J. Warner Wallace has posted his recommended plan to halt the exodus of young Christians from Christianity during college. It’s all up at Please Convince Me.
In my last post, I summarized the studies and publications that describe the flight of young people from the Church. A compelling cumulative circumstantial case can be made to support the fact that young college aged Christians are walking away from Christianity in record numbers. What can we do about it? What can be done? Whenever people ask me this question, I always say the same thing. STOP TEACHING YOUNG CHRISTIANS. Just stop it. Whatever Christendom is doing in its effort to teach it’s young, the effort appears to largely be a failure. In fact, Ken Ham (in his book, Already Gone:Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It) found that young Christians who faithfully attended Bible classes were actually more likely to question the authority of Scripture, more likely to defend the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex, and more likely to leave the church! What’s going on here? I think I know. It’s time to stop teaching our young people; it’s time to start training them.
There’s a difference between teaching and training. Training is teaching in preparation for a battle. Boxers train for upcoming fights. In fact, boxers are sometimes known to get fat and lazy until the next fight is scheduled. Once the date has been signed, fighters begin to train in earnest. Why? Because they know that they are going to eventually get in the ring and face an aggressive opponent. We train when we know we are about to encounter a battle. Imagine for a moment that you are enrolled in an algebra class. If the teacher assured you that you would never, ever be required to take a test, and that you would pass the class regardless of your level of understanding, how hard do you think you would study? How deeply do you think you would come to understand the material? How committed do you think you would be to the material?
[...]Years ago, as a youth pastor, I started taking annual trips to Salt Lake City and Berkeley. Why? I was scheduling theological and philosophical battles to help prepare my young Christians for the larger looming battle they would someday face on their own. If you want to teach your young people theology, there is no better method than to put them in direct contact with people who believe in a very sophisticated heresy. Mormons use the same terminology as Christians but deny the basic tenants of our faith. In order to dialogue with Mormons effectively, we first have to understand what we believe. When we train young people in preparation for an evangelism trip to Salt Lake City, we give meaning and purpose to the content of our teaching. In a similar way, our evangelistic trips to Berkeley (where we contact notable atheist speakers and atheist groups on campus) require us to prepare ourselves to answer the myriad of atheistic objections we will inevitably encounter. Once again, the content of our teaching in preparation for this trip takes on purpose and meaning when we know the level of our understanding will eventually be tested.
Read the whole thing. Mr. Wallace has experience working with young people, and lecturing on apologetics here at home and abroad. He understands young people because he has had to deal with them. Even if you don’t agree with them, it’s an interesting view. Would the church really turn away from being inward-focused and rooted in blind faith and emotional singing, and re-invent their approach so that it takes the other side seriously?
By the way, this is something I like to use in my mentoring of young people and in courting women as well. If I am trying to choose someone to work on, my first questions are always about what they do for a living, what they’ve studied, who in their lives is a non-Christian. I am always looking for people who have some opposition to Christianity in their lives, because it’s those people who have a motivation to learn. I am always surprised how naive pastors and worship leaders and youth pastors are about the opposition to Christianity in the world. They seem to be in their own little happy bubbles, never coming out to deal with people who disagree with them. I think the problem is that they often think that Christianity is not about truth but about feelings, and so no work needs to be done to defend any truth claims.
I was having a conversation last night with a friend who is curious about Christianity and he told me about his encounter with a “Christian” girl from the Deep South who told him about her eating disorder and how God saved her from it. He asked her if she knew who William Lane Craig was and she said no. He asked her if she knew how to defend the existence of God or the resurrection, and she said no. She had been taught but not trained. Her education was in dancing and the performing arts, as well. All of the the fields that are of interest to Christians who want to make truth claims – physics, philosophy, biochemistry, history, etc. – were foreign to her. So you are left with the odd situation of people being raised in a Christian culture who have “experiences” with God making them happy. Their faith is all about them and nothing to do with anything in the real world out there.
I think that this woman is a very good example of what the church produces, by focusing on teaching, preaching, singing and never, ever taking seriously doubts and questions. What the church approach produces is faith as a personal preference – faith for the benefit of my feelings. But Christianity isn’t a subjective experience, it’s a set of objective claims that its adherents believe and have reasons and evidence to support that belief. And with that knowledge of those truth claims, we then proceed to have experiences in the world informed by a relationship with God. It is very confusing to jump right into having experiences, many of which are just subjective experiences, and having nothing to say to an honest questioner who wants to see the evidence. But I would suspect that most pastors and church leaders are like the eating-disorder girl, and they just aren’t trained.