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The War on Faith

Faith no More resized
It’s true. There is a “war on faith” in American university classrooms. There are professors who ridicule the faith of Christians and think it is their job to “educate” their students out of belief in God.

This war on faith began in the universities of Europe more than 200 years ago. The anti-God ideology spread to the US and is now to the point that researchers find a notable anti-Christian bias in academia.

Thankfully, there are professors who are true followers of Jesus on America’s campuses, too.

At Faculty Commons, we’ve found that most campuses have at least a few Christian professors. But often they are isolated and “flying under the radar.”

So we connect them—on their own campus, and with Christian faculty mentors worldwide. These mentors teach them how to appropriately engage their students and colleagues in spiritual discussions and how to offer the hope of Jesus to them.

One of these faculty mentors is our friend Dr. Heather Holleman, a writing instructor at Penn State University.

Heather Holleman

Before each semester begins, as soon as she receives her course roster of new students, Heather begins praying for them by name. “I visit my empty classroom and touch every seat and pray that God would use me to love this student well,” she explains.

“I also pray that things I say and teach will plant seeds for the gospel or at least help prepare the soil of their hearts to know the love and grace of God.” Mid-way through the semester, Heather mentions in class that she is a follower of Jesus.

What would it be like if the college students in your life had a professor like Heather?

Those who are already Christians would have their faith strengthened rather than undermined. Those who are spiritual seekers—and research tells us that many college students are—would have a safe place to ask questions about spiritual issues. And Heather’s students do ask:

• Joe asked Heather to tell the class her secret for being so happy all the time.
• Eric asked her how she knew what the purpose of her life was.
• Carlos asked her why she chose Christianity over other religions.
• Dean invited Heather to coffee and asked her to explain who Jesus was and the power He supposedly has.

Our goal at Faculty Commons is that every student in the world would know a professor like Heather.

Coercion? No, compassion.

Russ Carlson photo

Professor Russ Carlson could not understand why so many messages awaited him when he returned to his hotel while at an academic conference in Texas.

A voice message from a reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution alerted him that he was accused in a University of Georgia Faculty Senate meeting of coercing and intimidating students to believe in Christianity. The president of the university had called for a thorough investigation. The story was front page news.

Actually, Russ Carlson was the one being intimidated by false accusations and innuendo. But, remarkably, the persecution only seemed to steel Dr. Carlson to follow Christ no matter where He leads.

For nearly 20 years, Dr. Carlson has been a leader of the Faculty Commons ministry at UGA. Known for his exemplary character, kind countenance, and vibrant faith, he is soft spoken but always ready to talk about his love for Christ.

Dr. Carlson makes his faith story available to students online and welcomes the opportunity to interact with them. He travels to campuses as near as Georgia Tech and as far away as Poland to encourage and equip other Christian professors.

It is so unusual at a secular university for a biochemistry professor to be an evangelical Christian that student groups invite Dr. Carlson to speak about how he can be a Christian and a scientist at the same time. But he also has the same discussions in his research center where as many as 20 academics from 10 countries have responded to his invitation to interact.

Each semester, Dr. Carlson invites his biochemistry students to his home for dinner and conversation about science and Christianity. From 15-30 students will show up for spaghetti and meaty interaction. Ironically, the university encourages professors to pursue this type of interaction with students. Yet for this Dr. Carlson was under investigation.

Interestingly, both non-Christian and Christian colleagues rallied to Dr. Carlson’s defense with letters to the editor, interaction with the UGA president, and internal memos. After a lengthy investigation, Dr. Carlson was fully exonerated, with a caution not to include the invitation to his home discussions on the back of the class syllabus.

To which Dr. Carlson replied, “Okay, but I was just trying to save paper,” and began planning his next dinner discussion.

Thanking and Blessing Professors

“If I just had one student come by my office each year to say thank you, that would be enough,” a Penn State University professor told Faculty Commons staff Ashley Holleman. Then he added, “However, I never get that student.”

Instead, professors hear from the whiners and complainers: the student who got a grade he didn’t like, the one who needs a reference–tomorrow–for grad school that she really doesn’t deserve.

Last semester was different at Penn State; more than 40 Cru students handed their professors this invitation. The students explained that Cru was a Christian group on campus and was hosting the dinner to thank and bless professors.

Penn State FAD invite snip

Most of them–37 of them!–said “yes” and enjoyed a beautiful four-course dinner at a classy hotel near campus. The Cru students ran the evening. Over dinner, the students told the others at their table of six what they appreciated about the professor seated next to them.

“This was the scariest part of the whole evening for us,” Ashley remembers. But the awkward silence he feared never materialized. Instead, conversation flowed throughout the room as the professors relaxed and enjoyed the evening. Many on-going conversations about spiritual topics were launched that evening.

Penn State Faculty Appre Dinner web version

Two senior students spoke briefly to the whole group about their gratitude and their personal faith stories. “It was so cool to see the gospel presented in such a way that professors could understand it,” Ashley tells us. “It really was meaningful to them.”

Clearly, it was. When they were dismissed, no one left. The conversations continued as God led these Christian students into the real lives of real people (their own professors) who need a real Savior.

And the professor who longed to hear one student thank him? He was content. After dinner, he told Ashley how much it meant to have an entire evening dedicated to that “thank you.”

The “Foolishness” of Faith

Purdue debate 2013
Debate: Is Faith in God Reasonable?

Sparks flew as Duke philosophy professor and renowned atheist Dr. Alex Rosenberg debated Dr. William Lane Craig at Purdue University on February 1, 2013. Emotionally noting that he is the child of Holocaust survivors, Dr. Rosenberg objected to the notion that a God who is both benevolent and omnipotent could allow such evil and suffering.

Craig had a response ready: “The problem here is that we are assuming that God’s purpose is just to make us happy in this life, but on the Christian view that’s false,” he explained. “The purpose of life is not worldly happiness as such, but rather the knowledge of God. There may be many evils that occur in this lifetime that are utterly pointless with respect to producing worldly happiness, but they may not be pointless with respect to producing the knowledge of God and salvation and eternal life.”

The Purdue audience of 4200 was joined via live video-streaming by 9600 more, from all 50 U.S. states and 60 countries around the world. Craig was awarded the victory in the debate by the live and virtual audiences, as well as the formal debate panel judging the event.

“The result wasn’t even close,” author (and former atheist himself) Lee Strobel told The Christian Post after the event. “Alex Rosenberg had only shallow and unconvincing responses to Craig’s eight affirmative points, and Craig was able to effectively defuse the argument from pain and suffering that Rosenberg raised.”

“Debates like this illustrate why so many atheists like myself have turned to Christ,” notes Strobel.

You can start a conversation with an atheist friend yourself by viewing the debate together at tinyurl.com/debatepurdue.