Tuesday, July 01, 2008

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Christian College Students Don't Know Christianity

That's the thought of Barbara Brown Taylor's insightful and provocative article at the Christian Century. Barbara Brown Taylor has a wealth of experience around college students, particularly Christian students. She teaches at both Piedmont College and Columbia Theological Seminary.

You can read her article HERE.

Here is a select quote that will make your head spin:
Even as they are turning in their quizzes, the students know that something has just gone badly wrong. "I think I just did the worst on my own religion," one says. Another asks me if Charlemagne was the main figure in the Protestant Reformation and slaps his forehead when I break the bad news. The only student who makes an A+ on the Christianity quiz is an orthodox Jew.

Later the whole class talks about why this quiz was so hard for them, and what they think this means. A few confess that they did not study because they thought they knew plenty about Christianity. Others say that they had too many quizzes on the same day.
Soon a consensus emerges, at least to my ears: that when they tried to put what they were learning about Christianity at school into the drawers they had gotten at church, there was no room for the new information—not because the drawers were full but because they had different labels on them.

The church drawers are labeled "Favorite Bible Passages," "Personal Commitment to Jesus Christ," "Summer Mission Trips," and "What My Church Means to Me." There is nothing wrong with any of these drawers. Mostly they contain good, life-giving things. But where are you supposed to put your new insight about the role of the early churches in the formation of the New Testament? Where does your fresh curiosity about Orthodox Christians go? What happens to your church drawers once you realize there are hundreds of other churches with just that many drawers of their own?
We, the church, are failing our young men and women. Young people are rootless within their faith. Their faith isn't anchored by knowing and digesting it's rich history. the years of sacrifice, hard fought struggles, and martyrdom. And certainly I am not suggesting that the history of the church has been nothing but pure and perfect.

But knowing the history of our faith helps us discern and understand the issues of our current day. An ahistorical faith will not keep their faith afloat in the face of pain, trail and direct attack. Our faith has never been ahistorical. Jesus, himself, entered time, space and history. There is a grand story and "meta-narrative" that our faith lives and flourishes within. We must continue to tell the stories of our faith. These are the stories that shape us. These are the stories that make our faith real, rooted and concrete.

And two final comments. Everything I said here could and most likely applies to adults. I don't think most adults would test out any better than the students that Taylor encounters in her classes.

Also, it is a real challenge to teach and tell these stories. I am not insisting that it is easy. I know that it is easier for my kids to digest pop-culture than it is the stories of their faith. (I am ashamed to say that I often wonder how much my kids actually know about the history of their faith. Sure stories like this one I posted a while back may be funny but it also illustrates the real challenges that we confront)

(ht: BagofNothing)