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How to Dialogue with Intelligent People and College Students who are Less Likely to be Religious

“Intelligent people don’t simply reject religion because it’s wrong; they reject it because their social environs lead them to think it’s wrong.

We choose which questions to grapple with on the basis of how important they are to us. When society keeps repeating that “smart folks reject religion,” then religion no longer becomes worthy of investigation or adherence. Previously faithful teenagers go off to college, stop attending church and become what “smart people” tell them they should, skeptics.”

Jordan Monge, Christianity Today, August 26, 2013

Almost nobody makes a conscience decision to not believe in Jesus or the message of the Bible. It happens most often when Christians grow up seeing older Christians not living what they teach, or simply repeating the, “Because the Word of God says so”, line to any question they can’t answer effectively. Therefore, when we begin teaching or discussing a biblical worldview, what we say and how we present truth, takes on added importance.

So, I’ve set for myself the following four criteria for teaching the young men and religious skeptics I meet with;      • Am I true to the Bible?      • Am I intellectually honest?      • Am I gracious in the way I answer others, even critics?      • Do I live what I teach?

1. True to the Bible. I spend a lot of time mentoring young men. One of the greatest compliments I’ve been given was this recently from one of them. “I’m not there yet Clare, but I hope when I do, I’ll have the confidence you have in the Bible.” People, especially young people, can smell doubt a mile away.

Don’t ever apologize for God or the Bible. Measure everything you teach by it and don’t be tempted to water it down, so it sells easier. Your children, grandchildren and younger people want to believe in something solid. So, show them the fire in your belly for biblical truth!

2. Be intellectually honest. I tell everyone I teach that while I believe every sentence in the Bible is true, I’m not always sure I understand every idea or teaching fully. That’s the truth. Read my blog of March 12, 2012 entitled, Ant Language, for how I present that concept to the people I teach.

It’s okay to admit to those you teach, “I just don’t know” or “the Bible just doesn’t say”, or “I have no idea why God did this a certain way.” Younger people are far more comfortable with mystery than we are. In any case, if you don’t know the answer, admit it – don’t try to spin the truth.

And, contrary to some, the Bible does not have the answer to every problem, although it will offer wisdom to make better choices. Finally, please take care to not use the Bible to prove things it doesn’t. It’s amazing how many people I meet who can take an isolated phrase out of the Bible and turn it into a “Thus saith the Lord.” Don’t put words in God’s mouth.

3. Be gracious. For young people, being gracious when answering others is the 11th command, “Thou shalt be gracious.” Tolerance is the new super virtue. The young men I meet with are turned off by anyone who attacks others verbally, whether the other person is wrong or not. That’s why so many of them reject the “religious right”. It’s not so much their ideas they reject. They won’t even listen to ideas delivered with anger, or in arrogance. (And, there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance!)

So, when I’m asked about Christian teachers who have ideas that I don’t agree with, I proceed with caution. You can say you disagree completely, just don’t vilify the opposition personally.

4. Live what you teach. “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” I Timothy 4:16a For Paul, those weren’t two different things – life and doctrine. They were the same. The Holy Spirit through Paul is saying that our life ought to be the outworking of our doctrine.

Again, younger people hate hypocrisy above all. Most of the non-Christian men I’ve met haven’t rejected Jesus, but have rejected Christianity; at least as it’s lived out by those they’ve met. Trying to be intellectually honest, I tell them that I don’t always live what I believe either. I’m a sinner. I’m weak. I’m occasionally afraid. But, it is the goal of my life to conform my outer and inner life to be like Jesus. They don’t expect perfection, but they do expect better. (And, so does Jesus.)

Try this experiment; ask your teenage or college age children or grandchildren to read this blog and ask them to give you their honest reaction. It may help you better understand what stumbling blocks they have or their friends have to believing the Bible and fully living for God.

by Clare De Graaf

Question: Do you have any other criteria for teaching?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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