college travels

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tim Keller and the Value of Doubt

Have been reading The Reason for God: Belief in an age of scepticism by Tim Keller. I was attracted by a book that aimed to defend and promote Christianity to a post-modern world that could quote from C. S. Lewis, a Nobel prize-winning Polish poet and Darth Vader (among others!). Almost half way through and it's a great read.

His introduction talks about the value of doubt: for unbelievers, they ought to consider that their doubts about Christianity are actually displaying alternate beliefs (to say, 'I doubt that there can be one true religion' is saying 'I believe that there cannot be one true religion'), and that they ought to expose their beliefs to the same scrutiny as they challenge the beliefs of Christianity. This, I can see, is a useful apologetic strategy in our current culture.

More interesting still though is his challenge to believers to doubt:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenceless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart sceptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection...

Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to sceptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. (p.xvi-xviii)

I think this is so important for youth ministry (and, as children mature earlier, for children's ministry as well). Supporting someone in the 'searching' stage of faith development that transitions a young person from an affiliative to an owned faith is one of the key challenges of youth ministry. 'The search' is something that can fill the horizon of a young believer; and if we shut it down or leave them to search alone it can have disastrous consequences. Searching alone can be like sending a four year old off on an easter egg hunt without ever bothering to stop her before she gets to the freeway. She'll need to have a good look at the freeway and will have to work out for herself that the freeway isn't a place where eggs are hidden—but she's going to be able to work that out without being run over at the same time with a wise and supportive adult by her side. But to shut down the search is to tell her that there's an egg in the letterbox, another one behind the pot plant and a few more near the front door. Which takes all the challenge away, either leaving her infantilised and absolutely dependent on others, or turns her off and sends her looking for challenges in other places.

Are our young people getting run-over by the false ideas and alluring promises of the world without any wise and supportive adults to help them examine these options carefully without having to run headlong into them? Are we providing sufficient challenge for young people that will enable them, even force them, to grow up? Or are we providing an environment of such safe predictability that they wander off after concluding that the Christian faith can't be seriously lived by a thinking adult?

Tim Keller's book is a helpful resource for the search, and for those who want to be wise supporters of those who are on it.

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