February 17, 2009

One Summit Grad’s Brainstorm becomes RealityTraining Student Apologists on Campus

Note: The following is an interview with Randy Hardman, a 2006 Summit graduate. In the spring of 2008, Randy started a campus apologetics club at Appalachian State University in North Carolina where he is currently a senior majoring in Philosophy and Religion. The club, "Ratio Christi" (Latin, meaning "the reason of Christ"), is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization under the auspices of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Sister clubs have sprung up on other campuses in North Carolina and requests are coming in to start chapters on major universities across the United States. Randy can be contacted through the Ratio Christi website at www.ratiochristi.org.

When did you get the idea of starting an apologetics club on campus?

I got the idea of starting a campus apologetics club while working on summer staff with the Summit during the summer of 2007. It took about six months before I could actually get a group going on the campus of Appalachian State but with the help of a few people it became a reality. As the semester came to a close one of the members approached me about starting a similar club on the campus of UNC Charlotte. Within the next several months we had linked up with Southern Evangelical Seminary for backing support.

What led to your decision to start Ratio Christi?

Two things: First of all, I was attending a secular university and had seen how many aspects of the biblical worldview had become redefined and replaced with non-Christian ideas. Also, I noticed that several of my friends walked away from their faith due to their lack of understanding of the intellectual viability of Christianity in the classroom. I couldn't sit by hoping that the Christian next to me in class would retain his faith. I had to do something.

The second reason was because I feel Christians need to be the smartest people on the planet — in ALL areas. We should be the chairmen of university departments, the leaders in the scientific arena, the top-notch textbook writers, etc. We are to model ourselves after Christ who was, no doubt, the smartest person to ever live. In the words of Scripture, we are to love the Lord with all your mind as well as heart (Luke 10:17).

The mission of Ratio Christi is, thus, twofold: To defend a biblical worldview in a secularized educational setting and to enhance the Christian mind in academia.

What is the response of Christians you meet on campus to the goals of Ratio Christi?

There are pretty mixed feelings about this sort of club. Half of the students are extremely excited that a club like this exists; a club that seeks to deal with Christianity in a way that many of them have rarely seen. They are excited about knowing why they believe what they believe.

Other's feel like such a project is inherently intolerant. Unfortunately, I've gotten this response from many Christians. They think a club that promotes the idea that Christianity is true is being intolerant of those who believe differently. However, this is not the case. Instead, declaring that Christianity is true simply recognizes the importance of religious belief in this life and the life to come. If the truth is offensive, it is not the fault of Christianity. It simply reveals the unwillingness of the offended person to consider what is true. All worldviews make certain truth claims, so in that sense Christianity is no different from other worldviews. I'm convinced that many student ministries need to be less afraid that they're going to offend somebody and more pro-active in defending and proclaiming the reasonableness of Christianity's truth claims.

What is the response of non-Christians to your worldview and apologetic approach?

Strangely enough many non-Christians have been more open to what we are doing than some believers out there. We've had several non-believers attend meetings or express interest and curiosity in what the club stands for. This is not a club where we feel content just sitting by watching the world go by. This is one of the reasons we bring in Christian intellectuals from all over America to speak at campus-wide events. We want to initiate a pro-active outreach to atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and seekers.

Can you share about an encounter you, or another student involved with Ratio Christi, has had with non-Christians?

During a campus-wide club expo one of our student leaders was going around the hall initiating conversations with people and directing a lot of attention over to our table (like a good saleswoman of course). In a similar fashion one of the student leaders of the Baha'i club was passing around fliers, buttons, and brochures. Eventually their paths met and she invited him back to our table for a conversation. I didn't expect the conversation to last very long but thirty minutes later they were still talking about religious pluralism, the Koran and Christianity, and the definition of faith. I just sat there listening to most of the conversation and found that our member was taking the reigns of the conversation. I heard the Baha'i leader say several times, "Well, that's a valid point," and "I'll have to think about that more." Eventually we had to disperse, but he walked away having put his name on our e-mail list.

In your view, what are the greatest spiritual needs of college students?

We often hear that 40-80% of college students walk away from their Christian faith because of intellectual skepticism. This statistic does not paint the total picture. Of course, the more a student knows how Christianity is intellectually sound and objectively true the less likely he is to walk away from it. And there are many who do walk away from their faith mostly for that reason. But I think there is also a moral dimension to the problem.

Life on campus represents independence for college students who are on their own, away from their parents and church, many for the first time. In this setting there are strong temptations to behave immorally. When this happens, students do not need to be confronted with legalistic moralism. This tends to make many of them stop in their tracks and turn away from the church. Instead, they need someone who will accept them for who they are, as image bearers of God, and then precede to care enough to help mold them to reflect God's image both in their beliefs and their behavior. As Christians we have the choice to be involved in the lives of our fellow students and encourage them toward the goal of honoring Christ in all they think and do.

How important is it for Christian students to receive worldview training?

Extremely! I don't think I can say it with any more clarity. First of all, Christian students need to know how to think about what Christianity teaches in every area of life. And second, they need to understand how to think about the ideas expressed in secular humanism, transcendental religions, postmodern slogans, etc. If a Christian student learns what he believes and why it is true in contrast to the false ideas presented on campus, then he is setting himself up to walk out of college with a biblically sound worldview.

I don't want to paint the secular university as this institution of godless liberalism nor do I want any of our staff or members of Ratio Christi to disparage their universities. There is a reason that I attended a secular university, so I could be a missionary on the campus. We want Christian students to look at their universities and say, "Hey, I want to be a part of this! I want to make a positive difference for Christ."

How did attending the Summit help you in starting this ministry?

Summit has been so influential in my life and in starting this ministry. As a student and summer staff for two years, Summit has helped me see understand the importance of formulating and constantly developing a Christian mind. I do not say this next statement lightly: If it were not for Summit Ministries I would not be doing what I am doing, and Ratio Christi certainly would not exist.

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