Emerging adults have a special talent for critique. At 35, I’m probably not a “young adult” any more, but I well remember those heady days in college where I measured everything against my new-found knowledge of the Bible. Pity the chapel speaker who dared to use Scripture in a less-than-exegetically-sound manner! I even wrote a paper once cataloging the misuses of Scripture I had heard in our very own chapel.
I was not alone in my negative attitude. It seems such moods are contagious. (This is why the use of words like “boring” and “pathetic” incur maximum penalties at our house.) It got so bad that my best friend and I had to make a pact not to sit together in chapel because we simply couldn’t control our negativity when we were together.
Wheaton is apparently not exempt from this deadly disease. Dr. Timothy Larsen notes that it’s all too easy to elicit a critique from students, but much more difficult to coax them to come up with a constructive alternative to the ideas they’ve so quickly dismantled. He calls for a return to childlike faith, suggesting that the title of this post is the wrong question to be asking. Dr. Larson’s online article is well-worth the read.
Sunday school teachers may be more savvy than we remember, and (I might add) the penetrating messages of chapel speakers are all too easily deflected from transforming us when we insist on a certain (narrow) mode of delivery or method of interpretation. As I enter into my 11th year of higher education, the day draws ever closer when I’ll stand on the other side of the podium. It’s daunting to think about facing a room full of precocious young adults, many of whom will be able to see a loophole in everything I say. (Why was it again I wanted to do this with my life?) On the other hand, the privilege of walking beside them as they discover new ways of thinking outweighs the risk of being thought wrong or — worse still — “boring.” I’ve seen with my own two eyes that excitement about Scripture is also contagious. Hopefully I can model not just careful critique but also humility and a deep love of the Word.
Because in the end, our Sunday School teachers gave freely of their time and themselves. They did their very best to take the profound riches of Scripture and make them understandable to kids who need things to be concrete and fun, and who have a very hard time sitting still. That, my friends, is no small task. And until we’re willing to try it ourselves, we have no right to criticize.