A couple days ago I posted an article responding to a comment by Lee Strobel given in the midst of an interview with Darrell Bock at Dallas Theological Seminary. In this article I want to return to that interview to address an interesting exchange Bock and Strobel have over so-called “faith-buster” classes, i.e. university classes that undermine the evangelical faith of the novice student.
Here’s a clip of the exchange after which I’ll provide my own comments.
Bock and Strobel are both right to worry about the low-grade level of intellectual formation (dare I invoke a word like “catechesis”?) that characterizes so many youth discipleship programs in which the driving force is “keep ’em entertained”. But how best to respond to it?
First, let’s return to the idea of the so-called faith-buster class. If we begin with the thought “how can we protect Christian youth from these classes?” then we’ve already started off on the wrong foot. Instead, our attitude should be “how can we prepare Christian youth to get the most from these classes?”, whether it be a class in world religions, introduction to philosophy, evolutionary biology, introduction to Bible, or whatever.
This leads to an immediate problem: many church leaders do not see the value of studying world religions, or philosophy or evolutionary biology, or historical biblical criticism. And this is, in large part, a reflection of their own substandard intellectual formation.
Reject simplistic dichotomies
The best advice I can offer here is to challenge the students to move beyond simplistic “us vs. them” dichotomies that adopts black and white categories (e.g. other world religions are all false, simpliciter; evolutionary biology has no supporting evidence) and instead is oriented to find the truth in every field without seeing it as a threat to one’s beliefs.
Once one has moved beyond this simplistic binary thinking, one is more readily able to make appropriate adjustments to one’s own beliefs when the evidence warrants it, rather than conclude erroneously that adjustment is tantamount to rejection. For example, the student who becomes convinced that evolution is true can adjust their beliefs about the mode by which God created the universe and organic life rather than thinking they are forced into a binary opposition: deny evolution or deny God.
Moreover, it is important that the conservative students who are set up to have their faith shaken in a so-called faith-buster class are victims of the poor intellectual formation in their particular Christian community. By contrast, other Christians are fully able to embrace and explore these classes and appropriate the truth within them without having their faith shaken. Once the student appreciates this fact, they can see that they are not journeying into uncharted waters, but instead are navigating the same basic routes that Christians have explored since intellectuals like Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria faced the faith-busting challenges of their day close to two millennia ago.
Embrace Social Justice
That’s all advice regarding the intellectual formation of young people in churches. But there is an equally important second piece of advice, one that I fear is completely missing in the Bock-Strobel exchange. If you want to equip students for the faith-busting classes, give them a faith that is focused not merely on social outings and entertainment, but rather on social justice. For example, a friend of mine takes his young people to Camden, New Jersey for a few weeks every summer to work among the poorest of the poor, thereby gaining a vision for God’s heart for the poor and social justice. In other words, they get a vision of the kingdom of God.
To be sure, you don’t send young people into the inner city to give them a taste of social justice so that they will somehow be inoculated from the skeptical university professor. That would be perverse. Rather, you send them into the inner city to give them a taste of social justice so that they will be transformed in their understanding of the kingdom of God and their call to work to bring it into this broken world. One of the natural by-products of this transformative experience will be a greatly matured faith which will be prepared for all sorts of new challenges, including the novel discoveries of a university education.