One question I’ve heard over and over and over again is this: why do students grow to doubt the validity of their faith?
The poor Christian teacher. They teach and teach and teach and then, after a while, the students turn against them. The beat-down teacher asks, “What did I do wrong?”
There are many, good, solid hypotheses, but one I don’t hear discussed much is this: Choir directors aren’t tough on their own community’s accepted beliefs.
Genuine, intellectual conversation are a fair hearing of both sides. When students instinctively feel that one side is getting unfair air-time, they’ll rush to defend the underdog.
It’s kind of admirable, actually.
Given that reaction, there’s a counter-intuitive to training students in Christian apologetics: most people want to build the faith of their students, so they set up weeks of lectures to download content into their students heads. But what happens? Students, who are walking through The Season of the Contrary, aim their sights at the religion of their home culture.
I mean, students in highschool/college are aiming their sights on everything in their home culture (just ask any of their parents).
Students have good instincts. When they feel like they’re only getting the propaganda of their upbringing, it drives them to be more tough on their own faith.–creating the exact opposite reaction the well-meaning instructor was hoping for.
How Then Should We Challenge?
If we want students to cut their teeth on substantive faith issues (intellectually, anyway), we should give them the objections. The cognitive dissonance combined with their bent towards establishing their independence, will drive them to find answers for themselves –creating the intellectual solidity of faith we’re hoping for.
And by “being tough” I mean really being tough. So often teachers try to mess with their students but it comes off as play acting. There aren’t real stakes at play. The opinions are typically hollow shells of the actual arguments and are hardly ever incarnated in an actual proponent who isn’t some celebrity (like, say, Dawkins or Hitchens etc). Teachers have to be conversant in the real objections to the faith and maybe bring in a guest lecturer who sincerely holds the opinions.
I assume in every classroom a core constituency of students are desperately hungry for that kind of challenge. They devour the opportunity to take what they’ve been taught their whole lives and try their wings in a real(er) environment.
Further, for the students with legitimate doubts, they find themselves in a culture that is willing to confront real, contrary opinions. That’s huge for creating a space that welcomes their honest inquiry.
That’s one of the keys to great apologetics training: Be so tough on your community’s faith expressions that your students don’t feel the need to fill that role. If we’re not tough on ourselves, our students will be.