January 5, 2015

Newsflash: You Can Honor God in a Non-Christian Setting

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This blog doesn't deal a whole lot with the specifics of my college experience, despite the fact that college now takes up most of my time and mental energy.  Apart from general updates on required literature and the beginnings and ends of semesters, I think the most I've said is that a) I'm going to college (!) and b) I'm pursuing a degree in History.  A few of you - mostly those of you who happen to be friends with me on Facebook - may also be aware that, when I decided more or less at the eleventh hour to attend college, I chose a liberal arts school.  "Liberal" in a double sense: politically and ideologically.  It's local, negating the need to live on campus, and it has a great academic reputation. 

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.

11 comments:

  1. Dear Abigail,

    I want to thank you for sharing this post. I am not in university yet of course, but this has been preying on my mind for a good while now. I can relate to that struggle, because I have the choice of studying from home (online in seclusion), or attempting to study at a university with a "great academic reputation"; and you are right, it downright scares me sometimes to be corrupted by ungodly influences in the field of study I wish to learn in - I have known friends who through bad company have drifted from the faith, and that makes me sad. I love the Lord and do not wish to have anything pull away from my relationship with Him. And yet, as you shared, we are called to be salt in the earth, and not hide in a corner afraid of the darkness outside. "For Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world". Sometimes we forget that. Of course we mustn't wilfully go and get ourselves in a situation where we will be sorely tempted, but also I agree with you that "I can bear witness to the glory of my God every day. . . " wherever I am. I love the things you shared about glorifying God, in studying hard, showing respect and choosing fights carefully, being cheerful and positive (that's very important!) and being able to listen and examine all things in the light of the Holy Spirit, who guides us and teaches us through the Word of God.

    About how you shared on being scared, I also whole-heartedly believe that the fear of the Lord is the key to wisdom and understanding; the fear and love of God, and laying it all before Him on our knees in prayer, seeking for the Help that only He can give, therein lies our safety and confidence!

    Thank you again for this post :D
    Lots of love,
    Joy

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  2. Thanks very much, Abigail, for this post! I know exactly what you mean and I fully agree! I've recently finished my degree in History with a secular University (though I did it by distance as I didn't want to move to another State!) and I've faced the challenges of a post-modern, relativistic worldview. It was not always easy. The hardest thing for me to deal with was to protect myself from being disillusioned and wearied by the way they taught us history in this dry, fragmented, disconnected way. I must admit that sometimes I lost sight of the true vision of what history is all about. I was always bothered by how much they focused on topics and themes so much that in the process they would lose the whole picture or the background story. They focus too much on the trees and the tiniest leaves and twigs, imagining things to be there that perhaps aren't supposed to be there or they focus on unimportant little things and miss the really important things, hoping in the process to prove their own agenda or worldview. In this whole process they eventually lose sight of the whole beautiful forest. But I thank the Lord that by His grace He pulled me through it. I was also really blessed by the spiritual support of my family, especially my Dad. I often discussed the issues that puzzled or confused me and that helped clear my vision. Ravi Zacharias and his ministry RZIM has also supported me greatly. I'm now planning for my Honours which I'm hoping to start this year, this time on campus. I'm thinking and praying about a thesis. I've been quite a bit nervous about this new step. However, I've been encouraged by your post to trust in the Lord. Yes, He has not given us a spirit of fear. He has give us 'a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind' and we are called to live this in whatever place He places us. If we fear God and love Him, we need not fear anyone or anything!

    I wish you all the best with your studies and pray you get all the spiritual strength you need. It's so good to know another history student who is a Christian with a Homeschool background like me. It's rare to find!

    God bless,
    Sarah

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  3. Really good post. It was very refreshing...I just have to say, I've been reading your blog for close to a year now, though I've never actually commented. I love your blog. I've found others which are similar, but none which I agree with so much as these posts. They are so helpful in my writing and I always find myself cheering "preach it, sister!" through the various different subjects you discus. Thank you for taking the time to post.

    Also, do you have any kind of time frame idea for when White Sail's Shaking will be done? After reading some of the posts on it, I'd love to read it some day.

    Keep the posts coming. :)

    --Anna
    annagracedahl.blogspot.com

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  4. As a homeschooler attending a private liberal arts university, I have to thank you for writing this. In high school I knew many students who were unreasonably afraid of secular schools, and adults who perpetuated this way of thinking. The past few years have been among the best of my life so far. I wish every homeschooler could read this post before making their decision about attending college.

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  5. As a homeschooler attending a private liberal arts university, I have to thank you for writing this. In high school I knew many students who were unreasonably afraid of secular schools, and adults who perpetuated this way of thinking. The past few years have been among the best of my life so far. I wish every homeschooler could read this post before making their decision about attending college.

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  6. Wow, thanks so much. Thoughout the past couple of years I've gone back and forth between ultra conservative christian colleges and more academically challenging universities with reputations for being the pit of post-modernism and relativism and all that jazz. In the end, I feel the Lord leading me to attend school in Wales. Moving to another continent with a new culture and philosophy will be difficult, but I have peace that this is what the Lord is doing. Your post was SO helpful. Really great thoughts, particularly because this is an issue I believe a lot of homeschool grads deal with.

    I was reminded of John 17 where Jesus talks about how he does not ask the Father to keep us out of the world, but to keep us out of the hand of the evil one. We are in the world but not of the world. Wherever we go, we can express Christ in our normal day to day living!

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  7. I might have needed to be more scared than I was.

    I avoided Natural Science where I knew there would be evolution, and went for Langs

    - Latin (80 weeks welldone exams)
    - Greek (50 weeks)
    - German and Lithuanian (20 each)
    - Polish (11)

    But I hadn't reckoned on there being so many Commies and similar both a Classics and at Slavonic/East European departments. Not that they were alone - there was a Catholic priest too involved in Latin - but too many for my social comfort to have been intact, as I had hoped when avoiding Evolution related things.

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  8. Of course, I was AWFUL at following any of your 7 rules, nearly. 6, yes. 7, I missed the "appropriate moment" part. Most thoroughly.

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  9. Hi Abigail! I just stumbled across your blog! I am so grateful for this post. I'm about to graduate as a homeschooler, and the past year has been a difficult journey through the college decision process. I have been so scared of secular colleges, and for years I dreamed of attending a Christian school. God has clearly and graciously led me instead to a local state university, even though it wasn't what I originally had in mind. I want to major in English and soak as much learning as I can over the next four years. I don't want to fall prey to the devil's lies in that time, however. Your post is an encouraging reminder that it is possible to study at a secular college while continuing to follow the Lord.
    I'd love to hear more about your college experience!
    God Bless,
    Emma

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    Replies
    1. Hi Emma! So glad the post was helpful; I can completely sympathize with your concerns as you head into the next phase of education (congratulations, by the way!). I'll admit, I'm still frequently afraid. The thought that I might be enticed away from what I know to be the truth is terrifying (if also perhaps rather irrational?). However, at the same time that I have those fears, I know that we have been given a spirit of power and love and a sound mind, not a spirit of fear -- and that my anxieties are a form of doubting the goodness and power of God toward me.

      I do completely recommend that students be wise as they consider where to go for their degree -- although frankly I'm more concerned about folks, especially girls, going far from home for 4+ years (though I guess that's a topic for another time!). However, being wise isn't the same as being scared. For my own part, as much as I still struggle with anxiety (this post is preaching to myself as much as to others), I can recognize that God has blessed me in incredible ways through the university I attend. Not only have I learned so much and been given opportunities and a potential career path that I never before envisioned, but He also provided me a wonderful friend, mentor, and fellow believer in one of my professors. These are things I didn't anticipate in the least, but they have overwhelmed the less palatable elements of the college experience and made it a joy. I hope yours will be as well!

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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