Setting up young people to lose their faith

I was just reading some comments by 18 year olds on facebook about religion. A young woman, H, wrote passionately that the the Bible was written by God and religion – or at least Christianity – was good for the world. She was in a tussle with a young man, T, who  sounded like a seasoned atheist, asking how the Bible could have been written by God when it was riddled with ‘contradictions’ and ‘errors’? I assumed T’d been brought up an atheist, but then a third person commented that until a few months ago T had believed the Bible was written by God too.  Perhaps T is a young man turned off Christianity by his first year of uni.

Evangelicalism sets its young adults up to lose their faith. Too many of them are given a stark, unthinking choice: either God wrote the Bible and thus it is perfect OR God does not exist and religion is a harmful delusion. It’s not that evangelicals actually put the choice directly like this to their young adults. Instead, it’s that a perfect Bible is put up as the centrepiece of faith and other expressions of Christian faith are dismissed.

Instead of this, young people should be shown the wide, diverse riches of Christianity, its many expressions, its wide river and many branching streams. Warned perhaps that some parts of the river are stagnant and stinking or dried up or lead to places you don’t want to go. But at least made aware that the perfect Bible is one particular tradition, a response to problems of the 19th and 20th centuries. Few of them are even shown the riches and diversity within the evangelical tradition, let alone the other streams. Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water should be required reading.

7 thoughts on “Setting up young people to lose their faith

  1. I’ve encountered similar stories: “the Bible says Pi equals 3, therefore God doesn’t exist.” Most people don’t stop to realize that the first half doesn’t actually lead to the second half in any logical way, but I agree completely that the evangelical church in general has set up a strict division between it either all being true or none of it being true. The New Atheists prey on it so effectively, too. I’ve read some of their works and they often make a similar argument to what you just said: there is a mistake in the text, therefore all spirituality is bogus. Because evangelicals have been set up with a similar choice by their own churches, they are far more likely to fall for such terrible reasoning.

    1. I enjoy articles that reflect honestly whats currently happening for the 21st century christian especially the young people growing up in the church.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    Would it not be better for pastors in Evangelical churches to encourage their young people to engage with the story of Jesus and relate this story to the critical issues of our time than giving the impression that the bible is a perfect document?

    Concentration on the story of Jesus and actually following him makes central things central. Jesus told stories. He did not set out a set of doctrines which we are to believe, least of all an inerrant bible.

    The essential reliability of the witness of the Gospels to Jesus is, at least, much more defensible than trying to defend a perfect bible. Giving the impression of a perfect bible sets up many young Christians for a fall when they encounter the phenomena of the bible or when the problems are pointed out by others.

    John Arthur

    1. I agree – that’s certainly the centre of faith for me. I’m arguing more ecumenically here, though, that an awareness of the diversity of the Christian tradition itself would be a useful awareness for teenagers as they head toward uni. Know your own tradition (and this focus on Jesus seems the best approach to me!) but also know that there are other traditions and approaches within Christianity, and disproving fundamentalism does not disprove them all.

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