Last week I wrote a response to two blogs, which CNN had posted. The first post addressed the reasons why the millennial generation was leaving the Church. The writer believed that the main reason was a disingenuous element to the Church itself. The other post contended that while the Church was not helping keep this generation, the other major influence was the rise of Atheism and freethinking.
He believes that once kids and young people grow up and hear alternative views, they run from the Church’s teachings.
To quote my last blog,
“The question is, which is the greater influence, the Church or Atheism? To be honest, I am not sure nor do I think it matters. Truth is truth regardless of who claims it. What I am sure of is the millennial generation is longing for authenticity and honesty. Yet, this is where both sides are falling miserably”.
It is this dishonesty, which needs to be addressed. In this post I will be addressing the Church’s intentional or unintentional dishonesty. Please read my opening remarks and blog post addressed to Atheist, as well. Also, watch for the a final post speaking directly to the Millennial generation.
The Church’s Dishonesty
Let me first say, I love the Church. I love the Church because “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Christ came, sought, and died for the Church and those who would be called the children of God. He has commissioned this Church to step into a broken world and declare a message of good news, the Gospel. I am honored to be a part of what God has instituted in bring restoration to that which is broken.
With that said, I do understand that this belief is one based on faith. In the area of faith I believe the Church must be more honest. We are quite confident in saying that we are people of faith, yet do we realize this means we believe in something that we can’t completely prove. If we can’t completely prove it, why do our heads explode every time someone questions it?
Now, I do not believe our faith is a completely blind, uninformed faith, but rather it is a faith that has elements, which can be confirmed. From my perspective, Christianity is the only faith system, which aligns in the areas of science, history, philosophy, logic, and reason. However, at the end of the day, it is still faith. There are aspects of my faith, which I am unsure of and do not fully understand.
These uncertainties are not common to only myself, but also many others. I contended in my last post that so many leave the Church not because any other belief system requires any less faith, for even a lack of belief requires an element of faith. Instead, in my experience and observation, I see people disgruntled with the Church because they never had their uncertainties addressed or they experienced something in the Church, which seemed to contradict the faith they once claimed. It is in this area I believe the Church has failed and is still unwilling to be honest.
If the members of the Church are being honest, we all have doubts about things that we claim. If we do not doubt certain elements of our faith, and then wrestle through those doubts, how are we to ever grow? Wrestling through doubts, seeking God for His wisdom, and allowing Him to reveal Himself further, is the greatest grower of faith. However, if we are not wrestling with our doubts, and graciously letting others wrestle with theirs, then why are we surprised when people leave? What choice do they have if they are not allowed to wrestle with their uncertainties in a community of love and grace?
Tim Keller is his book, A Reason For God, makes the case that Christianity is more than blind faith. There are coherent and logical reasons for having a faith in God. These logical reasons are more than capable of handling our doubts. Furthermore, in the book, Keller addresses doubt and a seemingly inability of the Church to graciously address those doubts. He said the following,
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubt, which should only be discarded after long reflection.
Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts-not only their own but their friends and neighbors. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them.”
To my dear bothers and sisters in the faith, it is in this area that I believe we’re lacking. This is certainly another reason why so many millennials are bleeding from the Church. For too long it has been unsafe to question the intellectually difficult elements of faith and the biblical challenges of interpretation. There are truly difficult aspects of our faith and if we aren’t willing to acknowledge them, and be willing to wrestle with them, for ourselves and others, then we’re only going to continue to push people away.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a bible believing Christian who holds firm to basic tenants of Christian orthodoxy. However, I know there are legitimate questions being asked and either harsh responses or no responses are being given. What is our response when we’re asked, Why is their suffering in the world, why doesn’t God make things right, why does the Old Testament seem so violent, did evolution really happen, does God really choose people to go to heaven or hell, what is the meaning of life, why is the church so against homosexuals, how come my mom died after I prayed for the cancer to go away, why did God take my children from me, how can a loving God send anyone to hell?
What are your answers to these questions? Are we loving and gracious realizing we don’t always have the answers and therefore must be willing to wrestle through the doubts with people? Or do we declare, “just pray, read your bible, and God will undo your lack of faith in that area?” or “God is God, who are we to question?”
Another issue has to do with biblical interpretation. As Christians, we should absolutely be a people of the Word. We hold that there is no higher authority and that every belief, pursuit, and theological declaration is subject to it’s mandates. However, this is another area I would implore the Church to pay attention. Investigating the text with an openness and without a predetermined ideology is the only way to be true to the text. People can make the text say whatever they want if they go into it looking to have it confirm their bias.
Additionally, when did we get so dogmatic concerning our own interpretation? I wholeheartedly believe there are people who love Jesus and who are being faithful to the text who come to different conclusions than me. Isn’t this the beauty of the Scriptures? God reveals aspects of Himself to different people. So when we come together with our understandings of Him, we do not find contradictions, but rather a greater understanding of our great God.
Lastly in this area, if the Word of God is true, then it can withstand the criticism of a skeptic and the findings of a scientist or philosopher. One disingenuous aspect of the Church, which Millennials see, is the unwillingness to allow external findings to cause us to consider re-evaluatation. For example, I still see too many Christians fearing science. However, if God revealed Himself to humanity through nature long before He revealed Himself through Scripture, then is it really so wrong to allow science to cause us to re-evaluate our interpretation of the text. When there is a direct conflict, I’ll always default to the text, but how much about the mind of God can we learn from nature.
This is side note, but lets be honest here. In the realm of science, I don’t know squat. I have not dedicated my life to science and scientific pursuits. However, there are people far smarter than I am, who spend their entire lives understanding how nature works. Therefore, to a certain degree, it makes no sense for me to argue with some of their findings without fully understanding their positions. In my last post I addressed scientists who think it is ok to step into the realm of theology, based on their limited knowledge of the subject. It makes them look ridiculous and disingenuous. However, this is no different than a theologian or pastor arguing with them about evolutionary biology or quantum physics. We really need to stick with what we know, at times allow science to cause us to re-examine the text, and trust that if the text is true, it will be revealed as such.
I could be wrong, but I think a willingness to do this, and a humility that says maybe it’s worth a second look, would make great strides with those who are doubting. At least there would be a willingness in the Church to help them wrestle with their doubts
Bottom-line, the Church must have faith to believe that God is greater than we are and therefore we don’t have all the answers. However, the Church cannot default to this position. As Keller said, doubts “should only be discarded after long reflection”. This means we have a responsibility to be people who think.
In a response to a question about America and the American church, Ravi Zacharias gives some profound statements in the area of thinking. I would highly recommend watching this short three-minute video.
In this response he makes several statements. He said, “There is very little thinking that goes on in church”, “we have not listened to others and what their questions are”, “there are young people today…who long to come into the church to think”. His point being that the Church is not providing answers with substance, but rather parroting answers with no real depths. Again, I would highly recommend watching the short clip.
If the Church is unwilling to graciously wrestle with doubts, be honest about biblical interpretation, admit to uncertainties, and pursue thinking, then we can’t be surprised when people leave. Being unwilling to lovingly walk a faith journey with people, while pretending to have all the answers seems pretty dishonest to me…