The last few years have seen a crush of hand-wringing, panicked stricken articles and books bemoaning how today’s youth are abandoning traditional churches and Christianity altogether once they reach college age.
The authors of these garment rending laments are often self-appointed pop cultural analysts who believe they are on the front lines of the modern culture war assailing Christians everywhere. They are anyone from parachurch apologists to popular youth personalities, and they are sounding the alarm about the exodus of young people from Christianity who were raised in loving Christian homes whose parents took them to church regularly, taught them the Bible, and in many cases enrolled them in Christian schools or homeschooled them.
Once they leave home for the first time, those fresh young people are genuinely exposed to the “real world” and their naivete is dashed up against the rocks of secularism. They come to recognize the folly of religious faith and rapidly become embarrassed by their parents devotion to their sad traditional Christianity.
As our cultural crusaders rightly point out, the phenomena of Christian kids leaving the faith is certainly something to notice; and I would add, the church needs to consider why that is happening. A number of explanations have been offered, but the reasons suggested, I believe, are wildly off target.
With that stated, I want to respond to this article posted recently at CharismaNews Online. (BTW, CharismaNews is swiftly becoming a gold mine for quality crazy stuff on the internet that makes for excellent blog fodder, but I digress).
The article is a summary of a book written in 2011 by a guy named David Kinnaman called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. I’ll let you search it out on Amazon. According to the article, Kinnaman, who oversees the research arm of the Barna Group, identifies six significant themes that explains why millennial hipsters are dropping traditional churches faster than a cup of Maxwell House instant coffee. The article then proceeds to lay out those themes and offer commentary as to why Kinnaman’s analysis is so revolutionary and cutting-edge, and why we old dinosaurish Christians need to take him seriously.
Because I believe the good bulk of such scaremongering commentary is vapid and needlessly hysterical, along with being misdirected, I thought it would offer my rejoinder.
It is important that we begin by considering who it is who wrote the article. There isn’t one individual person named, but apparently, it’s an anonymous theological hack from the group called Biologos.
The folks at Biologos are in essence evangelical atheists. They exist for no other reason than to push anti-supernaturalism, theistic evolution, and to be a hub for where bitter, cranky anti-creationists gather daily to hurl insults at Answers in Genesis and ICR.
The one truly bizarre thing about this article is it is published on Charisma’s website. The fact that a charismatic driven website, where the claims of God’s miracle power are posted everyday, would publish an article by a freakish religio-secular hybrid like Biologos, only continues to affirm to me the profound lack of spiritual discernment at Charisma’s editing board.
But heaven forbid I be accused of “ad hom.” I certainly wouldn’t want that. I mean, I should just ignore the source of this article. What matters are the arguments put forth, right? Who cares about those pesky presupposition filters?
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective. It is suggested that churches are “hiding” the truth of the world from their youth. That they are only concerned about rock music, R rated movies, and pre-marital sex. So that when the little simpletons leave home, the secularist eat them for breakfast the first day of community college class.
If by protective, they mean to say churches don’t expose their young people to every whim of doctrine, crackpot theology, and wack-a-doodle idea out there, well, I certainly want a church to protect their young people from foolishness. They should be taught to be suspicious of seducing spirits and they should be trained with the ability to properly discern, even if the scold writing this article thinks it keeps them out-of-touch.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. I actually agree with the point here. Regrettably, the modern experience of Christianity for not only young people, but nearly everybody across the red state, evangelical spectrum is shallowness that is the proverbial mile wide and foot deep. That includes the lame worship services led by a knock-off of the local coffee shop folk band, pre-fab Sunday school lessons that teach a Scripturaless morality, and the preaching, which amounts to nothing more than a life coach giving his congregation a spiritualized TED talk.
This point captures the primary reason Christians are leaving church: the church has become the equivalent of a Vegas show and that gets boring real quick.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science. The idea of “antagonistic to science” is Biologos codeword for, “Christians believing in a literal, historical Genesis, a real, historical Adam and Eve, and a young earth.”
I’ll admit right now that I love science. I love my car, my ipod, my computer, my wifi, my air conditioning, my cough syrup, and the many other uncountable areas where my life is greatly improved by “science.”
But this point is deceptive. Contrary to our dishonest author, I can affirm a historical Genesis, a real, historical Adam and Eve, and an Earth under 10,000 years of age, and still do science. One cannot, however, deny a historical Adam and the historicity of Genesis only for the purpose of accommodating Darwinianism with the Bible and remain an orthodox Christian.
One humorous note about this point is how it is posted on a website that in the side bar there is a link to an article talking about a guy raising people from the dead and trumpet sounds in the sky being indicators of Christ’s soon return.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. In other words, young people don’t like being told they have to be married to have sex, and specifically to a person of the opposite sex, and they have embraced the empty headed histrionics of homosexual advocates defending same sex marriage.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Under this point, one of the reasons young people struggle with the exclusivity of Christianity is that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths.” Why would young people wrestle with a concept of exclusivity? Jesus made some rather strong, exclusive statements about Himself, about God, and a number of other issues that are clearly delineated in Scripture. How exactly is that a problem?
Why would young people be troubled that their churches uphold the biblical claims of exclusivity? Are they completely oblivious to the intellectual disconnect they’ve created? On one hand they’re complaining about how shallow church is (see #2), but on the other, if the church just so happens to be deep with their affirmation of biblical Christian orthodoxy, they wrestle with that because it’s supposedly a bad thing? I don’t get it.
It seems like to me they have fallen prey to the folly of postmodern, relativistic thinking. Affirming one’s faith as exclusive is something orthodox Christianity has historically maintained and is hardly something to wrestle over. Even the progressive Christians makes claims of exclusivity when they abandon an exclusive understanding of the Christian faith and then proclaim that it is stupid.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. Honestly, the reason why a church may feel unfriendly to those who doubt, is because those who doubt are generally insincere about their so-called “doubt.” If a young person begins to express his “doubt,” more than likely he was already at a personal place of hostility with the church leadership. When any effort is giving to offer answers, the kid doesn’t want those answers, and then turns around and claims no one answered his questions. Such a person either becomes a radical skeptic, or a militant gay activist, or some other smug malcontent who complains how the church is unfriendly.
Now. I don’t want to dismiss all of those points entirely. There is some truth lurking behind them. But rather than concluding that local churches have failed in meeting the false expectations of young people that only in turn pushes them out the door and into secular irreligiousity, the primary reason they abandon the faith and leave church is that they didn’t have faith to begin with. They were never regenerated and never believed savingly upon the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. It really has nothing to do with them being overly protected or a church being anti-science. They never had faith, and college only reveals that fact.
That is not to say churches didn’t have a hand in their abandonment. The second point above rings true: If a church manufactures a shallow, atheological, abiblical, moralistic atmosphere, hardly anyone is going to be saved. Any preaching, teaching, and activities geared only towards moralistic entertainment, will only beget entertained moralists who will be exposed as fake Christians when they encounter the world.