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Concern for university students leads prof to organize conference

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor James Parker has seen it happen many times — high school graduates go off to college, where their Christian faith is attacked, torn apart and destroyed.

In many cases, he says, it is like pitting a junior high school football team against a professional one. The student has little chance. The problem, Parker says, is that students grow up in the church but are ill-equipped to defend their faith when confronted with opposing worldviews.

“I think this is a big concern of a lot of people involved in church ministry,” said Parker, professor of worldview and culture at the Louisville, Ky., seminary. “They spend all these years investing in their kids — all the way through junior high and high school — and then the kids go off [to college] and after a semester or two a cooling away from the faith takes place.

“One of two things happens. Either they just shut down their mind and withdraw intellectually from the university or they bite the dust. Both of those are sad scenarios.”

In his concern for collegians’ faith, Parker has organized a conference designed to help campus ministers combat opposing worldviews. The conference, titled “Equipping for Ministry in Today’s University Culture,” is scheduled for June 25-27 on Southern Seminary’s Louisville campus.

Phillip Johnson, author of “Darwin on Trial,” “Reason in the Balance” and “The Wedge of Truth,” will be the keynote speaker. Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. will lead a group of faculty members who will lecture during the three-day conference. The North American Mission Board and International Mission Board are co-sponsoring the conferences and also will provide speakers.

While open to everyone, the conference is specifically aimed at college ministers. Parker said that having a solid understanding of opposing worldviews is a necessity in evangelism and discipleship on college campuses.

“If we really want to make inroads into the university culture, we’ve got to understand what beliefs shape that culture,” he said. “Modernism [and] naturalism fundamentally shape it. Postmodernism to a significant extent shapes it. [The university is] what I would a call a cultural shaper. Our educational system shapes our culture.”

Parker received his bachelor’s degree at Baylor University, his master of divinity and master of theology degrees at Princeton Theological Seminary and his doctorate at Basel University in Switzerland.

“Most of my education was in non-evangelical institutions, so I saw firsthand how belief systems were shaped,” he said. “The university culture — like the culture at large — has marginalized the Christian faith. It’s totally pushed to the edge — if acknowledged at all.”

While in college, Parker said there were times when he had tough questions about his faith. Thankfully, a Christian friend was able to provide the answers.

“There were times of re-evaluation,” he said. “There were times of evaluation in view of these secular truth claims. When I encountered those secular truth claims, either I was going to capitulate or I was going to respond. Fortunately, I had friends who were able to respond intelligently, articulately and coherently, and [they] introduced me to that whole world of thinking.”

But Parker said he also met students who did not stand up to the attacks on Christianity.

“I met a lot of people when I was in school who had grown up very active in the church and youth group, then they … totally left it when they got to college,” he said.

Knowledge, Parker said, is crucial to answering critics.

“The way to combat that, number one, is to learn to think clearly from a Christian perspective — to understand [the Christian] faith, to understand the secular culture and to understand how to critique that secular culture,” he said. “If you understand that secular culture, it is not a threat.”

Johnson, the conference’s keynote speaker, is a professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley. Johnson’s latest book, “The Wedge of Truth,” is a critique of naturalism, released by InterVarsity Press last year.

“[Johnson] really understands these secular university culture mindsets,” Parker said. “He really understands how ideas are shaped in our culture — in the university and in the culture at large. In understanding that, he has real insights in how we can equip Christian ministers to respond to those challenges and to meet them head-on.”

Information on the conference can be obtained on the seminary’s Internet site at http://www.sbts.edu/PhilJohnsonconf.pdf or by calling 1-800-626-5525, ext. 4119.

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  • Michael Foust