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Part 3: The three types of students

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Editor's note: This is the third of a three-part commentary from Shorter University professor Randy Douglas on the biblical knowledge of students entering their first year of college. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

In my first article, I shared the three kinds of students I have discovered over years of teaching Bible survey classes at Shorter University. These three groups are the uncompromising, the unsure, and the unchurched. In the second article, we saw that many college students, even those raised in a Christian home and a good church, have a poor knowledge of the Bible. Even more disturbing, the majority of the uncompromising and unsure students believe that the Bible has been embellished or changed over the years and is not credible today.

I believe the core problem stemmed from these students not understanding the process of how the Bible came to be.

So, what can we as parents, pastors and the church do to make changes in our teen’s lives? I will share some positive observations as well as suggestions that I have seen work.

Positives observations

My purpose in these articles is not to bash parents, pastors, or the church. We, the Christian Studies professors at Shorter, have all been pastors and love the church. All of us are parents who have raised or are raising teenagers. Thus, we understand the challenges for all involved. Allow me to share three positives I have seen in my students:

Uncompromising students exist. These are students who come from Christian homes and good churches and are passionate about their faith here at Shorter. Some are Christian Studies majors but many more are not. These students actively live out their Christian faith. These students say that their parents were consistent Christians and their home churches impacted these student’s lives for ministry and missions. Well done!

Knowledge of the Bible grew. All three groups of students showed a dramatic increase in their knowledge of the Bible. I mentioned that the class pretest score was 33%. However, the class posttest score was 85%, a jump in over 50 points. By taking a Bible survey class, these students learned how the Bible came to be, the structure of the Bible, major people in the Bible, and the core themes of the Bible.

Trust in the Bible grew. In my survey classes, I begin by showing evidence how the Bible is a trustworthy, historical document that can be trusted today. I address the questions I know that students have about the Bible and answer the supposed contradictions in the Bible. The result can be seen by comparing the pretest and posttest choices of the three groups on choosing the correct answer about the Bible:

1. The Bible is…       
A credible, historical document, accurately depicting its people, places and events

  • Uncompromising: Pretest—46%; Posttest—95%; Difference—+49%
  • Unsure: Pretest—6%; Posttest—86%; Difference—+80%
  • Unchurched: Pretest—4%; Posttest—76%; Difference—+72%

3. Who directed the writing of the Bible?
The Holy Spirit

  • Uncompromising: Pretest—45%; Posttest—96%; Difference—+51%
  • Unsure: Pretest—11%; Posttest—84%; Difference—+73%
  • Unchurched: Pretest—3%; Posttest—75%; Difference—+72%

6. The New Testament is a record of:
Stories of true people and true events

  • Uncompromising: Pretest—52%; Posttest—92%; Difference—+40%
  • Unsure: Pretest—12%; Posttest—87%; Difference—+75%
  • Unchurched: Pretest—4%; Posttest—77%; Difference—+73%

The good news is that changes can happen in the lives and minds of these students if we make it a priority to do so in our homes and churches.

Suggestions

Here as some suggestions that I have seen work with our teens and students.

For Parents:

  • Live a consistent Christian life for your children are watching.
  • Make sure you are a part of a good, biblical church that is active in discipleship and teaching.
  • Ask your teen what questions they have about God, Jesus, the Bible or the church. Telling your children, “I don’t know,” or “We just have to believe,” or “Good Christians don’t ask those questions” will create significant doubts in their minds.
  • If you don’t know the answers to the questions above, then find the answers. There are many good books and websites available on answering questions about the Bible.

For Pastors and Church Leaders:

  • Be a teacher of the Word. I find that college students are hungry for answers to their questions about God and the Bible.
  • Be proactive in answering questions about the Bible. It is not just the teens who have questions about the Bible, for many adults are wondering the same thing. If you are beginning a sermon series from the Gospel of John, why not start by answering questions such as: who is this John? Why should I believe what he had to say about Jesus?
  • Have a youth ministry that disciples its teens rather than just entertains them. The pastors and youth pastors that I hear college students talking about positively are the ones who spent time teaching the Bible and answering the questions of these teens.
  • Preach an apologetic series on a Sunday morning. Reach the majority of your people by answering many of the questions your people have about the Bible.
  • Have an apologetics conference or speaker at your church. Bring in outside experts who have the credentials and experience in apologetics. This will show your people and teens that there are answers to their questions.

We must reach our children with answers before they go to college. Our teens face a world which has an anti-theist message and agenda. It attacks the credibility of the Bible every chance it gets, and these attacks raise questions in the minds and hearts of our youth. As parents, pastors, and church leaders, we must prepare them now with the answers of the questions they have.

As my friend and co-author, the late Dr. Norman Geisler used to say, “Unbelievers have good questions, but we have good answers; we just don''t know them.” It is time for us to not just tell our teens that the Bible is the Word of God, but also to show them how we know it is.  Blessings!

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