In the fall of 1989, I began my freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Like many freshmen, I was excited for the next chapter in my life, eager to explore the new opportunities and experiences that college had to offer.
Of course, I knew there would be challenges. College life would not be easy, especially for a Christian. But I had grown up in a solid Christian home, was taught the Bible from a young age, and was a faithful member of my church youth group. So I figured I was ready.
The problem stemmed not from what I was taught but from what I wasn’t taught. I wasn’t prepared in the one area that would matter most in a university environment. I wasn’t prepared intellectually. And I would soon learn (the hard way) that intellectual preparation was what I needed more than anything.
My lack of preparation reached a head in the spring of my freshman year when I took a religion course titled Introduction to the New Testament. The professor was a young scholar who was bright, engaging, funny, and persuasive. It didn’t take long to see that he lectured with an eye toward evangelicals, even sharing how he was once an evangelical himself not long ago.
And then during his graduate studies, after deep engagement with the text, he realized he could no longer maintain his evangelical beliefs. The New Testament wasn’t inspired after all but was full of mistakes. It wasn’t reliable but was filled with made-up stories and fabrications. And its original form wasn’t even accessible to us but had been badly corrupted by scribes over years of transmission.
That professor’s name was Bart Ehrman.
Although I could not have known it at the time, I was taking a class with a scholar who would become one of Christianity’s loudest and most prolific critics. Ehrman, now the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at UNC, would go on to publish more than thirty books about the New Testament and early Christianity—five of which became New York Times best sellers.
Needless to say, such a religion class was a lot for a first-year student to handle. Rattled to the core, I spent that semester wondering whether my Christian beliefs had been a lie. And I was not the only one. I watched as many other Christian students struggled through that class, wondering how to mingle their faith with history (or whether that was even possible).
For myself, I decided to see if there were answers to my questions. Diving deeply into the class material and historical sources, I began to probe into the New Testament’s origins and reliability, and whether earlier Christians had ever addressed the issues Ehrman raised. I quickly discovered that Christians had addressed these issues—even from the earliest days of the Christian movement—and had done so with depth, precision, and intellectual rigor.
Simply learning that there were answers to Ehrman’s questions was not the end of my intellectual journey. I found myself genuinely fascinated with this new world I had discovered. In a rather ironic turn, my experience in this university religion class set me on a new intellectual trajectory, one that eventually led me to become a New Testament scholar myself, focused on these very same historical issues.
But for many college students, the story ends very differently. Confronted by an intellectual world for which they are not prepared, Christian college students are leaving behind their faith in worrying numbers.
And it is precisely for this reason that I have written my latest book: Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (Crossway, 2021).
I have structured the book in the form of “letters” to my daughter Emma, who (in yet another ironic turn) is currently herself a student at UNC Chapel Hill. Each of these “letters” addresses a particular intellectual issue or challenge that I know she (and all college students) will eventually face.
Although the book is for college students (and I’ve written it at an introductory level for that purpose), it is really for anybody with intellectual questions about their faith. My hope is that it can be useful for high school students about to enter college (it might make a good graduation gift!), as well as older adults whose college experience is long in the rear-view mirror.
The book releases April 6th—to pre-order see here. Also, I have included the endorsements below, along with the first of seven videos highlighting various topics in the book. Over the next couple of months, in anticipation of the book’s formal release, I will post one of these videos each week. To receive these videos by email, you can sign up here.
“This is a great book! I can’t imagine a college student―skeptic, doubter, Christian, struggler―who wouldn’t benefit from it. In fact, I’m sure almost anyone would be helped by this warm and intelligent apologetic for the Christian faith. I will recommend this book often, after first giving it to my own children.”
―Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor, Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, North Carolina; Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
“Every fall, untold thousands of young Christians step onto the college campus and are instantly engaged in the battle of ideas. They need help and encouragement, and Michael Kruger offers a wealth of both in this timely book. The help comes in his serious and faithful confrontation with the big questions that are unavoidable on campus. The encouragement comes from a wise author who is also a father and friend. The chapters are written as letters, and every college student you know needs every letter in this book. Where was this book when I went to college?”
―R. Albert Mohler Jr., President and Centennial Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Surviving Religion 101 is a crucial book for all Christians to read because the world that we inhabit has become the university culture of Michael Kruger’s twenties. An epistolary book composed of letters from a loving Christian father to a faithful daughter entering the university, it invites us to ask crucial questions that help us make our calling and election sure. Are we intellectually prepared to understand and respond to the non-Christian thinking that surrounds us? If we believe that personal conversion and personal piety are enough for the Christian college student to survive, we are dangerously wrong. Our lack of intellectual preparation may explain why so many faithful Christians have had their faith shipwrecked by so-called progressive Christianity, living now with cultural change and social activism as proof of holiness. And for this reason, this book is as necessary for students entering Christian colleges as it is for those entering secular ones. Thanks be to God for this book. May it be used by God to preserve the faith of our college students and bring their unbelieving professors into the kingdom of God.”
―Rosaria Butterfield, Former Professor of English, Syracuse University; author, The Gospel Comes with a House Key
“The move from home to college and those influences that grip the mind from the age of eighteen to twenty-two play an absolutely decisive role in shaping the rest of our lives. The need for us to claim the Christian faith as our own at that point―and not as something we have merely absorbed from our parents or school friends―is exhilarating; but the process of so doing is often conflicted and intellectually, morally, and socially difficult. Michael Kruger is a well-known scholar, but he is also a parent with a vested interest in this issue and someone who himself experienced the range of challenges as a young student. In this clearly written book, he draws on all this to engage with the panoply of challenges that people face at college. While he covers the ‘usual suspects’―the intellectual challenges to faith―what is so brilliant and helpful about this book is the way in which he understands and addresses the form of challenges to faith as they manifest themselves in today’s therapeutic culture. Many students struggle with the claims of their faith because the moral tastes of our modern world make it seem so implausible. Kruger understands this and has written a book that speaks precisely to the kinds of problems that afflict college culture today. Students―and their parents―will find this work most helpful and enlightening.”
―Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Grove City College
“Having sent four children off to large state schools for their college years, I am thankful that Michael Kruger has written this book. With compassion and clarity, he addresses key questions that often precipitate a crisis of faith for young believers. This accessible book equips families for good conversations about challenges to our faith, helping us trade panic and doubt for blessed assurance.”
—Jen Wilkin, Bible teacher; author, Women of the Word; None Like Him; and In His Image
“I wish I’d had a guide like Michael Kruger when I was in college. There’s no one I trust more to help students navigate the difficult challenges to our faith that arise in both the classroom and also the dorm room.”
―Collin Hansen, Editorial Director, The Gospel Coalition; Host, Gospelbound podcast
“Today, Christian students in secular universities will face not just intellectual challenges to their faith. Perhaps even more caustic will be the social and moral pressures. Michael Kruger ably addresses the intellectual issues, and as a real, high-powered Bible scholar, he is especially effective in dealing with the objections to God’s word. But he also strengthens students for the more subtle spiritual trials they will encounter, addressing his readers with empathy and grace.”
―Gene Edward Veith Jr., author, Loving God with All Your Mind and Post-Christian
Kevin Wells says
Hello Dr. Kruger,
You must have been curious as to why such a scholar as Ehrman apostatized. Did you engage with him directly as you were coming to opposite conclusions based on presumably the same evidence? I assume he would have accused you of an infatuation with inerrancy, as he usually does with his opponents. Perhaps you have written about your thoughts on the matter and can point me there.
While such post hoc psychological forays are usually a distraction, when one is contradicting an eminent expert on conclusions from the same set of evidence it seems more relevant how one’s methodology or background data differs.
Bryant Williams III says
The best classes in my undergraduate and graduate studies were the ones that required me to think and engaged with the evidence. Of course, I had already been studying the known facts and engaging with those before I went to college while in the US Navy. Military life is so similar to college when one is going against the grain.
I am concerned with our Christian youth when their parents have sacrificed to send them to a Christian school without the necessary intellectual capacity to back it up. I am not afraid to ask them, “If you claim to be a Christian, Why are you?” If you are from the Reformed, then why are you Reformed? If they are a Baptist, then why are you a Baptist? etc. The questions keep on coming.
I hope this book really helps parents and students. Too many Sunday School teachers, pastors, etc. need to know this information and be able to teach others also. Too many are failing.
Charl Jooste says
Dear Dr. Kruger, I am from South Africa and have a son (aged 26) who had almost the same experience at university. When he arrived as freshman he was even planning to launch a Bible study group (at school he was a committed believer who enjoyed attending church services and christian groups). But after a year he told me that he had been convinced by unbelieving friends that there is irrefutable evidence that the Bible was not true, or at least not reliable as a guide to so-called “salvation’.
I was obviously very disappointed but decided to avoid arguing with him, and to just keep praying that the Lord would reveal Himself to him. I did ask him to at least keep open the possibility that he was wrong! He performed very well at school and university and has been an exemplary young man in every respect. We still have a wonderful relationship and love each other very much.
So, I am looking forward to your book, as an introduction to the reality that I couldn’t convince him of: that the Bible is not a book one can easily shrug off as consisting of misleading lies, “subjective psychological experiences” and fictitious stories, but at least worth a “second look” – to consider the evidence and the clear probability, at least, that it is an honest and God-given witness (revelation) of the reality of our God, his love for us and his plan with us.
Thank you for undertaking this important project. May God bless you abundantly.
John Blanton says
Thanks so much for writing this valuable resource for our students going off to University. We try to prepare them bibically for the challenge but their intellectual development many times lag.
Mario Sutas says
No one has to lose faith to God anymore!… because it’s not a matter of faith anymore. We KNOW now for sure that our Lord Jesus Christ exists and is alive, through recent Amazing Christian News! An “atom bomb like” study with hard scientific evidence proves it
Hello Dr. Kruger — I also went to UNC-CH! I never made it into the Religion 101 class, but the Philosophy 101 class did me in. I still remember the professor’s face (now, this was in 1976). He definitely wasn’t engaging and was so boring that I ended up dropping the class. It was a disappointment for me because I love academia. However, it gave me a much-needed perspective on differentiating among academics. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy it.
Vince Varriale says
As said w live in a world that pulls us away from the teaching of our Lord Jesus. Could it be that faith is based on religious teaching and not a day by day seeking to be lead of the Holy Spirit. That many going to church are doing that as a requirement or a club and not seeking to serve? Serve God through telling others about the wonderful gift that God gave through the cross of Christ?
I would like to offer Evangelism training online to anyone who desires to grow in service of God.
Interestingly, I encountered a similar situation attending university where I sat under higher critic and process theology professors whose intent was to destroy biblical faith. The Whiteheadian theology profess used to ridicule Christians coming to take his class and took joy in shredding evangelical oral presentations. He did that with mine while laughing at students who attempted to engage him with the gospel.
This was before God saved me. Fortunately, God’s unwavering hand kept me and still does. I wrote one book directed at enclusivists called “Nothing but the Gospel” and and working on another about the disruptive theology of the missional movement. The gospel must be defended and taught!!