I spend a lot of time speaking with young people, most of whom are in college, and a conversation I have found myself having often involves them slowly putting into words unspoken doubts, questioning whether or not their faith is genuine or if Christianity is even worth believing in. I love being able to have these conversations with young people, because I sympathize with their questions and doubts, remembering many of my own. I then get to walk through the God’s Word with them, showing them how I think Jesus has the answer to their question. Sometimes I am helpful, sometimes not so much. But one thing I have found that is always helpful is providing an opportunity for them to share some of their doubts that they have been wondering about. It seems that once they can articulate their unspoken doubts or questions, some of the intimidating power behind the unanswered question is immediately expelled.
And sometimes, because they finally articulated their doubts to someone, they got an opportunity to see that what they were doubting maybe wasn’t even something that the Bible teaches, maybe doesn’t even make logical sense, or maybe has a great answer that they are just unaware of. Dr. Tim Keller rightly puts it, “Describe the God you’ve rejected. Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe in that God either.”
And yet, most young people feel scared to voice these doubts to parents, family or clergy, fearing the stigma that may come with their skepticism. A parent or pastor can often see their child’s questions as a lack of faith or commitment, and respond with disappointment, anger or fear, asking themselves what they did wrong. So the youth stay silent. That silence, however, often lends to their fears of the disingenuousness of their faith only to grow larger and larger. And eventually, they will begin to ask, maybe they don’t want to answer the question because there is no answer.
I wonder what our church families would look like if we embraced the skeptic and his questions – if there was no stigma associated with questioning what you believed. What would our church families look like if we graciously embraced the doubts with the truth of the Bible? That would be exactly what I think the church is supposed to be, and is exactly what Jesus is – full of grace and truth (John 1:14). But, to create this kind of environment we must be honest about our own doubts and struggles, commit ourselves to know what the major problems our culture has with Christianity, and how the Bible answers it. And that requires some thought. So, on that note, I raise this challenge…
Dear Mature Christians, I challenge you on two fronts: (1) Focus on creating an atmosphere in your family and in your church that would make someone feel safe to ask questions about the things you assume they believe. Prompt them with questions, voice your own doubts, be generous with your tone and inviting with your language, don’t create a negative caricature of people who don’t agree with you, address popular objections people have with what you are teaching and make time for these questions to be asked. If you never give them this safe zone, they will simply repress their doubts out of fear or a desire to impress you – but they will surface later, and the result will be disastrous. (2) Spend time learning your Bible. Spend time learning what the most popular objections to Christian teaching are. Familiarize yourself with the answers that the average American would give to life’s big questions and compare it with the Bible teaches. Read books that will help answer difficult questions that your kid will hear in his world religions class when he goes off to college. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, look your kid straight in the eye, and say “I have no idea” – but then stay up all night researching it and come back with an answer. Be a reliable resource that your kid can respect, even if he does one day abandon his faith.
Below is a link to a series of seminars that Tim Keller hosted, entitled “Questioning Christianity”. In these series of talks, Keller speaks to Christians and non-Christians, and attempts to answer the question: Does Christianity make sense emotionally, culturally and intellectually? If you are looking for a resource, this is extremely helpful. Let’s pursue a life, a family and a church that is filled to the brim with both truth and grace.