Question from Marvin: With your years of engaging with college students, what are the top 3 reasons why Christians fall-out from their faith (and choose other religion or be an atheist), and how can we help them to get back with Christ?
Marvin, first you need to know that my information is somewhat second hand, since in my university experience (over 85 campuses to date), I haven’t engaged a lot of “deconverted” former Christians. From pieces they’ve written, though, and also from polls addressing the issue, I do have a sense of some of the things going on.
Principally, Christians that “lose their faith” frequently never had much confidence in it to begin with. The current data shows that those who jettison Christianity in college have already begun to fade in junior high and high school but only went public when they entered the secular environment of the academy. Simply put, we lost them early while they were still in church under our watch.
Their chief general reason for dropping out is this: The questions they asked in church as teenagers were never answered—and often were never even welcome. Since they had no good evidence Christianity was actually true, they had no good reason to stick with it when the cultural pressure in the university pushed them away from Christianity rather than towards it.
Here’s another issue that may initially surprise you until you think about it a moment: sex. It’s much easier to follow the rules when friends and family and youth leaders are looking over your shoulder. Move hundreds or even thousands of miles away, though, and everything changes. There are few external incentives encouraging the Christian to be virtuous. Just the opposite. To complicate matters, a recent refrain from non-Christians is that if God exists He can’t be good since He doesn’t allow us to satisfy our sexual impulses—however varied they might be—at will. This is compelling for young people looking for love in all the wrong places.
The third significant speed bump for college kids is a host of issues regarding the Bible—slavery, patriarchy, apparent ethnic cleansing and genocide, sexual restraints, etc. These are tougher issues because they require big-picture thinking about God’s designs and also an understanding both of the purpose of the Mosaic Law and the prevailing cultural conditions in the ancient Near East that the Law was speaking into and was, in many cases, improving.