USA (MNN) — God’s Not Dead has received a lot of attention, especially by Christian audiences. Many Christians found the story encouraging and inspirational.
Greg Jao of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship sums up the main theme of the movie saying, “What does it mean to live out your life in an environment that may feel hostile?”
The movie offers an alternative to fading into the agnostic or apathetic crowd that many Christians find themselves in when going away to college.
InterVarsity wonders if the movie, though successful in showing that alternative, offers the whole story. Perhaps opposition won’t come in the form of an outspoken professor. Perhaps opposition will be a quieter, daily distraction from your faith. Whatever opposition a Christian faces, Jao says there are ways to be ready.
“I think for students to be equipped to deal with the challenges of the college campus, they just need to be immersed in the Scriptures because in the end, we believe in Jesus as He’s revealed in the story of the Bible. And I find students who have the most confidence about their faith, who are most articulate about their faith, actually know the story of Jesus well.”
Christians who are able to tell others how Christ is working in their lives are not afraid to enter a situation where their peers’ focus is not on God.
One issue Jao highlights for Christians that are brought up in Christian homes is that they are often taught behaviors, but not necessarily alongside the story of Jesus. He explains that while in a safe environment, these individuals learn how to live a “good” life, but they never learn what it means to fall and to fail, or what grace looks like in that context. When they find themselves in a situation that doesn’t encourage good behavior, they become discouraged at their inability to maintain their old lifestyle.
InverVarsity finds that simple Bible studies that teach the Gospel are the best way to combat this trend. The organization wants to support Christians as they make the transition into college life. However, they want to look at the university in a different light as well.
“Universities are a fantastic mission field,” Jao says. The challenges presented in the context of intellectual learning provide great opportunities to share the Gospel.
He considers one of the professors from the film who represents an extreme version of persuasion against the Christian faith. He says, “When you look at even the most antagonistic professors, their antagonism is actually provoked by deep feelings about the truth of the Gospel. And I would much rather talk to someone who is antagonistic than to someone who is apathetic.”
College is a place where people are already thinking about deep things, and they may be more open to consider their faith than they ever have been before.
Jao says, “It’s an amazing mission field where people are actively engaged in asking questions about Biblical truth and who Jesus is. It’s an amazing opportunity for discipleship obviously for that student and that community.”
Often times, coming against these hard questions is what solidifies faith for many individuals. Many are making their own decisions for the first time in their livea.
“God’s Not Dead tells one story about the university. But the other story I’d want to tell about the university is it’s an amazing place of spiritual opportunity. For InterVarsity, we’ve watched the number of people coming to faith in the university double over the last ten years,” Jao explains. “Students are hungry for the Gospel and responding to it.”
The programs that InterVarsity runs have a long-term effect. Thousands of students who have worked with them are now taking faculty positions in schools to get involved with the next generation of students.
Jao wants to remind parents that they don’t need to be afraid when they send their children away to a secular school.
“Our Lord is sovereign. There is no intellectual argument that we’re encountering now that the church has not encountered for the last 2,000 years. Your children can grow in their faith at the secular university,” he says.
The important thing is for students to be equipped to enter school realizing that it is a mission field. They need to recognize the opportunity to grow into an adult faith even as they get their intellectually.
The other extreme to losing your faith when entering college is to shelter it, and idea that Jao says is not helpful. “They may walk away unscathed, but they’ll also walk away unchanged.”
Perhaps you or your children or grandchildren are entering college. What you can do is pray. Pray that God would continue to equip them through His Holy Spirit as they encounter big questions about their faith and their beliefs. Pray for their protection and for their strength of light as they witness to their peers. Pray that the work InterVarsity is doing will transform the mentality that Christians have regarding secular universities.