Many Christians lose their faith not because of a spiritual crisis or intellectual doubts but because they cannot handle the social pressure often exerted against believers. When they encounter opposition to Christianity from their friends, their colleagues, or the social set they aspire to, instead of holding on to or contending for their faith, they give it up. It follows that Christians today, especially young people, need from the church not only catechesis but fortification.
So says David French in his National Review piece Another Pop-Culture Christian Loses His Faith. He is discussing Marty Sampson, the former worship leader of Hillsong and writer of a host of popular “praise songs,” who, like Josh Harris, recently announced that he is leaving Christianity. (Actually, Sampson now says he hasn’t renounced Christianity completely, just that his faith is on “incredibly shaky ground,” as he struggles between the Christian apologists’ arguments and the New Atheists’ arguments. So pray for him. But what’s the problem with approaching faith in terms of which side makes the best rational case?)
French puzzles over the particular difficulties that Sampson cites. The Australian singer and recording artist says that “no one talks about” the fall of preachers, the absence of miracles, the contradictions in the Bible, the problem of evil, etc.. And yet, as French says, his evangelical church talks about those things all the time! (I would add that the historical church all through the ages has much to say about them. Perhaps Sampson’s particular Pentecostal church, Hillsong, does not, favoring instead the unbridled happy-talk that characterizes not only the prosperity gospel but other strains of contemporary Christianity, as reflected in so many of the praise songs that have been Sampson’s bread and butter. Preparing Christians to live in the fallen world will require churches to be realistic, as historic Christianity always is.)
Anyway, in the course of his discussion, all of which is worth reading, French says this:
As our culture changes, secularizes, and grows less tolerant of Christian orthodoxy, I’m noticing a pattern in many of the people who fall away (again, only Sampson knows his heart): They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the adversity of adherence to increasingly countercultural doctrine grows too great.
Put another way, the failure of the church isn’t so much of catechesis but of fortification — of building the pure moral courage and resolve to live your faith in the face of cultural headwinds.
In my travels around the country, one thing has become crystal clear to me. Christians are not prepared for the social consequences of the profound cultural shifts — especially in more secular parts of the nation. They’re afraid to say what they believe, not because they face the kind of persecution that Christians face overseas but because they’re simply not prepared for any meaningful adverse consequences in their careers or with their peers.