If one were to survey the landscape of evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries, and even churches, one might (just might) discover the phenomenon of many of the students having very serious intellectual and existential crises of faith. This phenomenon may occur in some institutions more than others. It will likely occur more often in an institution that is multi-denominational, with a great diversity of students from all sorts of theological (Christian or not) backgrounds. It will also likely occur more often in an institution that invites theological rigor and creativity in thought, especially in classroom discussions and in paper topics.
An intellectual existential crisis of faith is intellectual in that the theological presuppositions of the student begin to fall away or apart. The student begins to deconstruct his or her theology in the face of a developing one. This can be an especially painful time, for the very foundations or coherencies of one’s faith and theology is questioned. From this, the crisis becomes existential. In the wake of one’s theological worldview, paradigm, or system crashing down, one is left alone wondering the very purpose of life and one’s existence, for what else remains but oneself? This is a very lonely and hurting place for the young theologian whose questions have taken her or him “too far.”
But are crises of faith necessarily a bad thing? Could it be that intellectual and existential crises of faith are the steps towards a more robust faith and theology? Even though the process of questioning and answering may hurt, on the other end is the hope of a faith and theology that is integrative, holistic, and corresponds to reality better than before. The hope of a robust faith that emerges out of a challenging time of questioning can be found in Paul Tillich’s existentialist theology, his works and sermons, and in his own personal journey of developing the courage and faith throughout all of life’s many questions.