My years of undergraduate study were punctuated by questions and doubts. My faith, my trust in Scripture, the basic contours of the gospel – nothing was off limits. These challenges were often related to critical issues raised in lectures and readings.
I particularly remember feeling unsettled by questions such as the extent of the Canon, the unity of Isaiah, and the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
Many of my friends and coursemates were with me in wrestling with (or avoiding) apparent tensions between academic theology and evangelical faith. And, depending on how well we coped with such issues, we emerged from our degrees in various states of faith, doubt, and disillusionment.
On our better days we did our best to think carefully and seek thoughtful evangelical voices on the challenges we were facing, but often our responses took the form of submission, repression, or segregation. 
In the most extreme cases, the pressure from the issues was just too much. In an attempt to hold faith and study together one would submit to the general dismissal of evangelical faith with respect to a given issue, or in its entirety.
I praise God that not many of us fully deconstructed, but there were moments when an evangelical faith felt utterly antithetical to honest academic inquiry.
More often many of us, myself included, would engage superficially with the course, ignoring or avoiding any real challenges to faith. Sometimes it was just easier to pretend that difficult questions didn’t exist, or that the questions owed more to anti-Christian agendas than to honest academic inquiry.
It’s surprisingly easy to keep academic intellectual life and experiential spiritual life in separate compartments. In the short term this response caused the least trouble. We were able to throw ourselves whole-heartedly into our studies during the day, and then into CU and church life in the evenings and on weekends.
But there is a deep incongruity to this, ‘doing’ lots in the comfortable ‘Christian environments’ while engaging with and perhaps even intellectually assenting to doubts and challenges to the very basis of our ‘doing’. For those whose time at university was most characterized by this segregation, their study appears to have very little ongoing significance for their faith and service in church.
A better way?
That might leave you asking, ‘Is it even possible to hold good academic thought together with evangelical faith, or is there a ceiling to the level of scholarly thinking that evangelicalism can withstand, beyond which it is exposed as sham and folly, bigotry and bias?’
Wonderfully, many evangelical scholars before us have shown that it is not only possible, but that it is enriching both for our faith and our studies.
This begins with recognising that our natural tendency is towards a snap reaction. Submission, suppression, and segregation are all attempts to quickly resolve tensions and apparent contradictions between scholarly wisdom and the faith that we have received.
If I’ve learned anything since finishing my degree, it is that faithful theology is not a sprint but a marathon. Handling critical issues well is not so much a matter of technique or ‘correct answers’ applied to individual issues, but of nurturing patience and humility.
With that in mind, here are three things that I have found helpful as I’ve wrestled with challenging issues in theology:
1. Don’t Panic, slow down, take a breath
As you approach critical issues, take it slow. Don’t be disturbed by questions that you can’t immediately answer. Instead, give yourself time for your thinking to develop and your faith to grow.
So often it isn’t any one question that causes the problem, but the general feeling of being overwhelmed by challenge after challenge that resists easy or obvious answers. Hear this: it is okay to set difficult issues aside for a time.
This isn’t segregation which treats these issues as irrelevant to active faith, but patience and humility that awaits further clarity and maturity before forming more firm opinions.
You can never have omniscient certainty. You will change your mind on theological issues throughout your life. It may take years from graduating and a great deal of maturing in your faith and thinking to put some of these challenges to rest.
But as you wait, you might just discover that evangelical faith has plenty of room for nuance and academic insight.
2. Go back to the foundations of your faith
Your faith doesn’t ultimately depend on your answers to critical issues. Your faith may (ought to) shape your academic convictions towards certain positions, but it ought not to rise and fall on whether you can hold a certain view of authorship at a given moment. It must be more robust than that!
At the ‘academic’ level the Christian hope is grounded in the historical event of the resurrection. But your faith is much more than taking a position on an academic proposal. If you are a follower of Jesus, you were called by God to the faith you now have when you responded to the gospel proclaimed to you. You have been given His Spirit to bring you from death into new life as you are united to Christ in His death and resurrection. Your experience of the reality of the gospel is as important as your intellectual assent to it.
Regularly do the things that build your faith, that put you in the place of enjoying Jesus, of revelling in your justification and adoption as God’s child. Read the bible devotionally, sing and worship the Lord, serve in church and gather with other believers.
That isn’t to relativise or subjectivise faith as though we can simply segregate the realm of faith from the realm of academic study. But it is to warn against an overly intellectualised faith. You are saved by grace, through faith, not by the meritorious work of being academically rigorous enough to think your way to a true understanding of and right relationship with God.
Academic theology exists neither to prove nor disprove faith, rather to train the eyes to which faith gives sight. Anselm famously described it as ‘faith seeking understanding’ not understanding seeking faith.
3. Engage wholeheartedly with academically rigorous theology.
That is not to say that your understanding ought to remain static.
Characteristic of evangelical faith is a passion for the truth! It is inevitable that you have come to your studies with flawed and faulty theology that needs some degree of overhaul. That means you should take seriously the challenges of academic theology. They are opportunities to delve deeper into the truth, adjust your perspective, and even change your mind dramatically when a clearer understanding of Scripture points you in that direction.
And when it comes to more ‘settled’ issues, there is plenty of room to manoeuvre theologically within gospel bounds. Even when you don’t ultimately change your position on an issue, you should emerge from theological study with firmer foundations and more well thought through reasons for holding such a position.
So, dig into the issues that bother you. Don’t ignore them or keep them separate from your faith, but – holding confidence in the gospel firmly in one hand – read broadly and have the humility to cautiously change your mind.
‘The challenge to all of us who study theology is not to remain unchanged in our studies (though to remain faithful) but to sift the good and the bad and to work on the academic and spiritual sides of things. “Quality theological education means that both the integrity of the academic classroom and the involvement of the personal dimension are needed to make us the men and women of Christ, who are capable persons, intellectually and spiritually, to lead and serve in and for the body of Christ.”’
 Inspiration for the title and much of the wisdom in this article is from David Cupples, “Maintaining an integrated devotional life,” in Keeping your Balance: Approaching theological and religious studies ed. Philip Duce and Dan Strange, 138-179. The book is worth owning and that chapter worth special attention.
 I’m grateful to David Cupples for the vocabulary for these responses from “Maintaining an Integrated Devotional Life” 140-146.
 Don Carson, 'But That's Just Your Interpretation,' Themelios 44, Issue 3 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/but-thats-just-your-interpretation/
 If you’re feeling shaky on this read The Bedrock of Christianity in which NT scholar Justin Bass lays out a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus built upon the facts upon which virtually all scholars agree.