The Risk of Doubting One’s Faith
by Travis Dickinson
I’ve argued (here) that doubt has instrumental value since, when handled properly, it leads to truth, knowledge, and (since I think Christianity is true) to a greater faith. Though it seems a bit ironic, confident faith is, in my view, the result of asking deep and difficult questions.
One worry here is that this all sounds a bit risky. Is it wise to tell people, people young in the Christian faith, that they should doubt their faith? Admittedly this sounds a little crazy. And you should know that the last thing in the world that I want is to find out that someone walked away from the faith given my suggestion to doubt. It feels a whole lot nicer and safer to just have them remain as they are.
But here’s the problem, kids are walking away from the faith in droves! The statistics are not good. The most conservative numbers say that 3 out of 5 (60% of) Christian kids walk away (Barna). Other studies have it up to 75-80%. One study of Southern Baptists puts it as high as 88% of kids walking away by the age of 18 (SBC Family Life Council). I have four children. And I can do math. So this stat keeps me up at night.
It may be a bit risky to encourage some doubts. But let’s just be honest, what’s riskier? Having them consider deep and difficult questions that may cause them to struggle a bit or just loading them up with all the “right” answers and never have them seriously consider opposing beliefs? The current statistics suggest that the “let’s hope for the best” strategy is far riskier.
Now we’d be fools to think that these kids walk away from the faith only for intellectual reasons. There are a lot of things going on in college, and let’s just say it’s not all studying. You put a few thousand 18-22 year olds on a campus with little moral supervision and we can all guess what’s going to happen. For some students, it is a never ending party with a few papers and exams sprinkled in from time to time. Students, of course, find this tempting and choose the party over their faith. That happens and I’m not sure more apologetics will address what’s going on here.
But there are some (and many who this is true, at least, in part) are confronted with ideas contrary to their Christian faith and, lacking any satisfying answer, walk away for intellectual reasons.
These students often feel betrayed. They grew up in church learning about Christianity week in and week out. They were given the impression by pastors and parents that there were no legitimate challenges to the belief in God, the biblical claims about Jesus, the reliability and accuracy of Scripture, etc. They thought it is only the fool who denies the existence of God, or that there’s not a shred of evidence for Darwinian evolution, and that Scripture can withstand any and all tests. And then they find themselves amongst some of the smartest individuals they’ll ever meet in their lifetimes who defend each of these ideas in compelling and thoughtful ways.
I’ve got to be honest here, I think that our kids have been betrayed if they were told only idiots believe these things. Since many adults haven’t wrestled with the deep and difficult questions, it seems they try to get their kids into the same cognitive place of making the Christian assumptions. But it’s not working. It is a different world with our kids. It is not enough to assume its truth and hope for the best. Our kids are pummeled with hostility towards a conservative Christian faith. I believe that apologetics will cease to be just some hobby discipline for only the heady few. It will be the way of intellectual survival for the next generation!
But there’s an alternative…
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