A 2010 Newsweek article posited that "preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day." However, "by middle school [children have] pretty much stopped asking [questions]."This decline in questioning can, in turn, lead to a decline in information retention, student engagement, and overall growth—and that's just in the secular realm.
Why do children stop questioning? Which do they lose first: a curious attitude or an engaged mind?And does one cause the other, or are there other factors at play? While educational models grapple with these issues, the church watches its youngest sheep trickle out the door, sometimes in slow, stealthy streams, and sometimes in a mass exodus post Confirmation Sunday.
There are no quick fixes for human failings since, thanks to both the original sin we’re born with and the committed sins we indulge in daily, we all contribute to so-called societal decline (perhaps better termed “life this side of the new heavens and new earth”). However, there does seem to be a correlation between a lack of curiosity and our youth’s flight from Christianity that the church is able to address.
Sunday School curricula, with precious few exceptions, shut down children’s questions rather than take them seriously. “Jesus loves me,” we teach them to sing—how do we know? “For the Bible tells me so.” In response, the inquisitive child may ask, “How do we know the Bible is true?” And if they receive any answer at all, hear only the response, “Because it says it’s true.”
Somehow we have accepted the idea that struggling, searching, and digging to find spiritual answers implies a dangerous lack of faith. We hide behind the safety of a belief that cannot be disproven, the security blanket of a worldview that can never be questioned or falsified. We don’t have to pay attention to any competing claims. We already know in advance that we’re right, so there’s no need to entertain any questions.
This may work for a time until tragedy, pain, and the weight of the world become too much, until we are no longer at all sure what we believe, until we realize how shockingly similar this view is to other truth claims. We realize fairies, unicorns, and spaghetti monsters cannot be disproven either, so what makes Christianity special?
I have a confession: I don’t believe the Bible is true because it says it’s true.
I believe the Bible is true because that’s what Jesus believed.
It’s a subtle difference, but on it hinges our apologetical task and our faith. Christ is center and circumference, for Christ is the Word Incarnate. St. Paul explains that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). If the tomb was not empty on Easter morning, Christianity is a lie. That’s a strong, “in theory disconfirmable” claim. That’s what sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion and worldview.
“I believe the Bible because Jesus did” isn’t a mic-drop statement. Shouting “because Jesus!” and then running away is the same sort of thing as saying that something is true because it says it’s true. The point here is to make a verifiableappeal to authority, to start the conversation by focusing on Jesus, and to encourage us to take a hard look at what makes Christianity unique: Christ, the Word Incarnate, the object of our faith.
Faith involves three parts, as Melanchthon explained: notitia (the “what” of faith, or its content), assensus (the belief that something is true), and fiducia (personal belief in Christ as Savior). In presenting solid reasons for belief, we are not attempting to argue someone into believing or shove fiducia down someone’s throat. We are not called to convert; this is the Holy Spirit’s job. Instead, we are called to clarify, provide positive evidences, and refute contrary claims. Regardless of how young we may or may not be, we are called to defend.
Our faith is both passionate and reasonable; passionate because in no other story does the Almighty Creator of the universe choose to relentlessly love His rebellious creation to the point of death and beyond, and reasonable because it happened in verifiable, literal history. Was Jesus Christ a historical figure who rose from the dead in actual history—or not? What evidence is there that the Bible as we have it today is transmitted accurately, and whether it is accurate or not, what implications does that have? What does all of this have to do with providing a foundation for our faith that our children can—and should—question?
Until we start asking those questions, we will be missing an issue that is prevalent among our youth. How often do we label our children's questions as obnoxious interruptions rather than serious inquiries? They are facing serious challenges to their faith, even in the middle school years, and questioning provides an opportunity for them to grow.
Are we equipping our children for the battlefield they are entering, for the war that will not wait? Are we encouraging those around us to question Christianity, to struggle viscerally with the Truth Claim (Christ Himself) through the dark night of the soul? May God equip us with the grace and strength to listen to the questions of the next generation and to respond with the truth: Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again for you. Come and see this wondrous claim, you small town girls and city boys, all who live in this lonely, confusing, smoky world. Grapple with this truth claim, and don’t stop questionin’.