The Table Podcast

Preparing Christian Students for College

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario and Jonathan Morrow discuss preparing Christian students for college, focusing on Generation Z.

Morrow’s background in preparing students for college
Who is Generation Z and what do they believe?
Why do students leave the Christian faith when they go to college?
How can Christian students navigate college?
What are the top social challenges facing college students?
What are the top intellectual challenges that college students face?
How can church leaders prepare students for college?
Preparing students with reasons, relationships, and rhythms
How can parents prepare their own children for college?
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center, and our topic today is preparing Christian teenagers for college.

And I have one guest via Skype today. My guest is Jonathan Morrow. Jonathan is the Cultural Engagement Director at Impact 360, and he’s an Adjunct Professor at Biola University as well.

Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan Morrow
Hey, it’s great to be here, Mikel. This is – I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, it’s pretty cool. We have a couple of different ways that we’ve connected together. Tell us about your DTS connection first of all.
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. You know, I spent several years at DTS and studying there, had a great experience, even getting to take classes from Dr. Bock and everyone else.

And – but I spent two years serving with the Center for Christian Leadership there as a Spiritual Formation and Leadership Fellow, and just had a wonderful experience at DTS on my way to finishing up at Talbot and everything else, as God kinda tweaked some of those passions of mine to pursue a Master’s in Philosophy as well, and some different things along the way. But loved our time at Dallas.

Mikel Del Rosario
Awesome. Well, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now at Impact 360. What’s your role there, and what’s it like?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, it’s great. So, I’m the Director of Cultural Engagement, and so it means a couple of different things for Impact 360 Institute. We’re just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. And so, I oversee all of our summer experiences. So, we have worldview, and leadership, and apologetics experiences for high school students. One and two-week experiences: Propel and Emersion.

And then I’m also – I’m faculty for our nine-month fellow’s experience, which is a gap year for 18 to 20-year-olds. And so, we teach them worldview, and vocation, and ethics, and calling, and everything else along the way, kind of helping them launch in the next season as they head into the college years.

And so, it’s a blast. I get to oversee a lot of our courses and digital stuff and some studies I’m sure we’ll get into in a minute.

So all those ways about how do we, as Christians, be a faithful ambassador to the Lord Jesus in our culture today, and how do we equip teenagers to really follow Jesus for a lifetime in the midst of that.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. So, today you help Christians defend the faith. But it was not always so. You didn’t become a Christian until you were a teenager, is that right?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. I was actually 17. I was – I like to say I was baptized in the Catholic Church and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, but I had no idea what the gospel was until an aquaintance of mine had been praying for me. I’d made his top five most wanted list, and he was praying for me, and he shared his faith with me during high school when I was a junior. And that was really the first time I heard and understood the gospel, and that just kinda changed everything for me.

And then kinda went into the college years, and that’s where, for me, a lot of those challenges came was, “Is this real? Is this true? Is this reasonable?” I remember I even took a religious – well, like, Bible as literature course. “Hey, what could possibly go wrong with taking a Bible as literature course? You get to study the Bible and get a class credit for it.”

A lot of challenges, and some of those questions, over a lifetime, were kind of the fruit of the book that I wrote called Questioning the Bible and my passion for defending the Scriptures. But yeah, so, that was part of that journey of coming to Christ at 17 and then kinda growing and growing from there.

Mikel Del Rosario
Hmm. Well, you’ve also done some work with Barna, a research group, and taking a look at this generation – Generation Z – that’s up and coming and in college now, and some of them heading into college.

We’re finding a lot of people now who are people more easily – it’s easier for them to say that they are either religiously unaffiliated as one of the nones – N-O-N-E-S –

Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
– or agnostic, or atheist. How much of that are we seeing in Gen-Z?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. So, one of the things that we’re seeing over the last – basically, as a backup, you know, at Impact 360 Institute, we know the questions that we get from students and teenagers every day. Gen-Z, that’s the primary group we work with. But we wanted to see that as a national scale. And so, we worked with the Barna Group and had a fabulous experience working with them.

And so, one of the insights from them, around that question you asked, was about 34 percent of Gen-Z have no religious affiliation – the N-O-N-E-Ses as you were talking about. And in particular, atheism has doubled as well.

‘Cause one of the things you’re seeing, as I interact with students – and the research bore this out as well – is even ten years ago there was probably cultural and social pressure for people to say, “Well, I guess, yeah, I’m a Christian rather broadly. I go to church.” Now that’s not the case.

So, if someone doesn’t have a reason to identify as a Christian, they don’t. And it’s not like, “Hey, you know, I like apple pie, and I like baseball, and I’m from – you know, whatever, sweet tea from the South.” It’s none of that.

And so, in many ways, you’re seeing students more of a blank slate. In fact, one of the surprising things, when we looked at this study, was only about four percent of Gen-Z had a biblical worldview. When Barna’s been tracking this for the last 20-25 years, you know, boomer’s about 10 percent, and then Gen-X about 7 percent, and millennials about 6 percent, and then Gen-Z about 4 percent of answering about 10 to 12 of those questions that puts them in a category of having a biblical view.

And again, that’s a minimal baseline. So, in many ways, Gen-Z is very much a post-Christian blank slate in some ways. And millennials would react against the Church, and many Gen-Z are like, “Why? What’s the whole thing with the Church? What’s this whole thing called Christianity you’re talking about in the Church?” And it’s a lot more like that than it is they had a bad experience they’re reacting against.

Mikel Del Rosario
Hmm, hmm. What makes it difficult for people in this – well, first of all, what ages are we talking about here? Is there a definitive age cap?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. Sociology’s always interesting on that. But the broad range is pretty much Gen-Z, the tip of the spear, they’re heading into college this year or maybe even last year, kinda the 1999 to 2015 range. So, if you have a child under the age of 18, then congratulations. You have a Gen-Zer in the house in regards to that.

And so, they’ll be a very large generation, about 69 million or so. They’ll be the most ethnically diverse generation in American history. That’ll present some really wonderful opportunities for them and challenges as they navigate those conversations.

And I think that’s one of things I’m most hopeful about is that they’ll be able to have better gospel-centered conversations around a lot of things that our country has wrestled through. And some of that’s been even more visible recently in the last few years. But that’s just kind of a snapshot around Gen-Z.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. What do you find, working with these students, makes it most difficult for them to actually have respectful conversations about moral issues, about religious truth claims?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. So, one of the things that was interesting is whether it was the focus groups we did – ’cause we did focus groups with the Barna Group – whether in the South or the West Coast, and we did some with Christians and those who are not religious or atheists – and in every situation, there was just confusion. I mean it was the highest response rate of a Barna study where the response was, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” It was almost – it was – like they didn’t know what to say on some of these categories.

And because there’s so much – the world that they’ve inherited has really essentially told them, “Hey, real truth doesn’t exist on questions of morality and spirituality.” And so, they don’t want to be judgmental. They don’t want to impose on anybody. And they’ve been raised as a generation that’s kind of been taught to believe that how I feel determines what’s real. And that is kind of a default.

And so, even with a group of Christians, who they knew everybody in the room were Christians – this focus group – they almost relativized statements as soon as it came out of their mouth. It’s like, “But that’s just, you know, my opinion. That’s just what I believe.” Right?

Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
And so, I think there’s this lack of confidence. They don’t want to offend, and, in just general confusion, assume a category’s a moral and spiritual truth. Just one example: statistically, we were like, “Okay, let’s find the baseline in our study.” And lying is morally wrong. And only 34 percent of Gen-Z could agree with that statement. That wasn’t even a hard one; that was a soft – before we got to pornography or homosexual behavior or whatever it might be; that was more complex.

And so, just basically a fourth of them said that moral absolutes, there’s no fixed nature to it; it changes over time in a society. And so, again, they don’t have this kind of core when it comes to moral and spiritual truth. And so, they don’t have really confidence or clarity to engage those conversations well at all.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. I think we’re finding more and more that we have lost that Judeo-Christian net, if you will, where most people could just kind of assume that a lot of people would hold to moral values that line up with the Scriptures.

And so, kids are finding it more and more difficult, nowadays, to engage with their friends who see things differently than them, whether they hold to objective truth. “Can I say that? I don’t want to come across as offensive or judgmental.” And so, I think the work you’re doing there at Impact 360 is really, really important to reach this demographic.

Now –

Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
Go ahead.
Jonathan Morrow
No. Yeah. No, I agree. I mean I think – and that’s one of the things that’s so important, and we can talk about maybe some different ways we engage them. But we found that giving them clarity and confidence to actually make some of those truth claims and realize that just making a truth claim doesn’t make you intolerant. So, that’s even just helping pull those pieces apart, defining what tolerance is, some of those kind of things, helping them see that.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right – that they can actually be respectful to people that they disagree with, and we don’t have to pretend we all believe the same thing.
Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s clearly false, and there’s no need to pretend. You can just be real with someone and say, “You know, I disagree with you on that,” but still have a respectful conversation with them.

Well, you had mentioned students who were walking away from the faith; kids, who grew up in the Church, walking away during college. And I want to explore that a little bit. What are some of the reasons that you’ve found are the most common reasons that people walk away from the Christian faith, or step away from church once they get to college?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, for sure. So, probably there’s – I kinda put it in categories. There are about three different kinds of students who walk away. And one is the category I’ll call the Christian relativist in a way. They’re kinda raised in a Christian home; they’re raised going to church. But they’ve also been raised in a culture where they relativize everything.
And so, I kinda use this example
if any of your listeners or viewers have ever been to The Waffle House. Right? I used to – I worked there for a summer, and you don’t leave The Waffle House without taking a little bit of The Waffle House with you. Right? I mean it’s kind of this _____ _____, this battery goodness gets all over you, and you smell like waffle for three days. Right?

And so, in many ways – and I get to teach Christian students. Private school, home school, public school – it doesn’t matter – their default is that relativism.

And so, when it happens with Christians, in many ways they’re raised – and so, they’re like, “Well, Christianity is true for me,” but they put it in that category as they get raised, and then it just becomes quieter in their life as they go because there’s no conviction to it. And then, when they leave the home, when they have pressure, they either wilt or they just kinda – yeah, maybe it was sentimental or something like that.

And then the second kind of student who I engage or find is – they disagree is they have questions and doubts about Christianity along the way, or there’s tension points for them and they try to express those things, but they learn pretty quick that you’re not supposed to talk about doubts and tough questions in the Church or the family, or we’re all supposed to pretend that everybody has this locked down and no doubts ever.

And then what they do is they learn not to ask those out loud, and they go underground, and then those come out later. They walk away much earlier, even though outwardly they look like they’re present longer.

And then the third kind, I think, are those that go, “You know, hey, this is exhausting to believe something I don’t believe, and they’ll just disengage more visibly and publicly along the way, where they, “Look, this is not true. I’ve not been given reasons for this.” Relationships are strong.

I mean we’ll talk about technology. Technology is huge with this generation on multiple levels because they’re constantly getting narrated to about reality in a way that if they don’t have a counter voice to that, then they’re gonna go, “Well, that seems reasonable to me. That seems plausible.” And – or, “Christianity’s not good, and it’s not true.” You know, they don’t care about either one of those categories in some ways. And so, students will disengage for those reasons.

But a lot of times, as I talk to parents and different people on this, it’s like, “We wish we could choose for our kids.” We can’t, right?

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, that’s right.
Jonathan Morrow
But what we can do is we can influence certain things along the way. And in many ways, I think we’ve got to move – and we’ll talk more specifically about this, I’m sure – we’ve gotta move categories of apologetics and defending the faith and giving some reasons out of the special category for those who need that sort of thing and fold it into a larger vision of discipleship to the Lord Jesus – one among many things we need to be doing, especially as our spiritual formation and everything else.

And so, those are the kinds of students as I see them disengage, but that’s why I think it’s so important that we equip them to really walk well and actually know that there is truth, and you can actually live that out.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I think just talking to high school students and doing youth ministry, and even my own experience, that for Christian students, college is really the time where many of them say, “Is this just my parents’ tradition? Is this just a cultural thing?” For me it’s like, “Am I a Christian just like I’m Filipino? Is that just a thing in my life that – or is this really a real relationship I have with Jesus? And am I going to get into the car and go to church on my own, even if Mom and Dad aren’t driving me?”
Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
“You know, I’m not sitting in the backseat.” And so, I think this is really important to really understand why students are taking a step away. Now, when I was in college, I wish I’d had a book like this, which is a book that you wrote called Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey. In here, you pack all kinds of really practical things about campus life and these kinds of apologetics worldview issues as we respond to the culture, as we figure out what we believe as Christians and why we believe it.
Tell us a little bit about how this book came to be – and it’s in the second edition now, kinda what the updates were.
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, for sure. So, as I shared, I came to Christ as a 17-year-old that went off to college at a large state school in Tennessee. And I seemed to have every anti-Christian professor there – you know, everything from, “The Bible endorses slavery,” to, “How can the Bible be trusted; it was copied,” and all those kind of things.

And I was like, “Surely there’s answers for this.” And the more I investigated, there was. But there was a lot of other things I didn’t know about. So, there was things like, “Okay, well, what does it look like, and what does dating look like well?” There was a lot of things in my – if you think of a blank book, a notebook of that transition from high school to college, there was a lot of blank pages, especially from a Christian perspective, for me.

And so, I remember telling my wife Mandy that I was like, “Hey, if I ever get a chance to write a book, the book that I want to write is Everything I Wish I Would Have Known in the College Years.” And so, that became Welcome to College, which was different. And I’m glad the publisher took a chance on it, because it wasn’t just kind of a real thin – and there’s nothing wrong with those, just kind of encouraging, kind of inspirational kind of thing. But that stuff tends to evaporate real quick on a college campus.

And so, I was like, “What if we had 40-41 short, little chapters and everything from how to do you respond to relativism, to the problem of evil and suffering, to how do you study, to what about sex and dating, and everything in between?” And so – and what do you do with doubt on a hard day?

So, even if they stuck it under their bed or a doorstop, and they took it off to college with them – I mean they could flip through and find something that would help them that day in getting further resources. So, I try to pack as much as I can in there and then give them resources at the end of it so that if – when they’re done reading Welcome to College, they can read other resources that go deeper in all those areas.

And so, it was just one of those things that – you know, students, they won’t read a ton of things, but they’ll read some. And if you can get them on to the next thing with – that they’re either feeling pressure around or tension around or interest around, then that’s what I’ll kinda do is I’ll kinda whet their appetite.

So, that was why I wrote Welcome to College, and it’s been fun to see people use it and parents use it with their kids, and youth pastors give it away as gifts at churches. And I’ve heard from students that – you know, from Clemson to Oklahoma State to everyone else leading Bible studies at FCA. It’s been so encouraging ’cause there’s discussion questions in the back.

But the newest edition has – I updated the chapters on sexuality, and some of those things were even bigger issues that students wonder about. It’s not a matter of if but when someone’s gonna press you on some of those questions, as well as updating some of the just recent conversations around some of the ethical questions or different kind of things like that.

So, basically making it as accessible as possible for students. And, again, for Gen-Z as they head into the college years that Welcome to College hopefully will be a great resource for them while along the way. So, it’s been fun to get feedback on that, and I’m so glad it’s been helpful to people.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Well, if you take a look at the students that you’re working with right now, and as they’re entering into your program and then going off to college, and those who have been through the program. What would you say are some of the top social challenges that we need to be preparing our Christian youth for, regardless of where they go to college?
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. So, great question. So, social challenges, a couple of categories. One – what I call the tyranny of tolerance has kind of descended on the college campus. And it’s – these are issues when it’s not a matter if, but when your student, your son or daughter will encounter these, and they’re gonna feel a lot of pressure to conform to those around them.

And because the new definition of tolerance is, “All must be equally true and valid.” And to dissent from that means you’re being intolerant or bigoted or whatever, when in reality, true tolerance is giving the other people the right to be wrong, like to give us the right to be wrong. We treat ’em as – in our case, we treat ’em as image bearers with respect and dignity no matter where they’re coming from.

And so – but one of the biggest ones is sexuality and gender by far. So, in the Gen-Z study that we did with the Barna Group and Impact 360, this one statistic alone – and there’s lots of different ones – but 33 percent of Gen-Z agree that gender is based on feeling rather than biology. So, that’s a full third. And that happens so fast in this generation – that’s the narrative.

And so, there’s a lot of confusion, and then there’s a lot of, you know, kind of movement on the moral claim that somehow Christianity doesn’t have a vision for sexuality. And the way that I would encourage talking to students about this is to put it in the broader narrative. So many times we dive into particulars too fast. Like, “Hey, what about homosexuality,” or, “What about these things?” It’s not that the Bible doesn’t address those things, but in our world, it doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t register.

So, the way I usually talk about it is like, “Look, if God really does exist – and I think there’s good reason that He does – and He created all there is, then He’s got a reason or a design plan for the way things ought to be.

And so, a Christian – as we Christians, we believe that God does exist, and He has spoken, and He does have a good plan, the way things ought to be, and there’s lots of ways that you can depart from that.

And in the category of sexuality, for example, you know, sex before marriage or outside of marriage or same-sex relationships or something like – there’s lots of pornography; there’s lots of different ways to fall short and outside of God’s good design, but there’s only one way to flourish according to God’s good design. And that’s what we want to say yes to that makes sense of everything else. But many times the conversation is, “Hey, here’s what we say no to Christians are against people.” And we want to treat people with kindness and respect and dignity, and that’s what we do; they’re made in the image of God. But, we also don’t have the authority to say things that God has already clearly spoken on. And that’s the attention that our students need.

And so, when we help them – so, for example, on the topic of sexuality, three quick things. There’s three different questions; we need to make sure we’re answering the right question in the right way.

The first question is, “What does the Bible teach about homosexual behavior?” That’s a factual or understanding question. The second question is, “How do I deal with those who struggle with sin in general, sexual sin in particular, and those who struggle with same-sex sin in particular as well?” Well, that’s a different kind of conversation. And then a third – as they’re pursuing holiness or following Jesus or trying to do that – and then the third question is, “Well, is same-sex marriage good for society?” That’s a public policy type question.

But sometimes Christians answer the wrong questions in the wrong order. They give a Bible verse to, “What do I do when I’m struggling,” or they give a Bible verse to a culture that, “Hey, I don’t agree with the Bible, what else do you have?” You know?

And so, I think one of the things we need to do and that we’ve found to be helpful for students is give them some framework about, “What’s the question that you’re being asked right now and in your class? Is – and do you understand what the Bible teaches?” Well, that’s a factual question. “How do you engage people with the gospel and remind them of what’s good news for them as they struggle with sin?” That’s a different kind of conversation. And then, “How do you engage the public?” Loving your neighbor, seeking the welfare of the city, seeking my neighbor’s highest good, being salt and light kind of question; that’s more of a public question.

So, even on that one, that’s one of the main ones that we need to prepare students for. Because, again, it’s not a matter of if, but when. And it’s not because Christians are making it the primary issue as much as our culture has. And so, we need to be ready. This is our cultural moment, and God’s not surprised by that, and we need to be faithful in the midst of that. We need to love and serve people well, but we also can’t say things that God didn’t say either.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. I think we’ve found, for some people who don’t even have a concept of sin, especially as we’re talking about relativism and just, you know, “true for you but not for me” kind of a thing, that we’ve found that talking about the idea of dysfunction is helpful for some people to begin thinking in that kind of category and to say that much of the dysfunction in our world is arguably traceable to what God calls sin in the Bible.

And then here’s a different way to live – that there is another way to live and a way that God has set up to help humans flourish. And rather than just giving people, like you said, just a Bible verse to go along with something when they no longer – many people don’t see it as an authority, to help people to understand that it’s not true because it’s in the Bible; it’s in the Bible because it’s true. And this really is a better way to live. It is a better way; it’s how God designed us to flourish is by living according to his moral commands. And so, this whole idea of identity, tolerance, sexuality – we see this all the time; you’re absolutely right.

What about this idea of identity brought into the world of social media, of online gaming, of technology? How do you see those things working together?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, those are massively important. Every one of us has to answer that question, “Who am I really, and what is my purpose?” And we don’t want the culture and the people around us to frame those for us; we want to frame those ourselves.

And so, working with students, especially here at Impact 360, one of the things that I’ve seen is it’s so important to help them see that they are not defined by how other people perceive them. And that’s really important, because in the world of social media and technology, they’re constantly on their screens. I mean our study found this – I mean Common Sense Media – I mean eight, nine, ten hours a day. You know, just – that’s an amazing amount of shaping influence.

And then students find themselves in this weird situation of one of competing for likes by the people that they want to be liked by. And so, they’re trying to find approval, and then that’s exhausting. And then there’s online bullying, which is different than old-school bullying, which was like you had to be physically present to be shoved in a locker – right? – whereas now that follows you home. People include teenagers – they include each other on text messages just to harass each other and make fun of each other and leave people out, and tag them in posts and leave them out.

And so, that bullying finds themselves into their bedroom at home, you know, and everything else. And so, this digital world has created no space for them to really find freedom from a lot of that anxiety and depression and pressure.

And so, now more than ever, it’s so important that we remind them of the good news. It’s like, “Your gospel-centered identity is who you are in Christ, that you are perfectly loved in Him, created in God’s image. And because of that, you’re now free to do these things. But other people don’t define you.”

And that is a paradigm shift, and now – needed now more than ever in a world of kinda digital saturation, where there’s screens everywhere and at every turn, and that social media pressure to, “Hey, I must perform for likes.”

And so, they’re just in a very challenging situation that, quite frankly, is new. That’s not something that you and I had to deal with growing up in many ways. All of our mistakes weren’t out there on social media for everybody to see. Thankfully, they weren’t there with cameras and everything else and all that stuff – whoops – but that’s their world.

And so, there’s a ton of pressure there, and I see where that’s playing out with unprecedented depression, unprecedented suicide rates, and anxiety and everything else among this generation. So, identity is core to helping them navigate that well.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. What about areas of mental health, people struggling with anxiety, with depression? Do you see that more in Gen-Z now as they head into college?
Jonathan Morrow
Yes. Yeah, unequivocally so. I think the studies are bearing that out. I think our experience is bearing that out.

And I think one of the things that’s always correlated – maybe not causing it, but it’s always correlated – is the screens. That there’s a definite correlation between, you know, when the iPhone shows up, and then the trend lines begin to increase, and smartphones and everything else, and their use of that. Because some of it’s neurological in the sense of, you know, there’s the high, the dopamine hit of the notifications and everything else, and then there’s always a crash.

And there’s an addictive nature of that, where you find yourself – you know, if you’re gonna try to break free from addictive behavior, there’s a cue, a trigger, and a reward. Right? And what do you have to do? You have to break out of the environment. So, therefore, you don’t have the cue, trigger, and reward.

The problem is, you know, if you’ve got your phone – right? – and – but this is always with you, then the environment’s always with you. And if – I think, by any objective standard, the phone is an addictive substance. I mean it’s – people are addicted to their phones. Common Sense Media found 50 percent of students – teenagers – self-said, “Hey, I’m addicted to my smartphone. I’m addicted to this.” And that’s producing anxiety and all those kinds of things.

And so, the cauldron of normal teenage insecurities, amplified by technology and social media and constant screens and what that’s doing, I think has led to the rise of anxiety and depression in this generation in ways we haven’t seen to date.

Mikel Del Rosario
So many new things that we have to begin to deal with, not only with technology, but the effects that are new, that these things are being induced by technology use.

What about transitioning from the social challenges now to the more intellectual challenges? You talked about some of these things in terms of relativism. What about challenges to God, Jesus, and the Bible on college campuses? What are you seeing that we need to prepare students to be able to engage with?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. So, I think definitely a couple that are – that stick out to me. One is it’s underneath the surface, but it’s basically how we know things. And why I say that is there’s an underlying what’s called scientism, which assumes that all I can know is what the hard sciences tell me, or at least that’s the best way to know something.
Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
Now, most people would never articulate it that way. They wouldn’t use the word “scientism,” but the smuggled in assumption is that science is king. And what’s interesting, in our culture, until my feelings trump science. ‘Cause right now that’s the hierarchy. You’ve got moral and spiritual beliefs down here, you’ve got science, and then up here you’ve got my feelings whenever these things don’t fall, and boy, they don’t want to. That’s just how it typically plays out.

And so, what we need to help people see is get Christianity and religion back in the conversation of reality. And so, like earlier, when we were talking about students disengaging from the faith, what I’ll ask students, “Hey, why are you a Christian?” If there’s any other answer than some form of, “Because I think it’s actually true,” then they’re not gonna be on a solid footing. If it’s, “Because I was raised in a Christian home,” or, “Because I go to church,” or, “Because of my grandpa,” or, “Because of my friends,” or what – it’s like those are all powerful, good influences. I’m not discounting any of that.

But usually that plank – that part of ownership comes when they go, “No, this is actually true and real.”

Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
You know, I’ll come in, and I’ll speak to audiences sometimes, and then the people that invited me in get nervous for a minute, ’cause I’ll ask everybody a question. I’m like, “Hey, how many think Christianity could be false? Raise your hand.” And nobody raises their hand. “How many think Christianity could be true?” And everybody raises their hand. And I’m like, “How many false? True?”

And then it’s like, okay, so, if Christianity can’t be false, then it can’t be what either? It can’t be true. And if it’s neither true or false, then what is it? It’s kind of just emotion or opinion.

Now, I don’t think Christianity is – so, I actually think it’s true, and I think there’s really good reasons for it, but until we get Christianity back on the rational playing field and out of the category of Sunday morning for only two hours or when I put my faith hat on, then students are gonna live in these two separate worlds. And the world for Christianity and religion gets really, really small, as they get older, and the rest of the world gets really, really big.

And what we need to do is help them go, “Here’s why Christianity is true.” We need to help them see truth exists, and you can know it. There’s good reasons to believe God exists, right? Beginnings require beginners, design requires a designer, moral laws require a moral lawgiver. We could talk about that like with God. Well, it turns out – and you’re doing this great work on this in your studies as well – well, it turns out there’s a guy named Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah, the Son of Man, and he predicted His own resurrection, and there’s historical evidence that He actually rose from the dead. You can investigate that. So, that narrows that down, and then you can talk about the authority of Scripture, that it hasn’t been corrupted.

But those challenges – the big-picture challenge is just getting Christianity back in the terms of rational discussion, where faith is not blind, and it’s not this leap of kind of faith against reason. And then you get in the particulars of getting some big rocks in here first, like truth and the existence of God, and who was Jesus, and can the Bible be trusted? And then you can have better conversations.

But I think there’s lots of challenges today. A lot of students don’t know Bart Ehrman, but they know the slogans and arguments related to his work, that he’s been working at undermining the Scripture, about misquoting Jesus, or the Bible’s been changed. And they’ve seen YouTube videos and all these kind of things.

So, lots of work has to be done there as well. But I’d say the biggest thing, at first, is getting Christianity back on the table as something that’s actually true or false, and you can actually know that it’s true or false.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s true. Very, very important. You have this kind of immature Christian faith that a lot of students are walking into college with, and they’re being challenged by these more mature grown-up challenges to the Bible. And a lot of the kind of attraction-based programming that we have, great as all that is to bring people into the youth group, oftentimes isn’t giving them the space where they can ask some of these difficult questions.

Tell us, practically speaking now, for ministry leaders and pastors, youth pastors who are listening to our broadcast or watching us, what are some creative ways that you’ve been able to help students think christianly about these areas as they are preparing to go into college?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, for sure. So, some of the things we do here at Impact 360, and one of the things that we wanted to be is an ally for churches and pastors and youth pastors and parents is we want to come alongside the great work you guys are doing in your homes and in your churches, but provide them some kind of catalytic experiences.

And so, for example, take our two-week immersion experience. One of the things that we do there is we talk about these things, which is we need good instruction. But then you also need experience and the opportunity to do these kind of things.

And so, we talk about Islam as a worldview, but then we actually take them to the largest mosque in Georgia, and they – on a Friday when they are the minority there. And they get to see everyone having prayers. And then we have the imam present to our students why Islam is true, and they get to ask questions. And then we debrief all that with them.

And it’s amazing how theology comes alive when they’ve seen a respectful interaction, number one. But what they believe about Jesus and we believe about Jesus are very different things; what they believe about the Quran and we believe about the Bible are very different things. And then it’s like, “Oh.”

And then we train ’em. “Hey, we’re gonna have some spiritual conversations like seven days from now. We’re gonna go on Georgia Tech’s campus and get into conversations.” And then they do. And then they come back, and they’re so alive because they realize – I’ve got 14 and 15-year-olds who, in talking to a senior in quantum mechanics at Georgia Tech, realize that this person has thought more about – that they’ve thought more about the conception of God than the senior studying quantum mechanics at Georgia Tech has.

And like, “Well, look, if I can have a conversation about my faith there, then I can have a conversation back home in my church, and this is real.” And so, it’s experiential. We keep all of our experiences small enough so we can actually do these kinds of things. Because – and this is what’s challenging, and I think this will be a paradigm shift that’ll need to happen in our post-Christian culture as churches think about this – you can’t mass produce training and equipping. You can’t do that with a thousand people in a room. You just can’t.

And so, but you can take smaller groups and give them experiences in coaching and mentoring and training and then kind of a test that make them rise to the occasion. And we found those things to be amazingly helpful and just ignite a student’s faith. It’s so fun to see ’em, and they’re like, “Yes, I want to share my faith with my friends now, ’cause I actually can talk about this. This is actually real. You know, I don’t need to be embarrassed by that.” But that’s just some of the kind of things that we’re doing. I mean even today on our campus, our fellows, which is our gap year, we’re training them in theology and tactics and different kind of things.

But some of our Mormon friends are coming today to kind of share their testimony, and then our students will interact with them and talk about why they believe what they believe and what’s different. And what’s amazing about this – and you know this – is when you actually get off the book of – like just the text on a page into an actual real conversation, then you’re like, “This is either real or it’s not.” Right?

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, yeah.
Jonathan Morrow
“And I’m either gonna go in this direction, or I – I have to say something. Like five minutes from now, I’m actually gonna have to talk about this.” All right? And that makes a big difference, because then we don’t let students just kinda sit in the background when they want to get in. But then they actually do, and then they realize, “This is fun. This is – there’s good reasons why I believe this. This is – and this matters. These people don’t know Jesus, and that breaks my heart when I see them – prayers, and I see these little kids going forward and praying. Man, they need Jesus, right?”

So, that’s – those are some of the kind of things we’ve got to do to help to give them training and information, but also opportunities to experience these things through worldview experiences. And that’s some of the things we do here at Impact 360.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s awesome. Yeah, getting people outside the classroom, getting their hands in it, getting it to come out of their mouths, to really have experiences with people – with other people. It helps them to see other people not just as a Muslim – quote-unquote – like that’s a whole category.

But look, here’s an actual person. He’s Steve – it’s Debra – whoever it is – and I’m having a real relationship with this person right now; it’s a real engagement, and God really loves this person. And so, how can we engage in a way that’s respectful, in a way that can be a good ambassador for Christ to them?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah, and He’s gonna actually use me in this process. Imagine that. You know? It’s like how awesome is that? So, and then just the light bulbs come on. One of the most fun things we do is I just love getting to see students come alive when they actually get to see – it’s like, “I can actually talk to people about my faith and talk to them about Jesus, and this is real. This is not fairytales for grown-ups.”
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. It’s wonderful to see that when they have this kind of confidence, that they can go out and, one, not have their faith shaken by hearing an objection for the first time, ’cause you’ve already prepared them for a lot of these things where they can engage with courage and compassion as well, and see people as made in the image of God, and people who Jesus died for really.
Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
Now, you’ve talked about things students need, and you’ve talked about these three Rs that you say students really need. Tell us what those things are.
Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. So, over the years, just working with students was like, “What are those things that we can directly influence?” And I began to just see more of a pattern. And so, the three Rs that I’ve developed for this of a worldview formation for students are reasons, relationships, and rhythms. Because as I said earlier, we can’t choose for students as much as we want to. As a dad of three, I would love to be able to choose for my kids, but I can’t.
So, what are those things I can influence? And how do I help them shape what they love and what they care about? Well, I can’t choose what they love, but I can influence those things by helping them have reasons why Christianity is true. I can help them have wise relationships. You know, Proverbs 13
20 says, “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”
Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
And, you know, 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth, but pursue faith, righteousness, and love alongside those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Right? They need wise relationships. ‘Cause, you know, we’ve all experienced this. And during the teenage years, magically parents know nothing, and then friends know everything for the season. Now, most of them come back in their early 20s, and they’re like, “Mom and Dad really did know something.”

But in that meantime, they need other people speaking into their life, and those relationships form them and influence them in ways that are profound. And when you go to romantic relationships – a boyfriend or a girlfriend – those are even more influential and cause a lot of worldview shifts because they want to be liked by that person. Right?

So, they need wise relationships. They need reasons why Christianity is true, but they also need rhythms which helps form them. And this is – you know, sometimes people – sometime critical of worldview and apologetics, ’cause they think it’s only this rational thing. Like it’s just this intellectual, disembodied sort of quantifiable thing.

And that’s not – its this holistic thing where the rhythms, those practices form us. The book of Hebrews talked about this, having our senses trained. And Paul says this is Philippians 4, “Practice these things.” Because that’s how we grow and change.

That’s how our affections and desires and loves change is by practicing. Not to earn God’s love and favor – and this is always really crucial to make sure students understand
God does not love you more when you read the Bible; He couldn’t love you more than He already does in Christ – right? – but you will not grow outside of reading Scripture and praying and participating in sharing your faith and being in community with other believers on a regular basis, ’cause that’s gonna shape your worldview.

Because if you’re not practicing your worldview, then your worldview just kind of withers and goes away. And for many students, what I see happen is they don’t – to some of them, it’s like it’s not – there wasn’t this one question, and it was – you know, at some point, Christianity ceased to do any meaningful work for me in this next season of life.

It’s like if I only have a backpack to go hiking in Yosemite, and I can only put what’ll fit in that backpack, I’m only gonna take stuff in there that I think will help me survive. And Christianity, if it’s not been real and true and doing work for them, they’ll just kind of set it aside as sentimental, back when they were a kid and they sang the songs at camp and all that. But – you know?

And so, they need those formational things of rhythms, relationships, and reasons. And I think those things – as parents, as mom and dad, as youth pastors, pastors, educators, we can kind of build those kinds of things in to help them be formed in a way that they can have a lasting faith.

And I think those three Rs will make all the difference – of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by God’s grace, assuming that, and assuming that we’re praying for them as we go. But those three Rs are things that we can tangibly and practically do our best to invest in with the next generation.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. I like to say when it comes to discipleship, you can’t just think stuff; you have to do stuff, too.
Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
It’s not something you can actually even just do by yourself in a room, that you have to be around other people. You need your brothers and sisters in the Church. Of course you need the Holy Spirit; it gives us that enablement to actually engage and grow spiritually and develop our relationship with God.

What would you say to parents now who have those high school juniors, seniors who are looking at moving away, maybe for the first time being away from the family? What would you say to them? What can they do to help prepare their child?

Jonathan Morrow
Yeah. A couple of things. And the first one’s that – is you can never start too early preparing your kids for the real world they’re gonna face. I remember talking to David Kinnaman, the President of Barna Group at the beginning, and one of the questions that kinda came up, as we were interacting around it, was is it possible that we are preparing kids and students for a world that no longer exists?

And what he meant by that – what he meant by that was there’s a world that is and there’s a world we wish it was. And sometimes in the church and the home, we prepare them for a world we wish it was rather than the world that it actually is. And so, we don’t introduce certain conversations as early as we might need to.

But what happens is is the culture and social media is already narrating on those big questions of life. What our young people and our kids need to know is “Is there a Christian narration of those events as well, narrating reality?” Like how do we think about that?

And so, the sooner we can do that the better. They need reasons. They need to know what they believe, why they believe it, and categories along the way. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is is ask a lot of questions around mealtimes and dinnertimes, depending upon how – and bedtimes – depending upon how young your kids are. Bedtime, kids are always ready to stall. They’re gonna ask, “Daddy, where did God come from?”

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right.
Jonathan Morrow
“You know, a great question. I know this is bedtime, but let’s go.” You might as well. “Let’s go have the conversation.” So, they’re a captive audience then. But when they come back from church, especially in middle school and high school, ask them what they learned, and then kinda push back a little bit against it, “Well, why would you believe a thing like that,” and kinda see what they say. You know?

Just, “Well, do you agree with that? Why or why not?” Kinda use some of those questions and don’t resolve some of those tensions for them right away. The reason why is we’ve got to introduce some challenge to see if they’re actually going to own things, not just pretend to say the right answers.

Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
So, push back a little bit, and that’s okay. You’d much rather have them doubting in your presence, when they can ask you questions and other people who know stuff than never ask those things and then get in a situation where they are really blindsided by stuff that they’d never heard about all along.

And then in high school, if you’re a parent, and they’re about to transition, maintain that relationship at all costs before them. You know? I mean I think Josh McDowell is the one who famously said, you know, “Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.” You know?

And I think there’s a lot of truth to that, because you can be right and distance your kids. You can be – not like – being spiritual – like being a jerk is not a spiritual gift. Being a know-it-all is not a good idea.

I mean we want to help our kids know why they believe what they believe, but we also want to love them and pursue their heart and ask them questions like, “Hey, has anybody hurt you today? Has anybody disappointed you? Has anybody broken a promise – especially a Christian?” Because then that stuff gets in there and comes out sideways as well, too. “So, what do you wonder about? What do you think about?” You know, the rational questions.

And then media and social media and technology and movies. “What are you watching these days? Hey, can we watch a show together on this and let’s talk about it?” You know? Because don’t assume that they’re gonna naturally come to good biblical conclusions on their own. You’re gonna have to narrate them. And we can’t outsource those things. As wonderful as our youth pastors are and our churches are, they get ’em an hour a day – or an hour a week at max. Right?

Mikel Del Rosario
Jonathan Morrow
Or two hours a week. And so, we’ve got to narrate some of those things along the way. And so, take those moments. Don’t assume that you’re always gonna have time later; it goes quick. Maintain those relationships; create safe space for doubt and questions for your kids.

And insecurity – share your own insecurities and where you’ve wondered about things. Like, “Yeah, I don’t know. I mean this is a question I’ve wondered about.” And it’s good for them to see mom or dad – and this is a big one. And then go on to something else.

Apologize to your kids when you mess up. Like this is huge. Especially dads, if you’re watching this, you’re gonna mess up. But your kids especially – sons and daughters need to hear you say – their dad say, “You know what, buddy? I’m sorry for …” – be specific about what you did – “Will you forgive me?” Don’t try to rationalize or justify, just, “Will you forgive me?”

They know we’re not perfect. Right? They just need to know that we’re pursuing discipleship of Jesus, too, and the gospel and everything else. So, they need to hear when we blow it, when we lose our temper, when we’ve had a long day and we’re impatient and that response had nothing to do with them and everything to do with us, that we can – you know, we can own that, too.

So, that’s part of the ways we create a real relationship with them, and then we also put those reasons in their rhythms and relationships along the way.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. It’s really coming alongside your own kids, being that spiritually mature influence in their life. Kids need dads, kids need moms, kids need those adult influences as well. You don’t have to be the cool, 20-something, youth pastor guy. You need to be their dad; you need to be their mom – be the parent.

And then just to help kids know, as well, that college is not a big, giant, scary monster thing that you need to get over as a hurdle, but it can be a wonderful time, an incredibly fruitful time where you can deepen your relationship with God. You can make your faith your own and find those answers for yourself. You can share those answers with others and really connect with people, engage with people who you would never have an opportunity to meet otherwise. So, it’s a tremendous opportunity for them.

Jonathan Morrow
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, thank you so much, Jonathan, for being with us today. We appreciate your time.
Jonathan Morrow
Absolutely. It’s been great being with you. And a big fan of Dallas Seminary and everything you guys are doing there. So, thanks for the great work and keep it up.
Mikel Del Rosario
You, too. The book, once again, is Welcome to College by Jonathan Morrow. You can pick that up; give it to a high school student, or parents of high school students, or even kids who are already in college.

And we thank you so much for being with us today and joining us here on The Table. We hope you’ll stay with us and be with us again next week, on Tuesday, here on The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture.

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Jonathan Morrow
Jonathan Morrow is the Director of Cultural Engagement and Immersion at Impact 360 Institute where he trains high school and college students in Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership. He also serve as an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University. He holds an M.Div. and an M.A. in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He also completed a Doctorate (D.Min) in Worldview and Culture at Talbot School of Theology.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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