Challenging and keeping one’s faith

At some point or another, all modern Christians come across the idea that deeply entrenched within the system of modern academia lies the notion that, as Nietzsche famously predicted over 100 years ago, God is dead. In the words of Matthew Arnold, the “Sea of Faith” is waning, leaving in its wake a pessimistic, purposeless existentialism. In the place of God, mankind has instead chosen to worship scientific progress, citing its dissolution of Christianity by looking through the objective, unbiased, and supposedly unchanging lenses of both the microscope and telescope.

Alongside of these trends comes a growing belief that those who continue to hold on to their Christianity despite the clear objections that science has posed for it are stubbornly refusing to yield to the spirit of the age. Christians are thus a backward people, hindering the process of liberation that comes from adopting an exclusively material worldview.

Christian education’s highest goal in the past century has been to undermine this premise. Pick up any Christian magazine and one will undoubtedly encounter colorful, full-page ads for Christian colleges promising to “challenge your faith” in today’s changing world. But with many choosing to leave the Church after graduation, Christian college or not, one must wonder whether challenging our faith has become synonymous with leaving it.

Why is the idea of challenging one’s faith even necessary at all? Aren’t those who are most faithful those who refuse to doubt? Coming from the other side, why does it so often seem that many of those who actively engage in this “challenge” end up leaving the Church, and sometimes abandoning the idea of God altogether?

I don’t mean to sound cliché, but a balance must be struck. The basic idea of challenging your faith comes from a challenge to your faith – the act of the individual suddenly becoming aware of the presence of contradiction within the universe in which he or she lives. This comes through experiences like grappling with the presence of evil in the world, the supposed ethnocentrism often associated with evangelicalism, evolution and the realization of just how many people on this planet are not Christians. This is a positive, and necessary, experience, and it comes almost exclusively through one’s experience in higher education.

Naturally, Christians will go through a phase where they feel scared, intimidated and angry. All of a sudden, their prayers increasingly resemble a town hall meeting in which the authority figure is demanded to give a rational account for his actions. But this is where challenging one’s faith diverges from leaving it. Those who place such a high demand on receiving an answer from God that the lack of one provides adequate grounds to call God a liar or a fake are those who will ultimately become atheists or agnostics. Those, however, who still question, yet are willing to accept the “peace that passes all understanding” in the midst of silence are those who will become the next generation of Christian leaders in America.

When the amount of evil in the world is truly comprehended, it is difficult to imagine a benevolent God sitting casually by the wayside as His beloved creatures passionately seek to destroy themselves. But the worship of intellectualism is never an adequate alternative. The postmodern, existential state that occupies so many in this sphere of academia makes it seem as if the relinquishment of our faith is becoming more and more necessary in the presence of a God who seems disinclined to answer. But this is a lie. The abandonment of faith is in no way obligatory, and, to put it in the words of C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, “when did we really put up one moment’s resistance to the loss of our faith?”

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