When I pictured starting college at my secular university as a conservative Christian girl, the image in my head was akin to the angry, pitchfork-wielding village mob in Beauty and the Beast. I had low expectations for how my classmates would react to me as a Christian and how my professors would take my beliefs. I had little hope of making true friends.
Growing up in a private Christian school for a decent chunk of my educational career, I’d been prepared for the worst. My friends and I had been taught to defend our beliefs as teenage apologists. We expected to enter college either as battle-ready soldiers or covert spies, hiding our beliefs in order to survive.
What we weren’t prepared for was a best-case scenario where students on our secular campus would actually listen to and be curious about our Christian faith, wanting to learn more. Yet that scenario happened to me, and it changed my approach to sharing my faith in college.
I was taking a philosophy seminar required for my honors college track, and we were studying everything from Plato to Gandhi. I made friends with the girl sitting next to me, and we began talking often. Multiple times throughout the course, I had the opportunity to talk about my personal beliefs, and I did.
One afternoon we opted to get lunch together, and as we stood in line debating the merits of quesadillas over ribs, she said, “Did Cain really marry his sister?” It wasn’t exactly the question I would have chosen to start a discussion, but it opened a door that led to a series of lunches where we discussed the Bible, the Trinity, historical and scientific evidence, and most importantly, the truth of the gospel.
I started to realize my college friends were more curious about my beliefs than I thought.
Imagine my friend’s surprise when I started explaining that Christianity wasn’t just one interesting part of my life but the whole of my identity.
My generation is obsessed with identity labels, and my friend saw Christianity as just another part of what made me me. “Live your truth” has become this generation’s most loudly proclaimed motto, and religion and spirituality are seen as aspects of some people’s specific experiences. Imagine my friend’s surprise when I started explaining that Christianity wasn’t just one interesting part of my life but the whole of my identity. My decisions, my behavior, my voting practices—everything stems from my relationship with Christ and my understanding of the gospel.
She found it fascinating. She asked me to explain more about the Bible, she asked to read through it, and she even came to church with me. Each time she had another question, I was surprised. This wasn’t the kind of conversation I expected to have with a self-proclaimed atheist or agnostic at my secular, liberal school.
Season of Learning and Openness
College students are there to learn, and sometimes they want to learn about Christ. Learning doesn’t always lead to immediate salvation. My friend, as far as I know, has yet to trust in Christ. But I had the chance to speak to her about the gospel, explaining Christianity and why we believe what we believe. And she listened with true interest.
Our calling as Christians is to scatter gospel seeds everywhere: even on the secular college campus, even in classes where we’re the only Christian out of 50 students, and even when we’re worried we’ll be shunned, harassed, or silenced. It’s possible we will be silenced. It’s also possible we’ll be invited to speak. Are we ready for that? We have to be.
College students are in a stage of life where their minds are open to new things. Take advantage of this and speak openly about Christianity as it relates to various topics. From biology to history to literature, every course you take is an opportunity to mention your beliefs. Beyond the classroom, everything from music to moviegoing to processing world events can facilitate faith discussions.
Don’t just be ready for the conversation to begin. Be ready for the complex questions. We don’t want to fall into the vague chasm of “I believe it but I don’t know why” faith. We want to be as intellectually curious—as eager to wrap our minds around the tough questions—as our secular peers are, because truth matters. Questions will invariably arise about scientific and historical evidence. Brush up on your understanding and do some research on the current arguments against Christianity.
It’s possible we will be silenced. It’s also possible we’ll be invited to speak. Are we ready for that? We have to be.
If you don’t have answers to a classmate’s or friend’s questions, don’t be afraid to say “I’m not sure about that one, let me get back to you.” Helpful resources on these topics abound online. Try gotquestions.org or The Gospel Coalition’s own archives on the various topics your friends may ask about.
Social media and the internet can be helpful in your ongoing conversations. Send links that address the theological question you’ve discussed. Share an Instagram story your church posted about an event for young adults and invite your classmate to join you. Text a link to a YouTube video or podcast your friend should listen to. While our short attention spans aren’t this generation’s best feature, our ability to quickly and easily share information can be an asset.
Be Ready for the Open Door
Before I started my first college semester, I took some time to pray for a chance to evangelize. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting to happen, but a few weeks later my friend asked me about Cain and his wife. God answers our prayers.
Evangelism on campus isn’t just something for youth pastors, church outreach groups, or parachurch ministries. It’s a practical, in-class, everyday thing. Help your peers see Christianity isn’t just a trendy accessory to your identity; it’s more than just another label. It’s an all-encompassing framework of truth and an anchor for our hope, in every situation.
Let it be known that you’re a Christian, and then be willing to engage in any conversation that follows. Will you sometimes be met with pitchforks and fire? Maybe. Sometimes the door will be slammed in your face. But sometimes, you’ll be met with an invitation to lunch, an obscure question from Genesis, or just the slightest creak of an opening door. Don’t hesitate to walk through it, trusting God to guide you—and the curious unbeliever—from there.