In his new book, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (2021), Michael J. Kruger, President and the Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, attempts to provide a kind of “survival guide” for young Christians leaving their homes and local churches to enroll in secular universities. The obvious underlying assumption is that these young scholars will be entering hostile territory, where accomplished scholars will, either intentionally without overt intention, do their best to destroy their faith as born-again Christians. That is a fear shared by many Christian parents who send their children to secular institutions of higher learning. As one who spent 42 years teaching in 4 different Christian colleges/universities, I feel those young Christian students are more likely to have their faith challenged and destroyed at a Christian college. But that is another issue better discussed elsewhere.
Professor Kruger tells the reader in the book’s introduction that he, himself, was unprepared for the challenges he faced as an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina. He recalls that growing up, he had received “very limited instruction on the Christian worldview—what we believe and why we believe it—and virtually no instruction on how to respond to non-Christian thinking.” Indeed, that is a truth that I witnessed again and again throughout my teaching career. These young Christians, recent high school graduates, often arrive well drilled in some denominational catechism or list of behavioral dos and don’ts, together with a spiritual sounding vocabulary of what can be characterized as “God talk.” Many can share the “Four Spiritual Laws” or lead a prospective convert down the “Roman Road,” but are unable to give a reasoned explanation of why they believe what they are testifying to. In short, they are walking into the lion’s den, or so their parents fear, with, as Professor Kruger says of his own experience, “lots of zeal but little knowledge.”
The book’s title, Surviving Religion 101, implies that the Christian student will be enrolling in a religion class at a secular university. Why, I ask, would a Christian student attending a secular college/university enroll in a religion (or Bible) course unless he or she was well grounded in a Christian worldview? Such a course at a secular university is an elective, not a required course.
I am also left wondering why Professor Kruger chose to present what is a host of good information for a young Christian in the form of letters addressed to his daughter. I have 2 daughters, both of whom I think would have found such a book more than a little insulting, or at least indicative of a helicopter parent who simply cannot let his adult daughter find her own way. Better to give her a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, or Francis A. Schaeffer’s The God Who is There or He is There and He Is Not Silent. The Christian student living in today’s postmodern world must have a Christian worldview. I am not sure that this book is the best choice for that purpose.
Although I have some reservations as noted above, I do feel this is a good book worth reading.