by Doug Ward

In Oxford, Ohio, the little college town where I live, life goes in cycles governed by the academic calendar at Miami University. In late August, 16,000 students arrive, and Oxford bustles with activity. Then in early May, another class graduates and students return home for the summer. With the students gone, life slows down and Oxford becomes a sleepy village. The university catches its breath and braces itself for the beginning of another academic year.

During these lazy summer days, I find myself thinking about what it is like to be a university student. My thoughts are partly prompted by the fact that my oldest children will be ready to begin their university studies in just a few years. I am also troubled by an editorial that appeared in The Miami Student in the spring of 1997. There a graduating senior, reflecting on her academic experience during four years at Miami, wrote the following:

``I also have had more than my share of professors who have taken it upon themselves to deconstruct my entire universe and then refused to give me the tools to reconstruct it. These instructors have given birth to a whole new breed of student relativists. No longer able to subscribe to the traditional code of morals and beliefs we once did, yet offered no other alternatives, we choose to believe in nothing.''

This editorial gives a reminder of how difficult it is to be a student, especially a Christian student, in an environment in which Judaeo-Christian beliefs and values are increasingly under attack from every side. The senior's words make me think back to my own college days in the late 1970s. The small liberal arts college I attended was one of many American colleges and universities no longer affiliated with the Protestant denominations that founded them. By the 1970s, students like me who saw God as the source of truth and the Bible as the foundation of knowledge were in a distinct minority. Many of my college's faculty and students believed in a trinity, but it seemed to consist of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud.

Conservative Christians use the phrase ``culture wars'' to describe the battle between a God-centered worldview and a man-centered worldview. As a college student, I felt very much on the front lines of the culture wars. My local church and some close Christian friends provided valuable support during those years.

What has changed since the 1970s? Certainly not all the news is negative. At Miami, I have noticed a renewed interest in campus Christian organizations, which seem to be very active these days. The weekly meetings of organizations like the Christian Student Fellowship, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Campus Crusade for Christ often draw hundreds of students.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that the front lines of the culture wars have shifted from the universities to the secondary schools and even the primary schools. The schools and the media send the message that God's existence is at best irrelevant, and that right and wrong are mere matters of opinion.

These attacks on biblical values have taken their toll. There are indications that the war is over-and our side has lost- by the time many students reach the university level. For example, in the 1980s, the late Allan Bloom, a professor at the University of Chicago, observed,

``There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.''1

And more recently, Boston University sociologist Alan Wolfe wrote:

``Many professors-except those teaching at institutions affiliated with a religious denomination-took special delight in trying to disabuse their students of their faith. These days, however, students often come to class with no beliefs, or with little knowledge of the religious texts from which their beliefs are drawn.'' 2

How can we help our children and grandchildren cope with today's ``post-Christian'' culture? For that matter, how can we cope with it ourselves? For a biblical perspective on these questions, an excellent source is the book Right from Wrong by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler (Thomas Nelson/Word, 1994). This book gives a clear presentation of the philosophical and moral challenges we face today, along with practical guidelines for equipping ourselves and the next generation to face these challenges.

Confusion about Truth

In order to gauge the effects of the culture wars on Christian youth, McDowell and Hostetler commissioned pollster George Barna to conduct a ``churched youth survey.'' In the 1994 survey, 3795 American young people (ages 11-18) from thirteen conservative evangelical denominations were asked 193 questions about their beliefs, values and lifestyles. The participants in the survey were clearly different from a random group of American teens. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said they had made a commitment to Jesus Christ, and 82% claimed to attend church weekly. One might guess that if any group of teens understood Christianity, it would be a group like this one.

Seven of the survey questions dealt with beliefs about the nature of truth. Here are the seven questions and a summary of the responses:

                 Agree       Disagree       Not Sure

Agree Disagree Not Sure
1. Only the Bible provides a clear and 72% 12% 16%
indisputable description of moral truth.

2. What is right for one person in a given 71% 15% 15%
situation might not be right for another

person who encounters the same situation.

3. When it comes to matters of morals and 48% 29% 23%
ethics, truth means different things to

different people; no one can be absolutely

positive they have the truth.

4. Nothing can be known for certain except 39% 38% 23%
the things you experience in your life.

5. God may know the meaning of truth, but 31% 44% 25%
humans are not capable of grasping that


6. There is no such thing as absolute truth; 29% 43% 28%
people may define truth in contradictory

ways and still be correct.

7. Everything in life is negotiable. 23% 56% 22%

Notice that responses to the first question show a great respect for the Bible, as one might expect from this group of Christian teens. However, the results from the other questions reflect a lack of understanding of the nature of the Bible, which claims to teach things that are absolutely true for all time. In fact, only nine percent of the survey respondents answered all seven questions in a manner consistent with a belief that the Bible contains absolute truth.

The responses also show the influence of the prevailing moral relativism of modern culture. Many of these teens seem to believe in ``situation ethics,'' the idea that right and wrong can depend on the situation.

What are the consequences of one's beliefs about truth? The survey results indicated some definite connections between the beliefs and actions of these young people. The moral relativism that is evident in their responses played itself out in their behavior. For example, 15% of the group, including 27% of the 17 and 18 year olds, admitted to having been sexually active. Thirty-six percent said they had cheated on an exam in the last three months, and 66% said they had lied to an adult in the last three months. On the other hand, the nine percent who showed a more biblical view of truth were much happier and more positive about life than the others. They were the ones most likely to pray and study the Bible regularly, and they were also more likely to make right moral decisions.

The Source of Truth

The ``churched youth survey'' suggests that we can greatly help our children by passing along to them a biblical view of truth. To do so, we must have such a view ourselves. A good starting point is given in Proverbs 1:7, a familiar memory verse: ``The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge....'' (KJV) To know the truth, we must go to God and humbly submit to His word.

In their book, McDowell and Hostetler concentrate especially on the area of moral truth, which is so important to our children's future happiness and well-being. They emphasize that biblical morality is grounded in the nature and character of God Himself. In other words, particular behaviors are right or wrong not just because of what God says, but because of what God is.

This principle is taught throughout the Bible. For example, God says in Lev. 19:2 (NIV), ``Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.'' Jesus repeats the same idea in Matthew 5:48 when He says, ``Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'' Both these verses show that the goal in living is to be like God. The popular question, ``What would Jesus do?'', is indeed a key question for us to ask.

The idea that moral truth is based on God's nature and character has important consequences. In particular, because God's character is unchanging, right and wrong do not change with time. Moral truth does not become outmoded or obsolete.

Teaching the Truth

McDowell and Hostetler suggest that an effective way to understand and teach biblical morality is to go from precept to principle to person. In the Bible, there are precepts or commandments. If we think about these precepts, we can see important principles behind them. The principles, in turn, reflect the person, the character of God. King David is one who understood this progression especially well (see e.g. Ps. 119). By meditating deeply on God's word, David drew close to God. He saw God's nature clearly reflected in the instruction and teaching of Torah.

In Right from Wrong, this approach is applied in a number of examples, including the areas of honesty, family, love, justice, mercy, respect, and self-control. As an illustration, consider the subject of sexual morality. Biblical precepts in this area include the seventh commandment (Ex. 20:14) and Paul's admonition that we ``flee fornication.'' (I Cor. 6:18) These precepts are based on the principles of love (Rom. 13:9-10), purity (Heb. 13:4), and faithfulness or commitment. God created sex for procreation (Gen. 1:28), unity (Gen. 2:24), and pleasure (Prov. 5:18-19) within a pure, exclusive union. Finally, the Bible shows that love (I John 4:8), purity (Hab. 1:13), and faithfulness (2 Tim. 2:13) are important parts of God's nature.

Since the understanding that biblical precepts are rooted in God's character is rather abstract, McDowell and Hostetler also stress the importance of teaching that God's way is practical, that it protects and provides for us.

In the example of sexual morality, we can point out that obedience to the Bible's teaching in this area protects us from guilt and provides the reward of a clear conscience. God's standards protect us from unplanned pregnancies and abortions and provide a healthy atmosphere in which to raise a child. They thus protect our children. Biblical precepts of sexual morality protect us from sexually transmitted diseases and provide peace of mind. They protect us from insecurity and provide for trust in a relationship between husband and wife. They protect us from emotional distress and provide for true intimacy, companionship, and oneness in a marriage.

McDowell and Hostetler recommend that we follow the instruction of Deut. 6:6-7, taking advantages of opportunities as they arise, in order to effectively teach the truth. When we watch the evening news, go to a movie, or attend a wedding, we can point out examples of the results of obedience and disobedience to God's commandments. We can also share stories from our own lives to illustrate valuable lessons.

Above all, the authors of Right from Wrong urge us to teach the truth in the context of helping our children to grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ, who personifies the truth (John 14:6). To make right choices, they need to have this truth living in them and to be led by the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). And to avoid a legalistic approach, we must remember that obedience to God is a result, rather than a prerequisite, of a relationship with Him.


Today our children are confronted, from a very early age, with a message of relativism and amorality. We must counter that message with the absolute truth of God's Word. The book Right from Wrong provides practical tools that can help us to pass along that truth to the next generation. I highly recommend it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Doug Ward, a native of Wooster, Ohio, has been a member of WCG since 1976. He holds degrees in mathematics from Haverford College (B.A., 1979), Carnegie-Mellon University (M.S., 1981), and Dalhousie University (Ph.D., 1985). Since 1984, he has been a mathematics professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Doug, his wife Sherry, and their four children live in Oxford and attend the Cincinnati West WCG congregation, where he enjoys singing with the worship team and occasionally giving the scripture reading.

To learn more about the Hebraic roots of Christianity, the historical Jesus, and the background and context of the New Testament, write to the following address for a free catalog of informative tapes and books:

Center for Judaic-Christian Studies
P.O. Box 293040
Dayton, OH 45429


1 The Closing of the American Mind, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987, p. 25.

2 ``A Welcome Revival of Religion in the Academy,''The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 19, 1997, pp. B4-B5.


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