During a recent discussion with a group of non-Christians at Texas Woman’s University students framed their thoughts on Christianity by posing the following questions:
- Why do I need God?
- Why should I believe in a God who repeatedly commits genocide?
- Why does God hate gays?
- If God is real why doesn’t he just prove himself to me?
- Why does God let bad things happen?
- How can a loving God send people to hell if they’ve never heard of God?
- If God is so caring, why are there so many starving people in our world?
- What makes the Bible the source of absolute truth?
- Why should I believe a book written by men over a period of hundreds of years?
- Hasn’t science disproved the claims of the Bible? You know, like creation, miracles, and a global flood?
- How can you study the brain and still believe in God?
- What about other religions? Why aren’t they true? What makes Christianity so special?
- Why are Christians such hypocrites?
- Why is love between to men or two women a sin? How can love ever be a sin?
How sobering. These are real, current questions posed by real, current students on college campuses in our diocese. Certainly we can reply through discussions, books, podcasts, and websites, but obviously the answers are not reaching the 343,000 college students at the approximate 42 campuses in our diocese.
Their feedback illustrates the missional context. That is, the students who are asking these questions largely grew up in nominal or non-Christian homes. They were raised in a post-everything society, including post-Christendom. Their experience has been so negative that they think little of the Church and Christians, if they think of us at all.
The questions are not only sobering, but challenge our practices and posture of witness. They force us to think and act missionally, incarnationally, and prayerfully as we seek to engage students with the gospel and help them see that the Church is actually a force for good in the world.
If we’re to respond in light of our missional context and of 1 Peter 3:15-16, I’m finding that we would do well to heed the findings of Don Everts and Doug Schaupp in their book, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. According to their interviews with more than 2,000 postmodern people who have come to follow Jesus, they discerned five the following five thresholds of conversion:
- Trusting a Christian
- Becoming curious about God and faith
- Opening-up to change
- Seeking after God
- Entering the kingdom
Did you notice the progression? It is most important that they know a Christian they trust. This will lead to them becoming curious about God and the Christian faith. What the context requires, then, is our own faithfulness to living in the way of Christ, and a lot of relational connecting and listening, which heightens curiosity and creates space for meaningful dialogue.
How might we take these steps with the young adults we know? We can start by praying for them. As one pastor puts it: talk to God about people, before you talk to people about God.
Following prayer, we can reach out relationally. Meet them for coffee and get curious about their lives and interests. Invite them to a backyard barbecue. Listen to their ideas. Listen for the longings of their hearts. Volunteer to serve on a college campus.
We can also invite them into our lives to serve with us. Some commentators note that more young adults serve their way into the kingdom than are talked into it. Sure, some are looking for a well-reasoned apologetic for the faith, but many are also looking for love in action, for authentic lives of serving for the sake of others.
With prayer and relational connections in place, we can then discuss questions as they arise. The conversation can be more natural, more grounded, and more ebb-and-flow instead of forced. As Saint Peter put it, more seasoned with gentleness and respect.
Want to dive deeper into this subject? Check out I Once Was Lost by Everts and Schaupp or You Lost Me by Dave Kinnaman. Or send me a note at