As preparation for a past seminar on engaging active minds in the learning process, I read some really inspiring and challenging books and articles, which led me to believe that the problems of our day are greater than I first assumed. For example, in the introduction to his excellent book, “Essentials of the Christian Faith,” R. C. Sproul makes the following observation:
I believe we are living in the most anti-intellectual era of Christian history ever known…I mean against the mind.
We live in a period that is allergic to rationality…We have become a sensuous nation. Even our language reveals it. My seminary students repeatedly write like this on their exam pages: “I feel it is wrong that…” or “I feel it is true that…” I invariably cross out their word feel and substitute the word think. There is a difference between feeling and thinking.
There is a primacy of the mind in the Christian faith. There is also a primacy of the heart…
With respect to the primacy of importance, the heart is first…
However, for my heart to be right, there is the primacy of the intellect in terms of order. Nothing can be in my heart that is not first in my head. How can I love a God or a Jesus about whom I understand nothing? Indeed, the more I come to understand the character of God, the greater is my capacity to love Him. (p. xix)
Taking these thoughts a step further, Dr. Al Mohler lays out the great challenge before us:
Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection. (“The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind”)
Those of us who teach children and youth are especially susceptible to this “feelings” focus. Why? Here are just a few things I have observed (and have sometimes been guilty of in some measure):
- It is much easier to illicit positive feelings from children than it is to actively engage and challenge their minds. Fun music, activities, puppets, skits, etc. make the children “happy” during the class time.
- This kind of rigorous training is hard work for both teacher and students, requires a greater time commitment from the teacher, and may even require some guided training.
- We don’t want Sunday school to feel like school.
- We fear that teaching and challenging the mind will necessarily lead to spiritually heartless intellectualism.
- It may bring to the forefront innate inequalities in the students' intellectual abilities, posing a possible threat to a child’s self-esteem. (I am not referring to children with specific learning disabilities here.)
Yes, these are all challenges to overcome, but they must be overcome. As Dr. Mohler asserts, “this is no easy task.” But an increasing amount of evidence demands that we take this lack of Christian intellectual faithfulness seriously. Consider these statistics that author and parent Natasha Crain notes in her article, “What Your Kids Need for a Confident Faith”:
61% of kids who were involved in church as recently as their teenage years become spiritually disengaged by their 20s—not actively praying, reading the Bible or attending church.
This finding, based on the extensive surveys of researcher George Barna, is the alarm that has sent pastors, youth leaders, and young adult ministries desperately searching for answers. Multiple independent groups have since conducted their own studies and have identified the same trend—with some estimates of those turning away from Christianity as high as 88 percent.
Why is this happening? Having studied the various survey results in depth, I think it’s fair to summarize the collective problem in one sentence: A lack of robust spiritual training has resulted in a featherweight faith for many of today’s young adults, and that faith is being blown away by attacks from our secular culture.
Young people are turning away from faith because they’ve accepted the popular claims that Christianity is irrational, antiscience, intolerant, and based on an irrelevant ancient book. These claims have compelling answers from a Christian worldview, but young people aren’t leaving home equipped with those answers…Most kids growing up in Christian homes aren’t receiving anything remotely resembling the spiritual training they need to have a lasting faith. (christianmomthoughts.com)