In addition to being a devoted husband and father, I am a minister at the New York Avenue church of Christ, a staff writer for Apologetics Press, a staff blogger for the Apologia Institute, and an associate for the Associates for Biblical Research. I have taught undergraduate courses for Amridge University, Faulkner University, and the Southwest School of Bible Studies.
Our culture has lost a sense of the sacred. For decades, commercials have advertised new television shows as “irreverent.” Irreverence is often prized not only in entertainment but as a key component in our freedom. Mark Twain once said, “Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.” It is part of our world. And it is no longer a privilege or a right, but a virtue protected by laws guaranteeing freedom of speech.
Here we can turn to modern expressions of unbelief or anti-biblical or anti-Christian sentiment. We can see examples of irreverence in our world by taking a quick look around us. In 2009, advertisements on buses in England in featured signs promoting atheism. One of them read, “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life.” This sign clearly expressed the idea that God tries to exercise an inordinate degree of control over people’s lives. In 2011, a sign carried by two women at a pro-choice protest march read, if Mary had had an abortion we wouldn’t be in this mess.” Their blasphemy was unmistakable.
Believers must take care to ensure that the world does not exercise any undue influence in shaping who we are. James said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). The irreverence valued by the world has no place in the church.
During communion, we celebrate the fact that God loves his people enough that he sent his son to die for us. This should immediately give us a sense of our nobility and worth. God created humanity as the apex of his creation and as the only creatures fashioned in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). It also means that we celebrate our freedom from the powers of sin and death—the two things humanity has been trying to escape for thousands of years. They have been the indefatigable opponents of mankind since the very beginning, and through Christ, we have victory over both of them.
When we observe the Lord’s Supper, we reflect upon the great and terrible work of Christ on the cross. If we’re supposed to be proclaiming the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26)—at once the greatest single miscarriage of human justice and the greatest act of God’s deliverance for humankind—doesn’t it deserve our attention and respect?
Life can be challenging. Some days will be better than others, but we all have to deal with problems, frustrations, and unwelcome surprises in our time on earth. Jesus taught us to resist worrying about the future (Matthew 6:34) because each day has enough trouble to keep us occupied!
If we are going to successfully navigate the hazards of life and live in a way that honors God and benefits others, we need some things to help us in our task. Here are four essentials for life that every person should have:
A Source of Power. Lots of things in life drain our batteries. Stress, conflict, change, frustration, work, and a hundred other things can leave us tired. The problem is that we often work so long that we tire ourselves out. In the mid-1970s, the average American worker put in 40.3 hours a week. By 1999, the time we devoted to work rose to 50.6 hours a week. Add in the fact that the typical American takes less vacation time than a Medieval peasant, and there’s no wonder why we’re tired! Here we need to carve out some time to spend in prayer and Scripture reading. In all the hustle and bustle of life, we need to take time to be still and know the Lord is God (Psalm 46:10).
A Support Group. Loneliness is a serious factor in the life of many people—and it contributes to a variety of health problems. Those who live isolated lives are more likely to die an early death, experience emotional burnout, suffer clinical depression, and require hospitalization for an emotional or mental disorder. God created us as relational beings—it’s part of us being made in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Soon after Adam is created, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). There is a reason why the New Testament refers to Christians as family members (1 Timothy 5:1) and describes the church not as a group of people, but as a single body (1 Corinthians 12:12).
Principles. We need a moral foundation—a set of standards that govern how we live and behave. This is especially true given the fact that life on earth is not the only phase of human existence. There is a second stage of life that will follow our time here on earth. We need good morals to guide us in how to live a life of meaning, value, and worth, especially when it comes to having a harmonious relationship with God. The parable of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27) should remind us of the importance of principles.
A Purpose. Everyone wants to feel like their life matters. Who wants to feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless? If we don’t have a purpose in life, things won’t make sense. We will set ourselves adrift on the sea of existence, letting everything else determine the course we take. God’s mission for mankind is to do his will (Ecclesiastes 12:13) which we understand by getting to know God and his Word (2 Peter 1:5-11).
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” With a plan that includes these four essentials, Christians will be well-equipped to handle whatever life happens to throw our way.
Pride is one of the most significant problems of the human race. It makes an enemy of God (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) and leads to our ruin (Proverbs 16:18). It also disrupts our relationships. Let’s consider some of the warning signs that reveal the presence of pride in our lives.
The Desire for Attention. Pride craves recognition because it is preoccupied with self. Prideful people want an audience. They don’t like having to share time on stage with others, and may even compete with or denigrate the accomplishments of other people to maximize their time in the spotlight.
Conflict. Those who struggle with pride have a hard time letting things go. A perceived insult will fester and generate future strife when the individual decides to retaliate. They take offense if they don’t get the respect they feel they deserve. They may even say “it’s no big deal,” when in reality, it is.
Fault-finding and Complaining. Pride often looks to feed itself by looking for faults in other people. Finding others’ weaknesses adds to their sense of superiority. They look for opportunities to criticize others to making themselves look better.
A Poor Sense of Humor. Prideful people bristle if someone pokes fun at them. They have a hard time laughing at themselves. They may make the occasional self-deprecating comment for the sake of appearances, but jokes made by other people often make them defensive. A healthy self-esteem can take a good-natured ribbing. The prideful person will grow irritated and respond with comments of their own that look less like humor and more like pointed barbs.
Unwillingness to Serve. Jesus often sought to serve the downtrodden and neglected and probably got very little praise for it. The prideful person feels that such service is beneath them; instead, they look for high-value opportunities where they can serve on their terms and maximize the attention they get for doing so.
Pride led to the downfall of Adam and Eve in Eden (compare 1 John 2:16 with Genesis 3:6). We have to be careful that it doesn’t lead to ours, too.
Fresh-faced high school graduates all over the country will head to college in a couple of months. Whether their destinations are community colleges or four-year schools, the majority will be leaving home for the very first time. Some will be adult learners, going back to school after having spent some time in the military, or to finish a degree they started years ago but did not complete. Graduates will live on their own or with roommates and will accept a new world of responsibilities they didn’t have before. These young people will have more than a little nervous excitement.
For most of these institutions—from the local community college to Ivy League universities—religion requirements will be minimal. Private schools will feature at least a few religion courses, most likely taught from the perspective of the institution’s religious affiliation. For schools without any ties to a particular tradition, religion requirements will be at a bare minimum, whether they are secular private or state institutions of higher learning.
The religion courses offered at these institutions often share similar features. In many cases, freshman may take an introduction to religions course, or possibly an introduction to the Bible, or perhaps an introduction to OT or NT. In some cases, students may expect to experience criticism of the Bible for the first time, and perhaps the first time in an academic environment. The ideal professor will teach the course so objectively that the students may not be able to discern their instructor’s personal beliefs. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.
Professors can challenge students’ beliefs about the veracity of Scripture. A professor may highlight alleged contradictions, errors, or discrepancies in the biblical text. He or she may argue that history and archaeology provide information that contradicts the biblical account, or that the Bible provides a deficient worldview that promotes racism, bigotry, misogyny, and violence. Before long, incoming freshmen may be shaken, reeling spiritually under his or her professor’s critical assault.
Students sometimes struggle with their faith at college because they encounter new and more aggressive spiritual challenges. Young Christians may begin to fall away from the church at this time (although the process will have started long before for some of them). Some do it because they haven’t gotten plugged into a good congregation. But some do because of attacks on their faith that come from inside the classroom.
There are professors much like this across the academic landscape of the United States. They tend to share the same set of characteristics. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the professorate who have them. Christians can see it in interviewees for documentaries, as well as authors of books and articles that are critical to biblical Christianity.
So what kind of qualities or characteristics should Christians prepare to find? Here are five of the most popular:
Critical Scholarship. The professor will likely consider himself a critical scholar, unlike the “uncritical” scholars in religious universities, seminaries, and divinity schools who accept the Bible as inspired. His skepticism of the Bible’s veracity will be front and center throughout the course, likely taking the form of questioning the Bible’s portrayal of historical events and emphasizing extrabiblical evidence he considers to be at odds with the biblical text. This will almost certainly include gross misinterpretations of the Bible. Caricature is one of the critic’s most powerful weapons.
Proselytism. The professor will not be a neutral guide but may attempt to convince his students to accept his point of view. This can take the form of presenting the information as intended to enlighten whatever students are unfortunate enough to maintain their religious beliefs. Belief in the Bible as God’s Word will be viewed as backward, naïve, and possibly even dangerous. Christianity will be portrayed as archaic and outdated. Professors like this will be apologists for their personal worldview.
Skepticism. The professor will promote skepticism of the Bible, billing it simply and straightforwardly as a modern, educated perspective. While “the Bible says” may work back at home around the dinner table, it will be forbidden in the college classroom. The professor will treat the biblical text with automatic suspicion, even if he or she accepts other ancient texts at face value. Any student attempting to point out this double standard may meet with public reprisals from the teacher and ridicule from his or her peers.
Anti-Supernaturalism. Students may encounter such claims as, “Educated people deny the supernatural” or “Most people reject the old notion that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.” What students must understand is that a belief is not true based on its number of believers, but whether or not it conforms to fact or reality. It is true that many, maybe even most, college professors deny the inspiration of Scripture, but this does not make it false. This is an example of a logical fallacy known as argument ad populum (“argument to the people”), the fallacy of appealing to the majority point of view as a source of authority.
Revisionism. Finally, our religion professor may present “problems” with the Bible as if they are either recent discoveries or difficulties without adequate answers. Caricaturing the faith in this manner has the effect of making Christians look gullible and silly as if the only way that believers deal with problems is by ignoring them. In reality, answers to these problems are readily available in any number of sources.
There are academically informed and intellectually respectable responses to all of the above objections. This is vital for students to remember: just because he or she may not be able to answer his or her professors’ points, it does not mean that no answer is available. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Christians apologists have been answering objections to the Christian faith since the days of the early church. They continue to do so today.
Christian parents spend a great deal of time preparing children for the moral and ethical challenges they will face in college. This is indeed a challenge, given the moral and ethical climate of our country. But equally important is the need to prepare students for the academic and intellectual challenges they will face. The Christian worldview is one that has been held by history’s most prominent philosophers, scientists, and other educated thinkers. It is not a worldview for backward rubes. It is intellectually defensible on every level.
What every Christian must remember—from our hypothetical college freshman to seasoned saints in the church—is that opposition provides the opportunity for growth. Challenges to faith give opportunities for believers to dig into recent scholarship, to uncover new worlds of learning they never knew existed. Parallels in other areas abound. Athletes will never reach their full potential without working through grueling physical exercises and learning how to compete against other athletes. Intellectuals will never plumb the depths of their chosen field of study without spending countless hours wrestling with the deepest thinkers in that field—some of whom will share the same viewpoint and others who will be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Similarly, Christians will never possess an intellectually formidable faith without overcoming challenges that present themselves.