This Page:
Thoughts for the Thinking Student
  • From the "What" to the "Why"

Mind Games
Survival Course Manual

Mindgames Logo
Backward Table of Contents Forward

Thoughts for the Thinking Student

Jerry Solomon

  1. From the "what" to the "why"

    Fourth, students should be encouraged to go beyond the "What?" to the "Why?" of their beliefs. "What?" refers to Christian doctrine, those things that constitute the bases of orthodoxy. "Why?" refers to apologetics, or a defense of the espoused doctrines. Before we comment on the "Why?" we need to emphasize the "What?" of our students' beliefs.

    One of the more obvious ways to encourage students to give attention to doctrine is to outline the teachings of Scripture. (Please see the Theology and the Student outline in this notebook.) This is a well-tested approach to theology, and is something all Christians should be led to understand. Approach each of these headings with this question: "What does the Bible say about ...?"

    1. The Bible
    2. God the Father
    3. God the Holy Spirit
    4. God the Son
    5. Man
    6. Salvation
    7. The Church
    8. Satan
    9. Angels
    10. Last Things (End Times)

    Often we tend to think that students are learning the content of such topics as a result of their involvement in the church. This is not necessarily true. Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who was responsible for education in the church I was attending. He commented that the people "knew" enough; their problem was one of application of what they knew. I had to respond with a gently emphatic rejection of his perception. My experience many years later is that my rejection is still accurate. All of us need, and will always need, sound teaching. Especially is this true of students. They need to "know" the things of God in Scripture. They need to be able to answer the "What?" questions.

    As we stated in the previous section, when young people enter the last few years of secondary education they begin to think more abstractly and begin to ask "Why?" more frequently. Questions and even doubts can become prominent in their thinking. The ways adults respond to these questions and doubts will prove to be very important. The student must be allowed to express his thoughts in an environment where he will not be rejected or ridiculed. Paul Little, an exemplary apologist of the recent past, speaks to this: "Doubt is a word that strikes terror to the soul and often it is suppressed in a way that is very unhealthy. This is a particularly acute problem for those who have been reared in Christian homes and in the Christian Church."{15}

    Fortunately doubt doesn't have to "strike terror to the soul." The Bible indicates the Christian can have intellectual confidence when the doubts and challenges come his way. The apostle Peter affirms the need to find answers to tough questions. He writes:

    Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15, NASB).

    Peter wrote that we are to always be ready, and we are to respond to every one who asks. These are all-encompassing words that indicate the importance of the task of apologetics, or defense of the faith. If the student is going to live and think as a Christian on campus she will be asked to defend her faith. Such an occasion will not be nearly as threatening if she has been allowed to ask her own questions and has received answers within the home and church.

    Picture students attempting to answer questions such as these:

    1. Is there really a God?
    2. Why believe in miracles?
    3. Isn't Christianity just a psychological crutch?
    4. How accurate is the Bible?
    5. Why do the innocent suffer?
    6. Is Christ the only way to God?
    7. Will God judge those who never heard about Christ?
    8. If Christianity is true, why are there so many hypocrites?
    9. Aren't good works enough to get us to God?
    10. Can anyone be sure of salvation?{16}
    11. Is there any truth in other religions?
    12. Why can't Christians be more tolerant?

    Such questions are legitimate. Skeptics deserve to ask such things, and they deserve answers. This doesn't mean our answers will always be well-received, but it does mean we are to give credit to the questions. "I don't know, I just believe" should not be our first reaction. If we were unbelievers and we were to hear some of the replies Christians give, we probably wouldn't be attracted to the faith.

    One of the most exciting examples of apologetics in the early church is described in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul was isolated in Athens while he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. It was his first trip to the great city of ancient Greece. He was disturbed by what he saw everywhere he looked: a "city of full of idols." Instead of isolating himself in a "holy huddle" among Christians, he began to "reason with" the population in three locales: the synagogue, the market place, and the famous intellectual "hotbed" of the time, Mars Hill. The Scripture even states he was in dialogue with "those who happened to be present" (v. 17). In other words, he was defending the faith with anyone who was interested. His address to the academics at Mars Hill was akin to the environment your student may find on his campus. Paul found a point of contact, the altar "to an unknown god" (v. 23). Then he proceeded to share several points leading to his proclamation of Christ and His resurrection (v. 31). When the intellectuals heard this there were three reactions (v. 32-34). First, some "sneered" at him. This should be expected as your student defends his faith. It should not be surprising when his statements are openly rejected. On several occasions I have been described as "narrow-minded," "bigoted," "self-righteous," "intolerant" and other choice descriptions. The blow of such statements is softened greatly when it is expected. Second, some said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." They were interested to the point of asking for more time with Paul. No doubt he jumped at the opportunity and arranged a time on the spot. The sensitive Christian student can determine when someone wants to hear more, even if nothing is said. It's at this point that the believer should be aggressive in determining the best place and time for continuing dialogue. Third, some who heard "joined him and believed." Of course this is the ultimate purpose of apologetics. When your student has the joy of seeing someone respond to the truth he presents, it is unforgettable.

    When we have an opportunity to share some of these concepts with students we like to use a funnel as an illustration. Imagine you are conversing with a skeptic who has many questions. Pour his questions into the funnel, so to speak, and be sure you encourage him to pull out one question at a time from the narrow end. This is important because many want to move quickly from one question to another without coming to rest on the answers that have been offered. The objective is to "pull out" questions concerning Christ when the time is right.

    Several years ago at one of our conferences we interacted with a student who had been invited to attend by his Christian girlfriend. He was not a Christian, but he was interested in our responses to his many questions. Late one evening we were discussing apologetic issues as we removed his doubts from the "funnel." Eventually our conversation led to Christ and he was asked something like this: "Christ made some astonishing claims. How are you going to respond to those claims, since they apply to you?" We were sitting outside and it was getting cold, so it was suggested that they go inside a nearby building. He stood up and began to tremble visibly. Tears were running down his cheeks. He was asked, "What's wrong?" (Actually the question was not entirely honest, because we knew there was nothing wrong. Everything was right. The Holy Spirit was doing His work.) He said, "I don't know, but I need to take a walk." He was told that was fine, but if he wanted to talk more he should go to the Probe staff member's room. At 1:00 a.m. there was a knock at the door. The Probe member stumbled out of bed, opened the door, and there he stood! He had a huge smile on his face. He said, "I met Jesus on my walk." His girlfriend, who eventually was to become his wife, was with him. There was hugging, praying, and rejoicing. He is now a dynamic Christian. (By the way, he married the young lady who took him to the conference.)

    This story is indicative of what can happen when your student is encouraged to go beyond the "What?" to the "Why?" so he can share the truth that comes only from God. Many of his fellow-students are ready to hear what he has to share.

©1998 Probe Ministries
Backward Table of Contents Forward
Return toProbe Home