To understand, just try this exercise. Make yourself (genuinely) excited about getting gifts from Santa Claus. Excited? Is your heart exulting yet? Well, why not?
The answer is obvious: the heart can not exult in what the mind rejects. You can pretend. You can watch Santa movies, get yourself hyped up by singing Santa songs, but your heart cannot truly rejoice in Santa because your mind knows he’s a lie.
And so it goes with the True and Living God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). The modern university is filled with young people whose minds reject their creator. Some of them do so intentionally and explicitly. They google atheists’ arguments, and a rare few even read some books written by them. But for most students (perhaps nearly all), it's just the air they breathe. And you don’t usually think about what you're breathing. In profession, most SDSU students are Christians (~95% according to our super-scientific polls), but most are practical atheists, living as though there is no God.
Regarding my path clearing analogy...Classically, apologetics serves both as branch chopping and as constructive gravel packing. The branch chopping part is the responsive, defensive part. A student might have a problem with theodicy (the problem of evil in a world where God is all good and all powerful), and the loving duty of the young Christian is to chop that branch down, removing said objection of the existence of evil from their mind (as a recent Equipper recently asked me about). The gravel packing part comes in a more positive form, in which fresh and persuasive reasons are given for right and proper beliefs. The branches are chopped down, and the new path is painstakingly laid down.
Lest you think I’m waxing poetic, I really do believe this is (or can be) vital work. The Santa Claus thing is no mere rhetorical flair. Students really are raised in a secular, godless worldview (by and large). Students think they’re being asked to do something special and uniquely religious when it comes to faith and devotion to the Lord. “It’s fine, insofar as you’re personally helped or encouraged by that sort of thing.” In reality, of course, everyone believes something about ultimate reality, what professor James Sire calls “prime reality”, or the thing from which everything else comes. But students don’t know this, and in my experience, in lieu of reasonable, thoughtful, beautiful and persuasive Christian thinking, the most common MO is to fill that (large) gap with entertainment/emotionalism. That’s an important rabbit trail, but suffice it to say that the modern church-growth/megachurch/youth-culture might instead say “the heart cannot exult in what the mood lights and emotionally-moving music don’t jin up enough”.
Don’t get me wrong. God made our emotions, and they’re good when they’re followers and not leaders. I believe “worship” can be (and perhaps often enough, should be) immensely emotional. My point is simply this: eventually, the vacuousness of most students’ faith is felt and revealed, and no memory of those moving worship services will stem the tide of doubt and skepticism that a lifetime of secular education has been pouring in. Do I exaggerate? Is this a favorite soup box of mine? Am I merely hyping up something for good newsletter fodder? Well, I’m convinced ‘no’; it certainly is; and I sure hope not...respectively.
So I want to leave you with just a couple of practical things after reflecting on all of this. Our mission statement here for our college ministry starts off, “to equip college students to humbly proclaim, explain and defend the gospel…”. Lots (most or all?) college ministries have an evangelistic center of their mission. I’m not saying we don’t or shouldn’t, but I think what we understand “evangelistic” to mean is quite important, and often distorted. It’s common enough to think of an event, like a Crusade, or a student going couch to couch in the student union and asking, “Can I have just a couple minutes of your time to talk about Jesus?” Must I qualify again? Well I will. I think that random evangelism can be just swell, and though I’m no historian or missiologist, I know that people get saved and greatly challenged by such encounters. However, if the evangelist’s faith is hardly less shallow than the potential proselyte, then it's but by the grace of God for their faith to grow much deeper (Matt 13:20-21 soil). It’s always grace, of course, but there are dire warnings about not building with straw or other pathetic “ministry” materials (1 Corinthians 3:1-15). It is the one who hears “and understands it” that both survives and thrives in grace (Matthew 13:23).
At a minimum, I want to be both the kind of gospel laborer and lead a kind of gospel ministry that equips students to understand their faith deeply and rejoices deeper still. I want to equip them to embrace the truth of the gospel with their minds so that they can further exult in God with their hearts. It’s not a 100% one-directional thing, but we are transformed “by the renewal of our minds” by beholding the true God rightly (Romans 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18; this goes way beyond merely proving God exists, by the way).
To the practical things I mentioned, I’m hoping to light a fire under some students toward starting a Christian journal on campus. I’ve had a few conversations with some people who lead these across the country, and they’ve seen great fruit. I’ll just leave you with the link . I’m hopeful this could scratch a major intellectual itch in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike at our campus.
“The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects” is a great line (to which I credit Stephen Meyer, a favorite author and scientist). Understanding apologetics as a means towards rejoicing might sound like a broad definition, so broad as to be not much more than “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” I think we can get more specific, but at the same time, I’m alright with that. Jesus summarized the Bible with a shorter statement: love God, love neighbor. I think the battle of the mind over truth is a vital and costly fight, and I’m hoping to fight it well (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Would you pray for us, that God would enable us to do so?
ps. If this blog sounds familiar, it's because I was re-reading a past newsletter, and thought "huh...that's really good, I'd like to post that again!" :) What can I can, my past self struck a chord with my present self, I guess.