note: this post is longer than my usual one-minute special. Worth the read, I hope. 🙂
If you read my post from last week you’ll see that high school and college students have a lot of questions about God and faith, but there’s one catch:
They don’t know what their questions are.
Wait, there’s a second catch:
Even if they’re aware of their questions, they’re not likely to talk about them very easily.
Part of the problem is that evangelical culture is not conducive to questioning.
A culture that is truly conducive to questioning doesn’t give answers impatiently. Rather, it provides an extended process for working through issues, gives multiple sides of the story, suggests possible solutions, involves students in the process of reasoning and research and challenging and deciding.
In short, a healthy “questioning” environment does the one thing that evangelicals find almost impossible to do: refrain from giving answers.
Seems counter-intuitive, I know. But if we want students to truly embrace their own faith (rather than their parents’ faith), we have to ease up a little, stop “telling” them what to believe.
Here’s an approach I have practiced many times on the topic of religious pluralism:
I figure almost every evangelical student (and their nonChristian friends) have questioned the claim that Christ is the only true pathway to God, while all the other religions are supposedly false.
But if I take on that issue directly, it won’t stick.
But it might stick if I work through an interactive process of discovery.
So I draw a proposal on the board from John Hick, the world’s most famous religious pluralist. Hick’s proposal, roughly speaking, is that the “Real” (god) revealed itself to all the world’s major religions, each getting a slice of the pie.
Differences in the religions can be attributed to the different cultural contexts in which each revelation was received. There’s more to it than that, but I’ll move on for brevity’s sake.
After I draw (and explain) a diagram similar to the one at the right, I simply ask students, “This is Hick’s proposal. What’s kind of cool about it? And what’s screwy about it? You tell me.”
Then we go at it hard for about 45 minutes.
Students poke and ponder, speculate and critique. If they get stuck, I give them another piece of information so they can move ahead.
Eventually they start to see that Hick’s proposal doesn’t hang together. The cracks and flaws become evident.
And students themselves start to articulate the problems.
There’s your golden moment, right there.
Now, for the very first time, I am in position to do a little teaching. My job is to affirm what they’ve discovered, then take it just beyond their horizon.
They got us 90% of the way to our destination. Hopefully I can add the last 10% that they could never come up with.
But friends, please hear this: If I try to do 90% of the work, most of the time students can’t even carry that last 10%. And probably, they did not buy my 90.
The moral of the story: Don’t tell, ask. Don’t declare, prompt.
Teach at the end, not the beginning. That’s the only time they can hear us.
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