Critical Thinking In an Age of Doubt

I received an interesting email this morning from a member of The Crossing. I’d like to share it here because I think it raises a very important issue. Keep in mind that I’m aware that the first part sounds a bit self-serving for me to share, but it relates to my overall point and so I decided to share it.

With permission to share it, here’s the email:

I just wanted to pass this on to you. Recently I had a client visit The Crossing for Sunday worship for a couple Sundays. Although he is an active member of another local church, he has really enjoyed his visits and says that he “learned more about the Bible” during the first sermon he heard at The Crossing than he has in months or years at his own church. He was really astounded with the church’s demographic and wondered aloud to me how The Crossing managed to attract so much of a young crowd. I had no answer to that, but it did make me think about it a bit. Then I came across an article on the Atlantic app on my phone entitled “Study of the Day: Even the Religious Lose Faith When They Think Critically.” Here’s a link to the online version.

Not only did I find the title a bit ridiculous after having read the summary of the study, but I found it representative of what I believe is a common secular perception about religious people; that we are either ignorant, unintelligent or both. (I may be, but that’s not necessarily demonstrative of the general Christian population. 😉 Anyway, this article helped me to clarify one of the aspects of The Crossing that I have found so attractive and I wonder if it is what attracts many of the college students and younger population in such an “intellectual/academic” town—that is, not only do you and the other pastors appeal to the audience’s intellect, you also promote and encourage critical thinking.

Anyway, I’m not really going anywhere with this little rant but to ultimately say that whatever you all are doing, keep doing it, because not only has The Crossing had a tremendous influence in my and my family’s lives, but I have seen it positively influence so many other people and families and, most importantly, bring us all closer to Christ. THANK YOU to all of you at the church for that!!

I share this email here because it’s obviously very encouraging to us at The Crossing. But I also share it to further make the email’s point—it’s so important for Christians to be educated in their beliefs about who Christ is and why they believe that. We want Christians to truly become “critical thinkers.”

Like many of the other pastors at The Crossing, I am not a Christian because that was my background. I was not raised in a Christian home. I became a Christian as a teenager, “on my own,” contrary to my parents’ beliefs, because I believed that Jesus was a most compelling figure and his teachings made the most sense to me. But, of course, I was still just a teenager.

But I grew as a Christian in the context of a secular high school and later at a state university. My beliefs were sometimes under intellectual attack, but most often the attacks weren’t intellectual at all, but visceral and derisive. Oh that most attacks against biblical Christianity would be intellectual. But they aren’t. Far from it. Especially by the so-called New Atheists. Their attacks are primarily via scorn, ridicule and disrespect. Their arguments are mostly contemptuous misrepresentations using fringe examples of so-called Christian beliefs. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a modern atheist once fairly and correctly represent my beliefs and then make an intellectual, cogent argument as to why those beliefs are untrue and atheism is true. The books by the New Atheists mostly construct slanderous straw men so their simple assertions and scornful condemnation can easily push them over. It’s a great trick that biblically and even historically uneducated people will easily fall for.

I genuinely want to believe ONLY what is true—what is real. I’m a Christian because I believe the Bible, and ultimately the Jesus of the Bible, best explains and speaks to the realities of history and the realities I see everyday in the universe, in the human condition, and within myself.

Of course, there is a difference between simply raising doubts about someone’s beliefs vs. arguing assertions regarding your own beliefs. It seems all today’s skeptics have to offer is doubt, rather than an actual belief to embrace and live by. Doubt is easy. And by itself, it’s intellectually lazy. No one can prove anything 100%, so there is always the logical possibility for doubting anything. But actually having beliefs is intellectually hard work.

So many churches seem to be failing miserably at teaching a faith that is founded on intellectual rigor. Teaching the Bible’s truth claims. Encouraging independent thought rather than visceral groupthink. Engaging with the arguments of the culture in a fair and informed way. Providing reasonable arguments for both doubting your doubts and believing your beliefs in Christ. This is the responsibility of every church.

And if that’s why The Crossing attracts so many young, intelligent, educated people, then that’s a good sign that they’re being challenged and convinced, even in this age of doubt, that biblical Christianity best explains the realities of history and the realities of this world and the realities in themselves that they see everyday. They’re learning to truly become critical thinkers.

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