From youth group to agnosticism - Part 2


"Apologetics is not the silver bullet." I would love to shout this sentence from the rooftops of Christian communities believing that young adults walk away from the church because they're not able to defend the faith. This is another "spirituality as theological acumen" fallacy. I know many young adults who were grounded in Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til at a Christian school still walked away in college. As we continue our conversation about evangelical youth becoming agnostic (see Part 1 here) my friend and I have uncovered a few more interesting points of tension:

(1) Christianity as a religion of "don'ts": Being more holy than Jesus seems to be a recipe for creating resentment against what Bible teaches by focusing on what Christians avoid. As Mark Driscoll points out, trying to be more holy than Jesus is sinful. Teaching a Christianity of avoidance rather than one of discernment becomes legalistic, pharisaical, and poisonous to the heart. The Bible naturally tells us to avoid things but some communities reduce Christianity to "good Christians don't do this or that."

(2) Unrepentant arrogance: We have discovered that when kids grow up listening to adults constantly criticize others, focus on the problems in the church, point fingers at everyone else's lack of orthodoxy, and develop a posture of "we're right and everyone else is wrong," and so on, it sets the trap to misconstrue Christianity as a faith of self-righteous defensiveness instead of humility and grace.

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(3) Bible abuse: This happens when adults take Bible verses out of context to guilt manipulate kids into behavior modification. For example, misusing Bible verses to keep kids from wearing T-shirts promoting secular bands but saying nothing about shirts displaying "Ralph Lauren," or "American Eagle." The Bible becomes a twisted rulebook codifying cultural preferences. Or even worse, adults using the Bible to punish kids for disobedience. When a boy will not sit still in Sunday school, is it really a good idea have him write Hebrews 13:17 50 times? What do we teach about God's word when it's used as a means of punishing?

(4) Criticizing "culture" and not living differently from it: The confusing hypocrisy of constantly berating "culture" for its empty values while being just as materialistic, success-oriented, and safety-driven as many non-Christians. For example, it is particularly difficult to distinguish many Christians from their non-Christian neighbors in possessions, values, and lifestyle after 1 p.m. on Sundays.

(5) Faith without struggle: We also discovered profound disillusionment when kids grow up around adults who never reveal their own struggles with sin and brokenness. If sin and brokenness are true, why does cowardice trump authenticity? For example, I know of boys who never hear about real struggles of being a man from their fathers or other men. As a result, Christianity is seen as contrived, fake, sugarcoated, and incapable of addressing the real challenges of life with the truth about the lives of adults exposed.

(6) Political Christianity: There is not a single verse in the Bible that locks Christians into blanket support of a single secular political party. Christians can be in the Libertarian, Constitution, Democratic, Green, and so on, for various reasons. Hopefully, Christians are "salt and light" in all parties where possible.

There is much more to be said, but this brief unnuanced list is the beginning of a conversation that many of us are having regarding the consequences of adults digging spiritual wells for children instead of teaching kids how to dig deeply themselves. When the church's kids mature, those shallow, spoon-fed, moralistic, legalistic wells eventually run dry and young adults walk away. Roughly 3,500 churches die and close each year in America. We must act.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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