Engaging Intellect on Campus in NYC
“Now it’s hard to find anyone who would associate a razor-sharp mind with a faith-filled heart.”
Christianity is a blind and mindless faith. NYU Collegiate Navs Campus Director Peter Trautmann faces this perception on a regular basis.
“It’s a relatively modern reality that faith is seen as being at odds with the intellectual life,” Peter says. “It used to be that if you were a brilliant intellectual, you became a theologian. Now it’s hard to find anyone who would associate a razor-sharp mind with a faith-filled heart. But those two qualities do co-exist in many individuals, and we need to get students exposed to them.”
Peter says part of this stigma’s solution is encouraging students who are planning on and cut out for a life in academia to keep pursuing those goals, to see this as a high calling, and a missional enterprise.
“The intelligent Christian is not an oxymoron,” Peter says. “Christianity is the single most intellectually cohesive and emotionally satisfying worldview in existence. Changing perception starts with young Christians capturing Jesus’ holistic vision for witness and the life of faith—to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength” (Luke 10:27).
When Peter led an Investigative Bible Discussion group at a fraternity house in Brooklyn this year, made up of many top engineering minds skeptical of religion, he used Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” videos to tackle some key “defeater beliefs”—ideas that keep people from coming to faith. Organizations like Veritas Forum also provide resources to engage young intellectuals with the deepest questions of faith and life.
Peter loves to see God use this kind of engagement to point students heavenward.
“To meet Jesus is to encounter total truth,” Peter says. “To learn any pieces of truth—whether scientific, aesthetic, philosophical, existential, or otherwise—is to encounter part of Jesus and the Gospel.”
NYU Nav staffer Leann Sebald has seen the value of engaging students as they wrestle with tough questions.
“I am frustrated leading a group that gives fluffy answers,” Leann says. “I don’t always have an answer to their questions, but I’d rather students be real. We need to pray for students to have an encounter with the one true God. We pray He will use these conversations to bring such an encounter.”
NYU grad student Ben Poland always brings the focus back to relationship-building.
“If my students and friends know that I actually care about them, their interests, their questions—that authenticity is going to lead them to Christ,” Ben says.
After all, Jesus is at the center of our existence. He’s the designer of our minds, and the reason we disciple.
“It’s fun to think of The Navigators founder Dawson Trotman riding through town on a motorcycle, a choice he made to try to dispel the cultural perception in his day that all Christians were wimps,” Peter says.
“Though it may be in a professor’s tweed rather than a biker’s leather, that’s the kind of missional Gospel we need to see today—more razor-sharp, truth-seeking evangelical minds, leading many new hearts to meet the Truth to whom all truth points.”