Picture this: you’re sitting in class when the lecturer says something that contradicts Scripture—something you’ve never heard before. As everyone else nods and takes notes, you notice your heart is beating faster. What if you’re wrong about your biblical beliefs?
This scenario isn’t just imaginary. It’s what I’ve experienced firsthand as a Christian student at secular college. But we don’t only hear unbiblical messages in classrooms. Whether online, in conversations, or even at church, persuasive—but unbiblical—messages may pop up anywhere. How can we respond?
Enter, Intellectual Foundations
The answer lies in having what I’d call strong intellectual foundations—one of three personal foundations Christian students need to keep their faith strong at college, as my last article explained.
Building intellectual foundations involves learning some basic apologetics. As the field of study which looks at why Christianity makes rational sense, apologetics helps us answer questions like, “How do we know the Bible is true? Does science contradict Scripture? How does Christianity compare to other beliefs?” (A great place to dig into these topics is AnswersinGenesis.org.)
But no matter how many apologetics answers we learn, we’re always bound to have new questions. So, we must also be able to think like apologists—to process new faith-challenging messages and arrive at biblical, logical answers ourselves. That’s where the other side of intellectual foundations comes in: biblical critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking is all about evaluating messages to see if they’re worth believing. To give you a head start building strong intellectual foundations, let me share the critical thinking system that helped me process new messages in college.
How I Learned to Think About ‘Facts’ That Challenged My Faith:
First, when I heard information that seemed to contradict my beliefs, I resolved not to panic. I knew God’s word is true; therefore, any message that conflicts with Scripture must be a lie. And every lie must ultimately fall apart.
With that in mind, I’d put faith-challenging information in quotation marks when writing notes in class. This reminded me that the information was just my professor’s explanation—not an absolute fact. Next, I’d flip to the back of my notebook and write down my questions about the information. This record of my questions let me follow up on finding answers later without feeling like a weight of vague uncertainties was accumulating against my beliefs.
When I had the chance, I would then filter the information through a series of mental checkpoints I call the Seven Checks of Critical Thinking:
Check Scripture: What does the Bible have to say about this topic?
Check the challenge: Does this message contradict clear teaching from Scripture?
Check the source: Who’s sharing this message? What is the source’s credibility and worldview? How did they arrive at their information? Is the information being reported accurately?
Check the definitions: How are keywords being defined? Do their meanings change?
Check for propaganda: Why does this message sound true? Is it trying to persuade by appealing to logic, or to something else like emotion, appearances, or humans’ desire for acceptance?
Check the interpretations: Which parts of this message are facts we can observe in the present, and which parts are assumptions, interpretations, or speculations about the past? What’s another way to explain the same observations from a biblical perspective?
Check the logic: Are there any other errors in reasoning that should make me think twice before believing this message?
This seven-step framework helped me respond biblically to almost all the faith-challenging information I encountered in college. But sometimes, I still had unresolved questions. That’s when I’d have to give God my remaining questions, to remember that He held the answer, and to trust Him even if He never revealed that answer to me.
Unanswered questions can be fiendish faith destroyers. But faith crises don’t start when Christians begin asking questions. They start when we give up on finding answers. And three great places to find answers include Scripture, solid apologetics resources, and godly mentors. (More on that next time!)
With these tools for evaluating new information, and with apologetics knowledge for answering common questions, you’ll be well set to build strong intellectual foundations. Then you’ll be prepared to defend your hope in Christ with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15) whenever you hear new a faith-challenging message—in college and beyond.
There’s much more to say—enough to fill a book! Find practical tips for building strong spiritual, intellectual, and interpersonal foundations in the book, Prepare to Thrive: A Survival Guide for Christian Students.
Patricia Engler is a Christian apologetics speaker, writer, and Youth Outreach Coordinator for Answers in Genesis. After 12 years of homeschool and a B.Sc. degree, she backpacked 360°around the world documenting how Christian students keep their faith at university. The top takeaways from this research are available in Patricia’s book, Prepare to Thrive: A Survival Guide for Christian Students. You can follow her stories and get connected through Facebook, Instagram, and AnswersinGenesis.org.