Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton write in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers that teens who self identify as Christians could be profoundly articulate about drinking, drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, but had a difficult if not outright impossible time discussing what they believed and why. They argue:
“Philosophers like Charles Taylor argue that inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality. So, for instance, religious faith, practice, and commitment can be no more than vaguely real when people cannot talk much about them. Articulacy fosters reality. A major challenge for religious educators of youth, therefore, seems to be fostering articulation: helping teens practice talking about their faith, providing practice using vocabularies, grammar, stories, and key messages of faith. Especially to the extent that the language of faith in American culture is becoming a foreign language, educators, like real foreign language teachers, have that much more to work at helping their students learn to practice speaking that other language of faith.”
The simple lesson here is that if you are unable to articulate the faith for yourself, then you haven’t really learned the faith in such a way that you can own it. You may wonder why it is that we begin a confirmation class here, discussing why we believe what we believe. I hope it has become a bit more clear. If you cannot articulate the faith then you have not really apprehended the faith. If you have not apprehended the faith then the faith is not truly yours.
This wisdom is reflected not only in modern research as shown above, but it is an ancient wisdom found in the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Old Testament the ancient Jews were required not only to have faith in God but every member of Ancient Israel was required to be able to articulate who He was and what He had done for His people. This is illustrated most vividly in the Passover service recorded Exodus 12.26-27. Similarly in 1 Pet 3.15 we read “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This is not merely an evangelistic strategy, or a mechanism for handing the faith down to our children, but it is also a way inspired by the Holy Spirit for us to own our faith. Once we articulate it, it is ours.
So we begin with a simple articulation of why we believe what we believe. Each of us will articulate this in some form this evening to the people we are sitting with in order to make it our own.
If someone were to approach you this evening and ask you, “Why is it that you are a Christian as opposed to a Muslim, Jew or agnostic?” What would you say to them? Would you make an appeal to the Bible? But then they might ask, “Why do you believe the Bible?” Would you say that you were raised a Christian? Well, they might simply say that a Jew is raised a Jew. Perhaps you would argue that you had a spiritual experience that led you to believe in Christ. But how would you articulate that in terms that weren’t abstract but reasonable and concrete? Tonight we will explore these things and many others. (more…)