The college campus is a dangerous place. Statistics show that many unprepared Christian students get eaten alive by professors who attack the Biblical worldview root and branch. The barrage of assaults is unrelenting, everything from atheistic philosophy classes to a religious-based evolutionism that permeates the entire curriculum. We shouldn't be surprised at the casualty figures among Christian students since most churches rarely engage young people intellectually. The fact of the matter is, most churches rarely engage anyone intellectually. Sermons generally appeal more to the emotions than the mind. Youth groups are little more than social gatherings "with touchy-feely exercises taking the place of academic content."1 Gene Edward Veith, an astute observer of cultural trends, concludes that the "church needs to focus above all on what their children need in order to survive in an increasingly caustic spiritual environment. They need Biblical literacy. They need moral and spiritual formation. And they need to be trained in discernment."2 Most churches are ill-equipped to deliver the necessary ammunition to fight the inevitable battles. By the time students reach the university level, it's almost too late.
Where to begin in the discernment process? What's the first principle every student should have in hand as he or she crosses the threshold of university indoctrination? Students need to understand that all argumentation will inevitably be taken back to a single starting point from which the person arguing will appeal for ultimate authority to support his worldview. Numerous starting-points are put forward as the foundational basis for unbelieving thought. Here's a sample:
- Rationalism: reason rules
- Mysticism: unknown forces rule
- Hedonism: pleasure rules
- Relativism: we get to make up our own rules
- Post-modernism: there are no rules
- Pragmatism: it's a rule only if it works
- Materialism: only matter matters
- Monism: all is one so there is nothing to argue about
And if specific philosophical systems like the above are not enough to establish an authoritative starting point, then there is the appeal to any number of self-proclaimed or institutionally sanctioned experts: a brilliant college professor, the writings of a Zen Master, the directives of a cult leader, the latest scientific studies, the writings or revelations of self-appointed religious leaders, statistical analysis, opinion polls, the Constitution of the United States, psychics, fortune tellers, frequently quoted philosophers, newspaper and magazine editors, judges, television news anchors, Oprah, the high-minded opinions of Hollywood actors, or even alien life forms. Even some atheists hope against hope that someone (other than a personal God) is "out there" to give meaning to the cosmos. Abandoning a pure materialism, some are proposing that "an invisible force is at work" in the ever-evolving universe.3 The materialists have become mystics. Maybe it's from watching too much Star Wars. Of course, when the ever-changing worldviews of a splintered secularism fail to live up to their claims of ultimacy, the university is quick to shut out competitive debate. Speech codes abound. Contrary opinions are suppressed. Outside speakers are hooted off the stage, if they ever make it on campus in the first place. The entrenched university worldview — no matter how discredited — must be protected at all cost, even though it's a philosophical house of cards.
The Truth about "Experts"
Christian students need to realize that college professors are not gods or godlike. So-called experts, no matter what their field of study or how much information they gather, are finite in knowledge and fallible in practice. Put simply, they don't know everything, and they make mistakes. For every group of experts who claim to know something authoritatively, there are always other groups of experts who claim they can dispute the findings of the first group of experts. The Bible describes it this way: "The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him" (Pr. 18:17).
Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, after compiling thousands of expert opinions and declarations about innumerable subjects over thousands of years, summarize their findings:
Our research has yielded (and we have systematically catalogued and footnoted for the first time) thousands of examples of expert misinformation, disinformation, misunderstanding, miscalculation, egregious prognostication, boo-boos, and occasional just plain lies. And based on our preliminary findings we can say with some confidence that the experts are wrong without regard to race, creed, color, sex discipline, specialty, country, culture, or century. They are wrong about facts, and they are wrong about theories, they are wrong about dates, they are wrong about geography, they are wrong about the future, they are wrong about the past, and at best they are misleading about the present, not to mention next week.4
In brief, "Just because most of the authorities in a field are shouting in unison that they know the truth, it ain't necessarily so."5 An expert's opinion is only as good as the starting point being used to evaluate the facts under study. This is certainly true at the university level.
Every decision that man has made and will make is determined by the place he decides to take his stand. Where does finite man stand when he makes a decision about the rightness or wrongness of certain behavior? Prior to the Fall, Adam "gladly acknowledged the fact of God's sovereignty over him and the fact of his own creaturehood. God was his pou sto for knowledge, his final reference point for every human predication. It was God who determined for him right and wrong, and he willingly thought God's thoughts after Him."6 It was Adam's decision to shift his place to stand that made the Fall a fall. He no longer stood on the solid foundation of God's Word, but instead chose to view his own opinion as a reliable source of authority. After the Fall, it became man's nature "to suppress God's revelation to him, both general and special. He found the most successful means of doing this to be a preoccupation with his own ideals and purposes on the one hand, and increasing sin and immorality on the other."7 Christians will never win the war against triumphalistic man-centered worldviews until they challenge the place where the critics stand and force them to live consistently with the foundation they laid for themselves.
Christian students must be ready to challenge the starting point of unbelieving thought. To do this they must be equipped for the task. This means a thorough study of Biblical apologetics and all the attendant disciplines. Students who recognize that they might be inadequately equipped to handle the task are taking a necessary first step in becoming equipped always to be ready "to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15). Such ability does not come through osmosis, watching "Veggie Tales," or attending church lock-ins. The senses must go through the rigors of "practice," similar to the way an athlete prepares for competition on the athletic field against other well-trained athletes, so they will be "trained to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).
1. Gene Edward Veith, "Stealth Sunday Schools," World (January 30, 1999), 24.
2. Veith, 25.
3. Charles W. Petit, "From big bang to big bounce," U.S. News & World Report (May 6, 2002), 59.
4. Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, "Introduction to the Original (1984) Version," The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, rev. ed. (New York: Villard,  1998), xxvii.
5. William R. Fix, The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution (New York: Macmillan, 1984), xix.
6. Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 85.
7. Reymond, Justification of Knowledge, 86.
- Gary DeMar
Gary DeMar is president of American Vision and the editor of the monthly magazine The Biblical Worldview. He is the author of eighteen books on a variety of subjects. His latest book, Thinking Straight in a Crooked World, is designed to prepare high school students for the rigors of academic combat at the university level. Gary can be reached at www.americanvision.org, garydemar@mind spring.com, or 1-800-628-9460.