The quote reads- “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” This was on my high school english teacher’s classroom wall. I remember staring at it for hours wondering who said it and what the heck it meant. This morning I discovered that it was still there when I had the privilege of returning to said classroom for the first time since like 1996. After recently reconnecting with my high school english teacher, he invited me to his world religions class to talk about christianity.
Before coming over he sent me a long list of questions to prepare for-which we for the most part never got to. But I got to thinking about the questions which young people ask and how we as a church respond. Some of the questions from the list were hot-topic-ish. You know, interfaith dialogue, gay marriage, evolution/creation, etc. What surprised me though, is that what we actually discussed was much deeper (though not to suggest that these mentioned topics are unimportant). But you know the questions I’m talking about, they’re the same ones you ask, the ones that have volumes written about them and the ones which are still being debated in universities and seminaries all over the world.
Before talking with these students this morning I was thinking about our (the church’s) ability to field, answer and be patient with the questions of young people as they hammer out theology, philosophy, history, ethics..etc. It’s all relevant to their processing an adult worldview. Whether it’s gay-marriage or the trinity, we have a responsiblity to respond to the questions and concerns that young people have. Here are some guidelines that I use when helping college students (and high school students) to wrestle out these things.
1- Be patient. Go into the conversation knowing that you may never agree. Whether it’s a christian kid hammering out faith issues in a way that sounds heretical or a non-christian kid who’s challenging your doctrine (or most likely some combination of the two!), remember that you have not always had your theology worked out. In fact, you probably still don’t. In fact, completely working out one’s theology may not actually be possible or desirable.
2- Engage the process. If working out one’s theology is neither desirable or possible, does that mean that we shouldn’t do theology? Of course not. Do it and do it with them. Get your hands dirty with the mystery of God. Humbly processing with them makes you seem like more of an equal and allows for better dialogue, thus making truths more likely to stick. Simply presenting truths and assuming that they’ll swallow it all up is not only ineffective in today’s context, but it can come off (and be) really arrogant.
3. Use the Bible. Probably should be number one… Either way. Teach people to lean into scripture. Not that the endless speculations, opinions and commentaries of Christian history are worthless. Rather treat them as supplementary. Model for them the process of biblical interpretation and applied theology.
4. Don’t get too locked into one theological viewpoint. This is hard because we all have our fave’s. Luther, Calvin, Augustine, …. Again you may already some things worked out, I know I’m pretty comfortable with some of mine. But when these people get to an age where they need to question things like free will, creation and other topics, they need to have the freedom to consider the other side of a position without being labeled as, or treated like a heretic. This is really connected to the patience thing. Acknowledge the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy and let them dive in. If you think about it-you, they and the whole Church will be better for it.
5-Don’t try to control the outcome. Furthermore, don’t get upset if their conclusion is something that you don’t agree with. The process of them asking and answering these questions is actually very important. Pray that God sanctifies this process for his glory and his kingdom work in their lives. We fool ourselves to think that God’s goal is to get them to agree with our theological positions.
6- Be thankful. Who would you rather they hammer this stuff out with? Ours is a blessed position. God has given us this right- to guide this process and be present in their lives while they struggle. Allow joy to guide your engagement with them. Also-thank them for sharing and for doing so honestly.
I don’t pretend to have this dialed-these are just things I’ve learned. Any thoughts you’d like to add? What have I missed here?