I've been thinking about this a fair bit. One of my profs insists that there is no such thing as a crisis of faith, but what is often called a crisis of faith is really a crisis of beliefs. The root of a crisis of beliefs is when we discover that we don't really believe in what we say we believe in. It follows then that a large reason we defend our tautologies so intensely is to avoid the uncomfortableness of facing our own beliefs and sorting through them. And at a certain point, academically, it is frustrating to encounter this kind of defensiveness.
Pastorally, this is the water you carefully swim in all the time. Around you are people who come to faith in a modern church that is very inadequate at giving us tools to really think through and own our beliefs. The Church has lots of ways to reinforce dogma and even well developed systems of apologetics which help the "faithful" to defend the beliefs they are supposed to hold. But I'm convinced this is not good enough.
But it is uncomfortable to walk in the valley of the shadow of unbelief. It is hard to not be hounded by your own unreflected beliefs when you are walking through another persons crisis. What is left is a culture of desperate clinging often to quite proposterous "faith" positions. Pastorally this is distracting from the real work of the gospel - and in fact it often replaces the real work of the gospel.*
Academically, and this is where I reflect from for this blog, the notion of defending a tight system for the sake of feeding a culture that idolizes its beliefs is not at all attractive. It is better to work on the distinction between what we really believe and what we have assented to and work from there. This prof. offered a course on Spirituality that I took about 6 years ago, in it you took apart your core of faith, you probed and dissected, and then you put it all back together. That course was incredible hard, but it was also incredibly rewarding. When you believe what you believe, even if it is just a bit of what you are "supposed" to believe, there is nothing you can't face. Reality can be embraced on realities terms and the work of finding a coherent whole is a real work and not a defensive posturing.
The best case example is what a lot of local evangelical pastors fear about my university. From their perspective a few folks have gone to St. Paul and "lost their faith". Not really, but when you get into an academic environment the concern isn't to nurture that core of belief, but to teach you how to think. What falls off are the pretenses and the person is freed from the bonds that kept them from actually coming to believe. Externally that looks like they lost their faith. But I invite you to see the other side that this actually opens them up to the possibility of real faith.
I never really faced this sort of crisis at school, and I would insist that I don't see it as that prevelant (and personally know folks who have had similar experiences at evangelical and reformed schools). But it is a possibility. For me I'd had my beliefs kicked around before I landed in school. What was left was a pretty coherent core. But shaking off the need to defend that core lets me navigate a much deeper ocean of religious theory and beliefs.
* By real work of the gospel I am contending that the gospel is about proclaiming the Kingdom in the world. This was Jesus' gospel and it is what Jesus left the Church. We believe when we see this, not because we've been convinced by the propositions and tautological arguments. Also the message of the Kingdom is inseperable from the encounter of the King. I still owe this blog a series on the Kingdom of God, but I've been reflecting on Kingdom theology a lot lately and decided that it is just not time.