And the Answer Is. . .

Rick Mattson Uncategorized 4 Comments

The Ganfield Library Cafe is not exactly spacious, with a max occupancy of maybe 30 or 35 (behind the windows, right).

Last Friday morning our discussion group, configured in a tight oval around two small wooden tables, occupied 13 of those spots.

The topic at hand: Was Christina’s friend who had converted from Christianity to Islam still in possession of her salvation? The friend had once been a “true” Christian, supposedly. Now, a confessor of the shahada.

12 Carroll University students looked to me to settle the matter.

My job at that moment was to provide the answer, of course. Probably start by saying “The Bible clearly teaches. . . “

Or, I could draw them deeper into the issue by asking them to consider the pros and cons of various solutions.

It seems to me that one of the reasons young people are leaving the church in record numbers is that we tell them a lot of answers. We rob them of the joy of discovery.

Meanwhile, at school and in other spiritualities (or in atheism), they get to talk freely about their doubts, concerns, opinions. Often a new and exciting conversation for young (former) evangelicals.

Back to the coffee shop at Carroll: Eventually, after a lot more dialog, I did give my view of the matter, though not as the answer.

How’s the Conversation going at your church/ministry/home?

p.s. The November 2010 issue of Christianity Today has an insightful article about young people leaving the church, entitled The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church. It’s also posted on line, though you may need a subscription:

Comments 4

  1. Hi, Rick,

    There's a wealth of wisdom to be mined here, I think. I found myself recently saying something similar, though in regard to morality: we demand instant, “easy” moral answers, ones which can be defended in little more than a bumper sticker.

    What we need however, is the exciting–though often complex and difficult–work of moral reasoning, which includes tracing out implications of certain moral convictions on other areas of our philosophy/worldview.

    So, yes, thanks for encouraging the joy of discovery. I think those students, and the communities and societies they influence, will be the richer for it.

  2. Patrick, It seems to me that students are in fact willing to work through these questions, though at first they appear disinterested. They'll only begin to engage when they trust the person/organization who's hosting the conversation.

    Trust is established through relationship, safety, and listening with a nonjudgmental posture.

    Nor will students initiate the conversation (generally speaking). We who are the hosts must find interesting, engaging ways to get things rolling. As I often say: Students are more interested in the great questions than they think they are.

  3. Rick, I duly hope what you say about students willing to work through the tough questions is true. I'm certain there are some students who fit this description. I've had the honor of working with some of them!

    I guess I tend to be (overly?) sensitive to the growing elements of entitlement, instant gratification, individualism, etc. in our society, especially in the ways in which I encounter the younger generation. Perhaps I've grown cynical. It seems, though, that “tweeting” opinions and views encourages knee-jerk philosophy and ethics born mostly out of the moral intuition of the day.

    That said, I think helping students think through & discover works to undo these elements, in part because it welcomes and engages the complexity and historical depth of differing worldviews. In short, it encourages “the examined life.”

    So again, thanks for your work doing just that.

  4. Hey Pat, Yes! The examined life: the one worth living.

    At Michigan State recently I addressed the topic of hypocrisy and the church. A couple of atheist students were sitting close to the front. I tried to draw them into thinking differently about the issue than they ever had before:

    1) apologizing for historical abuses (crusades, Inquisition, etc.), and for contemporary sins (fallen priests, pastors). They were surprised I even admitted this stuff.

    2) pointing out that bad things done in the name of God aren't always attributable to true Christians.

    3) showing the need to blame sinful people, not religion, for hypocritical acts.

    4) giving examples of abusive atheists (Stalin) whose behaviors really don't “disprove” atheism. Stalin was bad, therefore God exists? Ridiculous.

    The atheists thanked me after the talk. My point is that we need to engage students at their felt and unfelt needs. They will listen; they will engage; they will work through the issues. Somehow we've got to initiate and sponsor these conversations.

    You point out that many issues are more complex than “tweeting” allows for. All the more reason to get some deeper discussions going, eh?

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