At some point in our lives, we have all faced new challenges to our faith. (If you haven’t yet, just wait!)
And depending on our life experiences, these new challenges can be quite unnerving. For Christian educators serving in public schools, faith challenges can be especially unsettling considering all of the legal ramifications involved.
So, how can we respond with hope when our faith is tested? And as Christian educators, how can we guide our students to discern truth when their beliefs are inevitably questioned?
We can begin by considering and modeling the following three practices. These concepts come from my own experience as well as years of teaching, speaking, and counseling students.
1. Take a deep breath. Don’t freak out. Relax. While some challenges may be new to us, chances are that someone else has already wrestled with them and provided a thoughtful response. Malcolm Muggeridge used to say, “All new news is old news happening to new people.” Very few challenges are genuinely new. In fact, if we probe far enough, we will often realize that the “new” challenge has already been addressed.
2. Find the answer. We live in an age of information overload. If we really want to, we can find an answer. There’s no good excuse for not finding the truth if it’s important to us. However, we do need to ensure that we are using trustworthy sources (seanmcdowell.org & Christian Educators’ Resource Center) that are reputable and well-documented.
3. Share findings with someone else. We can share our findings with our pastor, colleagues, or a trusted friend. This is important because when we express our findings, it helps solidify understanding and conviction in our own lives. Also, we have the opportunity to encourage someone else on his or her journey. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (ESV). By sharing what we have learned, we can be powerful sources of encouragement for other believers.
Along with my role as a professor at Biola, I have also been teaching high school students for thirteen years. The following is one of my favorite activities to help students grasp how essential truth is for their worldview.
This activity can help students examine and realize the importance of having conscious reasons for their belief systems. This discovery is critical for young Christians because, without some sense of why they believe what they believe, they may have reservations about their faith or even abandon their faith completely when their beliefs are eventually challenged. For students that are non-believers, this activity can help guide them toward the discovery of truth, which we know ultimately points them to God.
“The Importance of Truth” Lesson
- Begin by asking students the following question, “Why do people believe what they believe?” Encourage students to come up with any reasons they can think of for why we hold certain beliefs (not just about God, but about anything).
- List their responses on a whiteboard or a large sheet of paper.
- Once you have a substantial list of reasons, go through each one and ask, “Is that a good reason to believe something?”
- The discussion might look something like this:
Teacher: I see that many of you listed sociological factors. For example, many of you mentioned that our beliefs are shaped by our parents. Is that a good enough reason to believe something?
Students: No, not necessarily. Parents can sometimes be wrong!
Teacher: Okay, what about cultural factors such as tradition? Do you think people should believe something because it has been passed down through tradition?
Students: No, not necessarily. Traditions are not necessarily wrong, but they are also not necessarily right. Radical Muslims have a tradition of Jihad, but that can’t be right.
Teacher: Good. Now some of you mentioned psychological influences such as comfort. Is comfort alone a solid reason to believe something?
Students: No, just because something is comfortable does not make it true. Lies can often be very comfortable!
Teacher: So you’re saying that truth is an important reason to believe something because there can be consequences when people are mistaken?
Students: Yes, that does seem to be the case.
Teacher: What about religious reasons? Should we believe something because a religious text tells us it is true? Should we simply follow whatever a religious leader tells us?
Students: No, because how would we know which religious text is true? Which religious teachings do we follow? All religious leaders can’t be right.
Teacher: Good point. So, how do we know which religion we should follow, if any?
Students: We would need outside evidence to indicate that the claims of that religion are actually true. There needs to be some proof.
Teacher: So we seem to agree that something is worth believing if we have reason to believe that it is true.
God designed us to be truth-seekers in all areas of life, which is why it is so critical to help young people understand why they believe what they believe. While it can be unsettling to experience a sincere challenge to our faith, whether we are young and impressionable or older and wiser, responding with hope and always seeking truth will provide us and our students with the necessary anchor needed in this tumultuous culture.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on his blog, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.
Are you facing a challenge and looking for support? Christian Educators offers experienced education consultants available to advise, a variety of encouraging and uplifting events happening across the country, an app to connect and chat with local groups, and a variety of other helpful resources. For more information, visit our TOV Resource Page.
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