Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Not to Deal With Doubt

This is from a recent Christianity Today article explaining why so many young adults leave the church. I have been hearing this for three decades: many Christians have no apologetic arguments when faced with doubts about cardinal Christian doctrines. Thus, the doubters just give up, having their intellectual desires ridiculed or ignored. This is wrong; this must change.


Another unsettling pattern emerged during my interviews. Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking "insolent questions." Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them. One was slapped across the face, literally.

At the 2008 American Sociological Association meeting, scholars from the University of Connecticut and Oregon State University reported that "the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in de-conversion was in amplifying existing doubt." De-converts reported "sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers."


John said...

PB, I heard an adult Christian school administrator tell how when she was in 6th grade she innocently asked her Sunday School teacher how we know the Bible really is the Word of God. The teacher answered, "We don't ask THOSE kinds of questions here."

I've told my Christian school faculty that this is PRECISELY the kind of question we better be able to answer from our young people. The only thing we have to fear is perhaps our own failure to be prepared to give thoughtful answers.

Btw, I enjoy listening to your sermons via podcast. Thanks for making them available.

John Bishop

John said...

Dr. Groothuis,
I had a senior moment earlier this morning and embarrassingly addressed a reply to your blog to "PB"--a pastor friend who also blogs. The substance of my note applied to your blog but how I got the blog confused with my friend's, I don't know. My wife calls it "Alzheimer's Lite."

I apologize for the confusing reply.

That's enough humble pie for me to last a good while.

John Bishop

Sarah Geis said...

Churches must stop treating junior high and high school students as though they are categorically incapable or uninterested in more difficult thinking. This is simply not true. Moreover, relationships and entertainment devoid of intentional cultivation of the mind in church ministry is tragically negligent. College ministries are frequently guilty of this as well.

D. A. Armstrong said...

Boy I feel really good about my example to those dealing with doubt. I've got a kid who I've been mentoring a bit who comes up with a new problem every couple of weeks. We sit down and talk and I help him go through these issues. Most days he walks away still not believing my point, but then months later he agrees with me.

He's gone from being a quiet young man to someone who is bold in his faith. I'd be very surprised if in the next few years of college someone challenges him more than I have.

D. A. Armstrong said...

I feel a lot better about my relationship with college kids. I've been mentoring some and challenge their beliefs and faith.

One particular young man has a new question every couple of weeks. He went from having some minor doubts in Christianity to now looking at all the major fundamentals of the faith. I've not only helped him answer the questions, but then asked the harder questions to help him think. Of course, I'd be very surprised that he runs across a challenge in his next few years of college that he wasn't prepared for

Mr Veale said...

Thank you for high-lighting this problem.

Maybe I could also draw attention to the need for rigorous, robust arguments that can withstand academic scrutiny. (The type of arguments that you produce and promote.)

Glib, superficial answers lead to membership of the ex-apologist movement.

Mr Veale said...

Apologists have made some headway in the last decade - Lee Strobel's books, Tim Keller, Reasonable Faith etc.

So why are evangelical Churches not responding? Why does my Church view apologetics as a "niche" ministry for the few, and not essential to Church life in a Secularist culture? (I'm a Northern Irish evangelical - and I can assure you that this isn't a "North American" problem!)


Anonymous said...

I've been saying this for a long time now. Nine out of every 10 de-conversion stories on ex-christian.net at some point mention that the seeker's growing doubt was dismissed or ridiculed by some pastor, elder, or person who ought to know better.

When I've looked into the history of Christianity, I've only found more reasons to believe, not less. If churches started facing some of these doubts head-on rather than just telling the doubter to "have more faith," we'd have fewer atheists.

Folks like Dawkins literally prey on the mind of the doubting Christian, exacerbating trivial issues into monstrous problems. In other words, making mountains out of molehills. Unless these arguments are addressed at some length, superficial arguments like those found in The God Delusion can add to the growing number of ex-Christians. Instead of just asserting that "Who designed the Designer?" is a terrible argument, we should spend some time explaining the nature of God, the vast difference between the material and the immaterial, and the nature of existence to show young Christians why that's a terrible argument.