Will college wreck your faith? For many it does, but it doesn't have to. Former campus minister, Ben Burns, coaches high school seniors on how to find spiritual success in college.
Will college wreck your faith? For many it does, but it doesn't have to. Former campus minister, Ben Burns, coaches high school seniors on how to find spiritual success in college.
Bob: Your son or daughter is not really ready for college until he or she is ready to disagree, respectfully, with an authority figure. Here’s Ben Burns.
Ben: The journey that they are on after high school is identifying and having a sense of their own authority. Going back to Ephesians, Chapter 4, Paul says, “I want you all to grow up and become mature in the faith.”
That means, as an 18-year-old, you need to be able to have the authority, within yourself, to say, “You know what? Even though you are 55, and you’ve written 12 books on this, I disagree with you.”—to know that they have the freedom to not feel cow-towed in their spirits, so to speak, to have to buy everything—but to learn how to develop critical thinking—learn how to say, “I disagree with you.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how you can get your son or daughter ready for college by developing critical thinking skills and teaching them to stand up for what they believe in. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You’ve had six sons and daughters who have had a variety of college experiences; right?
Dennis: No doubt about that. (Laughter)
Bob: I have four who have made it into, or through college, and a fifth one who is headed in that direction. If you were looking back on your six, did any of them have an A-plus college experience? I mean, where you’d look at their whole experience over four years and go, “Boy, that could not have gone better!”?
Dennis: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I would say any of them had an A-plus—it was a bit of a roller coaster ride; and there were moments, tests, and challenges. I think the question is, “Was it an A-plus experience for them or their parents?” I think that’s—(Laughter)
Bob: Were there any you’d say C-minus, D-plus?
Dennis: No. No, they—really college didn’t get any of our kids’ faith—at least that I know of. Again, there were those moments, because they are going to classes, where some of the professors are attempting to undermine the Christian faith on purpose; but I wouldn’t say any of them had what I would say a D or a C-minus experience.
Bob: Well, there are parents who would say, “Boy, if we could reel it back and start it over again, or head in a different direction, we’d do it because our kids wound up shipwrecked spiritually or shipwrecked in life because of their college experience.”
Dennis: We have a coach with us here in the studio, Ben Burns, who join us again.
Bob: Coach Burns! Coach Burns is in the studio!
Dennis: We’re going to turn him into the coach of parents today and coach you about how to prepare your sons and your daughters to go away to college. Ben, you’ve been working with college students, now, for more than 25 years. You and your wife, Janet, speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. You see a lot taking place today.
There are tons of kids who go away to college and have that D-plus experience Bob’s talking about. Some of them get an F. They completely bag their faith and give up on the Christian life. We talked earlier about how friends really destroy their faith, or peer pressure can lead them in the wrong direction. What are a couple of other ways, that are pressures they’re going to experience in college, that parents ought to be aware of?
Ben: It’s interesting when you think about the transition that they have to make. If you were to look at what goes on in a young person’s life, when they leave high school and go off to college, you can almost see this strategy that Satan uses. What’s amazing is how simple and—if I can say—even beautiful it is—where he takes somebody, who is headed to find Christian context, and takes them out of that context—has no support, whatsoever.
Then, when they start to dabble with sin, or experience sin they’ve been struggling with, and have no community to help them, or they’ve lost track of their consistent walk with the Lord, they start going down this path of being around the wrong people, making the wrong choices—the shame, the guilt that starts to build up in their heart. So, come by Thanksgiving time or Christmas, the last place they want to be is around some bright, smiley Christians. They go underground for a period of time until God graciously wakes them up to say, “You are forgiven. You are a part of the Kingdom.”
Part of the thing that parents can do is to help the students understand the importance—like we’ve talked about—of getting involved in a community. Second of all, is understand areas where they might be tempted and help them to start thinking about, “What does the Bible say about these things? What are God’s values in these areas?”, and, “What do you think about them? How are you processing them? What do you think the Bible is telling you about how you want to live your life when you go off to college?”
Dennis: You are actually preparing your son or your daughter for guerilla warfare on the college campus, spiritually-speaking—isn’t that true?
Ben: I think so. The warfare, oftentimes, though, is really from within us—the temptations, the loneliness, the freedom, the stress—all those things that fuel these temptations to be involved in pleasure-seeking activity or being around people—“I want to blow everything off.” Yes, it is a guerilla warfare.
Bob: It’s not just in the social arena where their invited to parties or—
Bob: —they’re hanging around with the right groups but heading off to class. I remember my genetics professor in college. I had to take six hours of science in order to graduate. I was not a science guy. So, I picked two classes that were like the easiest science-qualifying classes. One was linguistics—I got science credit for linguistics. The other was “Genetics and Man”. My genetics professor did not have much use for Christianity.
I remember one day, where he was talking about blood. He was talking about DNA and how characteristics, traits, are transmitted through genes—through genetics. I remember raising my hand; and I was saying, “We know what makes up blood; right? Chemically, we can figure that out; right?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “How come we can’t make it?”
Of course, in my mind, what I was trying to say was, “Only God can make life. Life is in blood. We can’t make life.” He said, “We’re very close. We’re very close to being able.” His worldview was a worldview that was not oriented around God or the Scriptures. In fact, if that’s where you were coming from, he didn’t think much of you. There are a lot of kids facing that, as they head in the classroom.
Ben: Well, there are. I think the biggest issue they face is the value of the Bible, the nature of the Bible, because there are a lot of topics out there that they are going to hear on the college campus. The one that’s going to be very consistent—the one consistent argument that they hear is, “The Bible is not reliable. It’s not trustworthy. It’s not historically accurate.” One of things that I try to do in talking with students is to help them understand just how much truthfulness, how much information—just to understand how much historical fact and reasons to believe in the Bible we have as Christians.
There were students that were involved in our ministry at Lewis & Clark College, here in the Portland area; and they would take this class every year, thinking it’s an easy Bible credit, which is basically about the Bible. It was not. They heard things they had never heard in a youth group. They heard all kinds of historical, critical methods on the Bible. They heard about Moses not writing the first five books. They heard all the critical things about the Bible. They had never been told about that coming up, going to college; and they didn’t have a way to unpack that until we could really sit down and unpack that.
If you take the Bible away from a Christian, there is not a whole lot they can stand on. They might have a philosophical argument about something to defend their professor. So, our students are getting attacked; but what’s really getting attacked is the foundation of their faith, the Bible. What’s even interesting is that somehow some of that is even seeping into some of our Christian, liberal arts schools. Parents, oftentimes, can think, “Oh, my kid is going to a Christian school. They’re safe.”
We know a friend who was applying to work at a very popular Christian college, I won’t name. They had said that he came from a background where there was belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. They told him, “Well, we appreciate your application, but we already have one ‘inerrantist’ on our staff. We want to provide a variety of views because it’s a Christian, liberal arts.” They are going to provide a range of views, even on the Bible.
Ben: A lot of parents don’t even understand that, and that’s why understanding the foundation of our faith is so important.
Dennis: You actually talk about this in a workbook in a DVD series you’ve created for parents to take their son or daughter through, who are graduating from high school. It’s called College Life 101. You go through, actually, where the ancient manuscripts came from and the percentage error that is likely found in those manuscripts, moving forward. It really is miniscule, and you give the college student some ammo to base his faith on.
Ben: One thing that students don’t understand—when you get into this discussion about the Bible, it can get very complex. The average youth pastor just doesn’t have the time and sometimes even the training to get into the complexity of that argument. What I like to help students understand is a little bit more about how the Bible’s been put together, like you said. All the copies that we have are 99.5 percent saying the exact same thing. The small amount of errors, so to speak, that exist are in the copies.
I try to help these students understand the distinction so when they hear from a professor, “The Bible has all these errors in it.” No, the errors are in the copies. I try to help them understand that our Christian scholars have understood the process of what’s called textual criticism to say that all these errors erase themselves when you look at all the manuscript evidence we have.
Bob: The hard thing is some of these professors are really likeable guys. They are winsome, they’re charming—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: —they’re good communicators, and they’re really smart. They can—you raise your hand as a college student and say, “Well”—
Dennis: “But, sir?”
Bob: —“I don’t think that’s the case.” They dazzle you with all kinds of language you’ve never heard before; and a freshman walks out of that class and goes, “Well, he seems like he knows what he’s talking about. He’s smarter than my dad or my youth pastor.” They wind up with a crisis of faith.
Ben: Bob, I’m glad you mentioned that because the thing that I try to communicate to students—the journey that they are on after high school is identifying and having a sense of their own authority. Going back to Ephesians, Chapter 4, Paul says, “I want you all to grow up and become mature in the faith.”
That means, as an 18-year-old, you need to be able to have the authority, within yourself, to say, “You know what? Even though you are 55, and you’ve written 12 books on this, I disagree with you.” To know that maybe their argument isn’t as complex as the professor’s, yet; but they have the freedom to not feel cow-towed in their spirits, so to speak, to have to buy everything—but to learn how to develop critical thinking—learn how to say, “I disagree with you.”
Dennis: So, a parent, who is taking his son or daughter through College Life 101, he’s going to get equipped—your son or daughter is going to get equipped with the foundation of the Scripture—that it really is a defensible, not error-free—but that the errors, that are in the copies, don’t really affect the major teachings of the Bible.
Ben: Absolutely. We take a look at the modern argument. We unpack, “What is the modern argument against the Bible?”—show how those arguments are really lacking—and understand that when you look at how all these manuscripts are compared, you see that we have a text that’s 100 percent reliable because whatever errors exist in those copies are cancelled out by cross-checking them with other manuscripts.
Bob: I want to bring up a different subject, one that you address in College Life 101, that I thought was really interesting. College can be a fun time for a lot of young people. It can be just a great experience, but it can also be some of the most stressful time they have experienced, to date, in life. I mean, finals week in high school is nothing compared to some of the stresses they’re going to face in college.
Ben: There are three overwhelming feelings that students experience when they go off to college that they are not ready for. One is the extreme loneliness that they face but, also, that stress. Now, they have 3,000 pages to read by Wednesday. They’ve been goofing around all weekend, playing Xbox®; and now, they feel this tremendous amount of stress.
The thing is—the way God has made us, as people, is—we’re finite. We have a limited amount of stress we can take. Once you get to that level stress and feeling bad, all you want to do is feel good. There are all kind of opportunities for college kids to blow off steam, to do something pleasurable that is oftentimes sinful or disagrees with their faith. That whole stress-release cycle starts to get kids on a path of not dealing with their stress properly and involves a more sinful choice.
Bob: That’s what’s opening the door to binge drinking, or to underage drinking, or to drug use—those kinds of things?
Ben: Two very common and powerful temptations that college students face are still in the realms of sexual experience and partying—alcohol, drugs. That’s what college kids do on campus to blow off that stress—to relieve all the pressure of college life.
Dennis: There are parents listening, right now, scared to death of letting their kids go off to college. What would you say to them?—not only just to comfort them but to say, “You know what? Seize the day and prepare your children for what they are going to face.” Again, you can’t make these decisions for them, but you can prepare them. What should they do?
Ben: They should start having more and more conversations. They should start asking their children what they think about this topic, especially along the senior year. If parents are still trying to cram content and conviction into kids’ heads, kids are at the stage where they are just going to start reflecting it. The journey that they are on is that they have to own this.
One of the things parents can do is just try to have some open-ended conversations, “What do you think about this? What do your friends think about this? Do you know kids in your school who are sexually-active? What do you think about this?” One of the things that I like to suggest—that I’d love your feedback on—is that when you ask your kids those questions, is to let it lie on the table for awhile. Oftentimes, what parents can do is—they’ll hear the wrong answer from their kids and—
Bob: —freak out.
Ben: —then, immediately—
Bob: Freak out.
Ben: —they freak out, or they immediately go to correct their kids’ thoughts. Well, the thing is the kid is thinking out loud. We’ve got to give the student, the child, the opportunity to try on their faith, to try on what they are thinking.
What I will tell parents, when I speak with them, is that, “You try to just listen for the first 24 hours. Say nothing and respect them by listening and not debating, not getting into a fight. Then, after 24 hours, say something like, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve said.’” What it does is shows tremendous respect to the child—
Dennis: It does. It does.
Ben: —and gives them an opportunity to say, “I respect you. I know you’re trying to figure this out. I can see why you’d say this, this, and that; but have you thought about this maybe?” It’s just a different way of helping them think out loud.
Dennis: I have to say that was one of the most difficult things, as a parent, were those 24 hours. I didn’t do a very good job of that. My kids referred to me as the “Teaching Daddy”. I was the instructor! (Laughter) “You’re going to hear it. You’re going to hear it straight and going to interact.” It is difficult to hear a wrong answer—
Dennis: —and not correct it because what have we been doing for 16, 17, years with them?—you have been correcting. That is a part of what parenting is all about.
Bob: Earlier this spring, I said to my son, who is about to head off to college—I said, “I’ve got something I’d like for us to do over the next few months.” I said, “I’d like for you to get three or four of your friends, and we’ll invite them over to the house. They can bring their dads or their moms along with them.
“I’ll stop by and get a bunch of buffalo wings and bring them home. We’ll all eat buffalo wings, and I want to go through a series like CollegeReady®”—the one that FamilyLife put together or like, “College Life 101”—that you’ve put together—“watch these DVD’s, go through the workbook with you, with your friends, and with their parents, and just go through it.”
I knew what my son’s reaction to this was going to be. It was kind of like the rolling of the eyes, the deep breath. I understand he’s concerned—“This puts my reputation on the line with my friends that my dad is making us go through some cheesy thing that’s going to be boring, or irrelevant, or preachy, or whatever else that”—he’s really not all that excited about going through it.
At the same time, my son who is a good, fine young man, also understood that part of my responsibility, as a dad, is to help guide him in this direction. So, he said, “Well, okay. Let me think about that for a couple of days.” I said, “Yes, alright; that’s fine. You take a few minutes to think about it and figure out what friends you’d like to get together, but I think this would be good for us.”
I think that kind of pro-activity for a mom or a dad—that kind of intentionality—you know Dennis has the nickname, “Mr. Intentional”—that kind of intentionality is a part of what our assignment is as moms and dads.
Dennis: It is; and what I want you to do, Ben, is just coach the mom or dad, right now, who wants to take their son or daughter through this—maybe with some other kids as well. How would you set this up? How would you—
Bob: Is there a way to get your kid not to roll his eyes—
Bob: —when you bring this—
Dennis: Can you guarantee that? (Laughter)
Ben: Well, I hope that the humor that I have in there will make it a little more inviting to come back to. I’ve heard some good reports that it has a way of holding kids’ attention; but it’s still—sitting down and watching something is like, (With a student’s voice) “Like really, do I have to do this? Dad! Come on! I don’t believe it.” (Laughter)
What I would say, as a parent—is to say, “Hey, I would love for us to look at this, and I’d love to hear your feedback. Even if your feedback is critical, or you think it’s dorky, that’s okay; I’d love to hear it.” I think sometimes what a parent can do is feel so invested in the material; or, “We’ve invested in this material, and you better like it”; or if you say something that you don’t like about it, then, the parent starts to feel defensive.
What I would say is, “Let your kid evaluate it.” Say, “Hey, I’d love for us to go through this whole thing. I’d love to hear your honest comments. What did you like? What did you not like?”—maybe even join in with the student once in awhile if they go, “Oh, gosh! I can’t believe; that’s dorky.” You go, “Yes. That was a little dorky; wasn’t it?” Try to identify with them instead of fighting them as you go through something like this. Again, they’re at this stage where they need to keep learning how to distinguish what they are about. Part of that means saying, “I don’t like that.” Don’t get defensive.
Dennis: Don’t take it personally if they roll their eyes like Bob was talking about. You don’t know what they’re hearing and what they’re really absorbing. One time, I had one of our kids—there had been a guest here on FamilyLife Today, and it was really a good topic and—I’ll not mention what it was—just wanted my child to hear it. I took it home, and we popped it in, and had an evening where we listened to the broadcast. I’ll never forget. We were in this room, in our home; and my child’s head was completely laid back—all the way on the couch—
Ben: —completely listening.
Dennis: Oh, eyes closed—was not going to give me any pleasure of thinking that the child was listening. I just kind of said, “Well, chalk that up to experience. That didn’t work.”
Two months later, we’re in a conversation where this child is talking to some peers. This child quotes what the child had heard. I’ve done a great job protecting the sex of the child here, but what you have to do is become the conduit to drive this truth into the child’s heart. I want to underscore what you said, Ben. Your son or daughter has to decide that, “Yes, it is game time; and yes, I’m going to own it. Yes, this is my conviction.”
I guess, I’ll kind of turn to the parents at this point and say, “How did you get your convictions?”—by making a lot of mistakes; right?
Dennis: That’s how I got my convictions. You’ve got to absorb a few bumps in the road with your child, and allow them to fail, and keep coaching them, and keep encouraging them.
Ben, I’m just thrilled you’ve created this tool, College Life 101. I think it’s going to be used by a lot of parents, and thrilled to have you on the broadcast.
Ben: Well, thanks for letting me be here.
Bob: Well, I’ll tell you what you could do, as a parent. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got a couple of video clips there—one from theCollege Life 101 series that Ben has put together. There is another clip from the CollegeReady® material that FamilyLife has put together.
You and your son or daughter watch both clips. Then, you say to your son or daughter, “Which one of those two series do you think you’d prefer to go through together—you and me, or you and me and some of your friends? We’ll get everybody together and make grilled cheese sandwiches. Then, we’ll watch one of the sessions and get back together in a couple of weeks. This time we’ll have hamburgers, and we’ll watch session two.”
The point is, “Be intentional about this with your son or daughter.” Both of these resources are good resources. You just need to pick the one that you think is right for you and your son or daughter; or let your son or daughter be the one who picks it.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the College Life 101 series that Ben has put together, the CollegeReady series that FamilyLife Today has put together. Order the series that you want, and we’ll send it out to you. If you know which one you want or if you’ve got some questions, call 1-800-FL-TODAY to place an order—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. When you get in touch with us, we’ll make arrangements to have the series you want sent out to you.
FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported program. I think many of you have heard us mention that from time to time. What that means is that folks, like you, who listen help us cover the cost of producing and syndicating this program by making donations from time to time or by making a donation every month as a Legacy Partner.
This month, the month of March, we are asking FamilyLife Today listeners to consider becoming a Legacy Partner. In fact, we are hoping that we can get one new Legacy Partner in each city where FamilyLife Today is heard. Actually, it is a little bit more than that. We’re heard in about 1,100 cities all across the country, and we’re hoping to recruit 1,500 new Legacy Partners this month.
If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, you can see a thermometer there that will let you know how we’re doing toward that goal of recruiting new Legacy Partners. We’re just asking if you would prayerfully consider being that family in your community that steps forward and says, “Yes, we can join that team.” If you do that, we’ve got a welcome kit we’ll send out to you with a couple of travel mugs and a CD that Dennis and I recorded, exclusively for Legacy Partners. Throughout the year, we will send additional resources, designed to help strengthen your marriage and your family.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that says, “Become a Legacy Partner”, to find out more or to sign up as a new Legacy Partner; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can answer any questions you have or welcome you to the Legacy Partner family over the phone. Again, it’s 1-800-FL-TODAY. I just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance to those of you who do help support the ministry and, particularly, to those of you who become new Legacy Partners. We’re glad to have you on the team.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. Wess Stafford is going to be here. He is the President of Compassion International®. We’re going to talk about the profound and powerful impact you can have in the life of a child, simply by taking a minute and saying something. We’ll talk about that Monday. Hope you can be with us for that.
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 will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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