In the days leading up to the appointment, I spoke with one of my co-workers who had done a couple of stress tests in the past. He explained: "They are going to put you on a treadmill, and try to give you a heart attack. That way if there is anything wrong, they will know." He told me that he knew of a guy who did exactly that--had a heart attack during the stress test. Very encouraging. Fortunately, that didn't happen to me. Everything went well when I underwent the stress test and echo-cardiogram (an ultrasound on your heart). That isn't an excuse for me to eat junk food and be lazy, but it is comforting to know that my heart is in good shape.
I want to draw out a couple of principles from this experience that I believe are important to the health of the Christian community. My appointment started with an echo-cardiogram. In the same way that the doctor wanted to see what was going on in my heart, I want to get a look at what is going on in my students hearts. But that is not always easy. The spiritual health of a person or congregation is not going to be accessible simply by looking only at superficial interaction. Getting a clear picture of the heart may be a bit uncomfortable--just like laying on your side with your arms over your head for 30 minutes while someone rubs a jelly covered wand across your chest. The Christian community must not get in the habit of avoiding difficult issues in favor of "5 steps to your best life now" type messages.
After my echo, I went back for the stress test. Too often, pastors/teachers/parents are simply dismissive of objections raised against Christianity. Are there really errors in the Bible? Is God a genocidal bully in the Old Testament? Did people only ascribe divinity to Jesus years after his resurrection? How can a good and loving God allow so much evil to exist? If God wants us to believe in Him, why does He seem so hidden? The general approach seems to ignore these because bringing them up could cause people to doubt. The pastor/teacher/parent may know how to answer these objections (though they often do not). The fear is that some people may not be able to handle them. But isn't that the very reason to do a stress test? If the doctor is afraid that your heart might not be able to handle stress, he will recommend that you subject it to stress (in a safe environment) in order to identify any potential problems. I want to do the same thing with my students. I want to challenge them with the best objections that critics and skeptics of Christianity have to offer. In a certain sense, I want to push them to question their Christian faith. Of course, I don't want them to stop believing anymore than the doctor wants his patient to have a heart attack. But if it is going to happen, I want to be there when it does so that the appropriate care can be given. Just like the doctor, I don't want anyone living with a false security about their health simply because they haven't been subjected to stress. I am an advocate of what I shall henceforth call "The Stress Test Method" of doing apologetics.