The secular American university campus in the mid-seventies is a curious blend of lethargy and dedication, hedonistic pursuits and spiritual arousal. Students share with their elders disillusionment over political corruption, economic manipulations, and turgid social reform; they recognize the severity of the problems facing our society. Yet they no longer are motivated to demonstrate in the streets for social change, perhaps because they have seen that such tactics have little lasting effect. They have largely abandoned the idea of the inevitability of human progress. Many are now more dedicated than their predecessors to the task of preparing themselves for life in a world of tighter vocational competition, limited natural resources, and continuing international tensions. Beer busts and pot parties still abound, but collegians also are more seriously confronting basic questions about the meaning of life. At the same time that hard rock, soft drugs, and free sex are captivating many students, the quest for spiritual truth and inner satisfaction is gaining momentum. Academia with its disinterested pursuit of knowledge finds itself caught in the crosscurrents as flesh and spirit vie for student allegiance.

Although social thinkers of the past predicted that scientific advances would scuttle religious concerns, spiritual interest in many forms, both orthodox and bizarre, is flourishing on campus. August Comte’s positivism and his rational religion of faith in the destiny of man have proved inadequate. Karl Marx’s vision of the withering away of religion has not been fulfilled. Max Weber was correct in predicting that technology and bureaucracy would limit the great human passions, poetic imagination, and heroic aspirations, but he erred in believing that religious experience, too, would vanish. Sociologist Andrew M. Greeley offers empirical observations that “(1) the available statistical data simply do not indicate a declining religiousness in the United States; (2) the resurgence of bizarre forms of the sacred on the secular university campus has now persisted long enough that it cannot simply be written off as a passing fashion” (Unsecular Man: The Persistance of Religion, Schocken, 1972, p. 7). Students are involved in a variety of unusual spiritual pilgrimages: Zen and Nicherin Buddhism, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation, Carlos Castaneda’s spiritual thought, Guru Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light, astrology, drug-induced mysticism, doomsday cults, even witchcraft and Satanism, as well as the more traditional cults.

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But the involvement in bizarre religion is minor compared with the groundswell of interest in evangelical Christianity. Organizations such as Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Navigators are among the largest campus clubs as students meet for Bible study, evangelism, prayer, and sharing of Christian concerns. On our campus, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, regular IVCF meetings consistently attract more than 200 students and five times that many for special events. Campus evangelical advance is seen in staff growth in college ministries: the Campus Crusade for Christ staff has increased from 1,500 in 1966 to 4,000 in 1974, and that of IVCF from 90 in 1969 to 225 in 1974.

Evangelical students today are not smug pietists but committed, open, and active believers with an awareness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the totality of life and a zeal to share their life-transforming faith. They are a splendid body of Christian men and women whose influence is being felt throughout their university communities. The Holy Spirit of God—sovereign, free, and mighty—is moving in the lives of college students today.

The spiritual upsurge evident in collegians’ private lives is not, however, significantly reflected in university curricula. Secular, humanistic philosophies continue to dominate course offerings and content. References are made to Christian influences in history, art, music, and literature courses, and most colleges offer classes in comparative religion. A few universities have a department of religious studies. But rarely are students exposed in their curricula to an objective and comprehensive view of the biblical message that centers in Jesus Christ. Rarely are they acquainted with the depth of influence that the Christian world view has had on Western values. I have been appalled at the lack of biblical knowledge shown by seniors, graduate students, and even incoming seminary students educated at secular universities. Abraham Lincoln would be even more appalled: he once said that if he had to choose between a college education without a knowledge of the Bible and a knowledge of the Bible without a college education, he would choose the latter.

The failure of most of our universities to offer a full objective treatment of the Bible and Christian theology is academically indefensible in view of the role Christianity has played in shaping the society they serve. Such an omission may be due to a non-Christian bias by some academicians or to a misunderstanding of the legal status of instruction about religion in tax-supported schools. The United States Supreme Court has ruled against the practice of religion in public schools, but not against the study of the Bible and religion “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education” (Schempp decision).

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In view of renewed interest in religious concerns and the significance of Christian and other religious thought in the study of the contemporary human situation, universities must catch up with their students and offer studies that consider objectively the spiritual dimensions of life. Such content should not be restricted to a single department or to specialized courses but should be brought to bear wherever questions of philosophy, values, origins, and ethics are considered. Revealed Christian truth should not be advanced as normative in a college classroom serving a pluralistic public, but neither should it be excluded, distorted, or relegated to the academic antique collection.

The responsibility for giving Christianity greater visibility on campus rests largely with Christian professors. Universities need Christian professors who profess! By this I mean that these professors need to identify themselves openly with the biblical view of God and man and work actively to advance it. This is not to be done by evangelistic efforts or dogmatism in the classroom. But it should be done by a scholarly, objective presentation of Christian content as it relates to the subject matter under discussion. It should also be done as Christian professors work with colleagues to hammer out new courses and curricula that serve the cause of truth. A teacher’s objectivity need not be compromised by his making known his Christian viewpoint and his reasons for holding it—as long as he treats divergent positions fairly. Students usually are eager to learn a professor’s position in order to understand him better and evaluate his academic presentations. Knowing that a respected professor is a Christian may lead students to be open to considering the claims of Christ in their own lives.

A professor’s success depends, of course, on his knowledge of his discipline, his teaching ability, his research and creative projects, and his involvements with university colleagues and administrators. Piety is no substitute for professional competence. A Christian professor’s basic witness to his students is seen in the quality of his life and in his concern and effectiveness in carrying out his academic responsibilities. But it’s not enough for the Christian teacher to be a successful educator in the classroom. He must move beyond the classroom and its objective of helping students to understand factual knowledge, ideas, and methods. He must plunge into the intellectual ferment on the campus and persuasively advocate the truth of the Christian faith in the midst of the university’s conflicting viewpoints.

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In 1837 Ralph Waldo Emerson called “The American Scholar”—a man shaped by nature, by books, and by action—to speak his own mind self-reliantly. In 1881 Wendell Phillips summoned “The Scholar in a Republic” to lead in the agitation of the great social questions. Today, the Christian professor—a man of God, of scholarship, of action—must take his stand for Jesus Christ and the relevance of his truth for the problems of mankind. He should use every opportunity to advocate his Christian convictions in public lectures, open forums, campus debates, and faculty-student bull sessions. The Christian should make himself heard on questions of ethics, economics, politics, social problems, sexuality, ecology, culture, life philosophy, and other topics under discussion. As Paul the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel to the academicians on Mars Hill, so should the Christian scholar assert the Christian message in today’s university forums. Many Christian professors in secular universities have ducked their responsibility to expound their biblical faith and its relevance to the burning issues of the day. The reawakened interest in spiritual matters today provides a great setting for the Christian professor not only to respond to prevailing humanistic or materialistic viewpoints but also to challenge and direct university people to recognize that Jesus Christ is the central issue in life.

The Christian professor can contribute further to the cause of Christ on the university campus by becoming involved with Christian student organizations such as Inter-Varsity, Campus Crusade, Navigators, and church-related groups. He not only can address their meetings, serve as an adviser for their activities, and help in their Christian training program, but also can assist them in gaining university recognition and using facilities, and help to insure their right to practice their freedom of religion on campus. He should do all he can to encourage evangelism and church attendance.

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Personal counseling offers another means for the Christian professor to share his faith on campus. But when a student comes to his office for academic assistance, he must not lay a religious lecture on him. If a student needs help in organizing ideas for a term paper, he doesn’t expect to be nailed with the Four Spiritual Laws. Yet the instructor should realize that often a student seeking help with studies has other concerns he wants to discuss. A respected Christian professor is at times sought out to help with a student’s most personal problems. By being a good listener and showing concern, he may find the right moment to share his faith. Office dialogue may serve the purpose of pre-evangelism.

Some Christian professors who choose to profess their faith on the university campus may have to take a few lumps or be typed as “very religious” (ugh!). Their reputation in the eyes of some academicians may suffer, for the world does not always take kindly to the intrusion of Christian faith into a humanistic framework of thought. One may also expect a few good-natured jibes from certain students. At our department’s annual banquets I have received as tributes a “Moses in the Wilderness Scroll” and a bottle of wine—Christian Brothers! I prize them. A forthright Christian professor may be criticized, but academic freedom prevails at the majority of secular American universities, so he is free to express his faith. With the university tide running to greater spiritual interests and God moving in the lives of students, the time for the Christian professor to profess is now.

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