Seniors! Today was a big milestone for Rachel and her classmates—the first day of their senior year in high school! As excited as we were that she would be graduating next year, we’re also reminded of that day when we left Tim at Simpson College in Redding, California in 1997. We were in tears, not knowing what to feel in sending a son away to college for the first time. And that was only the beginning; the same feelings were repeated, although not as intense, as we drove away from Biola University in 2001 (Lem) and 2003 (Oli).
These last couple of months, Rachel went college hunting, visiting three in southern California, and one in the northern state. It’s going to be a tough choice, especially with the astronomical costs, as much as $37,000 a year. Even with Federal, State, and in-house grants, the expenses are still quite prohibitive.
But our concerns run deeper than financing college. We hear more and more stories from co-missionaries and other parents in the Philippines and overseas about their children who used to be zealous about their Christian faith in high school but have dropped out of their faith when they stepped into college life. We often are very quick to lay the blame on secular universities, but many “drop out” even when they study in Christian colleges. The question then is, Does it really matter where our teens go to college?
Dr. Michael Horton, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, says no in a short article, “Dropping Out (of the Faith) in College” “According to a recent study, it doesn’t really matter. College students drop out of the church at astonishing rates at religiously-affiliated as well as secular institutions.” So what are we to do? Dr. Horton says he usually shifts the subject from college to church:
In my experience, it’s far more important to find a good church than to expect a college to buttress one’s faith. Of course, it’s important to find a good church when you’re raising kids in the first place. Churches and families that fail to immerse young people in the covenant of grace place an awful burden on a college—even a solid Christian one—or a good church in a college town. Nevertheless, I’ve seen terrific examples of faithful churches that evangelize, teach, and incorporate even shaky believers into the body of Christ while there in college. The college doesn’t matter.
Horton has seen the results of this failure of families, schools and churches in preparing their children for the onslaught of anti-Christian culture in college:
Tough questions that you’d be asked on a secular campus weren’t pressed here. Everybody sort of nodded to the right answers, though not always sure why. Spiritually, it was pretty dull, routine, and mindless … A lot of those friends today are unchurched. Some are bitter—the last person they want to talk to is a conservative Christian, much less an evangelical. I don’t blame the college, but the whole religious sub-culture that shaped these young people and then provided a few extra years of moralistic, therapeutic deism.
John Armstrong, adjunct Professor of Evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School, in his post “The Self-Esteem Gospel and the Faith of Christian Parents”, also lays the blame squarely on parents and churches for passing down a “watered-down” faith to their children:
What’s more, many American teens who do say they are Christians have actually embraced what is being termed for good reason “a watered-down ‘mutant’ form of Christianity, one that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose primary aim is to boost people’s self-esteem … What is very clear is that neither churches nor parents are adequately helping teens to see, or comprehend, what true Christianity is. Thus the faith of “Christian” parents has now been passed along to their children.
Horton also recommends this article by Marybeth Hicks, “College Students Need to Keep Their Faith.” Like Horton, Hicks says it’s not college choice that’s important, but
the tools to stay sane and safe – a well-formed conscience, a grounded faith based on whatever beliefs we espouse and have chosen to instill, and especially a commitment to pray for and with our young adults as they head out into the larger world.
A Plea for Catechizing our Children
As we think about our last year of nourishing, discipling, and strengthening the faith of our sons and daughters, let us remember the Bible’s prescription for teaching our children: catechism. No, catechism is not harsh even for little children, nor is it Roman Catholic. As Pastor Ron Gleason of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda writes in “A 21st Century Plea for Catechizing Our Covenant Children,”
Children have a high capacity to learn, so the available catechisms are not too hard for them. Historically, catechism has been around since the time of Moses, as we shall observe. During the period of time known as the Reformation, virtually every Reformed pastor cobbled together a catechism for the children of the congregation … “Teaching, by the catechetical method, has marked the history of the church almost from the beginning down to the present time.” [This] statement might come as a shock to a number of people who believe that catechetical instruction is of recent vintage, or that it was only performed in the Roman Catholic Church. Both are misconceptions.
Gleason says that the road that families and churches took led this generation to “watered-down worship, preaching and teaching” by two things: first, “open ridicule of biblical truth, otherwise known by that dirty epithet of ‘doctrine’”; and second, assuming that the congregants “were simply too stupid to fathom the depths of the Bible.” He sees the importance of the unbreakable relationship between Christian doctrine and Christian living:
Far too many who call themselves Christians today are rudderless when it comes to living a distinctively Christian lifestyle and are unable to articulate a biblical life and worldview … They see little or no connection between the relationship of one biblical doctrine to another or to how a biblical doctrine has any association with ethical behavior.
To start, here are downloadable 16th century catechisms (PDF):