On one side of me is generation Y. On the other side is the Millennial generation. People my age kind of started the modern trend of going to college and leaving church forever. I cannot tell you how it felt to see so many friends from my church and youth group gradually fade from their faith.
Today, that trend has become a full-force phenomenon. The statistics are direly grim, as we all know. At least 75% of young people raised in the church will leave the church. I have a special concern for the oldest students at the school I teach at, because I know they are headed into this phase of their lives – the phase where they give up on their faith.
Volumes have been written on why a generation is leaving the church. Could it be technology? Could it be dusty old music? Could it be irrelevant preaching?
Probably all of the above.
But I think there is something else I think we’ve missed. It is not an external matter of music or preaching or iPhones, but an internal one.
We have never taught our kids how to honestly doubt their faith.
How to Protect Ourselves From All the Doubters Out There
How do we equip young people in the faith?
I have sat in many, many church services, youth group meetings, seminary classes and Bible studies. And almost without exception, the equipping we give to young people seems to be some kind of armor, as if defending from some kind of outside threat.
You see, it’s all about memorizing or harnessing Bible verses to defend against the “enemy.” It’s about finding all the evidence that “demands” a verdict. It’s about “proving” the “logic” of our faith to godless unbelievers and liberals who threaten our way of life.
From my vantage point, every aspect of modern Christian education and spiritual formation assumes that there is some kind of looming threat. But if we just build a wall of apologetics that is tall and strong enough, then our faith will be able to survive the siege. This was the model all the way from youth group to seminary level graduate studies.
The Enemy Within
What the “defense” model neglects to acknowledge is that so often, our greatest threats do not come from outside, but from inside the sturdy armor we have dressed in. Our biggest enemies are ourselves. We are our own antagonists. It is our minds that attack our faith.
It is not peer pressure or the “airtight” arguments from atheists that rock my faith. It is the quiet little grain of sand that lodges itself in my mind and will not unstick itself no matter how much I scratch. It happens in the middle of the night, quite unannounced and unprompted. And before I know it, my world feels like it is in a tailspin. It is not the actions of others that make me doubt God, it is my own actions that lead me on to doubt.
It’s kind of like getting your kid thoroughly bundled up to go out in the winter weather, only to find once you finish that he has to pee.
You Can Doubt Most of Christianity and Still Be a Christian
For all the Bible verses we pile on, and the defenses we build, how many of our pastors are being honest with us when it comes to how much we have to believe?
See, I think the biggest problem with the defense model is that it piles and piles beliefs onto the believer. Like the Pharisees piled laws on top of laws in order to stay righteous, we tie heavy burdens of orthodoxy around our necks.
And then what happens, at least in Jesus’ words? We make people twice a child of hell as we are.
What I wish I had been told sooner is that faith is not an all or nothing thing. It’s okay to jettison some things, if it keeps your faith afloat, if it lightens your burden. It’s okay to doubt everything. You can doubt most of what modern Christianity teaches and still be a Christian. The Apostle’s Creed is very minimal. There is no mention of the Earth’s age or evolution or predestination or transubstantiation or speaking in tongues or homosexuality or any of the other little stones we pick up and call “neccessary.” Most of the stones we tie around our necks are completely inadequate and unnecessary.
I believe that if I call on the name of Jesus, I will be saved. Beyond that, I can’t think of many stones I really want to pick up and carry with me.
What about you? Do you wish that doubt was a part of our Christian formation rather than something to “defend” against?