Gibbs: Your son recently asked me to write him a letter of recommendation to a big state school.
Parent: Yes, Allister is very excited at his chances of getting in. A strong letter of recommendation from you will really help with that.
Gibbs: Is there a reason you didn’t choose a smaller Christian college?
Parent: Well, his mother and I want the best for him, and he wants to study business. A big state school has far more to offer on that front than a smaller Christian college.
Gibbs: So many graduates of classical Christian schools lose their faith in colleges like the one he’s applying to.
Parent: I know, but Allister has a very strong faith in God. His mother and I noticed it when he was quite young.
Gibbs: Did you know that all parents say that, even parents of students who quit going to church a month after they leave home?
Parent: I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. It’s different with Allister, though. He witnesses to the guys on his travel soccer team. He plays in the worship band at church. He’s never given me reason to worry.
Gibbs: You’re quite confident he’ll keep attending church in college?
Parent: Absolutely. He loves church.
Gibbs: I mean regularly attending church on Sunday morning?
Parent: Unquestionably. You seem a bit doubtful, though.
Gibbs: I’ve seen a lot of kids lose their faith at colleges like the one he’s trying to get into.
Parent: What is it about Allister that makes you think that will happen to him?
Gibbs: Honestly, it’s not him. It’s you. Anyone as certain as you are that things will be just fine simply doesn’t take the threat very seriously.
Parent: That’s rather curt of you, Mr. Gibbs.
Gibbs: I suppose so, but I’ve been waiving my hands around frantically for years trying to get parents to take the threat of apostasy seriously, and almost no one does.
Parent: So you’re not going to write him a letter of recommendation?
Gibbs: No, I will. I have one condition, though.
Parent: What’s that?
Gibbs: If Allister quits attending church in his first year of college, you have to pay me five thousand dollars.
Parent: Ha ha! Wait, you’re serious, aren’t you?
Gibbs: I am. He has to go to church at least three Sundays a month. The first month he fails to do this, you have to cut me a check for five grand.
Parent: Why in the world would I agree to something so preposterous?
Gibbs: Is it preposterous? A moment ago you were quite certain he’d keep attending church.
Parent: You have to agree that such a proposal is highly uncommon.
Gibbs: Perhaps, although “Put your money where your mouth is” happens to be a very common proverb and that’s all I’m asking you to do.
Parent: Look, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.
Gibbs: Which is more important? Going to church or being a Christian?
Parent: Being a Christian, of course.
Gibbs: Good. Then I’m asking Allister to do something relatively easy. He should have no problem.
Parent: But what if he can’t make it to church three Sundays a month? What if there’s a legitimate reason he can’t make it?
Gibbs: People who quit church altogether generally begin by skipping church for reasons that sound perfectly legitimate. That’s how most Christian kids in college quit going. They have to work, to study, to drive to Boston with their friends.
Parent: What if Allister gets sick?
Gibbs: In the last ten years, how many times has sickness kept Allister out of school for two straight weeks?
Parent: That’s not the point. He could get sick and have to miss more than one week.
Gibbs: Then we’ll add a clause to the deal. He can be out of church for one whole month if he gets sick. But if he’s out of church for a month, I’m going to assume he’s out of class for a whole month, as well. If he’s well enough to go to class, he’s well enough for church, too.
Parent: But what if he gets busy? The first year of college can be quite busy.
Gibbs: He has to make church a priority. He has to treat church as more important than school.
Parent: What? Look, I’m a Christian, but that just doesn’t add up. If he misses class, it’ll hurt his grades, which will hurt his chances at good references, a good job, and so forth. Nothing all that bad happens if you miss church.
Gibbs: That’s the sort of attitude that makes me think your son is going to quit church pretty quickly. The average Christian parent finds out their kid hasn’t gone to church in three months, they do nothing. They find out their kid hasn’t gone to class in three months, they buy a plane ticket.
Parent: Look, why the importance on going to church? Doesn’t it seem more important to you that he not do drugs, not drink, not fool around with girls?
Gibbs: No. It’s far more important that he go to church than that he not do those things.
Parent: How very pious of you. Why do you believe that?
Gibbs: You don’t think we’re saved by good works, do you?
Parent: No. You don’t think we’re saved by going to church, do you?
Gibbs: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a one-to-one correlation for everybody, but if your son quits going to church, he’ll quit claiming to be a Christian shortly thereafter. It might take a year or two, but not long. Going to church is the most important piece of evidence people have in persuading themselves that they’re Christians. And it’s the fact people believe they’re Christians that makes them act like Christians.
Parent: You have to see how weird this is, right? I mean, it seems like you’re trying to prove to me that my son isn’t a real Christian.
Gibbs: No, I’m trying to give you a reason to care about your son’s soul. I need to give you a reason to care about your son going to church.
Parent: That’s insulting. Of course I care that he goes to church.
Gibbs: Perhaps, but I need you to care more about your son going to church than your son going to class. I need you to believe that if your son quits going to church in college, whatever he learns at college is all for nothing. If you lose five grand when he quits going to church, you’ll have a reason to keep tabs on him and constantly exhort him to go to church. Otherwise, I get the impression you’ll let Allister give you a lot of BS excuses for not going to church. You’ll “understand he’s busy” and all that foolishness.
Parent: You don’t have much confidence he’ll stay in church, do you?
Gibbs: What do you expect? I see this sort of thing all the time. The fact that so many Christian kids quit going to church in college is a well-known fact, but it seems nothing short of a five-thousand-dollar bet can get parents to take the possibility seriously. It makes me think many parents outwardly claim their kids have a solid faith even though they secretly know that’s not the case.
Parent: So the demand for five thousand dollars wasn’t real? You simply wanted me to have a long think about the state of his soul.
Gibbs: No, the demand is real.
Parent: There’s plenty of teachers at this school who could write him a letter of recommendation. He doesn’t need you to write it.
Gibbs: True, but if you turn down my offer, you’ve got to live with the fact you’re not five thousand dollars confident in your son’s faith. Hopefully that prompts a little soul searching. The thing is, if Allister walks away from Christianity it’s going to end up costing you a lot more than five thousand dollars. The deal I’m offering would prove little more than a preview of what’s to come. Apostasy usually proves pretty expensive.
Parent: I don’t get it. Do you want me to take your wager or not?
Gibbs: I want you to reconsider where you’re sending your son to college, how much you trust him, and why. This whole conversation is predicated on the fact you’re sending your son to a big secular college, not a small Christian one.
Parent: You mean you’d write him a recommendation for free if he was attending a small Christian college?
Gibbs: I’ll write him a free recommendation for the big state school he wants to go to. It only costs you something if he quits going to church in his first year, which you’ve already assured me won’t happen.
Parent: I’ve got to ask: if you made five thousand dollars off some former student’s apostasy, what would you spend it on? Oysters and champagne?
Gibbs: I’d probably just give the money to my church. We could use it to start a campus outreach program.