Religious practice is at its least among young twenty-somethings. This is nothing new. Straying from the faith of your parents has been common during the last several generations, at least according to sociological data reported Souls In Transition. In this book, Christian Smith shows that the major religious view of most self-identified Christians can be called “Moral Therapeutic Deism”, which is the belief that God simply wants you to feel good and be good. Of the many problems with this religious framework, the most significant is that there is no instruction as to what will ultimately make you feel good or what being good looks like. In the end, it looks much like the self-esteem/self-help view our culture has been advocating for the past thirty years.
There might be several reasons for the popularity of this view. One is that it is devoid of moral content. Fresh out of the watchful oversight of our parents’ eyes, college can be a chance to eat much of the proverbial ‘forbidden fruit.’ There certainly is not a shortage of moral temptations on the college campus. Also, courses in Religious Studies, Biology, Philosophy, Anthropology, and Sociology can enflame latent spiritual doubts. Without a helpful support system to provide any sort of pushback, it’s easy to see how moral therapeutic deism thrives in this environment. In the face of all the data about college students turning from the faith of their parents, to indulge temptations and doubts, many parents and churches merely hope for the survival of faith.
College students also can approach college with an incredibly low bar of minimal faith survival in college. After ten years of working with college ministry I’ve seen that this is a time in life when faith can do more than survive, it can thrive.
In the end, moral therapeutic deism doesn’t give a satisfying answer to the bigger questions of life. Instead, a robust understanding of Christianity gives a much more satisfying picture of what the happy life is and what goodness is (as well as how one really attains them). Despite many of the alternative ways of seeing the world at the university, Christianity gives you the best way to live with intellectual consistancy and more than stands up to opposing views. Over the years, I have seen college students grow in tremendous ways.
So, here are my four keys to thrive and not just survive in college:
1. Content matters. Students that don’t learn to feed themselves spiritual truths might survive. But, students that spend time reading their Bibles to find out what the Bible really has to say find out that it is not just a crusty, dusty book, but a transformative, life-giving book. Moreover, students that read books that help them answer the doubts they face (like Reason For God by Tim Keller, and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis) don’t always feel on the defensive, but learn discerning courage.
2. Community matters. Students that don’t get involved relationally with a college ministry or a church might survive, but those who build relationships through small groups and meet with spiritual mentors thrive. All the statistics reinforce this crucial factor, which the Bible says is necessary for spiritual thriving (Hebrews 10:24-25).
3. Mission matters. Students that don’t find a way to serve in some ministry and don’t consider what God is calling them to do might survive. But, students thrive who find ways to serve in a ministry and continually grow in seeing all of their lives as a mission from God. Some of the most significant spiritual growth comes from serving.
4. Grace matters. Students who think that they have it together, that they are pretty good, and that God is lucky to have them on his team might survive. But students thrive, who have a deep, growing awareness of their sin and great need, accompanied by a deep understanding of God’s mercy and grace revealed on the cross.
Veritas exists because we believe the college years are ripe for thriving. We are well aware of all of the temptations, intellectual challenges, and hardships that many students face in college. We want to be there to help students not only face them, but to be used significantly by God for what He is doing on the Mizzou campus and in the world.