FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Living Your Faith on Campus

with Jonathan Morrow | March 26, 2009
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Can a college student really keep his faith strong while away from home? Jonathan Morrow talks about his university years, going to class, hanging out with friends, and serving in Campus Crusade for Christ. Today, he gives listeners a realistic look at the spiritual climate of most college campuses, and tells students what they can do to stay strong in the midst of it.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Can a college student really keep his faith strong while away from home? Jonathan Morrow talks about his university years, going to class, hanging out with friends, and serving in Campus Crusade for Christ. Today, he gives listeners a realistic look at the spiritual climate of most college campuses, and tells students what they can do to stay strong in the midst of it.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Can a college student really keep his faith strong while away from home?

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Living Your Faith on Campus

With Jonathan Morrow
March 26, 2009
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Bob: Why is it so many high school students who head off to college wind up abandoning their faith?  Jonathan Morrow says there's a lot pressing students in a lot of different directions.

Jonathan: We live in a culture that's inundated with images and ideas, and those images, there is a background belief of what students believe about themselves, their own self-image – am I only worthwhile or worthy if I perform at a certain level and have success, and then all those kinds of things play in to those, and then that's the background, and then you get in a classroom with the professor, and they start pressing you on some issues – well, the professor said it so I guess he's really smart and does have a Ph.D. behind his name and there you go.  That's kind of the feeling that a student has.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 26th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  What can parents to do help make sure that when the culture and the professors are trying to press their students away from the faith, the students can stand strong?  We'll talk about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I've got to tell you, when you get a book like the one I'm sitting here looking at, which is called "Welcome to College," and then you flip it over, and you see the author, it says, "The author spent his college years at a large state school," it doesn't say which one.  I'm thinking it must be a school with a lousy football team, don't you think?  I mean, otherwise, he would step up and say …

Dennis: You know, I hadn't had that thought.

Bob: "I went to this particular college."

Dennis: "A large state school."

Bob: He's trying to – he wants you to get the picture, but he's trying to deny his association with whatever this "large state school" is.

Dennis: Or he lives in enemy territory where it could be dangerous to his health, Bob.

Bob: Well, that could be, I didn't think about that.  He wants to be able to speak on other college campuses.

Dennis: Let's find out, once and for all, what the truth is on this.  Jonathan Morrow joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Jonathan, welcome to the broadcast.  Okay, what is it, Jonathan, what's the state school?

Jonathan: Well, the state school is Middle Tennessee State University, the Blue Raiders, but they did take out Maryland this year, the University of Maryland, so I'm just saying.

Bob: So why did you decide to list it as "a large state school?"

Jonathan: So that everyone could identify with it.

Bob: You didn't want anybody to feel like, "Oh, well, if it's Tennessee – it's different where I go, right?

Jonathan: True, very true.

Dennis: Well, it could have also been – how far is Murfreesboro from the Big Orange T, in Tennessee?

Jonathan: About two and a half hours, two and a half hours.

Bob: So you did want to deny any association with them, didn't you?

Jonathan: Actually, yes, unless that's your biggest fan base and, no, if it's not the case.


Bob: A true politician.

Dennis: Well, Jonathan has written a book called "Welcome to College, a Christ-Followers Guide for the Journey."  He is a pastor, he and his wife have been married for seven years.  They have two children, and he has worked not only as a college student but also with college students, has been a student of them to find out how to best prepare them to go to college, and I have to ask you this question off the top – how would you rate Christian young people today?  That's the young people coming out of the youth groups of America arriving on the college campus.  On a letter grade, Jonathan, how prepared are they for being a Christ-follower on the campus?

Jonathan: I would have to say, probably, if I was honest, a C on a good day.  Pockets …

Bob: Pretty average, is that …?

Jonathan: Pretty average, a D in a lot of cases, and then some As and Bs depending upon where they come from, but the church, I think, honestly, is not preparing students for what they are going to encounter.  They haven't been given a compelling vision for …

Dennis: What about parents?

Jonathan: Parents?  I don't know that they're being equipped, either, to equip the students with what they need to do to get there.

Bob: Well, you know, you have seen the statistics that kids coming out of youth groups going off to college two years later – they're not going to church, they're not going to youth anything, they're not going to Christian meetings on the campus.  They are pretty much caught up in what everybody else is caught up.  I mean, this is the majority of the church kids are chucking it all.  What's going on?

Jonathan: Yes, 60 to 90 percent depending upon which survey you look at, and they are leaving the church, and I think you can boil it down to about two causes, and the first cause is that they are relationally disconnected.  The previous generation, they are not connecting with mentors at all, and they're not connecting with their parents, and they're not connecting with other older significant relationships where they can speak life into them.  They're not getting that, and so they find whoever the group is that accepts them, and then they become part of it regardless of values or interests or anything else.

Dennis: So they get mentored, but they get mentored by their peers.

Jonathan: Yes.  And so they just find themselves a part of this group.  And then the second reason is, is we haven't taught students how to think – not that they can't think or won't think, but we haven't taught them how to think, and so they'll find themselves – they don't know what they believe or why about Christianity or hardly anything else.  You could talk about politics or anything else like that, there really isn't a lot of ability to articulate what's going on and why they think the way they do.

Bob: Did you grow up in a Christian home? 

Jonathan: No – a broadly Christian home.  I came to Christ when I was a junior in high school, and so it was a broadly Christian home in that sense, but I wasn't given a Christian worldview growing up.

Bob: So when you got on the campus at Middle Tennessee State University, what did you say it was – the Red Raiders?

Jonathan: The Blue Raiders.

Bob: The Blue Raiders.

Jonathan: Yes.

Bob: You got on the campus there …

Dennis: Red's too close to orange.

Jonathan: There are some distinctions.

Bob: You were barely a couple of years old in your faith.  Did you find yourself swallowed up or did you find yourself standing firm?

Jonathan: You know, I found myself standing firm by God's grace, because right when I got there, I got plugged into a group of fellow leaders and other students who really encouraged me, and then there was the campus director of Campus Crusade for Christ, and he really took me under his wing and really mentored me and showed me how to live and survive and thrive in college.

Bob: So at least the first part of this, the connection with an older mentor, was what preserved things for you.  You still didn't know how to think Christianly, though, did you?

Jonathan: No.  That was a very early journey, and so what I found was is I started scrambling.  I was, like, surely there are answers to these questions I'm hearing in class.  I mean, somebody's got to have something out here, and so that began my journey and, honestly, in seed form what became part of the book was a lot of the things that I tracked down for answers, "Okay, why is the Bible reliable?"  Or "Is this a bunch of fairy tales," or "What should I think about dating and sexuality and things like that?"  I didn't have a lot of firm categories or whys on those.

Dennis: Jonathan, I want to be careful here at this point of assuming our audience knows what you mean when you say, "Think Christianly."

Jonathan: Yes.

Dennis: Because I think there's a lot of Christian trappings in the youth groups of America, in the pews of America, but there may not be a lot of Christianly thinking in terms of holistically looking at their lives.  Explain what you mean.

Jonathan: Yeah, what I mean by that is what Jesus talked about in Luke 10:27 where "we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength," and "we're transformed by the renewing of our mind," in Romans 12.  And so the idea is approaching all of life with a biblical worldview, basically seeing reality as God defines it, and in living in that reality 166 hours a week, which is, beyond that, two hours on a Sunday morning in Christianity, which I think, unfortunately, most of us struggle to not live in – just that Sunday morning Christianity.  And so a Christian worldview is really just living out how God defines reality in day-to-day.

Dennis: I don't know exactly how good a job we really did of preparing our kids with a Christian worldview before they went to college, but I do recall in those high school years when we would go to movies, we would analyze the movie according to its worldview.  We would talk about, "What's the underlying theme behind what the producer is creating here?"

Jonathan: That's great.

Bob: And your children loved that part of the movie.

Dennis: Oh, they said, "Dad, thank you, thank you for, in the middle of that movie, groaning."  They were so embarrassed by me.  But here is what I was hoping to create, and Barbara as well – she calls it "critical thinking."  That's not being a person who is critical, as in negative.  It's a person who doesn't just buy it because somebody said it on the Internet or has a Ph.D. in front of his name in a class.  And a lot of these young people who go to college, if they're not careful, they're going to be swept away by a professor who challenges their faith, and they're going to think, "Well, it must not be right, because that guy doesn't think it's right."

Jonathan: Exactly, and you started having those conversations with your children along the way, and so they actually thought, "Well, Mom and Dad have actually thought about these things, and so maybe their first default setting when they walk into the classroom is, "Well, okay, maybe I shouldn't just chuck this right away.  There are probably some good reasons for it.  Let me think through and walk through this a little bit" as opposed to "Well, the professor said it, so I guess he's really smart and does have a Ph.D. behind his name and, there you go, and so I guess my parents didn't know any better."  That's kind of the feeling that a student has.

Bob: Your book addresses – you've got 42 chapters in here, so you address a lot of different subjects in the book.  One of the things that you take head-on is the issue of tolerance, which is – if there is a dominant motif on the college campus, it's the idea that we should accept everybody's opinion uncritically, and you can believe what you want to believe, and I can believe – we can all have our own truth.  How does a student represent generosity, charity, and grace without falling into the trap, the tolerance trap that says, "contradictory statements can both be true?"

Jonathan: Right, the old definition of tolerance used to be "We disagree, and I extend to you the right to be wrong, and I respect you."  Now it means, "All views have to be equally right," and even disagreeing is intolerant.  And so a student walks into that, and they must think about, "Okay, well, I need to understand."  That's the first thing.  "I need to understand this other person and where they're coming from."  And that happens by asking questions, you know, I don't need to read a book on Buddhism, I need to ask my friend what he believes about Buddhism and what that means in his life, and then we can talk about, well, okay."

So understanding is the first part.  But then respecting them, not raising your voice, asking good questions, but also saying, "These are important questions.  Let's talk about this."  And so, honestly, having a conversation about it, that takes patience, and it also takes some confidence from having explored what you believe and why a little bit.

Bob: Well, it takes humility, because you might learn something from somebody who holds a different perspective.

Jonathan: True.

Bob: But I think a lot of parents will hear you say that and think, "Here is what I'm afraid of.  I'm afraid if I send my son off to school to encounter somebody, and this person is a Muslim, and he says, 'Well, I'd like to learn more about your Muslim faith, and I'd like to understand it better.'"  What happens if six months later my son goes, "You know, this makes sense.  Maybe I should abandon my Christianity and become a Muslim."

Jonathan: Yeah, and that's a possibility, but one thing I would say – we live in the Information Age, and a middle-schooler can get on the Internet and find out pretty much anything they want to know about any religion and any arguments for that religion.  So hiding them from it is not going to help.  The question is – how can we best prepare them, and if we have those conversations along the way, growing up, where we can critically look at – okay, what do we believe, what do different people believe, why are there differences, where are they, and then that's a great conversation.

And so I think what – you know, as a parent, what my advice from parents – I give this in a very limited sense since I'm too young to be giving advice to parents because I've just got two little kids right now …

Dennis: No, but let me just say to you – if you've been a student of what's happening on the college campus …

Bob: Yeah, we need to hear from you.

Dennis: Parents do need someone who is thinking critically about what's happening with Christian youth today and why they are forsaking their faith.

Jonathan: You know, so for example, a great – there's going to be Discovery Channel, History Channel stuff, banned books of the Bible, and all these kinds of things, and so why not watch that together as a family, and take a book like "Reinventing Jesus" by Dr. Dan Wallace and others, and talk about, well, where did the books of the Bible come from?  Are these alternative Christianities out there?  These aren't things to fear, because I guarantee you, as soon as they hit college campus, they're going to hear about all these missing Gospels and lost Gospels, you don't have the true story about Jesus – that's going to be par for the course.

Dennis: But what am I going to do as a parent?  I can just hear a parent saying it right now– they're going to raise issues that I don't know how to answer.

Bob: Yeah, some Ph.D. in a college classroom is going to say, "Now, we know that Genesis was written by four different people.  You have your J document, and your E document, and they are all melded together" – and the parent goes …

Dennis: "Wow, he just undermined my faith."

Bob: Yeah, yeah, how does a mom or a dad help coach a student in the midst of something like that?

Jonathan: That's the beauty of the body of Christ, because we don't have to have it all together.  What we can do is we have resources, and there are Christians who have very thoughtful answers about these things, and resources, and that's one of the things I try to do with this book is at the end of every chapter, every short chapter, give five or six resources and the websites so that people could get equipped on, "Okay, where are good answers?" 

And there are good answers, and there are thoughtful Christians who can help students and parents navigate through these things, and you don't have to have a Ph.D. to do it.  It's just a matter of, honestly, taking advantage of the other people in the body of Christ who have spent their lives thinking about these issues and trying to help equip students to answer those questions about Genesis or science and evolution and questions about that or – the problem of evil – different – Jesus is and everything else in between.

Dennis: Your book was fascinating for me to just browse my way through, and it really is a comprehensive look at the issues young people are going to face.  There are issues of alcohol and modesty and young ladies, sex, and relationships and your own health and dealing with science.  If you could only take one chapter – this is really, really tough, Jonathan.  If you could only take one chapter in here, and you've got a high school senior who is about to graduate, you're going to say, "Read this chapter and talk about it with your Mom and Dad."  What chapter would it be?

Jonathan: Wow …

Dennis: This is tough.  It's got how many chapters?  40?

Jonathan: Forty-two – 42 short chapters.  You know, I think what I'd have to say is the second chapter.

Bob: I knew it, I knew that's what he'd pick – Chapter 2.

Jonathan: Yeah, the "think Christianly" chapter because everything is going to flow out of this, it's a mindset, it's a way of approaching life, it's a vision for life that – "I'm not going to live a fragmented life relationally, intellectually, vocationally, at work, whatever I decide to do," and if I catch a vision for that, then I can take the other things, and I can fit them together like puzzle pieces, if you will, into a worldview that I'm going to start these deeply held beliefs that I have, that I'll be able to drill down and say you know what?  These are core values and core beliefs. 

God is real, He's active, I can know Him through His Word and through what He's made, and I can think about these things.  I don't have to be afraid of the truth out there that somebody has found out Christianity is false and forgot to tell me.  I mean, I don't have to be fearful of that, and so I can walk in to college with, hopefully, the idea that there is this vision for a Christian worldview.

Bob: Well, somebody whose blog is called "ThinkChristianly" you know he'd pick Chapter 2, wouldn't you?  I mean, come on.  That's where he's going to go.  And if you can get the idea that the Bible does inform and does speak to and does help us understand all of these issues, then when you face the issues, you may not know the answer, but you know where to go, don't you?

Jonathan: Right, and that's – honestly, it gives great confidence to people, and that's the idea of a body of Christ.  Together, we have it all in that sense, because there are other people who I need to lean on for all sorts of areas, and like, for example, the ministry you guys do here with FamilyLife Today has been huge, even in our – my wife's and my marriage and our family, and that's a part of the body of Christ ministering to me.  And then these are areas where I'm trying to help students, and so knowing that there are answers out there – I think for a long time people have felt isolated and alone – "I'm the only one who has ever had this doubt or this question," and that's just simply not true.

Dennis: You know, I know we're talking about college here, Jonathan, but I've got one last question before I add a summary of what we've talked about here.  It's been puzzling to me most of this interview, and, again, I know we're talking about college, but you've just taken me back to my college days, and it's something that I've noticed about you.  Do you want to know what that is?

Jonathan: What is it?

Dennis: What do you have written on the palm of your hand?

Jonathan: I've got a couple of things I didn't want to forget.

Bob: You've got crib notes for this interview?

Jonathan: Yes.


Bob: Did you learn that in college?  Did you do the same thing going to take a test there?

Jonathan: No, no, not at all.

Bob: Could just check it out.  So what's on the palm?  Read what it says, come on.

Jonathan: Actually, I already gave it to you.  "You were not alone."

Bob: We asked the right questions?

Jonathan: You did.

Dennis: Jonathan, you've written a whole book.  You don't need to cheat.

Bob: He's got to have the crib notes.


Jonathan: It's not so much cheating as make sure I emphasize one point, hey, because there's a whole bunch in that book.

Dennis: Here's the thing, Jonathan, here is what's really unfair about what I just did to you, if you could see how I prepare to do radio when Bob interviews me or whatever.

Bob: He would have to have 20 hands.

Dennis: One of my books, I've got it spread out on our coffee table here so I won't forget …

Bob: Put it away.  You should have this in your head.  You wrote the book.

Dennis: I do want to say three things about preparing a young person to go to college.  Number one, as parents – and this is revisiting something we've talked about all the way through here – help your child think critically about what they're hearing, what they're seeing, their entertainment, their music, think critically about the message.

Secondly, help them as they go think about finding a mentor.  For me, I went to college two times.  First, to junior college – spiritually, I had virtually no mentors.

Bob: Let me clear this up for our listeners.  You went to two different colleges.  You didn't go to college two times.

Dennis: Well, I did.  I did go to college two times.  I went to a junior college for two years, and I went to the University of Arkansas for two years.  And so I went to college two times.

Bob: And it was two different experiences for you?

Dennis: It was two different experiences.  I had no mentor for the first two years, and I did have a mentor, a spiritual mentor, for the second two years.

Anyway, and the third thing that we need to send our young people to college around is send them with a mission.  Don't just let them go to college.  It's not just about the education, it's not just about the fun they're going to have.  It's about a spiritual mission that they need to be on because they're followers of Jesus Christ, and personally I think every college student is one of two people – he is either a mission field in need of someone coming to him, or he's a missionary.  He's on a mission himself, building an unseen kingdom.  And, as parents, if we begin to think critically as we send our kids, if we begin to help them think about getting a mentor, and if we send them on a mission, I think it's going to make all the difference in the world.

Bob: I think if a parent had a book like "Welcome to College," during a student's senior year, you know, if there are …

Dennis: You know, that's a great idea, because there's almost enough for a full year – 42 chapters.

Bob: You could go through a chapter a week with your student and get them ready, get them thinking, get them interacting over the issues that they're going to be bombarded with when they head to the college campus.

Dennis: And if you can't remember everything that's in the book, just pull out a pen …

Bob: And write it on your hand.

Dennis: And write it on the palm of your hand.  You might be author of the book.

Bob: We have copies of the book, "Welcome to College," in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website,, and the information about the book is available there.

One other thing we've gotten – I don't know if you've seen this, Jonathan, but this is a CD and the DVD that comes with – what is this, about a 30-page full-color booklet – the CD features some of the top songs in contemporary Christian music by groups like Relient K and Stellar Kart, Sanctus Real, Hawk Nelson, Josh Rubin, others.  The DVD has a bunch of special features for students, and when you order this to give to a high school senior for graduation, we're going to send along a gift for you as well.  It's a CD where Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about what we need to be doing as parents over the next several months to make sure that we have prepared our sons and daughters not just for college but for life.  Do they have the basic skill set that they're going to need as they head into life?

So you get the CD to give as a graduation gift, and we'll send along the bonus CD for parents to listen to as well.  All the details are on the website,, great graduation gift to give to a high school senior.  Again, it's where you'll find the information or if you want to call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

Speaking of DVDs, we have sent out quite a few DVDs over the last several weeks, "The Jesus Film" on DVD, which features not only the story of the life of Jesus, the most-viewed motion picture of all time, but it also includes the "Story of Jesus for Children" as a special feature on the DVD.  It's about an hour long, and it's great for younger kids to learn about the life of Jesus.

We've been sending these DVDs to those folks who request them when they make a donation this month of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and we so appreciate those of you who have gotten in touch with us either on the Internet or by phone to say "We want to support what you're doing."  We appreciate your financial support of the ministry so much.

If you'd like to receive "The Jesus Film" on DVD, all you have to do is go online at and make a donation of any amount.  Request the DVD by writing "JesusDVD" in the keycode box on the donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  When you make your donation over the phone, you can request "The Jesus Film" on DVD and, again, we'll send it off to you.  And we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry.  You are keeping us on this station and on other stations all around the country, and we want to say thank you for that.

Now, tomorrow we're going to be back to talk more with Jonathan Morrow about some of the conversations that will take place during a college student's career on the campus and how parents can get them prepared for some of those conversations – that all happens tomorrow.  I hope you can be back with us.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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