Gone are the days when most young people would take the time and effort to ask a trusted adult for answers to their spiritual questions. A generation used to asking Google for immediate answers to any of their queries will most likely do the same for any spiritual questions they may have. That can be a huge problem. Google frankly doesn’t care that searchers get biblically correct answers. They will give you answers based on their algorithms or from people who have paid money to be placed in those top ad spots on search results.
We can, and should, continue encouraging young people to turn to trusted Christians for help in finding the answers to their spiritual questions. We also need to be realistic and teach them how to search for and vet potential answers to their questions. Here are some of the things they need to know.
- Teach them to first search for Bible verses about their question. The Bible is always going to have the most accurate answers to their questions.
- Encourage them to look up the verses surrounding the search suggestions to make sure the verse is in context. A great example to show them are some of the things Job’s friends said to him in the book of Job. Ask the right question and Google may suggest one of those verses is the answer. We know, however, that God was very unhappy with what they said to Job and so, while those verses are in the Bible, they aren’t necessarily ones we want to base our life choices upon.
- If they don’t understand the verses suggested or can’t find a verse they think answers their question, teach them to pick human sources for answers carefully. They should ask themselves the following questions before reading and especially trusting anything a person says about scripture.
- What is the person’s background, including religious and church affiliation, education and ministry experience? While all people of a particular religious or church affiliation do not always agree on every issue, they are more likely to have certain theological beliefs in common. Those beliefs must then be filtered out if they are unbiblical. Most young people do not know enough about the Bible to do that well. On the other hand, God’s truths can be understood and taught by people who also have accepted some incorrect doctrine. It’s a delicate balance, which using the additional questions can help solve.
- What is the person’s agenda? Sometimes it is clearly stated. At other times reading the ”About” or a section of the website about their core beliefs or values can reveal that information. If the author has a new book coming out soon or a product to sell, the motivation may be to drive people to make a purchase. It doesn’t mean the information is always wrong, but it helps to know if the author has a definite bias. He or she may be skewing scripture in an attempt to get it to back up a larger agenda being promoted.
- Does the author quote scriptures or other sources? Once again, not necessarily a deal breaker, but quoting scripture can be a good sign (unless they are taken out of context or misused). Likewise, the sources used can show the idea was carefully researched or it could show the author has been biased by the ideas of a particular author or point of view.
- Does the answer make sense in light of the rest of the Bible? Sometimes an answer can seem to make sense – especially if logical fallacies are used – but not align with the rest of scripture. For example, a particular incident or verse may be misconstrued to make it seem a basic command isn’t valid. If the answer given seems to contradict basic commands and principles in the rest of scripture, the answer is probably wrong.
- Are there particular sources with spiritual content you trust to be biblically accurate? This one is tricky, too. We all know Christians who were biblically sound at one point, but later took a hard left turn away from scripture. A source who is reliable today may be totally unreliable tomorrow. There are also some sources who are usually reliable in their interpretation of scripture except on one or two issues. Spiritually mature teens can often handle the idea that so and so is accurate except when he or she talks about how to become a Christian or some other theological problem.
- Does the information in other places on the website align with scripture? For example, if the site starts promoting situational ethics or something in direct opposition to scripture, then there is a good chance other things on the website aren’t accurate either.
- Are they placing too much emphasis on how well done the website is? Young people are quite savvy about web design. They may assume a site that has been designed professionally with the latest graphics and tools is more accurate than a site designed by someone on their own. The amount of money spent on web design does not necessarily equate to the accuracy of the theology on the site.
This is one of the areas where your Bible students need a lot of guided practice. Give them a question and have them Google for responses. Which site do they think has the most accurate answer? How did they come to that conclusion? If they were wrong, what clues did they miss? Keep providing periodic practice until they can all easily find the best answers to their spiritual questions.