Young adults are asking questions about faith as they transition in life. One young lady wonders how she can really know God. Another young man is asking questions about morality that doubts traditional answers. Is there a place for their questions in the church? Questioning beliefs and authority in church can seem threatening to some leaders and intimidating to followers. All denominations have statements of belief. Usually a person must agree with those statements to belong to the church. Doubters may not be welcome. But to understand how to think not just what to think is ignored. How did the church develop those beliefs? Why have they become important? The origin of those beliefs and why they were developed is seldom taught. Philosophy is about how to think about God, humanity, morality, politics and everything people have had questions about for as long as history is recorded. William Raeper and Linda Edwards have written a good survey on philosophy through the ages called A Brief Guide to Ideas. They state that, “The point of philosophy is to frame the right questions, not to find the right answers.”
For many centuries, people have been arguing about the existence of God. People desire to know what is true about God so that their lives can be lived accordingly. Questions about God and how we should live are to be welcomed. Today many believers quote the Bible to support their truth claims. But we need to know how to think about those claims. In the past proofs of God were posed as philosophical arguments. Anselm, one of the church theologians in the 12th century, proposed an argument that God exists based on logic and not experience. He claimed that God is the greatest being we can conceive; it is greater to exist in reality than in thought, so therefore God exists. Descartes argued that, “God is perfect. It is more perfect to exist than not to exist. Therefore God exists.” These arguments based on reason have some logic to them. But each has its own flaws. Asking question may be seen as a threat to faith. But Anselm’s initial endeavor of faith seeking understanding is an aid to faith, not a threat.
Young adults seem to be in a crisis of faith. Many attribute this to secular world in which we live. Some cite the decay of family relationships, others the immoral behavior of our times. All are part of the problem. But often a singular problem with a simple solution is proposed. One thing may be ignored. Emerging adults are in a crisis of transition. In every transition questions, sometime ultimate questions are asked. Emerging young adults are taking longer to transition from adolescence to adulthood. Their questions are often from the view that their experience is the ultimate reality, but they are asking important questions. Truth may be relative. The idea of God may be obscure. Like most people they believe in some sort of god, but who that god is and what that god is like it they may be not certain. But isn’t part of our human development about asking questions? Perhaps one factor for churches is that we have not allowed young adults to be part of the conversation. Instead leaders insist on teaching them only what to believe but not how to thinking about believing. Young adults leaving the church or the faith may be because they need to process. They need a space where faith seeking understanding can develop. As James Fowler states they may be moving from a state of “Foreclosure” where beliefs are indoctrinated to one of “Moratorium” where one becomes aware of other beliefs and wrestle with allegiance to them.
Questioning faith assumptions of one’s origins is part of the process of developing a deeper commitment to faith. To assume that the spiritual lives of emerging adults is weakening without this consideration can lead to categorizing them too rigidly. Pete Ward in his book Growing up Evangelical: Youthwork and the Making of a Subculture talks about his experience in church youth groups. He says that the methods and structure of youth groups tended to foster childlike dependency. Ward’s premise is that the adolescent phase of life has been hindered by the inability for those groups to help youth transition to adulthood. Those youth who want to grow into adulthood have to leave the church because there is no place for them. (pp.195-198)
As I read through the book A Brief guide to Ideas I was struck by how wrestling with questions about God and our place in the world in not just for youth and young adults. It is part of the human experience. Is it reasonable to believe? Anselm says yes. Locke’s says reason has limitations. That knowledge comes through experience. Kierkegaard’s great theme was faith. “Faith begins where thinking leaves off”. (Raeper p.107)
What all great ideas have in common is that they have come from great questions. The questions may not change much, but how young adults process those question can help faith emerge stronger. God knows we need fresh answers for the changing and complex world in which we live.
William Raeper, and Linda Smith. A Brief Guide to Ideas: Turning Points in the History of Human Thought. Rev ed. Oxford: Lion, 1997.
Mark Cannister, “Moratorium Matters: Creating a Fertile Environment for Faith Formation.” Breakout session presented at the AYME conference, Chicago, IL. October 20, 2013.
Pete Ward. Growing up Evangelical: Youthwork and the Making of a Subculture. London: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996