How Critical Thinking Saves Faith

“Test everything, hold on to the good.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

Best selling author and Houston Baptist University professor, Nancy Pearcey (cited above), offers a warning in her article, How Critical Thinking Saves Faith:

Research shows that many people give up on their faith and/or church attendance because they find it so very difficult to find Christians who can help them deal intelligently with their doubts about their Christian faith.

In a Christianity Today article a few years back entitled, “The Leavers,”Drew Dyck says that when talking to someone who has left the faith (or is thinking about it), Christians rarely engage the person’s reasons for doubt. He writes,

Typically, they “have one of two opposite and equally harmful reactions”:  Some “freeze in a defensive crouch and fail to engage at all.”  Others “go on the offensive, delivering a homespun, judgmental sermon.”

“My students say they encounter both reactions (mentioned above).  One teen who is struggling to decide what she believes is discouraged because her parents’ primary response is, ‘Why can’t you just have faith, like we do?”

Pearcey adds,

“I became a ‘leaver’ myself at age sixteen.  I was not rebellious…I was simply asking, ‘How do I know Christianity is true?’  None of the adults I consulted offered any answers.”

Fuller Seminary recently conducted a study on teens who become leavers in college.  The researchers uncovered the single most significant factor in whether young people stand firm in their Christian convictions or leave them behind.  And it’s not what most of us might expect. 

Join a campus ministry group?  A Bible study?  Important though those things are, the most decisive factor is whether students had a safe place to work through their doubts and questions before leaving home.

The researchers concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

Sadly, most churches and Christian schools do not encourage “tough questions.” In Dyck’s interviews with leavers, most reported that

“they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts.” They were ridiculed, scolded, or made to feel there was something immoral about even asking.

Pearcey concludes,

A study in Britain found that non-religious parents have a near 100 percent chance of passing on their views to their children, whereas religious parents have only about a 50/50 chance of passing on their views.

Clearly, teaching young people to engage critically with secular worldviews is no longer an option. It is a necessary survival skill.

Hostile radio hosts may not get it, but Scripture itself encourages humans to use their minds to examine truth claims. As Paul writes, “Test everything, hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). It turns out that you have to practice the first part of the verse — testing and questioning — in order to build the wisdom to recognize, choose, and hold on to what is good.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick