There is a disturbing little statistic floating around these days. It says that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of students who identify themselves as Christians pretty much lose their faith when they get to college and stop being involved in the Christian community. (If anyone knows the precise origin of this number, feel free to let me know.)
That is a number that hits close to home. I work with college students. I have seen this number wear flesh and blood. I have watched students get less and less involved until Jesus is just a distant fading memory of a time when they were wasting their lives.
I am wondering why this happens and I know I have a lot to learn. I recently (today) started reading "unChristian" by David Kinnaman. I have heard good things about it and look forward to sharing with you what I learn from it.
But in the meantime, may I offer a little theory of my own? I think that somewhere while we are growing up in church, we latch on to a Jesus who is similar to the real thing, but is lacking in some key areas. When we get to college, we encounter an onslaught of new ideas, experiences, and arguments. The Jesus we have latched on to often (80% of the time) can't take the heat. Suddenly we have all these questions and he can't answer them. Suddenly the New Testament isn't as neat and tidy as we would like it to be. Read the end of Mark for a great example.
We show up at our sociology class or comparative religion class and walk out feeling like they just killed Jesus.
Suddenly the people who drink a lot and sleep with their boyfriends and girlfriends aren't all evil like we were taught. They end up looking and acting just like us. They are just having more fun. And they are getting away with it!
And Jesus dies a little more.
And it sucks when Jesus dies doesn't it? We were taught that he was alive but now someone is saying that they just made that part up. When Jesus dies he is supposed to get better. But when we encounter these things, he just seems to stay dead.
But I have hope.
I have hope because I came to college with a big picture of Jesus in theory, but a tiny one in practice. My Jesus was not able to handle the drunk people running through my hall all the time. Following my Jesus led me into my room with the door closed. As a consequence of following this Jesus, I got really good at minesweeper and finding porn on the internet.
My little Jesus couldn't lead me out into my hall to engage with and love the guys who also lived there.
So why does this give me hope, well take a little trip with my won't you? All the way back to a couple of guys on a road a few days after Jesus was killed for real. They are walking together to a village called Emmaus. They used to follow Jesus, but some people killed him. They thought he was going to restore the Kingdom of Israel and usher in the Kingdom of God, but he was killed. And everyone knows you can't bring the Kingdom when you are dead. They don't know what to do with this information so they are heading home. Back to the lives they had before they met Jesus. They are depressed and confused and the best thing they can come up with is to go home. They are going to throw in the towel.
And I can't blame them. Who would do anything different in their place?
They just came out of the most brutal college class in history. And they are beginning to lose their faith.
I have hope because they meet a stranger who begins to tell them a different story and offers them a bigger Jesus. This Jesus was supposed to die and his death showed the Glory of God.
He walks them through scripture again and shows them that this has been spoken about the whole time. Yes, Jesus has died, but maybe more importantly, their little Jesus has died.
It is somewhat comforting and somewhat disturbing to know that you can be immersed in the Scriptures your whole life and still miss the point right? hmmmmmmmm . . .
As the two men hear what the stranger is saying, their hearts burn. This teaching is connecting with them in a way they have never experienced and they like it, a lot.
So they invite the stranger in for dinner and as he breaks the bread, something crazy happens. Their eyes are opened and they recognize him. The stranger who has been walking with them, talking with them, and eating with them, is Jesus himself.
Risen from the dead.
Little Jesus stays dead.
Real Jesus, he comes back to life.
Not even the Roman empire could stop him. What the heck can a college professor do? How about an insecure overconfident college freshman?
My little Jesus began to die as I took a fresh look at the Scriptures. I discovered a Jesus who was bringing a Kingdom that was bigger, more powerful, and more revolutionary than I ever thought.
I have hope that as people encounter the real Jesus through good scripture study and being a part of people committed to following the real Jesus, the little Jesus will die and the real one will come to life.
May we have a fresh encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. And may it transform us and the world forever.