Is this the last Christian Generation? What makes you say that?

America, a study which looked at the beliefs of teenagers involved in evangelical churches found some disturbing realities. The study found that over two-thirds of these young people believe the following:

    1. that there is no absolute moral truth
    2. that Christianity is about showing bad people how to live better
    3. that there is no way to tell which religion is true
    4. that Jesus is not the Son of the one true God
    5. Over half believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Alarming? What about teenagers in Africa- in Nigeria, in South Africa, in Kenya, in Ghana, in Congo, in Zimbabwe and Zambia etc, teenagers born to Christian parents i.e. father and mother who received Jesus into their lives before they got married and have been going to church with their children since they were born?

The Causes

Steve Cable, the Senior Vice President of Probe Ministries summarized the causes for American youth. Below is a summary of his observations:

  1. The way youth ministry is defined and measured. Adults abandon their responsibility to train young people and our youth are isolated as their own congregation. Watch the movie Divided for more on this at www.dividedthemovie.
  2. The measure of success is numerical attendance rather than evidence of spiritual growth and spiritual discipline.
  3. Church for young people has become a series of fun activities sprinkled with encouragement to avoid risky behaviors.
  4. Topical lessons on Christian rules is the preferred approach to teaching rather than laying a strong foundation of truth which makes God’s eternal plan clearly understood. Christianity is often communicated as a set of behavior rules covering one topic at a time, rather than as a deep relationship emulating the character of our heavenly Father. Bits of knowledge and rules for behavior are not a comprehensive worldview.
  5. In college, professors, peers, and the popular media all portray authentic Christianity in a negative light making it even more difficult for those of them without a strong foundation to adopt a so-called “private faith” in order to avoid confrontation rather than choose to endure hostility.
  6. Our method of training our teens seeks to avoid exposing them to the tough questions lest some of them are put off by the experience. Meanwhile, soldiers participate in exercises simulating the most effective tactics of their opponents before being sent onto the battlefield.
  7. Teens are allowed to be content with a second-hand faith. Most teens say they are Christians only because their parents take them to church. Meanwhile, teens who attend church to live out their parents’ faith find it easy to leave the faith to conform to the expectations of their new authority figures.
  8. A “distorted worldview filter” unwittingly adopted by our youth and adults. This filter tells them:

- Science and spirituality are at odds.

- Truth is relative, not absolute.

- Science confirms that I am nothing but insignificant dirt.

- An irrational, spiritual tradition can help me cope with this harsh reality.

- However, I am in no position to critically evaluate someone else’s tradition.

With this distorted filter in place, even solid biblical teaching can leave teens unprepared to stand firm in their faith. The Last Christian Generation lists some of the concepts distorted by this filter, for example:

  • Truth now means whatever is right for you.
  • Tolerance means accepting that each individual’s values and lifestyles are equally valid.
  • Moral judgments mean bigoted attitudes we have no right to hold.

Many teens are now synthesizing Christian teaching and popular culture into a new personal religion. In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, a book published in 2005, the authors found that religious teens tend to hold a vague group of functionally religious beliefs the authors termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The key beliefs of this “moralistic therapeutic deism” include:

- God is distant and uninvolved in daily life.

- But I can call on God as a “cosmic therapist” when I have a problem.

- My purpose is to be happy and feel good about myself.

– If I avoid being an intolerant jerk, I will go to heaven.

These are the causes for American teenagers involved in evangelical churches. What about African teenagers? Who knows the statistics for Nigerian teenagers.

Results

Steve Cable: “What happens when these beliefs are put to the test? Here’s an example for American teenagers. “I’ve known Julie all her life. Julie consistently attended youth group. She was also tuned into the popular culture. When her circumstances disappointed her, she turned to God as her “cosmic therapist.” When He did not change her circumstances to suit her, she decided that God was not worth her time. Instead, she chose to escape her circumstances through drugs. She had distorted the truth into a perversion that prevented her from having a solid relationship with her Creator.” What is the result for African and Nigerian teenagers?

The Correction

Steve Cable again: How should we respond to this disturbing trend?

  1. Readjust both what is being taught and how it is being taught. Train our youth in a “relational apologetic,” meaning knowing and defending a belief in God as absolute reality revealed through the Bible and experiencing this truth lived out in their lives and through the example of others.
  2. What should we teach?
  • McDowell calls us to help our teens see the reality of God. If there is a God, it is of paramount importance that we seek to know absolute Truth with a capital T. Consistent with everything the tools of modern science can observe about our universe, they have rational reasons to believe that God has revealed Himself to us through His Word.
  • McDowell and Bellis suggest teens must learn to know Him as the God of redemption, relationships, and restoration. A clear understanding of each of these aspects serves an important role in countering the tenets of today’s teen religion which we defined above as “moralistic therapeutic deism”:

- Knowing the God of redemption tells them that good people don’t go to heaven; redeemed people go to heaven. Our definition of good is so shallow compared to a transcendent, holy God. We must rely on Him for redemption.

- Knowing the God of relationships tells them God is not a cosmic therapist, but a personal heavenly Father, intimately involved in all aspects of life.

- Knowing the God of restoration highlights that our earthly life is a brief precursor to eternity. This truth changes our central goal to creating eternal value in Christ.

- Youth who can articulate these truths have taken a big step to repairing their distorted worldview filter.

  • Stop equating numerical strength (growth in numbers or consistency in attendance) with spiritual growth and devotion to the Lord. Getting them through the door of our youth programs is not the same as getting the Lord through to them.
  • Return to the Hebrew model of teaching in Deuteronomy and Proverbs which uses a set of ongoing object lessons, applying the character of God to each life situation. The entire inter-generational community is modeling their faith and articulating their biblical worldview. For this model to work, parents and youth leaders must continually express their reasons for believing that Jesus is the truth in a world that says there is no truth.
  • Help our teens to experience a community of faith willing to trade in a life purpose of being happy and avoiding pain for a life purpose of building eternal value through serving Jesus.

These are examples of ways to respond if you are in America. What about if you are in Africa- in Nigeria, in South Africa, in Kenya, Ghana etc? We have no less a challenge on our hands as parents and pastors complain that young people are abandoning churches at an alarming rate. However, are the solutions suggested for the American challenge similar and appropriate for the African challenge? How do we know? What would be different (if any)? How would we know?

We certainly need to start researching these issues over here to avoid using guesses for so important an issue. As we research them, our findings will most likely stir us up to seek for urgent and appropriate responses to reclaim the faith of our young people even if this is “the last Christian generation.”