Maintaining the faith in a secular college

Secular colleges engulf WELS students in new, even unchristian, ideas—but students shouldn’t be afraid. 

Richard Wilkosz 

Martin Luther went to college to become a lawyer, but that changed. Take note, students and your worried parents: The imminent change of the college experience can be a blessing. 

Suddenly, in just one semester, you already may be rethinking your career path, political views, and more. Young adulthood is tumultuous—a typical undergraduate student switches majors three times. What else could you expect from so much discovery about the world and your place in it? Family and friends may not always understand or approve—Luther’s father fumed when his son left law school for monkhood—but do not focus on a growing distance between you and those who love you and watched you grow up. Focus on the faith that still binds you together.  

Christianity has always appealed to diverse people, starting with the apostles. Simon the Zealot was part of a movement to overthrow the Roman government. Matthew was a Roman employee. Did they agree on earthly issues? Yet they were united by Christ’s heavenly mission. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Earthly differences and changes do not have to send ripples over your unshaking citizenship in that kingdom. 

It’s not a sin to hear someone out who thinks differently. In fact, Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). “Everyone” has no exception—those of other faiths, those who deny God, and those without firm beliefs. Using “gentleness and respect” is to first listen—really listen. The skill is difficult to learn but necessary to have.  

Fortunately, you have every chance to practice. Secular colleges exchange as many ideas as they can cram into one place. Participate in the discussions. When listening, you gain valuable new perspectives. When speaking, you have the blessed opportunity to share Jesus. 

Empathy is the key. See it in Paul where he writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. . . . To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law). . . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). 

Now see how he put it in practice. Paul listened before saying, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22,23). Paul learned about the Athenians. His message then became personal and compelling enough to convert new followers in a place overflowing with gods and strange beliefs. 

Luther listened as well. He studied the classical philosophers, the Catholic Church of his time, and the Bible itself. Some sources confirmed his faith; others did not. Those new and different voices only helped inform his own personal, compelling message of faith. You can do the same, while at the same time declaring with Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” 

Richard Wilkosz, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is a member at Redeemer, Weston, Wisconsin. 



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Author: Richard Wilkosz
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

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