by R.C. Sproul
Never argue with the man with the microphone. On several occasions, I’ve been invited to appear on radio or television programs for interviews by controversial hosts. For the most part, I have declined these interviews because of the format in which they are structured. Though they promise the opportunity for open debate, such debate is rarely forthcoming. There are certain hosts who are ruthless in their treatment of their guests and get away with it because of the power of the microphone. Whoever controls the microphone controls the game. If the host makes a particular statement, the guest must rely on the mercy of the person with the microphone in order to offer a rebuttal to the host. At any time in the course of such discussions, the comments of the guest can be silenced.
I use this illustration frequently in talking with students who encounter hostile professors in college or in seminary. In their efforts to defend the truth claims of Christianity, students often valiantly charge in where angels fear to tread and are attacked viciously by the professor. I try to communicate to them that, as valiant as their attempts may be, they are in most cases exercises in futility because the professor controls the discussion. The classroom is not a place where open debate is usually encouraged. To the contrary, on the campuses of many universities and even seminaries, open season has been declared on Christian students. For some reason, it seems that professors in such settings take delight in trying to undermine the faith of their students. This is one reason why the New Testament warns us that not many should become teachers, for with teaching comes a greater judgment.
At the same time, our Lord Himself warned against those who bring harm to one of His little ones. In most cases, it is easy for a man or woman with a doctorate and years of experience in higher education to humiliate a student, no matter how strong the student’s faith is or how articulate the student may be. It’s a mismatch, and it’s a mismatch that unscrupulous teachers greedily seize upon.
These teachers explain their tactics by saying they’re simply trying to open the closed minds of the students or to bring them to deliverance from their slavery to outmoded ideas. The excuses are as endless as they are mindless. In the first week of my first year attending seminary, a professor was sharply critical of a student for coming to the seminary with too many preconceived ideas. The idea the seminary student brought with him that the professor described as an unwarranted preconception was his belief in the deity of Christ. I was shocked when I saw a student being humiliated for having the audacity to come to seminary with the idea already formed in his mind that Christ is the incarnate Son of God. The real question, however, was this one: Why was the professor, who was supposedly committed to the creedal statements of the seminary, denying the deity of Christ in such a situation? But this type of thing happens far more regularly than many people realize.
When I was on the faculty of a Christian college many years ago, I had a constant stream of students come to me with questions about the relationship between the truths affirmed in the New Testament about Christ and similar mythological affirmations found in the famous work Metamorphosis by the poet Ovid. It became clear that it was the delight of the english professor in his humanities class, which included a study of Ovid, to draw parallels between the New Testament teachings about Jesus and the myths presented in Metamorphosis.
I had the opportunity to meet in a friendly atmosphere with this professor over coffee in the student union, and I began asking him questions about his knowledge of the biblical worldview compared to the worldview of Ovid. I pointed out the remarkable number of differences between Ovid’s worldview and that of the New Testament, which the professor acknowledged existed, and I said: “It’s just simply not good teaching to point out similarities between different positions without at the same time acknowledging the signifi cant differences between them. In your critique of Christianity, you have failed to mention these differences, which is not a sound approach to the matter.” He was contrite and committed not to do that anymore. But again, that was one incident out of literally tens of thousands that take place every year on campuses, not only at secular universities, but at church-related colleges and even in theological seminaries, as I’ve already mentioned.
One of the problems we have here is the criteria we use when choosing colleges or universities to attend in the first place. So often parents are impressed by the beauty of the campus of the particular institution or by their own remembrance of the commitment of the institution a generation ago, overlooking the reality that the approach to Christianity changes in various institutions as the faculty changes. The most significant barometer for choosing any kind of institution of higher learning is not the beauty of its campus but its faculty.
If you’re looking to send your children to an institution that has a Christian history or a Christian relationship, do not assume that the current faculty is fully persuaded of the truth claims of Christianity. You may indeed be throwing your children into the fi re of a crucible they are not expecting and are not really prepared to withstand. I am not for educating people in a sheltered environment where there is no interaction with the secular mindset and with pagan worldviews, but we need to be fully prepared to understand when and where those worldviews come into collision with Christianity and how to avoid collisions that may be disastrous.