I'll be the first to admit that I was not exactly peachy-keen about the whole notion: for this sheltered pygmy person who never traveled from her fire, the university had an outsized reputation for being A Place Where People Go to Apostatize. Like many universities, this one was originally founded by a Christian denomination but has since made haste to distance itself from that heritage. I'm not saying I actually thought they burned crosses on the manicured lawns or anything (way too much extra work for the gardeners); I'm just saying I was leery of spending four years listening to relativism, the liberal agenda, and whatever else these unknown professors might take it into their heads to teach.
Let's admit it: I was scared.
I think many people are when it comes to making decisions like these (I'm focusing on choices of colleges, since that's the only one I've really had to wrestle with). Especially for those of us who were or have been homeschooled, it is undeniably daunting to consider going out into the world for further education; even if we've been taught about different worldviews, it isn't the same as hearing arguments straight from the horse's mouth. It isn't the same as having to read or watch unpleasantness firsthand (and not experience it through someone else's tidy little review). I think we're afraid we might be convinced by the arguments, or corrupted by the wickedness. The world is a scary place! The Devil roves about like a roaring lion and might devour us at any moment! And springing from and reinforcing this fear is the belief that to properly honor God and protect ourselves, we're better off either not going to college or going to one with a Christian creed.
I don't believe this is biblical in the least. While I think it is always good to be conscious that we and the world are fundamentally at odds, I don't think my fear was biblical. After all, as Paul admonished Timothy, we've been given a spirit not of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. We are encouraged, not to withdraw from the world in terror at the thought of being beaten by it, but to go out into it with boldness as a witness to the power and grace and presence of God. One of the needful things of which the Reformers reminded us is that the divide between the "sacred" and the "secular" is completely artificial and uncalled for; and yet we continually return to it, cloistering ourselves because, I believe, we fear the world. This is a tacit rejection of our mandate as believers to be salt and light and to powerfully permeate the world, bearing witness to our God ("who is a God like unto our God?") in the midst of the nations.
My use of "non-Christian" in the title is a little disingenuous, for I do not believe there is, or should be, a divide between the Christian and secular spheres. What I mean to say is that we can honor God in all settings - not necessarily by sharing the Gospel, per se, but by our faithful presence. Take college again as the case in point. I believe we have this notion that if we do attend a mainstream college - for example, my liberal arts university - then to be really honoring to God we need to engage in a rousing debate with our godless professors and convince them that We Are Right. You know, like those super long Pinterest quote-pins where by the time you get to the end, the student has effectively convinced everyone, including the formerly-atheist professor, of the existence of God.
...I'll tell you straight up, I feel wholly unprepared to do any such thing. But I do know that I can bear witness to the glory of my God every day without (necessarily) having to engage specifically in debate.
1. With a solid work ethic.
Just by taking our education seriously and applying ourselves to it, we can stand out. We of all people should never be halfhearted in our endeavors.
2. With a polite, respectful demeanor.
We don't need to be obsequious in order to show professors, even the ones who don't thrill us, that we appreciate their efforts and respect their learning. (And for the ones who we simply can't bring ourselves to appreciate or respect, we maintain our dignity, do what is required of us, and avoid as much as possible.)
3. With a cheerful, can-do attitude.
This is the subject of my June post, The Most Beautiful Curve. Of course we all have off days, but we should strive to not make those our regular days.
4. With the ability to choose our fights wisely.
We do not have to raise a storm about everything. Sometimes we are required to listen to or watch things that we disagree with or even that make us uncomfortable (Katie wrote a great comment about this, but it was on Facebook months ago and I can't find it anymore, so you will simply have to imagine it.). But sometimes, when push comes to shove, we can say no. Not loudly; not with a grand monologue; just politely informing the person that we have boundaries. This is not about being a Good Christian; it may just be about having some personal dignity.
5. With a willingness to listen and learn.
Too often we are so wrapped up in mentally preparing a snappy response that we don't actually listen to what the other party is saying: possibly we're afraid to. Yes, much of what we hear will be badly mistaken. But there is also much that we can glean, much that can convict us, much that can challenge us, much that can encourage us. We must be willing to grow, and even to alter our opinions.
6. With a growing knowledge of what we believe.
We never just fling open our minds and accept everything: we must have a well-reasoned foundation to build upon.
7. With the ability to give an answer for the hope that is within us, when an appropriate moment comes.
...with meekness and fear and a good conscience.
I'm not saying we can't go to a college that seeks to structure itself around Christian values or doctrine. I am saying only that we should never do so out of fear of the alternative. We honor God through our conduct in all settings - not by shunning contact with the world or following any prescribed path.