How Critical Thinking Saves Faith

By Nancy Pearcey

“Critical thinking?” the radio host burst out.  “Most people on the conservative Christian Right would say that’s one of the biggest dangers we have — this ‘nonsensical’ idea of critical thinking.”

I was talking with arch-liberal Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.  He had invited me on his radio program “Culture Shocks” to talk about my just-published Saving LeonardoYet when I explained that the book dissects secular worldviews to help people develop critical thinking, Lynn seemed incredulous.  Conservative Christians discourage any questioning of their faith, he asserted. 

He was painting with a broad brush, but admittedly there is some basis for such a negative stereotype.  In fact, it has become one of the main reasons young people are leaving the church.

Drew Dyck in his recent Christianity Today article “The Leavers” says that when talking to someone who has left the faith (or is thinking about it), Christians rarely engage the person’s reasons for doubt.  Typically they “have one of two opposite and equally harmful reactions”:  Some “freeze in a defensive crouch and fail to engage at all.”  Others “go on the offensive, delivering a homespun, judgmental sermon.” 

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My students say they encounter both reactions.  One teen who is struggling to decide what she believes is discouraged because her parents’ primary response is, “Why can’t you just have faith, like we do?”

Another teen who is exploring alternative worldviews says his parents’ response is to denounce them: “You can’t prove that!  You have no evidence!”  As he tells me, “I need my parents to think ideas through with me, not just judge them.”

When parents and leaders react to questions by shaming or blaming, they may well drive their teens away.  Both of my students have recently announced that they no longer consider themselves Christians. 

They have become “leavers.”

I became a leaver myself at age sixteen.  I was not rebellious.  Nor was I trying to construct a moral smokescreen for bad choices.  I was simply asking, How do I know Christianity is true? None of the adults I consulted offered any answers.

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