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Living as a Christian in a Secular Grad School (Part 1)

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Living as a Christian in a Secular Grad School (Part 1)

by Maxwell Lorentz

Do you want to become a scientist? I hope many of you do. The world badly needs top-notch scientists who study science because they love God, and who love God more than anything else.

To become a scientist, you need years of college. You start by getting a standard four-year degree (typically called an undergraduate degree). With this degree, you’ll probably have enough knowledge about the subject to get a job applying it. But to become an actual scientist—someone who discovers the science instead of just using it—you’ll need several more years of study (called graduate school, or grad school for short). Often you’ll do this grad work at a different university from where you get your undergraduate degree, and grad school can last anywhere from four to eight years. The end result is usually a Ph.D. To get a Ph.D., you have to discover something new about your field (under the guidance of a professor), and when you get this degree, you will be an expert in a small slice of the subject you are studying.

So let’s say you’re someone who loves God and believes the Bible, and you want to become a scientist. When you go to grad school to get your Ph.D., you will probably be one of a few—or maybe the only—believer in your department. How will you handle it?

Here are four pieces of advice from my own grad school experience. (And a lot of this advice applies to any believer living in a secular world, not just Christians doing grad work.) The first two pieces of advice are in this article, and the last two will be in the next one.

The first point to remember:

Your life is even more important than your words

Sometimes when we study apologetics (arguments for Christianity), we pick up the idea that non-Christians are just waiting to fire questions at us. We think that when they find out we’re Christians, they’ll start asking us questions about evolution, or the problem of evil, or how we can trust the Bible.

But most people don’t react that way. Think about it—if you found out your friend was a vegetarian, would you start asking tough questions about why they’re vegetarian? Probably not. You’d probably just accept it and talk about something else (and stay away from hamburgers for lunch). That’s how most people are with Christianity. Unfortunately, “religion” just isn’t very important to most people—and so they’re not going to jump at the chance to discuss it. Instead, they’ll usually change the subject and talk about something else.

Now, make no mistake—it’s very important for you to know why you believe what you do. You absolutely need that foundation, because otherwise you’ll be in danger of getting blown around by every false teaching there is. But when it comes to your relationship to other people, the life you live is just as important—in fact, even more important—than the arguments you have for Christianity.

Notice how the Bible says this. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us it’s important to understand—and to be able to communicate—why we believe what we do:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

But the sentence right before this tells us we have to be living a life that’s under the control of Christ:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

And the sentence after this tells us what our attitude needs to be:

But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV).

You see what it’s saying? You absolutely must be ready to defend your faith. But even if no one ever asks you to give a reason for what you believe, your life needs to display the glory and goodness of Christ—because many times, God will use your life to draw them to Christ more than your arguments.

So, be open about being a Christian (don’t hide it at all!)—and know what you believe and why you believe it—and be ready to share that with other people. But it’s even more important to be someone who is loving and honest and kind, and gentle and righteous and fair—and to pursue excellence in everything you do. So that even if people don’t want to hear your arguments, they won’t be able to close their eyes to Christ living His life through you.

Find—and stick with—a good church

Hopefully you already understand how important this is—so don’t ever let it slide. Hebrews 10 tells us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (v. 23) and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). How are we supposed to do this? By “not giving up meeting together”—and, in fact, by meeting “all the more” (v. 25) as the coming of Christ gets closer.

God didn’t design us to be lone-ranger Christians. He designed us to be part of a body of believers—where other people that can encourage and build us up, and where we in turn can encourage and build others up. Don’t try to be strong on your own—that’s called presumption and putting God to the test (see Matthew 4:7). God gave us the regular meetings of the church as one means of keeping us strong—and if we neglect that means, we can blame only ourselves for the resulting mess.

So find a church that teaches the Bible (not the pastor’s ideas or thoughts, but the Word of God)—chapter by chapter and verse by verse. And then build and strengthen your relationship with that body of believers—so that you can be a blessing to them, and they can be a blessing to you.

If God calls you to graduate work in science, then one of His purposes is for you to be a light to people who otherwise might never meet a real Christian. So don’t hide the fact that you love the Lord—and instead, let your life be a living example of the difference Christ can make. And do this as part of a solid local church, which can be a blessing to you as you are a blessing to them.

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Max Lorentz

Max Lorentz has loved science (and astronomy in particular) since childhood. He enjoys sharing it with others, especially with young people. He studied mathematics as an undergraduate and is currently completing a Ph.D. in astronomy.

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