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Sep13FriHigher education is not the enemy of religion. September 13, 2019 by Darryn Oldford
Before I started post-secondary education, several well-meaning Christians warned me about the dangers of losing my faith at university. I understood their concern—I had already seen it happen to several friends. It’s a trend that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has well documented (see the reports Hemorrhaging Faith and Renegotiating Faith at evangelicalfellowship.ca).
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So I entered the University of Toronto with an “us versus them” mentality, prepared to defend my beliefs against attack. And those beliefs were challenged as I confronted different ideas and ways of looking at the world for the first time. University can be a time of “deconstruction” for many young people, a time when everything they thought they knew comes crashing down.
It happened when a new friend asked me, if God really loved her, why would he send her to hell for not believing? It happened in an anthropology class, as my professor sliced through centuries of Christian history, culture and teaching, dissecting my faith for the whole class to see. It also happened as I read books about the big bang theory and evolutionary biology and realized they made sense to me.
But in the end, my beliefs were sharpened by examining what I believed and why. We shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions—honest wrestling is an important, even necessary, part of faith. Here’s what else helped me stay connected to the church:
1. A good foundation. The Salvation Army is a unique part of the Christian church. As a senior soldier, I have a lot of experience explaining our doctrines and beliefs to other Christians, which was good practice for when I reached university. Although I was raised in this culture, I knew I needed to decide for myself whether or not to continue in the Christian faith—God has no grandchildren. What has kept me in the fold is not obligation, but adoration. While I still have questions and concerns, my life is better with God in it.
2. Being comfortable with not knowing everything. Although God reveals much to us through the leading of the Holy Spirit and through his written Word, there is a lot in life we don’t know. Problems arise when we start to think we have the answers to every question. An underlying theme of Christianity is that we cannot fully know the mind of God or unlock all the secrets of the universe, and that’s OK.
3. Dividing core beliefs from culture. What we are taught as Christians is often all lumped together, with each piece treated the same way. I believe the Bible is the God-breathed Word for humanity, but how we read and interpret Scripture is important. I have friends who believe the earth was created in seven days and is only a few thousand years old. I believe God used the big bang and evolution to create life and that the universe is billions of years old. But we both believe that God created the earth, and that’s what’s important. There is room for people to disagree on topics that have no bearing on salvation.
Every person is different and will face unique challenges at university. Ultimately, it isn’t about religion versus academia, or faith versus science. It’s about faith seeking understanding.
Although some university professors do want to indoctrinate you with their own beliefs, most simply want you to engage with the world while having an open mind. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”
It is understandable that Christian parents may feel concerned when a young adult leaves home and goes to university for the first time. A firm understanding of why you believe what you believe, openness to not knowing, personal faith in Jesus and holding on to core beliefs, all help. And for those who do walk away, all hope is not lost. God’s arms are always open.
Darryn Oldford is a senior soldier in Toronto.
Illustration: Sergey Nivens/stock.Adobe.com