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The Church or the University: Who’s More To Blame?

I recently Unfriended someone on Facebook, a former student in my church Youth Group. Their posts had turned increasingly political and hostile toward religion. They were now officially on the Bash the Church bandwagon, critical of all they (and their parents) once held sacred. So what happened to the innocent teenager I once knew? Answer: They went to college.

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager, in a column entitled Why God Isn’t Doing Well These Days, offered four reasons why the belief in God is declining in America. His number one reason is

…increasingly large numbers of men and women attend university, and Western universities have become essentially secular (and leftist) seminaries. Just as the agenda of traditional Christian and Jewish seminaries is to produce religious Christians and religious Jews, the agenda of Western universities is to produce (left-wing) secularists.

…the more university education a person receives, the more he is likely to hold secular and left-wing views.

Prager’s argument is a fairly common one, an argument employed by many Evangelicals: Growing secularism is due to an atheistic academia.

While I don’t disagree with the assertion that “Western universities have become essentially secular (and leftist) seminaries,” I question whether or not universities are the primary cause of secularism in America. You see, I think the Church is more at fault for the rise of secularism than the University. Or to put it another way:

The growth of secularism is not due to the rise of the University but the decline of religion.


In Why College Students Are Losing Their Faith,  Conor Friedersdorf takes on Prager’s assertion this way:

if four years of college undo 18 years of parenting and religious affiliation, perhaps the faith community’s tenuous hold is the problem, not the particular place outside its bubble where that hold evaporates. Consider the believers we’ve seen in history. With all the persecution that Judaism and Christianity have survived over the centuries, an argument that sites America’s Top 310 Colleges as a first order adversary is hard to credit. (emphasis mine)

Is it just me, or do we Christians constantly look for scapegoats for our lack of cultural influence? Instead of looking in the mirror and letting judgment begin in the house of God (I Pet. 4:17), we point fingers at Hollywood, the media, the press, and the universities. Everyone’s to blame but us. No wonder America is being swiftly secularized — Christians have been in cultural retreat for the last half century, building our own echo chambers to keep us unspoiled from the world.

Listen, the Church has survived centuries of persecution, corruption, martyrdom, even genocide, and now we want to blame… colleges? Jesus said that the gates of hell could not withstand His church (Matt. 16:18). I think the secular university fits in that category.

Your thoughts?

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{ 77 comments… add one }
  • Morgan Busse June 17, 2011, 11:42 AM

    As the mother of 4 kids and the wife of a former youth pastor, it saddens me to see so much bashing of youth ministry. Yes, there are some out there that are only a glorified babysitter for older kids. But there are also some fantastic youth groups where teens are being grounded in God’s Word and seeing adults live out a fully committed, on fire lives for Christ.

    My husband was saved in such a youth group and went from being an unchurched teen who only knew Jesus Christ as a cuss word to a teen who knew his Bible, but even more importantly, lived it out.

    I also want to note how important it is that our children (and teens) see genuine faith lived out at home. These young people can sniff out hypocrisy a mile a way. So it doesn’t matter if you have a perfect answer for every question they have, if you are not a humble, loving, Jesus centered Christian, then you will turn them away.

    • Bruce Hennigan June 17, 2011, 11:54 AM

      God bless you! I love my youth pastor and he is trying his best to juggle twelve bowling balls while whistling the latest Third Day song! Our youth pastors have the greatest challenge before them and just where do they start? Most have to build relationships and as a parent I know it’s hard enough to do that with ONE teenager much less a whole youth group! This is where we can help out. We can become better mentors and teach our students critical thinking and apologetics. We can partner with our youth pastors. I’ve always thought that the very thing you complain most about defines your ministry. If there are those of us who feel so strongly that students should be taught apologetics, then we are the ones to do it!
      For instance, I am meeting with our state denomination youth representative (I’m in Louisiana) next month to try and come up with a state wide emphasis on teaching at least our core student leaders some form of introductory apologetics and critical thinking. This initiative has come from our state evangelism leader and the head of our state denominational convention so it didn’t come from me. That excites me that there is a growing concern for this very issue. So, say a little prayer for the three of us fledgling apologists who are forming this task force that we can figure out how to get this done! I am relying heavily on the Lord for direction! If this works, then we, the laypeople of the church, can engage our youth and help our youth pastors with this almost insurmountable task!

      • Renee Gadut June 17, 2011, 12:30 PM

        I think the emphasis in our responses are directed at our own negative experiences within certain churches and youth groups… most definitely didnt mean that ALL churches and Youth leaders are failing… I have had a few mentors within the church (Mike being one of them) that have been amazing influences on me and taught me much about Christianity and retaining my faith… but there have been many who have not made the cut…

        • Bruce Hennigan June 17, 2011, 12:39 PM

          I agree, Renee. I’d suggest, since Mike’s site is primarily about composing the written word, those of us supporting the youth pastors look at Lee Strobel’s books for youth and for children. They are easy to understand and you don’t have to be an apologist to teach the material. For two years at our church, we used the children material and taught all four books. I worked with a couple who had no background in apologetics and they took over after I moved on to teaching our adults and continue to teach this basic apologetic approach to our children in 4th and 5th grade. The student material is more challenging but anyone commenting to this post could pick up the books, get Lee’s videos to accompany them, take them to their children and student leaders and offer to teach this material. No excuses! It can be done!

  • Brandon Clements June 17, 2011, 3:08 PM

    Very good thoughts Mike…I agree. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marion June 19, 2011, 8:08 PM

    Mike, you did it again. Another honest and provocative topic that needs to be talked about in an honest fashion.

    Well, my pastor, Max Lucado actually spoke about this topic in his sermon. He is doing a series on questions he’s taking from the congregation. And of the questions he answered was about when kids from Christian homes leave the faith and why the parents think they did a bad job of parenting.

    Max answered that question (I’m paraphrasing) the Salvation is God’s business, not the parents. As a parent, you are to pour everything you can into your children about being a follower of Christian and living a Christian lifestyle as best as you can.

    But those children still can go wayward and Max felt that was a natural process in order for them to make their own decisions about they believe or not believe.

    I know some of you will considered that tract passive. But as a father of 22 month old daughter and 8 year old son, I think about this topic almost everyday.

    Will what my wife and I poured into about Christ and living a Christian lifestyle stay with my children or will it go away once they leave our home?

    Max talked about his wayward struggles growing up and his dad an elder of the church in his hometown in West Texas resigned because of Max and his brother’s behavior in their community. So children will and can go wayward even Christian homes.

    Listen to that today has made me rethink my position about it. I do agree that parents should exemplify their beliefs and live an authentic Christian lifestyle to the best of their ability. But, the salvation part is really God’s business with that child and not the parents.


  • Erica July 18, 2011, 10:11 AM

    Very good thoughts on this one. As a person who attends a… *gulp* secular university instead of my former religious one, I must say that my faith and the Jesus I have in my heart is much stronger than what leftist stuff I may learn at the university. If someone’s faith is that shakeable, corruptible, and weakened, then perhaps they need not attend college at all for the time being. Learning is not the problem, it is what you have learned.


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