Challenging Your Assumptions: Advice for a College Freshman and the Life-Long Learner

Historical geology, evolutionary biology, ancient history with its Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation and flood stories, sociology of religion….my children are both hearing and learning things they have never been exposed to before. What will they do with the apparent contradictions to their faith? Have they learned how to analyze and evaluate?  How will they integrate the new information with their beliefs?

It may sound dangerous, but my first advice is to challenge our assumptions, including our assumptions about what we believe the Bible says before automatically dismissing  new ideas as contradictory or dismissing the Bible as myth without fully examining both sides.  Clinging to our assumptions prevents growth, stunts loving God with all our minds, and inhibits insights.

We get stuck when we fixate on false assumptions.  For example, consider the mind puzzle with the 9 dots.  Can you connect all the dots with no more than four straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper? 

In preschool, we learned about connecting dots and coloring within the lines.  Based on these experiences, we might assume that 1) we have to stay within the borders, and 2) each turn is supposed to pivot on a dot.  Sticking to these assumptions prevents us from solving the puzzle.

Another way we get stuck in our assumptions is the lack of challenge to our assumptions as illustrated by ‘the internet bubble’.  Search engines like Google and Bing learn our preferences and show matches that are likely to satisfy us based on our previous selections.  They will eventually screen out contrary information or information from other parts of the spectrum. Because we never see what gets filtered out, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of our own beliefs. Similarly, when we tend to read books, blogs, and news media that agree with our points of view and we hang out with people who think like us, we may fail to see assumptions that need to be challenged.

For those of us raised in the church, and even those of us who were not, we need to recognize our assumptions about how we interpret the Bible as we attempt to reconcile its apparent contradictions to history/science and our experiences.

Here is my advice in challenging assumptions to my college freshman, who is quick to see the world as black and white:

  1. Listen and understand before you automatically judge something to be wrong. Put yourself in their shoes and understand why they believe that way.
  2.  Remember that all truth is God’s truth.  Know what your Bible says and the various ways of interpretation, both literal, non-literal, and figurative. You may have always assumed it said something it did not, or you may have always interpreted a passage in a way that it was never meant to be interpreted.
  3.  Engage others in conversation about challenges to assumptions.  Examine all avenues and different perspectives.
  4. Know that it is not all diabolical – not all black and white, good or evil.  It’s more than various shades of gray – think of it more like a rainbow of glorious colors to discover in a lifetime of learning, new ways of seeing, perceiving, understanding that enrich your life. God, the world, and you do not fit in a neatly defined box.
  5. Avoid the ‘internet bubble’, but don’t try so hard to avoid it that you build a bubble at the other end of the spectrum.  Keep surrounded by Jesus followers, all kinds, and look for things you have in common.  Be willing to challenge each other’s assumptions while remaining united in your core beliefs.  Grow spiritually by continuing to worship with a group of believers and hanging with them.    

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