Monday, October 14, 2013

Creating a Crisis of Faith: The Job of Good Bible Teachers

Over the years I have had the repeated experience of introducing students to a topic in biblical studies
that did not line up with what they were taught or believed. I can identify the look in their eyes when I drop "the bomb" that makes them feel like the rug has been pulled from under their feet. I can see the panic in their face as their brain tries to fit what I have just said into the paradigm they use to understand faith and the world. Some will simply ignore what I say. Others will dig in deeper. Some will mull it over for weeks if not months.

Some might assume that I find a certain level of evil satisfaction in undoing what someone has thought or believed. But that's not the case. I still remember the conflict I experienced within as I studied the Bible and compared it what I had been taught and begin to realize that things were not as I had been taught. So I try to approach these difficult topics with a certain level of pastoral care while not backing away from it. I consider it my job to make sure that my students leave my class having really thought about what they believe and why.

 Today I ran across someone else who articulates well the situation many of us encounter when we study the Bible in an academic setting. Over at Pete Enn's blog Andrew Knapp has shared his own thoughts on The Christian College and the Crisis of Faith and why that might be a good thing. Here are a few excerpts.

It seems reasonable, even inevitable, that 18-year-olds leaving home to educate themselves will encounter new ideas that challenge their preexisting beliefs and compel a reevaluation of the evidence. Young men and women who take their faith seriously and are honest with themselves will recognize that some of their beliefs are not tenable—they do not need to be defended with better arguments but modified or even discarded entirely.
This can be difficult—we do not like to part ways with cherished ideas upon which we have built a worldview. But this is why students get educated. And this is why students have crises of faith.
Many Christian colleges include something in their mission statement about seeking to strengthen their students’ faith. Although I appreciate the sentiment behind this, I fear it can have bad effects. Many young people have an immature faith. Schools do not do them a service by helping them embrace this faith via dubious apologetics. Examination should always precede entrenchment.
This is why I am crushed whenever I hear that an institution has invoked the fact that “Bible Professor X caused some students to have faith crises” as grounds for dismissal. This is what good Bible teachers do!
What if we extended this to other disciplines—if physicists had to fear for their jobs whenever they caused students to understand nature in a new way, or if philosophers came under fire whenever they encouraged students to question reality in a new way?
Wanting to spare students from having faith crises implies that the students arrive at university with a perfect understanding of the nature of the Bible, in which case, we do not need to teach Bible classes at all.

You can read the entire post here. I would be interested to hear your own stories and struggles related to this topic.


  1. I remember when I was in undergrad, the professors made it there job to present the "hot issues" in biblical studies, in a way that makes the students think (ie. virgin birth, textual fallacies, etc.) for me, i always love the idea of hearing something different from what i was taught and try to do the scholarly work myself to make up my own thoughts and views on a subject. However, my other classmates struggled with it to the point where it had crushed there faith, or they go to another school, because what they have known is being presented differently.

  2. I remember taking IT 503 with Drs. Hawk & Reuschling, my very first quarter at ATS, and watching some of the mostly younger students go through faith shakings.

    Break would come, and one would stand at the back of the room, arms crossed so tightly I don't know how he could breathe. Another would go outside and pace back and forth like a caged cat-- or someone suffering nicotine withdrawal.

    One has found himself in a fairly good ministry fit; the other, last I knew, was still seeking (in my ops) a denomination (cult?) that believes what he believes.

    Personally? In the ensuing years, I have become even more grateful that what (Who) I chose to cling to has a greater degree of stability than that.

  3. As a Seminary student, I have pushed hard over these past 4 years to try and figure out what I believe after having researched tough questions surrounding the Jesus tradition, virgin Birth, and so forth. I must admit that I am no expert in any of the fields I have dipped into over these years, I just know where to look for answers and the types I expect to find. My question is this: how do we reincorporate what we have learned in the academic realm without being ostracized, because we might go against some of the traditional beliefs?

  4. In my experience, I think it easier to wrestle with some of those "difficult topics" in the midst of community. What a gift to be able to do that while professors and fellow students are nearby, to talk with and bounce ideas off of them.

    I treasure those professors who made me think about what I was reading in the Bible, rather than just spoon feeding me what they or someone else believed. I have wrestled with some big subjects again, as life has brought me more experiences in the past 15 years after college. God has brought to mind some things I learned from professors and classmates, and it has helped my journey.