By Joshua Stevens, Faith Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
“[B]ut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:15-16, (Crossway Bibles, 2001)
For some time now, America has had a steady decrease in church membership. “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999,” (Jones, 2021).
A mountain of articles, discussions, sermons, and even podcasts have dedicated time to the issue of why people are leaving the church. Looking around, you can see a common through line from those who grew up in the church but later left. From Rhett and Link, hosts of “Good Mythical Morning” and “Ear Biscuits,” to young adults writing on blogs or posting videos on the internet, a large group of people leave the church when questions go unanswered or are answered incorrectly.
In the case of Rhett, we see someone who grew up in a Christian home whose faith was turned upside down when he discovered there was more truth to evolution than what his church had told him, (McLaughlin, 2020). Scenes like this are unfolding across the map, whether they are questions of science, the problem of evil, dealing with contradictions in the Bible, or cultural issues. Young people have questions and local congregations are failing to respond with a reason for why they should believe.
Imagine, for a moment, if instead of local leaders telling a young adult that there is no truth to evolution (and it’s a vain attempt to dissuade people from the faith) that they would say something like: “Yeah, it might be true; I don’t think it holds water, but the gospel remains true regardless.” Or maybe even point him in the direction of evidence for how to reconcile the two beliefs. A recent book, William Lane Craig’s The Quest for Historical Adam would have been an excellent source to help someone work through the issue.
How then should Christians respond to someone asking questions about their faith? First, recognize that doubts are normal, and the questions that arise from them should not be feared. In Mark chapter 9, Jesus has an encounter with a father seeking healing for his son. During this encounter Jesus tells the father that his son’s healing is possible if he believes — to which the father responds in verse 24, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Crossway Bibles, 2001). Jesus did not admonish the father for his doubt, nor did he turn him away for it. Instead, Jesus, hearing the plea for help, did what was needed to settle the doubt. So, a first step would be to, in gentleness and love for those who doubt, seek to guide them through that doubt. In the above example, it might be a Bible study going through the first 11 chapters of Genesis, asking elders or pastors of the church on what sources might be good or using sources mentioned in previous Centered on the Gospel articles to help answer questions.
Secondly, respond to questions of doubt with prayer. In Philippians 4:6 we read, “[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” (Crossway Bibles, 2001). Prayer is a powerful tool for which people can individually and collectively petition the Lord for help and announce our gratefulness for what He has given. It should be a pillar of all Christian life, but especially so when guiding others in their faith.
Finally, understand that “I don’t know” is a powerful tool, and it should be used when a Christian is uncertain about how to answer any question, but it shouldn’t stop there. Some questions are difficult to answer; they may be complex, counterintuitive, impossible, or at least impossible for us to answer. This does not mean Christians should abandon those who question — instead, there should be rejoicing. Questions arise out of interest, not disinterest. It shows a serious attitude towards the subject and a yearning to understand. When a student asks their teacher where to place a period, they do so because they want to know the answer. They want to get it right. Christians should share the same attitude when questions arise. Be joyful someone takes their faith serious enough to ask the question, grateful they trust you enough to answer it, brave enough to respond in truth and love, and, above all, quiet enough to hear the heart of the issue.
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
Crossway Bibles. (2001). The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton : Good News Publishers.
Jones, J. M. (2021, March 29). U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time. Retrieved from Gallup : https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx
McLaughlin, R. (2020, February 3). Rhett’s Spiritual Deconstruction.