Academics).

As I said, he minimizes a real problem. Anyone who thinks that some professors do not seek to destroy the faith of students is simply uninformed, and anyone who doesn’t realize that huge swaths of university culture are hostile to evangelical sensibilities has not been paying attention. But Kotsko is right to point out that evangelical students often create their own problems by allowing the evangelical subculture to define their relationship to the university rather than allowing the Bible’s teaching to prevail.

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