Hello, and welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. My name is Kelsey Reed, and I’m here with Jonathan Boes and another one of our talking partners that we’ve just really enjoyed having on the show in the past. This is Collin Garbarino, again with us today. And together, we want to model conversations, use those tools that we have been pulling out through the course of almost a year now, to help you as you engage those conversations at home or in the classroom. We always love to hear from you. If you have any questions that you would like for us to tackle, any topics in culture, please send your questions or comments to email@example.com. And we also love recordings, and we’ve got some of those to incorporate into our episode today. Just a little hint of what’s to come. But if you want to record those to send them in, it’s very easy to do so on your phone through the Voice Memo app.
So we’re excited about that. And also, we’re excited to have you back with us, Collin. Welcome!
Thank you. I’m very excited to be here today, talking about what’s going on on college campuses.
So Collin is our Arts and Media Editor at WORLD Magazine. But he comes with a wealth of experience that he’s going to be bringing into this conversation. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about your background, Collin?
So I have spent a number of years in higher education on college campuses. I was, for almost 15 years, served as a professor of history at mostly Christian universities. But before that, I did a doctoral program and undergraduate work at state schools, and also got a Masters of Divinity at a seminary. So I’ve kind of run the gamut of institutions of public, private, religious, secular. So I’ve got a lot of, spent a lot of time on college campuses
That’s super helpful in this conversation.
And so today, we’re talking about what is going on on today’s college campuses. Our topic has been prompted by a lot of different things that we’re seeing in the news, and that I’m sure, you listening to this, you have probably seen in the news as well. For example, there’s this article from Inside Higher Ed, called “Shouting Down Speakers Who Offend,” basically pointing to what they see as a growing trend of speakers from different opinions and backgrounds coming in to talk at college campuses and being protested, shouted down by students there on campus. We see another article from the Boston Herald pointing out a Harvard student group protesting a conservative speaker who came to campus, and all sorts of different stories about the way free speech issues are being handled on campus, the way speakers are being welcomed or not welcomed, this kind of growing number of—what seems to be a growing number of—protests, and maybe a falling apart of civility, even. And so we just want to get to the bottom of this. What is going on on college campuses today? How do we sort through this— especially, you know, for those parents and educators who maybe have kids in college, or are looking forward to sending their kids to college somewhere down the road?
So what we are each bringing to the conversation—obviously, there’s experience on college campuses of our own. There is experience somewhat as not only students, but as teachers. What I bring to the table for this discussion is my posture as a mom, youth ministry experience, time in a secular university, and perspective as a student of scripture and theology. And I really want to lean into that, as we even begin, at the outset of this conversation. But before I do, I want to tell you the questions that we asked those students with whom we have relationships, students who are currently in college settings. They are from freshman to senior. So we really ran the gamut, which helped us to draw out further observations of what they are actually seeing on the ground, which for me, and this mama heart that is a big part of my posture—it’s helpful in the anxiety that I bring to hear, you know, what are you actually experiencing? Instead of just what my imagination might inflate it to be. Because I honestly—social media and what is being reported there has been very stirring of my emotions, and it’s very concerning. And so another part of what you might be experiencing—parent, teacher—is what you see reported in social media, of these instances of activism, of protest, or of the way that speakers are received, or maybe not very well received on campuses around the country right now.
So first, let me just give you those questions that I asked the students that are in our acquaintance. I asked them: What are you witnessing and experiencing at your unique institution regarding commitment to a diversity of thought, including pursuing civil discourse and debate on campus? What is the experience of guest speakers brought onto campus? What are their messages? How are they received by the student body and even the faculty? If and when a speaker has not been well received, what has that looked like? And what about protests, if any, on campus, and over what issues?
So as always, we like to lean into a structure that helps us to draw out our observations and talk to the topic with some definition. So we’re going to be leaning in to SOAR. Our subject area, of course, is just “What’s going on on college campuses?” But now we’re going to pivot to that place where we draw out our observations. So gentlemen, what have you been seeing in the news? Or what experiences of college campuses do you have to bring into this conversation? I’m going to turn it to you first, Jonathan.
So we’ll get to some of those thoughts from the college students we spoke with—we’ll get to some of those recordings in a minute. But to briefly touch on our own experiences—for myself, I do not have kids who are currently in college or even really anywhere near college. My oldest is seven. But I graduated from college, from undergrad in 2015. But when it comes to this whole thing about, you know, speakers being brought onto campus from different perspectives, I think that was actually one of the really healthy aspects of my personal college experience, where the school I went to has—it has a reputation for being very conservative. And in its early days, it was a little more so that way. But we had a lot of great interactions with speakers from different perspectives. You know, we had some feminist literary scholars come in, we had—our philosophy club brought in a quite liberal Christian, progressive Christian to give his perspective. And every time, those people were accepted with a lot of real grace and curiosity and willingness to engage their ideas, and I appreciated that so much.
But even when I was in college, I remember hearing some of these, you know, less positive experiences coming out of other schools. One of the best speakers we had, during my time in college was Anthony Esolen—Dr. Anthony Esolen. He did an amazing translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He also wrote a satirical book called Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, which is pretty fantastic. And he came and spoke at our campus. But the place he had been before that—I believe it was Yale where he had been invited to speak—and the students there held a “kiss-in,” because he speaks about the beauty of God’s design for men and women, which doesn’t jive with a lot of people coming from a more LGBTQ perspective. And so they protested his speech by standing up in the middle of it and, you know, making out with each other. So even back then, you have this sort of negative response to different perspectives being brought to campus—not as much of my own experience, but I definitely heard about that happening in other schools around me.
You say “back then,” but Rebecca Cochrane, our managing editor, had some wisdom to share, to remind us again that there’s nothing new under the Sun. So you know, your experiences repeat things that I would say probably each of us has experienced, and we can point back to in further history. So it’s maybe more proximate to reality than we think. Just even nine years ago is not that long ago in terms of these themes that we continue to see, and we’ll continue to see.
Also, just thinking about some more recent experiences I heard from other people that I’m not connected to but, you know, just being in the evangelical circles and hearing the news—one of the schools actually I remember visiting and considering attending was Grove City. Some people might be familiar with this. There was a whole controversy there where they invited Jemar Tisby to speak on campus. He is a Christian writer, wrote the book The Color of Compromise. He speaks about issues of racism and the history of the relationship between the church and racism. And so you know, he came, he spoke at Grove City’s campus, everything went well, whatever. Time passes, suddenly parents find out about it, they get angry about it. There’s a whole response from the board of the school. And basically, the leaders of Grove City end up coming out with a statement saying that it was a mistake to invite Jemar Tisby to campus. And Tisby was recently talking about this on an interview with—I believe it was Phil Vischer. And he was talking about how his experience on campus with students and teachers, faculty—it was really positive. There was a lot of really good engagement, even with people who didn’t necessarily agree with him, there was this respectful engagement of ideas. But it was kind of from the higher-ups, the people making financial decisions for the college—that’s where this pushback came from. Because a lot of these Christian schools—and this rings true to my own experience as well, in college—especially in all of these smaller schools that depend on donors, there’s a little more pressure to not appear to lean one way ideologically. So even if, among the students and faculty, there might be more openness to free speech, sometimes the people who are trying to raise money for the school, or who are making the big decisions, might be more wary of inviting a speaker to campus who—you know, if it’s a conservative school, they might be wary of inviting somebody like Tisby, who talks about racism so openly. And that kind of rings true to my experiences of, even if the college culture is a little more open to free speech and having different perspectives on campus, sometimes it’s the people who are a little bit removed, or maybe have more of a financial stake in the institution, who have less of a tolerance for that.
Because this is supposed to be unity amidst diversity, we like to define our terms as much as possible. And “university,” it’s really born of that idea that it is a place to be exposed to a diversity of thought, and yet to have this unity of mind—that it’s about growth of mind, heart, even body into this holistic developmental process that allows us to, maybe if we don’t agree with that idea, to at least learn how to have a conversation with it that is intelligent, that is sharpening of the other. I saw you nodding, Collin, because of course we get the benefit of seeing one another on screen. I’d love to know what you have to add?
Yeah, I think the issue of diversity of thought, it cuts two ways. And there’s a lot of fear that can be associated with that, from all kinds of different trains of thought. It’s not just one side or the other. And the reason diversity of thought is so alarming, in many ways, is because we’re talking about something that is very—we’re talking about something that touches a lot of people very deeply, when we’re talking about the education of children, or young adults, but still our children, right? So there is a there is a fear, that diversity of thought could bring a diversity from what we would like for them to be exposed to. And oftentimes, we would rather, as parents or members of the churches, we would rather err on the side of caution than potential for growth in being exposed to different ideas.
In my experience, a lot of this concern is somewhat overblown, because I’ve noticed, in my more than almost two decades just hanging out around universities, and some of the research I’ve looked at—students aren’t actually that impacted in their worldview by the professors or the administration of a university. And maybe we can talk about this a little bit more later. But what really impacts their worldview is their peers, their fellow students. And so, “Who’s being brought onto campus?” might cause them some interesting arguments and might spark some exciting discussions. But it’s usually—for most students—it’s not going to fundamentally change how they view the world. What’s going to fundamentally change how someone views the world is who they spend their day-to-day life with. Who’s in their community? Who are they living alongside? And so I think a lot of what we see in the news, where we see—especially with right now, Israel and Gaza at war—with the protests and counter protests on some college campuses, I think what’s happened in that instance, is that some people who’ve been sort of doing life together in community, with this particular instance discovered they weren’t actually on the same page. And it was very shocking and surprising to them. And whereas some other protests that we’ve seen on campus are more—a little less contentious, maybe because there’s more uniformity among the student body as to “Well, this is the right answer, and this is what we need to stand up for.”
What you said about what shapes a worldview or perspective rings true. The data even shows that our worldview is usually intact by the time we’re 13 years old. And so it just shows that, in those original life-on-life places of the home, that there’s the greatest potential for shaping of that worldview, and by the time that it really is going to solidify, it’s mostly been in that context, though of course peers and other relationships, those life-on-life places, will always continue to just press into what we believe. That is that relational space that is more directly informative to, or shaping of, the heart. So our affections are stirred within our relationships. That’s the seat of what we believe. And so that rings true for me, what you’re saying about peers having a greater impact than even professors—though, you know, some of my experience at a secular college, I would say, maybe just as the emotional person that I am—because I’m pretty emotional, I refer to emotions a lot. I need to use those tools that I have defined for listeners, because they are how I sort through how I’m experiencing the world and help to just draw my mental space into the same space of my heart, so they’re working in partnership. So my experience of campus, you know, I was often stirred by what my professors were saying. And part of that was because I was stirred for people to know the hope that I’d found in Christ, and was really discouraged to hear the worldly philosophies that they had grasped ahold of. And I even saw some of the fruit of that in the lives of some of my professors who were really disdainful, cynical, irritable people. And one of my history professors—this is not necessarily the case for all history professors, I’m looking at you, Collin—but my history professor would show his disdain for my worldview with his tone and look and some of his comments. But on a secular college campus, even though that was stirring to my heart to see that, I’ve found that it was more sharpening of my mind and more equipping of how I would work out that worldview I already had. You know, how was I going to make the apologetic that would connect to those with whom I had the privilege of engaging? And folks who are listening in, I’m presuming that you understand what I’m saying when I use the word “apologetic” in this case, talking about how to present a reasonable discussion of my faith, to make a case for my faith, which I would say increasingly, I’m convinced that is a relational—it requires a relational component.
The fact that you were exposed to someone who did have disdain for your worldview gave you insight into another way of thinking that you maybe, up to that point, had not really had a lot of contact with, which then helps you understand how you can reach a new sort of person with this gospel message that you love so dearly, right? So we cannot, you know—if we can’t understand the person we’re talking to, how can we actually communicate with them the truths that Jesus says—that Jesus has provided through the gospel?
Absolutely, absolutely. So we long to see our children intact into adulthood, and we long to protect them from the suffering or the disdain of others. But I really want to return to that frame that I started with for this episode, that that’s not truly our calling as parents, as adult mentors. Our calling is to equip them to be agents of this Kingdom, and to maybe step out of the way of those things that the Lord has ordained for their equipment to that end. And that includes a lot of challenge. And sometimes that includes what we’ve pointed to in past episodes with Amy Auten as constructive or positive deconstruction, where they are learning to really get to the root of their faith and to be able to discard, maybe, some of the things that were hangers-on, that really had nothing to do with a biblical worldview, a deep sense of the gospel and what that equips us for, what our work in the world truly is. And that’s not merely about being comfortable and having our way paved for us and never having suffering. Those are just not biblical concepts. So my own experience of college really did do some of that—positive, there was some negative stuff too, but that, on the whole, did that positive work of the deconstruction that needed to happen to build me up more strongly and confidently into Christ, and for the calling that He has for my life. And that’s an ongoing process.
The beauty of what I was hearing from our college students, is that I’m hearing that process unfolding in their lives, and it holds my heart when I hear their voices, when I hear them analyze their experiences. So I hope that we can just enjoy listening to their words and allowing their even self—I would say “reproach” sometimes, because as students—and I did the same thing—we do actually have a lot of options to move in, or to retreat from the challenges that are in front of us. If there are protesters on campus, you can turn and walk the other way. My daughter described that in a phone call that we had last night. They had some protests on campus, as did many other places on the on the ninth of November, yesterday. They can walk up, they can hear what’s going on, and they can choose not to engage, not to be exposed. There’s still a certain amount of, I would say, structures and support in that area where they can choose not to have the height of challenge or the height of being stirred. They can choose to go to these events that have been put on campus for their good and for their growth. I’d say maybe, if I had any regret from my time of college in terms of that specific topic area, it’s related to the amount of things I opted out of. Maybe there was some wisdom, maybe I recognized I was saturated and couldn’t engage with analysis that helped me to reorient my thinking in a in a Godward manner. So I don’t want to look back and be like, “Oh, I should have done that” and full of regret. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But there are so many opportunities to either engage or to retreat from engagement. So those are some of my observations, even as I synthesize what we’ve heard from students.
So those are our observations. But as Kelsey said, we heard from students who are on college campuses today. Here are some of their thoughts.
Claire: Hi, I’m Claire, a sophomore Louisiana Tech University.
McKenna: So my name is McKenna Reed and I am a student at Western Carolina University.
Paul: My name is Paul Adair. I’m a mechanical engineering student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.
Mary Catherine: You can kind of hear the band playing now. I hope you can hear that.
Evan: My name is Evan Necker and I’m a junior at the University of Alabama.
Abby: So I am now a junior at Clemson University.
Paul: Overall, I’ve had a really positive experience when it comes to the openness of thought and discussion while on campus, especially when it comes to the professors and faculty at school. They always would stress the importance of being open and trying to understand where other people are coming from with their ideas. And they always said it very genuinely, and not like it was just something they “had to” say.
Mary Catherine: Since there’s a niche for any kind of thought and interest, I don’t know if there is a lot of clashing.
McKenna: I am sure you can find your own group on campus, and therefore have your own opinions being supported by one another through your friends.
Mary Catherine: Because there’s all these different little pockets that are siloed, and may not talk to each other.
Abby: A lot times here it’s honestly different campus organizations bringing people in, which I think is honestly a lot healthier of an approach to it, because rather than that guest speaker being associated with the university bringing them in, it’s associated with a specific organization. So I think that helps prevent the university from kind of taking a lot of that pushback and responsibility for it.
Mary Catherine: You can find what best suits you without really having to have conflict with anyone.
Paul: With that said, I do think that I have experienced backlash from other students. I think it can be really hard for other student to understand where other opinions come from. And I think students can be really passionate about their beliefs, and so they want to kind of share them.
Evan: Last spring, a student-led organization called Young Americans for Freedom, YAF, was able to host a speaker event for the former Vice President Mike Pence, which I attended along with hundreds of Alabama students, and even more listening outside who did not get into the venue. You will find a few articles that talk about the outraged protesters on campus. Of course, there are always protesters, but somehow numbers on protesters never seem to be included in these articles condemning these events.
Abby: There’s definitely obviously in those, like, opposing groups, like we have a pro-life organization called Tigers for Life, and then we have a Planned Parenthood organization. And so there’s obviously some debate between those different organizations. But there hasn’t been any, like, major protests that I can think of.
Evan: I can only speak for the Mike Pence event, but I’ll tell you that as I looked outside the window overlooking the protester safe zone on campus, and while waiting in the line to get into the event, there were only about six people out on the lawn with a couple of signs. That’s it.
Paul: But overall, my experience with the faculty has been really positive. For example, a couple years ago there was an anti-abortion protest. It wasn’t just the normal picket signs where people would share their ideas. They constructed an entire outdoor [exhibition]. It was built out of these 15-foot-tall walls made out of metas pipe, and it showed statistics and information about abortion. It also showed really graphic imagery of abortion, to the point where they had to have signs on campus, before you walked onto that part of the campus, to warn people about the graphic imagery. I think this really shows their commitment to sharing ideas, especially in this extreme presentation of controversial topics. Especially this topic can be very heated.
McKenna: These protests—if any—what were they over, what issues? And I would mainly say that these issues are mainly geared towards religious beliefs. Earlier this semester, we had a person with a sign stand at the fountain of Western for I think four hours, essentially prompting for debate and protests. It was like a “prove me wrong” kind of thing. And students were yelling at either sign or the person, I’m not really sure. They stood out there for four hours just mocking the person with the sign.
Claire: Every couple months, a group of middle-aged men come to campus with signs telling us that we are going to hell if we’re Catholic, gay, drink alcohol, piercings, etc. Usually a group forms to watch them. Most are obviously LGBT and some are dressed in animal costumes. Last year, I saw a girl hold back a boy on a leash as he barked at the picketers. Also, once I passed the picketers and they told me that my nose ring would send me to hell.
Evan: There was a person, not affiliated with UA, that had come to kind of just instigate some things. And they came to our student center with a sign that said “You’re not born gay,” and had a table set up and a couple other people with them. They were definitely there to kind of just instigate and see what happened. Maybe they were part of like a YouTube channel or something, I heard.
Claire: But the picketers’ goal is not to bring sinners to salvation. They’re just trying to start a fight so that they can sue the school for students violating their free speech rights. It makes me sad that Jesus is being misrepresented to people who desperately need the Lord.
Abby: We were talking about diversity last week, and it was interesting that unanimously, all of us in the group said that college is less diverse than the situations that we have come from. Everyone kind of agreed. And everyone also like, kind of a wished that it was more diverse.
Mary Catherine: Thank you for following up. I love you, and bye!
So, thank you to everyone who sent in their recordings. Those observations are so helpful to us, you know, being a bit—all of us now being a little bit outside of the college experience, to kind of have some of those the firsthand observations. It’s so helpful. So some of the things we see just in those recordings, you know, we see how in this college context, there is an abundant opportunity for individualized experiences, and how this in itself can help people avoid some of the more divisive protests that we see on some campuses. And we also see that a lot of the things being stirred up on campuses, it seems like, you know, some of this is coming from outside groups who aren’t necessarily even coming in good faith to give their perspective, but to kind of stir up a fight. You know, the one person was saying how they were told they’d be going to hell because of wearing a nose ring. You know, that’s not good faith engagement that’s trying to stir up something, that’s trying to make a headline or be able to sue somebody. What else do we see in this, Kelsey?
Some of the good that I observe is that students really have been able to find supportive elements on campus. They’ve found other like-minded people. They’ve talked about their little niche, where there are others who are spurring them on in their faith or, obviously, towards their vocational expression. My middle daughter’s friend was speaking about how, in the engineering program at University of North Carolina, that really, they all have a chance to continue to pursue their way of thinking about the world. And they are being equipped towards that future engagement, you know—what is our work in the world? And so they’re being just—like, in maybe a Christian organization, they’re being equipped towards that future, what they are going to do. It’s not constant bombardment or tearing down, but there is a—I’ve used this language already—there is a building up that is going on. And there are communities that offer that support towards that end. And so that was refreshing to hear that in multiple voices. I noticed as well that when speakers are brought in, it’s very interesting how the reporting in the eyes of our students that we spoke to really differs from the way that the media is covering what’s going on on campus. I noticed that one of our students in particular said, you know, really, they inflated the numbers, or they even took pictures that made it look much more extreme than it was, and kind of shame on us as media. I have to lump us in there, because we are creating that too. And we can play into the hype, the emotional responses, the division and the polarizing of our—the polarization of our culture, if we don’t take great care to look more deeply and to synthesize what is actually being seen, experienced, heard. Usually it’s just a small group with loud voices that are causing the type of friction and, I don’t know, there are probably heavier words that I could use. But it’s loud voices from a small amount of people.
Yeah, it seems like the picture from social media we get, or even from a lot of headlines, makes it seem like college campuses are just these like seething viper pits of protest and outrage. Whereas, when you hear from these actual students, it seems like there’s a lot of people who are just like, “No, I’m here to get my education. I’m here to learn my vocation.” And a lot of this actual outrage seems to be coming either from outside groups, or from like specific student groups on campus, as you actually dig in beyond the headlines into the content of the articles and the reporting. A lot of times you even see, it’s not like this campus-wide protest. It’s often, you know, one student group protesting something.
Collin, what do you see? Does anything stand out to you in what we’ve heard from some of these students?
I think the more we talk to actual college students, and we get real-life stories from what is happening on college campuses, the more we see, as you know, we will see as society, as parents, as you know, as members of the Church—we will see that there is a great diversity of college cultures. And you know, too often, the media, whether it’s conservative or progressive liberal media, kind of portrays the college campus experience as this one kind of cultural moment. And that’s—it’s just utterly false. Just like not every church has the same culture or even doctrine or theology, college campuses differ wildly in the feel, and the politics, the campus culture, from one to another. And this is, to me, this is why parents and students who are going to college ought to spend just as much time, if not more, investigating the culture than they do the academics or, you know—there’s so much of what goes on in the culture of the campus that is going to shape the four years that you study there plus the rest of your life, as you build upon those four years, that the academic portion is just a very small, a very small portion of that. Are you finding people who are like-minded? I remember once whenever I was visiting your college campus, we visited a college campus, whenever I was a senior in high school—I won’t name which college it was—but my mother asked the tour guide about the student ministries on campus. And the person said, “Well, I think there’s a church a few blocks away.” And that was all the information we were able to get in the entire—this is a relatively, a kind of a name-brand private school. And that was the most information we could get from anybody about what kind of student Christian ministries were going on on campus. And we realized that’s not really the place for me. Academically it was a very sound school. It had a very nice name associated with it. But it wouldn’t have been a good fit. Then the state school that I ended up going to had a phenomenal Christian ministry, not just one, but over half a dozen different solid Christian ministries that people could be involved with. And it really, that culture of Christian ministry, shaped that secular state school, so that it was a place that was welcoming for Christian faith. We need to think about those kinds of—well, let’s just say we need to look for those kinds of schools. And we need to support that that mission continues in places like that, rather than just being fearful that all college campuses are pits of godlessness.
I feel like something in there also ties back to what you were saying, about how much we are shaped by peers, not just by, you know, professors or what have you. Because so much of that college culture, in my experience, even comes from the students and student groups. When I was picking the place where I would go to undergrad, I visited a lot of different schools that, you know—some were really great academically, but you could just see, the students weren’t totally invested. Like, I’d sit in a class and just kind of felt like people were just there. But when I actually ended up going to Patrick Henry College, one of the things that drew me to that school, even though on the surface it didn’t have the same opportunities as some of the other places I’d looked at—man, the students were just invested in learning. And I could tell they loved Jesus. And like, I knew that would be a better place to be. And I don’t regret that decision at all. Because it was just—being surrounded by that community was such a great formative experience.
When Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus,” it’s a lot easier for us to kind of follow that instruction when we are around people who are imitating Jesus. Right? It’s really hard for us to imitate Paul as he’s imitating Jesus, if no one else around us is imitating as well. Right? That’s part of our natural need for community. That’s why God gave us the church, right? Because we’re creatures that He’s made that imitate one another, hopefully also imitating who He is as a person.
And you’re bringing up for me, again, some of those observations that our students made about those who come onto campus from outside of campus, who are supposed representatives of the church. I think we mentioned already some of the condemnation rolling out on an individual with a nose ring. These folk who come and who are meant to be representative of Christ and His Church and who really aren’t imitating His ways—and how this to me is a part of what I want to press into myself, what I want to press into those who are listening, who would seek to present a different face to campus. Whether you’re involved in campus ministry, or a parent of a student and able to occasionally even show up in the lives of those who are on campus, or maybe you’re a professor or a believing professor who’s listened to this, you know—how are we seeking to represent Christ to those students who don’t yet know Him? And presenting something different than, unfortunately, some of those “fire and brimstone” type preachers who come on, and multiple of our students have witnessed just the tirade that they bring and the unwillingness to even engage in conversation. It is about, what can I download? What can I proclaim onto Sodom and Gomorrah, this campus? And I think, you know, I see in this also the way that they are responding to much of media. You know, they’ve heard something about the liberal hotbed that campuses are and they’re going to go in and save. But it is nothing related to Jesus’ manner, to the way that Paul engaged when he was talking to the Corinthians, if I’m remembering correctly, when he was talking in Acts, I’m talking about Acts 17, when he’s engaging at the Areopagus, and he is presenting, again, an apologetic that is born of understanding their culture deeply, and building a bridge to it, through their own words, for the gospel. That’s a very different thing. How can we stir one another up towards that, instead of allowing ourselves to be stirred by media and have this just really—I want to say “fire hydrant” response, where we’re just proclaiming what needs to be done instead of developing relationship and with curiosity listening to what’s in front of us.
So this is a great moment to pivot towards that response. What is the church’s response? What is our response as parents? What is the response of believing educators who are on campuses? What does an intentional discipleship response look like? And I’ve divided this into a number of different sections, because we need to diversify our engagement according to the diversity of those in front of us. Again, that unity in diversity. It’s one message, but it may need to be conveyed very diversely to equip that unique individual who’s in front of us. So maybe that’s a believing college student, maybe that’s our believing college student that we are still seeking to parent in that “come alongside of” place of adult-to-adult child. Or maybe it’s the children—and I mean, young adult—I shouldn’t even say “children,” it’s so easy for that to roll off my tongue—but the young adults that are in our church that are attending the campus that’s nearby. Maybe it’s college students that are in our children’s lives, or somehow also in our lives that have deconstructed. I have a number of friends that that is true of their children. How can I continue to build into my best friend’s children’s lives? What about our high school students who are looking towards college life? What about the college campus near us?
If you gentlemen have a couple of things that you would want to mention as encouragement towards that end, for each of these types of audiences, I’d love to hear your wisdom, and how we might come alongside and encourage.
I want to give Collin the final word on this because I think—well, both of you have more experience with older kids, and then even on an educational level. For me, like I said, my kids are still pretty young, so I’m in this realm of thinking about preparing for college someday. I’m not super close yet but, you know, you’re already—you start thinking about it early, like how are you preparing these kids to go out into the world? And so I just had two brief thoughts, when it comes to our discipleship response in that pre-college arena.
The first one really ties back into other conversations we’ve had, which is, what are we modeling when it comes to responding to different perspectives that we disagree with, even perspectives that we know could be damaging? Like, you know, when it comes to transgenderism, things like that, are we are we simply saying, “shut them down, censor them, ban them from the school library?” If we’re modeling that response for our kids, it seems to me like there’s a good chance that a similar response will come out when they’re faced with those ideas on their own in the future. And it also seems like there’s a risk of not preparing them to engage with what I would say is the best version of those ideas, right? Because it’s easy to turn ideas into caricatures or straw men. And then, if they go to college someday, they’re going to encounter those ideas explained in the best way by the people who believe them. But more than that, they’re going to encounter not collections of ideas, but their friend from down the hall who truly believes those things, who maybe identifies as transgender, and is a human with thoughts and feelings and who bears the image of God. And they need to be prepared to encounter real people who hold different beliefs than them and identify in different ways from them, so that it’s not a shock to the system, so that it’s not like a—you know, there can be a sense, I think, among some of my peers—I’ve almost seen them come into those circumstances and feel like they were deceived. Like, “I was told all my life these people are scary political activists, but this is just somebody struggling to get by.” And so to let our kids see the most gracious version of ideas that we would even consider to be bad ideas.
But also, I think about ideas from people like C.S. Lewis and James K.A. Smith, about the insufficiency of pure head-knowledge. When we think about the college campus, and we imagine it to be an ideological warzone, I think there’s a tendency to want to fill our kids’ heads with as much apologetics as possible, as much head-knowledge as possible to fight the bad ideas. And you know, none of that’s bad, none of the head-knowledge is bad, apologetics aren’t bad. They can be really helpful. But James K.A. Smith talks about the idea that we’re not just formed by ideas, we’re formed by our loves. And a lot of that is also formed by our habits. And C.S. Lewis talks about—one of my favorite books is The Abolition of Man. And it talks about how the head rules the belly through the chest. In other words, our ideas alone are not going to stir, are not going to move us, are not going to change our appetites, and they need to be mediated by this heart-level, by a love and a passion for something. I guess what I would suggest is, apologetics are great, but they’re not going to stand up necessarily against bad ideas in the future. What will stand up is a true love of Christ and a true love of neighbor that is formed and sustained by habit.
Absolutely. You’re speaking to this educator’s heart when you think about that whole-person engagement. And I would say that many apologetic trainers now are recognizing that it’s less about the logic and the argument and more about what we call a relational apologetic, that engagement of anyone towards convincing them to come into a relationship with Christ must needs be a relational process. So I love what you’re saying. And I think we’ve got another tally mark on our wall for C.S. Lewis mentions.
I made it a few weeks without one, I think.
Collin, before I pivot us towards our final recording that I’m going to frame here in a minute, that shapes a part of how we might think of engagement on campus—do you have some more thoughts that you would like to share in this area?
Just that parents and people who are concerned about the state of higher education, we should be wise, we should be careful. But we should also be encouraged. Because there are thousands of faithful student ministry leaders on college campuses, who are pouring into the lives of young people. There are thousands of faithful Christian college professors on these campuses, both Christian and secular schools. My daughter called me excitedly, the first day of class her freshman year in college, to tell me that at this school with more than 10,000 people, at a state school with more than 10,000 people, in a class with more than 200 people, her professor gave a gospel presentation on the very first day of class. And in addition to those adults who are pouring into the lives of these young people, there are millions of faithful college students on these campuses who are banding together to be a light to the world. And if my child, and if your child, goes to college, they are there if they want to find them. They can have that community. And so I think, yes, we need to be careful and concerned, but also encouraged about what’s going on on today’s American college campus.
Absolutely. Well, about six years ago, a friend of mine, who was one of those occasional visitors to campus, and he’s a believer and an artist—he engaged in what could be called a pretty hostile situation. And I want you to be able to hear his experience and what he kind of concluded from that, that I think is one of those tentative ways—it’s a tentative step towards, what does it mean to lean in, to push in with some of the thoughts that we’re bringing, but also be courteous, to engage, and to listen to another’s thought? So, listen in to this and draw from it what you may:
Luke: Hi Kelsey, alright let’s try this again. I had done a large religious painting that was on exhibit at university, and I was asked to come and give a talk on it, which I was excited to do. And when I got there, I was met by a library assistant, who basically said that there were some graduate students that that didn’t like the painting, that had objections to it. They were going to be there, and she was given me a heads up that, you know, there could be some trouble. So, usually, as an artist, people come to a talk like that because they love your work, and they want to hear more about the work from the artist. So this was a new thing for me, to have to talk to people that were hostile to your work. So I was pretty anxious. I actually even called my pastor, who’s a close friend, and he prayed with me, you know, to have confidence and wisdom and tact, and that helped. So I gave my talk. And I guess my goal was to show all the love and the thinking that went behind the painting, what motivated all the parts of it, and basically try to win them over if I could. So I tried to do that. And I think, to some degree, it helped to disarm them, when they saw where I was coming from. But still, the questions that they leveled at me showed that they had—to me, it showed that they were interpreting the painting through their own lens, their own ideology. In other words, they looked at aspects of the painting and immediately saw, seemed to only see negative or prejudiced elements in it, where what I intended was—you know, I had nothing to do with that in my motivations for the painting. So that was the part that was difficult for me and hurtful, that they come to the painting almost like ready to see things that were, you know, malicious, that really weren’t there, in my view. But I think all in all, it turned out pretty well. I answered the questions as best I could, and if I have a regret it’s that I spent way too much time talking to them. In other words, all the focus went on them, and I missed the chance to talk to, you know, all the other people that were there, that maybe loved the painting, and I could have talked to them. So I got preoccupied with them. That’s a regret I have. And on their side, to be fair, I saw how the painting could be interpreted. And so I actually, after a few months, made some changes to the painting. I still—I’m not completely sure if that was the right thing to do or not, but I did. And so that was maybe something good about it, you know, from my side, that I had to consider how they were interpreting the painting. So that that was the experience I had.
As we wrap up this episode, I want to commend to you the book of Ephesians as a study in your family, or even your classroom, to guide your prayers for your college students or the other ones that you know who are in those environments. And for today, I’m going to close with a portion of that book, from Ephesians 4:11-15:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
This is the hope that we have, united with Christ by His Spirit. This is the building up, the growth, the maturing into manhood, even unto the stature of Christ that is ours in Him. So parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens—there’s so much equipment, and He has equipped you for this work.
How do we sort through headlines about campus protests and guest speakers getting shouted down? We’re joined by WORLD Arts and Culture Editor Collin Garbarino to ask: What’s happening on America’s college campuses?
Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.
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See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.
Read “Shouting Down Speakers Who Offend” at Inside Higher Ed.
For more on the importance of free speech and a diversity of ideas, see our previous episode, “Banned books and healthy challenge.”
From Thomas Kidd at the Gospel Coalition, read “Choosing a Christian College: An In-Depth Guide.”
Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Covenant College.
Looking for an unapologetically Christian College Experience? Pursuing knowledge transformed by faith, Covenant College prepares students for their callings and careers. Covenant is located on top of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, 20 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Students who visit are eligible to receive a grant of $1,200. More at Covenant.edu/world.