Honest Questions, Honest Answers

Several posts ago I quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the need to celebrate the mystery of our faith and not become too attached to our theological systems.  One of the things “celebrating the mystery” does for us as parents is that it enables us to pour into our children a faith that is living, authentic, and inquiring.  Much has been made recently in both the Christian and secular press about the alarming trend of young people leaving the faith.  The level of concern varies greatly from authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us, “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate” to Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark who writes, “young people have always been less likely to attend church than are older people” and often return when they marry and start a family.

I believe the life-stage argument for calm is not as strong as in previous generations due to recent upheavals in cultural expectations and family structures.  But I also believe we do not need to wring our hands and wait for the sky to fall in on the North American church.  What we need is a balanced approach to investigate the problem and constructive answers to how we encourage our young people to “keep the faith.”

One way we can address the issue of young people leaving the faith is to give our children a healthy perspective on the mystery that is the Christian faith.  When I use the word mystery am I implying we can’t know anything for sure about what we believe?  No, not at all.  The beauty of Christianity is that there is so much we can know because God has revealed it to us and we can be sure it is true.  What I mean by mystery might better be labeled humility.  Theological humility to be exact.  Theological humility is answering our young doubters with clear parameters of what we know and what we can know.  It is encouraging inquiry, rather than shutting down the conversation.  It is answering their doubts with love, humility, and grace instead of taking a judgmental, defensive position.

Author Drew Dyck interviewed scores of “young leavers” for his book Generation Ex-Christian:  Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith and How to Bring Them Back.  He writes, “Another unsettling pattern emerged during my interviews.  Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts.  Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking ‘insolent questions.’  Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them.”

We need to be confident of the truth of Scripture.  We need to fully embrace the truth of the gospel message and all that comes with it.  But we do our young people a great disservice when our approach lacks humility and grace.  When our confidence becomes cockiness, when our confidence becomes judgmental, when our confidence becomes legalism, when our confidence becomes trite answers, when our confidence sweeps doubt under the rug, we might as well be ushering our young inquirers to the exit.

Over the next several posts we will take on the big questions that our young people are facing as they leave the somewhat concrete world of Bible stories and enter the more abstract world of faith, science, philosophy, and the harsh reality of a “world that lies in the grip of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19).  We will explore how we tackle the big questions with humility and grace.  And we will follow the answers wherever they lead.

We’re Back!

Greetings!  We are finally back in the saddle after a three-week hiatus.  Rhonda and I just returned from a whirlwind trip through France that was highlighted by a visit with our daughter’s family, Matthew and Annie Dorin, Danielle, and Lily.  They are in language school in Chambery France in preparation for their future assignment in French-speaking West Africa with Wycliffe Associates.

We also connected with my long time high-school friend who now lives in the Alsace region of northern France.  Tim, Katie, and Joanna gave us the royal tour of castles, cathedrals, vineyards, and German-influenced hillside villages.  All said, for a country that is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, they have us beat hands down when it comes to diversity, history, scenic vistas, and food.

To summarize our trip, here are the top ten things I learned about France and vicinity:

10)  The deer antler chandelier craze hit the castles of the Alsace about 500 years before arriving in the hill country ranch houses of Texas.

9)  In a city of multiple clock towers and splendid watch shops, the so-called “Bern Clock Tower” of Bern Switzerland failed to impress.  The clock tower in Berne Indiana beats it by a country kilometer.  The bärengraben was pretty cool though.

8)  The stars over St. Rémy-de-Provence are incredibly bright at three in the morning from the hotel balcony.  It seemed appropriate that Vincent Van Gogh painted his famous The Starry Night while institutionalized at the St. Paul Monastery and Hospital, a still-functioning mental hospital on the outskirts of the city.

7)  John Calvin’s chair is still sitting in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva Switzerland.  The church has been home for a Protestant congregation since 1536.  I didn’t sit in the chair, but I did reach across the rope and touch it “Monk” style.

6)  Speaking of cathedrals, the one in Strasbourg France is magnificent.  We climbed 66 meters to the roof above the narthex and observed incredible craftsmanship and delicate stone detail, both inside and out.

5)  Roman engineers left quite a legacy throughout the South of France.  Just south of Roussillon in the Hills of the Luberon, we crossed the three-arched stone bridge of St Julien constructed between 27 BC and 14 AD.  Yes, I said BC.  Built before the invention of mortar, the bridge consists of neatly stacked, large square stones with critical keystones in the arches.  It has held up to foot traffic, horse traffic, artillery traffic, and even automobile traffic for 2000 years.  Yes, I said 2000.  The list of really old stuff in France is too long to enumerate.

4)  The French warm up when you work to communicate in their language.  We ate at several restaurants where the staff only spoke French and we loved the adventure as well as the surprises that showed up on our plates.

3)  Did I mention the food?  The French know how to prepare and present food both at home and in their restaurants.  The milieu of cheeses, fruits, breads, chocolates, sauces, and atypical meats was incredible.  (And that doesn’t even include the Nutella Ice Cream.)  My most common observation at the endless variety of food presentation was, “Who thinks of that?”  Rhonda’s reply, “The French.”

2)  Love is the #1 ingredient for healthy body life in the church whether in Colmar France, Chambery France, or Houston Texas.

1)  I am humbled and proud at the same time of the Dorin family for faithfully following the path God has laid out for them.  The are expecting child #3 around Thanksgiving.  Family worship in their small third-floor apartment in Chambery is a fragrant aroma I will not soon forget.

There it is.  Soon after we watched the Geneva skyline disappear beneath the clouds that covered this French-speaking part of Switzerland, the British Airways flight attendant asked me, “What would you like to drink?”  I realized at that moment that we had left the land of Bonjour, Merci, and Au revoir!

Did I mention the food?