Should college be safe?

At one level, it seems like an obvious question. It seems reasonable to expect that college and university campuses would fulfill their reasonable obligation to keep students physically safe.

A college or university can be a very unsafe space. But perhaps not for the reasons you think.

A Christian college is not a safe space if it’s a “bait & switch.”

You know what a bait and switch is, right? It’s an old advertising technique, usually in retail, where you advertise some absurd discount sale on a product that seems to be too good to be true, but when the customers show up you switch them to another product at a higher cost — and higher profit margin.

I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but there is a lot of “bait & switch” marketing in what sometimes passes as Christian higher education. Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many healthy, faithful, and wonderful Christian colleges and universities. However there are just as many that market themselves as Christian, but when you arrive you quickly discover that the Christian faith is really something of a historical artifact stashed away somewhere in an exhibit, rather than the central and defining dynamic of the school.

Does the school have a statement of faith? Does it actually use it? Are the faculty required to affirm it, let alone be believers in Christ? Are faculty expected to be active members in a local church? How does the school invest in the spiritual development or formation of students?

Or does Christianity get used to woo students and their families in the front door, only to discover there’s rather little that would be confused for Christianity within the institution?

Why make this such an issue? Why is this so unsafe?

If a student goes into a school expecting it to strengthen their faith, to deepen their confidence in the Bible, to call them to a closer walk with Christ, to push them out on mission in the world … and then they get there and the opposite happens, it can be absolutely devastating to their faith.

A thin veneer of Christianity is not sufficient. Rather, look for committedly confessional schools. Boyce College, where I’ve been privileged to serve, is one such example. A distinctly Christian college must joyfully embrace its theological commitments and keep them at the forefront of their campus life.

A Christian college is not a safe space for biblical ignorance.

If you go onto a college campus, especially a secular one, as someone who claims to be a Christian but are completely unaware of basic biblical truth, you will get eaten alive. Every time.

There’s no path to Christian maturity apart from the Word of God. This is why the letter to the Hebrews calls on Christians to gradually move to solid food of biblical truth (Heb 5:11-6:1).

The Apostle Paul goes so far as to use the imagery of armor in Ephesians 6:10-20, to tell us that we have to actively “put on” this protective gear and weaponry for combat.

And if you doubt the truth of this, consider Jesus’ own life. When he goes into the wilderness after his baptism and Satan tempts him three times, the devil quotes from the Old Testament to try to tempt Jesus to renounce his mission. Talk about a crafty strategy. But how does Jesus do battle with him? He quotes Scripture back, from memory, to remind himself of what he knows to be true (Matthew 4:1-11).

Why is this so important? Consider Paul’s words to his protege, Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Do you want to be complete, equipped for every good work? Do you want to know what is required for wholeness, for Christian maturity? You need the Bible! Only Scripture has this quality–it’s breathed out by God. Only Scripture has this utility–for teaching, reproof, correction, for training in righteousness. Only Scripture has this power–to form complete men and women of God who are equipped for every good work, for lives of God-honoring obedience and faith.

There’s no shortcut or detour on the path to Christian maturity. You won’t get there apart from the Bible.

Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Memorize the Bible.

A Christian college is not a safe space for isolation.

You cannot make it alone in the Christian life. This is true for every believer, not merely for college students, but I think there’s a particular reality to the college years that makes this so vitally urgent for us.

Here’s why: the world, the flesh, and the devil (to use the old Christian formula!) are all conspiring against you. If you are a Christian, you are in a battle. Now the enemy is not who you might think: it’s not the atheist professor, your unbelieving roommate, the Muslim classmate, etc.

But when you go onto a college campus–any campus, whether Christian or secular–you need to have your eyes open to the reality of this spiritual opposition. Did you really think that the devil wouldn’t come at you just because you went to a Christian college?

One of Christianity’s most wonderful, but far too often neglected, truths is that you and I are not designed to follow Jesus alone.

Consider this admonition in Hebrews:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23–25)

In other words, there is an essential connection between holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering and the command to stir up one another to love and good works.

Choosing the right college or university might mean exploring whether there are healthy local churches nearby for you to join. Are there strong and biblically faithful campus ministries?

Want to be unsafe? Isolate yourself. Want to expose yourself to spiritual attacks? Don’t find a healthy local church to join. Want to put yourself on a path to destruction? Try to live the Christian life on your own.

College is not a safe space if Jesus is not Lord of your life.

Your Christianity won’t hold on a college or university campus if you actually don’t know Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your parents’ faith.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a good and moral person.

The most unsafe place to be is to not know the truth about yourself and your standing before God. If you’re trusting in yourself, in your own strength, in your own morality to save you, then you are in the most unsafe place imaginable. The Bible makes clear that we are dead in our sins, that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that we have no appeal before God’s righteous judgment in ourselves.

But here’s the good news: If the gospel has turned your life upside down and you’ve put your faith in Christ, then you are safer than you could ever dare imagine. Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)

Perhaps the best question is not, Will you be safe on a college campus?

Instead, the more urgent one is, Are you safe in Christ? Have you come to know him, to know the kind of love that Paul here describes, the love of a God who would send his own Son to live a perfect life, to die in your place and mine as our substitute on the cross, to be raised to life after the third day and ascend to heaven, from where he is ruling the universe right now and who will return again? Only He provides full forgiveness of sin and hope for eternal life.

He’s the only one who can provide you with true, eternal safety.

Ultimately, a Christian college should be unsafe for ignorance, sin, apathy, and untruth, but safe for all–every person and thought — that honors Christ.