one big reason why so many young people are giving up on the Bible–and their faith

one big reason why so many young people are giving up on the Bible–and their faith March 18, 2015

TBTMSThis one comes from the heart.

I’m speaking from my experience here–no polls or surveys, though I know what I say here lines up with those I’ve seen over the years.

As is well known, the trend among young people raised in conservative churches is to leave their Bible, and often their faith, behind.

In my experience, one big reason (not the only reason) behind this trend has to do with the Bible–maybe not the Bible itself, but how they are implicitly taught to read it:

*As a collection of go-to verses that tell them definitively and absolutely all they need to know about the world they live in and what God expects of them.

*That this kind of Bible is their sure anchor for maintaining their faith. Stray from it and their faith is shipwrecked and their eternal destiny is in jeopardy.

But as they grow older, especially when they enter high school or college, they find that their structured world supported by Bible verses is not adequate for providing a compelling explanation for the complex world around them and how the Bible can continue functioning as the anchor it once was.

So here is a simple plea–from a biblical scholar with his feet firmly planted on the ground, who has raised now adult children, and who now teaches young adults and sees the stress they are sometimes under to shelve their questions and misgivings and “hold on” to their faith.

*The way to reach them is not simply by promoting a more aggressive Bible reading program. If they are having problems with the Bible as it has been taught to them, shouting at them to keep reading the Bible they have been given “or else” won’t do much good.

*The way to reach them is not by taking an even more rigid, protectionist, “here I stand, the gospel is at stake every 5 minutes” position. That is the very attitude that contributes to them wanting to walk away. A reinvigorated apologetic for a faith that already doesn’t connect with them isn’t going to make them want to connect more.

*The way to reach them is not by glitzy rallies and hyped up motivational speakers with tattoos and torn skinny jeans. These young people are not shallow. They are worried and even despairing that the faith they have been taught is actually unable to support them once they leave the nest. They are not consumers looking for a cool deal. They are looking for meaning, whether their faith matters.

What may help reach young people is modeling an attitude of vulnerability:

*A genuine willingness on the part of their leaders and mentors to acknowledge the legitimacy of their experience of disconnection.

*Honoring them by being willing to engage with them the difficult hermeneutical/theological challenge they face.

*Deliberately creating a culture where the sometimes overwhelming difficulties of joining contemporary faith and ancient text are a welcome and expected conversation and where the outcomes of those conversations are not predetermined.

Vulnerability like this is risky, but worth it, because our children are worth it.

It will mean accepting the paradox that helping promote the continued spiritual vitality of your tradition will likely require some adaptation and change of that tradition for the very sake of those you wish to pass it on to.

It will mean not simply a preoccupation with training young people to be faithful to the past, but a genuine willingness to be faithful to the future, to deliver a viable faith to our children and children’s children.

Truth be told, one reason I write most of what I write (like herehere, and here) is to work through and contribute to this kind of conversation.

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  • Don Bryant

    Even without the larger issues that you bring up in “The Bible Tells Me So” and “Inspiration and Incarnation,” I think that many grow very tired of the three or four things that come out of the conservative Evangelical crowd (and I count myself a part of that crowd) that are simply overdone – inerrancy, solo scriptura, penal substituionary atonement theory linked with unconditional election, etc. The crowd gets worked up and shows up at conferences for such topics as these. I think the constant replay of three or four (or FIVE) notes just gets tiresome and people begin to nod their heads, give assent and then drift off or away. It seems that Evangelicalism thinks it can sustain itself on this platform. It can’t.

    • JG

      Well said, Don. The reasons you listed (plus I might add growth driven evangelism that resembles Amway more than the kingdom of God) is in large part why I have made my way to the Eastern Orthodox church.

      • Alex

        JG: Just found your comment interesting regarding your pathway to the EOC. What specifically made you gravitate there? I ask because I am from Eastern European stock and my family has roots in the EOC. They are certainly more receptive to the mystical nature of God than fundamentalists.
        Just curious.

    • charlesburchfield

      Yes! I think you have identified the elephant in the room.

    • newenglandsun

      I’ve found atonement theories to be pretty big reasons why people switch from Protestantism to Catholicism or Orthodoxy since neither Catholicism nor Orthodoxy accept penal substitutionary atonement theory.

  • I wish there were some way I could endorse this post more than just saying I endorse it.

    Near the heart of the problem are your first and second recommendations. The traditional conservative stance toward the doubts and struggles people have is that those struggles are actually illegitimate. What you are suggesting is that people who want to speak into the struggles someone is having with the Bible is that they actually admit these struggles are real and that they can identify with them. This is basically treason.

    We’d all be so much healthier as Christians if we didn’t feel obligated to protect anything.

    • charlesburchfield

      Yes! & I think that every place one is tempted to protect is bc one has had trauma.

    • Stuart Blessman

      If you speak about your troubles to your authority, you are guaranteed to get the same answers as what led to your troubles. Always ask elsewhere for answers.

      • That’s probably true, but I’m also a fan of the loyal opposition.

    • charlesburchfield

      Yep! Addicts always protect ‘supply’.

  • Luke Norsworthy

    I was just talking about this very thing with someone who had just read TBTMS. Good work Pete.

  • al

    Getting out of the house and having sex in the dorm is another big reason. Or, graduating college and leaving the campus fellowship and having sex as a 22 year old is also a big reason. And, after having sex, not being struck by lightning makes them say: hey, why did I wait so long to do this?

    Also, in our push button world, climate controlled cars, and Nexflix streams, God isn’t really necessary – and, miss church a few times and they soon realize it’s not that bad to sleep in on Sunday- no harm not foul.

    I don’t know the answer, but life in America is easy to live without God.

    • charlesburchfield

      Wow! I hear you. There is a lot more to what you say that, I think, needs saying.

    • Daniel Merriman

      True. True back in the late 60’s when I started college, too. I appreciate Pete’s points and don’t strongly disagree with any of them, but the transition from youth to real life is tough for everybody in modern America. The defensive strategies that post WWII evangelicals have adopted– YEC, inerrancy, etc.– have been particularly inept and that may have exacerbated things somewhat, but the basic problem doesn’ t strike me as all that new

    • charlesburchfield

      I think what really matters is that when addicts of any stripe hit bottom it is usually then they begin their journey to faith.

  • Your first point on being vulnerable is: “A genuine willingness on the part of their leaders and mentors to acknowledge the legitimacy of their experience of disconnection.”

    However, this gets employed by all, whether authentically or not. What people can tell is when it’s just someone saying, “That’s a good question,” because it’s part of the prescribed “answer-plan” and when the person really is noting the legitimacy of the challenge presented.

    • Stuart Blessman

      “We listened and we acknowledge what you said, now here, once again, is the real answer to your questions. Why do you deny what you already know to be true?”

      Sorry, Pete…I don’t know if there can be any genuine willingness as you allude to it. Reminds me of that report recently about the Catholic priest who opened the doors to listen to everyone’s grievance…and yet failed, once, to acknowledge shortcomings or be open to or willing to change.

      “Glad you shared…you’re still wrong.”

    • charlesburchfield

      Yep, that’s tuff! I think that takes discernment from the holy spirit. It’s spiritual warrior fare.

  • dfrese

    Pete, I agree completely with your point about validating the disconnect of people who doubt.
    BUT. You say people want to know if their faith will support them? Or if their faith matters? I don’t think that’s the issue. I think they want to know whether or not Christian claims about the nature of the world are *true*. Validating their experience without giving them solutions (i.e., convincing evidence) is not going to be enough for those with serious doubts. (I speak as a former doubter.)

    • Tony Vance

      I rarely get into these discussions, but this was an interesting comment. I was raised in a fundamental household, and I was a devout Christian until I was in my mid twenties. I am now an agnostic (and 33, so it hasn’t been all that long, maybe 7 years or so).

      I loved my Church (and I still love all of the people I know from that time), I liked the idea of God, but I just couldn’t justify the contradictions to myself anymore, and I had to admit that I couldn’t stick to my devotion to evidence-based thinking and my faith at the same time anymore. Maybe I am atypical, but I change my mind somewhat frequently as I learn and am confronted with new information.

      I hear a lot of people say that people leave church because they “like sin” or reject the rules. That’s probably true to an extent, but I can say for myself that my lifestyle is not substantively different between the time I was a Christian and now. The rules that Christianity has that I break now are the same ones I broke then, so I don’t think that played heavily into my thinking.

      The biggest thing that was completely nonsensical to me was the drastic shift between the old and new testament. In the old testament, God was objectively a horrible person. He ordered the mass slaughter of all sorts of people when they did nothing wrong, he set up draconian punishments for minor offenses, etc. In the new testament Jesus is about grace and forgiveness (which are ideals I hope I always hold onto). I think it’s a little convenient that the Bible takes a nicer tone after the Greek thinkers defined objective morality the way we understand it today. It makes it seem as if the God of the Bible adjusted to the latest understanding of morality, not the other way around. All I can say is that if I were in Joshua’s army and told to kill an 8 year old kid just because of where he lived, I would say no, I don’t care who ordered me to do it.

      • Ross

        Thank you for your comment Tony.

        The old testament is a very contradictory text. I think that we try and harmonise a lot of disparate documents to make it all give the same message, but I don’t think the OT can really be made to do that.

        As I believe Mr Enns has often pointed out, there is a mix of horrible stuff and great stuff in the OT. The NT is also a fair bit contradictory (though many people will disagree on both points) and yes there is quite a disjoint between the OT and NT (no-one has ever given a satisfactory explanation as to why it’s okay for me to have a prawn cocktail now).

        I think that too many Christians can’t differentiate between an omnipiant God and a pile of ink on paper. In the absence of an obvious superior being, they substitute the writings for him.

        I have been reading the bible for 30 years now, it took me 10 years to even start being able to read it. I discover God more and more through reading it. I can’t claim it’s inerrant (because it isn’t) and I am very wary of any quick interpretation of what it may be saying, but I do revere it. However it isn’t God, nor does it clearly represent who he is or what he wishes, at least superficially.

        What I would say is that there really is a God and in many ways he is the God of the bible, Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Jesus.

        But he sort of makes you work at it to know it. He comes at us sideways, not straight on. For some reason he talks in parables not straight-forward language. Why? I’m b******d if I know why, but that seems to be the way it has to be.

        Maybe God wants us to want to find him, and therefore does’t give himself up easily. Maybe he is just a bit of a sadist, I don’t know.

        You said that you are now agnostic, maybe you aren’t. maybe you have just grown out of the “fundamentalist” household you were in and are now trying to find the real God who your past didn’t quite show you clearly enough.

        • chriswhite7

          Off-topic, but I can’t figure out what your bleeped word is and that’s bugging me.

          • Ross

            Ah, it’s a rude and politically incorrect word, that us English use too often. I’m ashamed to repeat it:-(

          • Shannon Menkveld

            This is actually a pun.

      • Luke

        I think the way Peter’s work teases out this problem is super interesting, especially on the differences between OT YHWH and Israelite propaganda on the one hand, and the surprise twist in the NT that the writers are trying to wrap their heads around on the other. I wouldn’t say it was “convenient” — that’s a bit conspiratorial — I would say they were as surprised as you are 🙂 IMO it’s not a nonsensical shift, it’s an incredible and profound fulfilment and — this is the kicker — refutation. That’s exactly what “the meek will inherit the earth” means: no more violence.

        • Actually “pious” is a better translation of the Greek term than “meek,” so it could just be “blessed are those who follow the rules.” Translation errors and mutations are a real problem, and there is no way to disentangle them without plunging into scholarship. (See “virgin birth.”)

      • Ross

        Dear Stuart, thanks for your post.

        From my perspective I am truly aghast at the number of people who claim to be “Christians” but really don’t seem to be.

        Somehow it appears that God allows people to claim to speak on his behalf, who seem to have no knowledge of him at all, e.g. the Pharisees in the New Testament narratives.

        If we are all “fallen”, then maybe none of us will have “perfect” knowledge of God, history, science, whatever, but it doesn’t mean that we can have no knowledge of him.

        Luckily I don’t live in the USofA (which I assume you do) so there is less pressure to believe in an “inerrant bible” or more precisely “inerrant interpretation of the bible”. or “inerrantist interpretation of the bible”.

        Tell me, are you upset that many are poor or starving, or broken and hurting, then maybe you know the heart of God.

        Are you really “agnostic” or has your own common, God_given sense, just moved you out of a particular set of institutionalised beliefs?

        It may be that the God presented to you beforehand is not really the God of the universe. Maybe you’ve just stopped believing in a God who never existed but it doesn’t mean you can’t meet the real God who is there.

      • berryfriesen

        Tony, your point about “the drastic shift” is important, but it’s not as insurmountable as you imply. Read 3rd Isaiah, Ruth, Jonah, Joel and Daniel–all written very late in the OT period–and the “shift” to Jesus doesn’t feel so drastic. Earlier prophetic texts in the OT also sound themes that are consistent with Jesus.

        Part of the difficulty is that most congregations haven’t paid much attention to the chronology of OT writings, a difficulty my co-author and I try to address in “If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible.”

        And part of the difficulty is that few congregations take seriously the very real argument in the OT between the imperial and anarchistic visions, even though it is plain for any reader to see. Obviously, Jesus is a huge disconnect from the imperial worldview, but do you think he is a “drastic shift” from the anarchistic one?

    • Stuart Blessman

      And many of us have found out that those Christian claims are very much NOT true. For many of us, Christianity has been tried and found wanting. We discover history, politics, and all the many things that have perverted and corrupted the Bible and the church throughout the years, from dispensationalism and young earth creationism, to inerrancy and historicity. We. Were. Lied. To. Often intentionally, often not. Sometimes benevolently, sometimes not. But the end result is the same. The Christian claims, as we were spoon fed them from infancy to adulthood, are utterly and truly false.

      • AlanCK

        Just curious, what Christian claims in particular? “Blessed are the poor”–is Jesus out of line with reality on this? “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life”–is John confused or trying to tell us something other than what the church has always believed him to mean? If you were lied to does that mean everybody who believes was lied to?

        • charlesburchfield

          Yes, probably. Who knows? Do you? If you know how do you know?

        • Stuart Blessman

          There’s a difference between Christian claims and Jesus claims. Or even John claims (which, is another claim, that it was a certain John cuz “authority” or something).

          There’s the difference.

          “Hath God really said?” Turns out he didn’t, someone else put those words into his mouth. So the answer is no, he didn’t.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          What does your quote, “blessed are the poor”, even mean? If we speak of the homeless, then many people are such through no fault of their own, many are mentally ill, many have to engage in prostitution just to survive, nearly half of all homeless youth are made such by persecution of LGBT+ people, and on and on.

          If we are talking about general “the poor”, that is relative to where one lives. My family and I live in the USA, and with my alright pay we can live pretty good compared to people in other countries, but we are always not far away from homelessness. Also, I deconverted about two years ago (atheist), and my family is not particularly adherrent to “Christian behavior” (however one might define it).

          “blessed are the poor” is vague, and I can’t conclude if it’s true or false based on that short, pithy phrase alone.

          • AlanCK

            The whole beatitude is “Blessed are the poor, for they shall see God.” As to what it means, you’ll have to ask Jesus Christ himself as he is the one who spoke it. But as far as I can tell, “Blessed are the poor” is a different statement entirely than “Blessed are the middle class” or “Blessed are the favorably socially located.”

          • jrj1701

            The full text is “Blessed are the poor in spirit” it is not referring to monetary poorness, yet something deeper.

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            My initial question stands even if what followed was a misunderstanding based on an incomplete quote.

          • jrj1701

            Giauz Ragnarock, the poor in spirit are those that know humility.

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            What other interpretations of who “the poor in spirit” are are there?

    • chriswhite7

      That is exactly what I was thinking the whole time I was reading the post above. The crucial element isn’t their faith, it’s what the faith is based in. The problem is seldom that they have bad or weak faith, it’s that they’re asked to believe in things that appear ridiculous.

      • charlesburchfield

        Like loving ememies? Or believing in a ghost?

        • chriswhite7

          Well not “loving enemies” or believing in a ghost. I do believe in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. I was thinking more of Young Earth Creationism, literal interpretation of everything in the Bible, belief that if any part of the Bible is less that literal and inerrant than everything else falls apart. Worshipping the Bible (a book) as God himself in written form, sort of a 4th member of the Trinity.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          I’d say “loving enemies” is an admirable pursuit, but then one is going so far as to call someone they love their enemy. I think that’s the limit of the teaching: “be generally positive, but you are still against this person being around”. That’s all fine and good as there’s a lot of stuff that reasonably can be opposed that certain people make it their “life’s work” to uphold, but the phrase seems to engender smarmy passive-aggression and self-righteousness.

          • peteenns

            I hear what you’re saying, Giauz, but might I suggest you find several learned commentaries on what blessed are the poor and love your enemies meant in the religo-political world of 1st c. Palestine? You are working with some mis-apprehensions.

          • charlesburchfield

            Yes! ‘loving’ & ‘forgiving’ are nothing but passivly aggressive intellectual constructs…or are they?

  • AlanCK

    Is not the attitude of vulnerability consequent on what sort of God is being worshiped? If what you have said above is true, then conservative churches don’t trust God.

    • Andrew Dowling


    • charlesburchfield

      Ya think!

  • My two cents.

    As a college professor my sense is that what my students need is a compelling vision of Christianity, real flesh and blood communities and exemplars of what living like Jesus looks like in the world. If they have this then they are willing to do the hard and uncomfortable work of rethinking how to approach the bible. But if students lack a compelling vision of Christianity then the work they’ll need to to–like reading your book Pete–just doesn’t seem worth the effort and headache.

    You have to make the hermeneutical education they’ll need to go through seem worth it.

    • peteenns

      Very helpful and valid point, Richard.

    • charlesburchfield

      One of the signs of addicts in recovery is the ability to be honest & have empathy.

  • ryan walton

    This has been my story. Thanks for your work, Pete.

  • Derek

    I’m a simple human, and a relatively young one.
    I can relate to a lot of the issues brought up here as I struggled and continue to struggle with Christianity in a good, honest way. However, at the end of the day I find myself simply believing the bible. I believe that there is a supernatural God who can be difficult to believe in at times (but I find I am more angry with him than literally doubting His existence). I believe in supernatural forces – demonic and angelic. I believe the miracles in the bible literally happened (though that can be difficult, can’t it?). I believe in supernatural regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit, and that He seals His children for the day of redemption and resurrection. I think we need in depth Bible study and application to our lives and I think we need apologetics on the big ticket items like the resurrection.
    What’s up with the dinosaurs though? 🙂

    • Dave

      I agree with you Derek. The Bible strengthens our faith greatly, but I have had a faith in God since I was a little boy. It was just always there. If people want to do the hard work, they can find that the Bible is the true word of God revealed to us. You are right about in depth Bible study.

    • charlesburchfield

      Love god love others. Do as you’d be done by. James taylor says ‘you just can’t kill for jesus’.

  • toddh

    Thanks Pete. As a youth worker, this is what I try to do week in and week out, and I’m indebted to you and others for your work in trying to chart a course forward.

  • Ross

    Thank you Pete for a very pertinent and heart felt post.

    I am very aware of my own friends who are stressed to a very fine point due to where their own children may end up.

    Unfortunately I think the biggest issue is that younger people are idealistic and often see a big disjoint between what the older people say they believe and how they live out their lives.

    Assenting to an “idea” of belief or a belief of “ideas” is not enough, if lives don’t show that a relationship with God is different and really does make a difference, then why would a young person follow on?

    Faith is not just a matter of the mind. It is a matter of the body and action. It really doesn’t matter if you know God’s address, phone number, habits and past history. If you’ve never rung the number you are still an atheist, practically.

    Significant Christian people need to show younger people that they are humble, often wrong, loving, trusting, weak and strong. Principally that they seek God and wish to live as he would have them live.

    Where the significant people just show that all they are concerned about is that they are right because they rightly know about God and their lives don’t show it, then of course the young will leave.

    Hopefully, where young people give up on their faith, it is because they are leaving a facile and empty understanding of God. We can all pray that they will discover a real and vital relationship and have left emptiness to find a fuller and real relationship somewhere further down the road.

    The real tragedy is of course that the young, recognising the emptiness and Godliness of their elders’ “religiosity”, leave it and never find God.

    I tend to feel various degrees of frustration to anger towards the “inerrantamundalists”, maybe because of the many friends I have had who truly sought God but left. I really don’t think they all left because the baubles of the World distracted them. For many, I think that those who strongly represented and lead “the faith” were not really in a relationship with God. I think this mirrors the rules of management; “The less competent you are, the less able to recognise your own incompetence you are, therefore the greater level of competence you think you have, therefore the greater confidence in yourself you have, therefore the higher level in management you achieve”.

    Not that I’m bitter mind……..

    • Stuart Blessman

      The real tragedy is of course that the young, recognising the emptiness and Godliness of their elders’ “religiosity”, leave it and never find God.

      I’m starting to ask whether or not he is there to be found. I think I see him in the lives of a very, very select few, but it’s always in the gaps, between the cracks. The vast majority don’t show him.

      What do we even need to be saved from? What do we even need a relationship for, especially if we can live by the general principles, ie Sermon on the Mount?

      I honestly hope there is nothing but silent emptiness after death. Eternity as final, eternal rest. Nothingness. Sounds so peaceful after a life in the church.

      • Ross

        Dear Stuart, thanks for your comment. It sort of tears me apart, not because of your questions or observations but because I feel That there is Value in crying out to God, but not seeing Him is a difficult place to be in.

        All I can say is that he is there and loves you, and wishes to be closer to you. Though that really may not be obvious.

        Maybe like many things, he can only be found if you look, so I hope that you look with a pure heart.

        I have found him to be a bit elusive, he seems to be there when I most need him, but not always, My interpretation of the “footprint in the sands” allusion is that the other person b*****s off to get an ice cream and actually leaves you on your own on the beach.

        Once gain, thanks for your honesty and I hope he blesses you with his presence.

  • Joey

    This is an interesting post from the point of view of what the main goal is. Is it to have the younger generation continue on with the Christian tradition? Is to motivate and instruct them to maintain their (Christian) faith and belief in the bible? Is it to keep the Christian machine going? Is there an underlying assumption that Christianity will make them better? All of the above? I suppose there is nothing wrong with this and regardless of bents and beliefs, institutionalism will be part of it- whether folks like it or not.

    A big dilemma though, is that with the internet, pluralism, and a variety of cultures in our country, all good things by the way, the scales have been balanced. Christianity can no longer claim that “those people are not free,” or “their community is a mess,” or “what goes on in our community is WAY different than that community.” It’s common knowledge that we are all pretty much the same- regardless of religious or non-religious beliefs. As well as dealing with the matter of trying to help the younger generation maintain faith, there is also the matter of trying to answer the following: And believing in this stuff is good for me, because…?

    Back in the “good ole days,” if there ever were any, it was easier to hide stuff, point to the world, preach about how messed up it was, etc. Can’t do that anymore, because now most in our country can point back and say, “Listen, I respect your beliefs, but your beliefs and behaviors are not so different than those in community x, y, or z. There may be differences in the deity or holy book that’s read, but there’s really no difference in behavior. There is good and bad in all groups.”

    So, yes, on the one hand: cool, let’s help the younger generation try to maintain their faith and consider grappling with the text. On the other hand, as they interact with their world- that is if they are not trying to evangelize it and are actually listening to the other side- they’ll encounter people who may not follow Jesus, but are living lives worth living and trying to better the world.

    This doesn’t mean they have to leave their faith, but questions and tensions will arise, and if they were paying attention, they’ll wonder why they were told what they were told about non Jesus followers.

    • Andrew Dowling

      IMO if you want to pinpoint the #1 reason for the rise of the “nones,” especially among young people, it’s growing interactions with diversity.

      • Joey

        Absolutely, Andrew. It’s one thing to be isolated and have thoughts about the behaviors and beliefs of others. It’s quite another to play in sports leagues together, go to the same schools, and develop friendships. Sure, there will be wrestling of ideas and concepts along the way; but, to then try to tell these kids that somehow one faith is better than the other or imply it, presents a dilemma. In this case, it becomes easier to be a “none” than to alienate others due faith matters.

        • berryfriesen

          What if we talked more about the faith of Jesus? What if we stopped making a religion out of him and instead called one another to his faith that YHWH uses compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to save the world? Then talking to people of other religions wouldn’t be such a dilemma, would it?

          • Joey

            I hear you Barry. However, there is also a dilemma in that. If I am interpreting what you said correctly, the assumption is that Jesus is the only one in the discussion. To people who don’t hold that point of view, Jesus is part of the discussion- but, he is not the sole person to look to- for that matter, neither is YHWH. This does not make them bad or people in need of rescuing- although, that is the mindset.
            As I mentioned in an earlier post in a different manner: faith in Jesus or YHWH doesn’t necessarily produce a different / better people. We have learned that in all religious and non religious groups that there are good and bad people and we are not so different.

          • berryfriesen

            Well yes, it does raise other very serious institutional issues (my religion or yours, etc.), but I wouldn’t call this “a dilemma.”

            Jesus invites us to a way of living in the world, a highly vulnerable way, a way that YHWH will bless and through which all of creation will be blessed, a way that the Bible calls “righteous.” If others are attracted to this way (and the Bible assumes they will be), and we tell the curious that we first saw it in Jesus and they tell us they first saw it in someone else, then a very promising conversation has begun.

            Of course, the religious institutions will try to steer the conversation to the afterlife, which is their strong suit. So we’ll need to be ready for that.

          • Joey

            Good points Barry, but I think we are talking past each other.

            If I am interpreting your 2nd paragraph correctly, you are talking about evangelism. In your 3rd paragraph, again if I am reading correctly, you are hinting at evangelism without the institutional system.
            One more time: if I am interpreting you correctly, your premise is that somehow we need to create some sort of urgency / response / passion so that others will want to follow Jesus.

            Perhaps there is “no dilemma” in the different religions (mine vs. yours); however, just observing our country, it is pretty obvious that following / believing in Jesus does not necessarily lead to better lives or a different ethic.

            Engaging in conversations and relationships with others, is just that. From my view, it’s not to size them up and think in the back of our minds, “They are nice people; now, if I could somehow get them to believe in Jesus, they’d be better for it.” Not only do I believe that this is not true, but again there is good and bad in all groups.

          • berryfriesen

            In my better moments, I believe compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance will save the world, and that greed, punishment and domination will destroy it. That’s why I identify as a Jesus follower. And you’re right, I perceive great urgency in this.

            At this point in our history, young people apparently perceive the Christian faith as a religion rather than a way of life that prepares for a just and sustainable world. I expect that perception will change as the imperial order becomes more openly hostile to human values and the way of Jesus is again perceived (as it was in the beginning) as an alternative political order.

            But we’re far from that now, and we will only get there by articulating a strong critique of the empire and how Jesus is different.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Church gives one “information” about how people are and say this comes by inspiration of Jesus, but then one actually gets to know a lot of people and realizes that those people actually are more qualified to speak about who they are than any Jesus of the Bible’s many portrayals.

      • charlesburchfield

        I’m not sure what you mean by ‘diversity’.

      • newenglandsun

        I don’t think growing interactions with diversity produce a “none”. I grew up Evangelical in a non-denominational church that was some-what more fundamentalist (though not aggressively dogmatic) for most of my life and then I switched to the Evangelical Covenant Church for about a year and a half which was much more liberal in terms of its overall teachings. I’ve studied religion quite a bit and have had many interactions with people of other faiths–Jews, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, atheists, etc. That actually didn’t drive me away from a conservative church, my own studies actually led me to find a more conservative and authoritative church.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I’m not talking about “interactions” . . I’m talking about lifelong friendships that begin in early childhood with Jews, Muslims, non-believers, Buddhists, various Christian churches etc. The United States is far less homogeneous culturally and religiously than it was 40 years ago.

          • newenglandsun

            As an introvert, I really only have interactions and I don’t really talk about religion unless it is relevant to the discussion. When I was younger and not well-indoctrinated about soteriological issues other than that faith was necessary to enter Heaven, I would have cared about the souls of my non-Christian friends. Now, I have been better indoctrinated and do not judge the spiritual lives of others because I am first among sinners.

  • Mike H

    “who now teaches young adults and sees the stress they are sometimes under to shelve their questions and misgivings and “hold on” to their faith.”

    Great post Pete. The whole thing resonates so much with my own experience that it hurts. It’s exhausting. I’m 34 now, and I don’t think it’s just young adults who deal with this.

    • Aaron Tubbs

      Mike H – I completely agree and I feel your pain. I’m 33 and after having just finished seminary (a very conservative one I might add), I am for the first time really wrestling with questions that have always been there, but have not been “safe” to ask. And you are right: it’s exhausting. When the entire social structure I’ve built my life around is of the conservative, inerrantist sort, I feel a steady and draining necessity to keep up evangelical appearances. Add to that the fear that “Maybe I am shipwrecking my faith!” and it becomes so tiring. So: hang in there. You are not alone.

      • Stuart Blessman

        I turn 30 in a month, and that’s where I’m at.

    • chriswhite7

      Heck I’m 51 and I’m dealing with it after being a Christian for over 30 years.

      I wonder who exactly will be the ones to give them all the things you are bringing up, Pete. First someone—parents, church leaders, Bible school professors (if they go that route) will have to already be in the right place themselves, which many aren’t. After all this time I still don’t really know how to guide my own kids because during their teenage years and now into young adulthood, and college (one in a Christian school, one in a secular university), I’ve been going through a gradual deconstruction and trying to figure out my own spiritual beliefs.

      • charlesburchfield

        Heck yeah! Can’t teach what we don’t know!

  • Preston Garrison

    The situation is very much what it has always been. The vast majority of parents desperately want the best for their kids. Their every impulse is to protect them, as parents, as pastors, as youth leaders. The Puritans felt the same, and toyed with the idea that all the children of saved people are predestined to be saved. But it just isn’t so.

    The truth is that kids either will or won’t find God for themselves. Some will only find the one thing that someone else can give them, a set of doctrines, and go on to live empty, disappointing, church going, rule-following lives. Some will reject what they were taught, fail to find God on their own and will live whatever epilogue He gives them. And some will find God or be found by Him – I won’t try to solve that mystery here.

    The most basic thing the older generation should give the young beyond beliefs and love is the honesty to say, “you have got to go face the living God and connect with Him. All that knowledge we have given you adds up to responsibility, and the only way you can bear that is to find Him and walk with Him.”

    It’s a good thing to deal candidly with intellectual problems, the considerable stresses of becoming an adult, etc. but the big thing that determines all else is do they find God or not? And you can’t do that for them, no matter how much you want to.

  • HenryC

    This is not different from the past. There have been wave of retreat and return to the bible, and it happens frequently to young adults. Not everyone is destined to be saved.

  • I like what you said about “adaption” and “change” as one thing that is required to keep people engaged. Rigidity forces people to choose and they will often bail when being forced to do so. I like what Henri Nouwen said about “The Virtue of Flexibility.”
    Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and are standing up again when the storm has calmed down.
    Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy-washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground. A humorless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause these issues to break our spirits and make us bitter people. Let’s be flexible while being deeply rooted.

  • Dave

    It is sad that so many Christians are reluctant to open the Bible and study the Word that God has revealed to us. And then complain that they are losing their faith.

    I am 53 and have been a Lutheran my whole life. But over the last 3 decades I really identify as a Christian who worships at a Lutheran church. The liberal mainline denominations frustrate me, and they do a bad job of teaching the basics of biblical Christian theology. My wife was raised in the Catholic Church, and she has become comfortable at the Lutheran church, so that is where we worship. I can only push things so far. If you know what I mean. 🙂

    I have tried to have conversations with my children (now 18 and 21) as they have grown up that helps them understand the basics of Salvation, and what Christ has done for us. You have to discuss these things, and you have to be prepared to answer the tough questions. If you are not prepared, your kids will lose interest. Both of my children are strong on basic Christianity. How they will carry that knowledge into their adult life will be up to them.

    I have relied heavily on the Christian Research Institute (CRI) at I do not know how many people are aware of this resource, but they offer so many resources that answer the questions that most people have. I have listened to Hank Hanegraaf aka “the Bible Answer Man” since the late 1980s. His broadcasts can be found everyday on the website. I love listening, even though I have heard many of the same questions over the years.

    We are told by God to make ourselves prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within. We need to do the work to make ourselves prepared to answer questions, first for ourselves, and secondly for those we encounter. Someone else wrote about their simple faith, and they have always believed in the Bible, and God. I am the same way, but the more you learn through study, the stronger your faith will become.

    Sadly, most would rather power-watch their favorite cable show, than learn more about their faith.

    • Mike H

      My own faith challenges and trials initially came about from being MORE engaged with and honest about what the Bible actually is and says, not LESS. And for me at least, the “bible answer man” hermeneutical approach is certainly not the smallest contributing factor to said challenges and trials.

    • Stuart Blessman

      “But how can they understand without a teacher?”

      Which is precisely where the error is. The teacher, for decades/centuries, has been wrong.

      Why would we listen to a teacher who has consistently shown, by fruit and knowledge, that they are wrong?

      A whole generation is reading the Bible and studying the Word for themselves. And proven the teacher wrong.

  • Christian

    I would put Mr. Enns’ thesis on it’s head. I think young people who grow up with a shallow religion who didn’t get the parental instruction of the gospel they needed as children get overwhelmed by the complexity of the Bible and would rather not actually read it for themselves. They would much rather sit with the simplistic “do no harm” morality of the public schools/sunday school. I would change one passage in this article to read “But as they grow older, especially when they enter high school or college, they find that their structured world supported by their public school/sunday school educationis not adequate for providing a compelling explanation for the complex world of the Bible…” I think that more bible reading is absolutely a part of the solution. It is very easy for Biblically illiterate self-identified Christians to take passages out of context, interpret them hyper-literally, or disregard the overall sense of the Biblical narrative that is so crucial to orthodox hermeneutics. Misunderstanding sows hostility.

    • Stuart Blessman

      So if we just properly understood the Bible, everything would be ok?


      Because, simply, the Bible is not true. As understood and interpreted by so many over the last few decades/centuries. The Bible. Is Not. True. So proper education is not the answer, when the textbook itself is poorly intepreted and translated and understood.

  • Bill Norton

    As heartfelt as this message is intended to be, I think it misses the point touched on by Preston and by Ross. Where and how do God and Jesus fit in here? I see no mention of God in this post except a line about how God expects them to live. Is that a bad thing, to seek to know how God and His son expect us to live?

    Isn’t that what faith is all about? Forget labels like Christianity, which no longer has a clear meaning. Forget trying to develop a personal hermeneutic, as Dr. Enns has, to accommodate his own take on how to read the Bible. (See his own books he cites at the end of his post. If you read his books, be sure to balance them by reading scholarly reviews of his work. Try Google.)

    Working through these issues using reason and evidence, as Dr Enns demonstrates with his suggestion of an “attitude of vulnerability” could create even more cognitive dissonance and Dr. Enns has no Christ-centered plan to help the confused cope with the emotional and spiritual discomfort.

    Someone earlier mentioned modeling. In the 12-Step program to which I belong, modeling plays a major role in helping people maintain their sobriety. I call these people “God with skin on.” I wish churches had something similar.

    I just don’t think Dr. Enns’ three suggested remedies address the real need: one’s relationship with God or a deity of one’s own understanding.

    • Mark K

      “Deliberately creating a culture where the sometimes
      overwhelming difficulties of joining contemporary faith and ancient text
      are a welcome and expected conversation and where the outcomes of those
      conversations are not predetermined.”

      Bill, if this is not 12-Step-wisdom compatible, I haven’t been going to meetings the last 15 years. 🙂

      • Bill Norton

        Mark, Congratulations. on 15 years. The 12-Step group to which I belong is more God-centered than most churches I’ve attended. I’ve seen numbers of Christians come to AA wondering why God or Jesus didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t keep them sober, only to discover they been praying to a God of their “misunderstanding.”

        I read Dr. Enns differently than you do. I think what he’s talking about — based on reading his first two books and his blog — is using reasoning to deconstruct the ancient texts in his own novel way and promoting his personal hermeneutic.

        The 12-Step meetings I’ve attended try to join the faith we’ve developed in the Fellowship with contemporary problems of living life on life’s terms. And the Fellowship IS a culture where “the sometimes overwhelming difficulties” of like can be openly discussed.

        And what comes out of our mouths is rarely predetermined.

        One of the gifts of the fellowship — to me — is that we talk in stories. Stories, research shows over and over again, communicate messages and meanings far better than the argumentation, the polemic, that underlies much of what Dr. Enns evangelizes in his books.

        I think that statement you pulled looks good, looks compatible to 12-Step wisdom, but the evidence-trail Dr. Enns leaves in his books and blog posts shows me, at least, that he’s not talking about what happens in the 12-Step fellowship. The conversation he seeks is more about scholars like him convening with other — usually like-minded — scholars and swapping their various interpretations of Scripture without being held down by the outcomes expected of Reformed Christianity or Neo-Calvinism or Evangelicalism or whatever “ism” is the antiquated biblical attitude du jour to be deconstructed.

        But that’s just me thinking after reading his works and after reading scholarly critiques of his work, which unfortunately never make it onto the Google review blurbs.

        Again, congratulations on 15 years. If I credit Enns for anything, it’s for driving me back where I belong: in a 12-Step group.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “a deity of one’s own understanding.”

      Everyone worships a deity (if they worship a deity) of their own understanding. It’s literally impossible not to . . how do you worship a deity of your misunderstanding?

  • tmselden

    The young people of these past 40-50 years have been fed pablum (baby food) from the pulpit and in their homes. We, as parents and leaders are so resistant to stating the facts to children. Sin is rarely, if ever, discussed and we are always trying to err on the side of compassion and a distorted form of love. These kids that don’t want anything to do with God, unless on their terms, have been raised to think that life is all about them. They, as well as many of their leaders and parents have failed in not teaching them from the beginning that they are wretched sinners in need of Jesus Christ for any sort of redeemable life. These kids need to grow up as well as their parents and start serving the God in whom they would not be able to breathe without! I am sickened by what I see passed off as Christianity. We should be ashamed as parents and leaders for not exalting His righteousness and holiness and following strictly His mandates for living. We have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind. God will not always strive with man. Let’s quit talking and start living the truth. Otherwise all our kids see is hypocrisy. May God have mercy on all of us!

    • mikehorn

      This comment illustrates exactly what drives kids away from faith. What a dark, dismal, repressive view of self and humanity. Good luck.

      • tmselden

        There is none so blind as those who cannot or will not see. Now, that is dark and dismal.

        • Stuart Blessman

          So preach Law to believers will solve everything?

          No, lol.

    • cajaquarius

      I never asked for life. I owe God nothing. If He can explain His rejection of me for being gay, let him. If He can’t then let him cast me into hell. If the fat, ugly, stupid Christians who abuse and slander my brethren go to heaven while the gentle, good people I work with in th LGBT community go to hell, I’ll choose the latter. I will not bow to evil to save myself.

      • tmselden

        Be careful what you wish for. And aren’t you glad that God doesn’t demand your obedience and let’s you make your own choices?

        • cajaquarius

          And nobody had to die in Auschwitz, they could have just chosen to bow to Hitler or leave Germany. What a glorious and good ruler. Same song, same dance.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You do know there are TONS of churches preaching hellfire and damnation that will welcome you with open arms, right? The U.S. doesn’t have a shortage of churches preaching sin and hell, although here’s the kicker . . .the judgment preached is either towards the ‘others’ (leftists, gays, abortion doctors) or not really preached at all. I’ve seen VERY few preachers actually go off on sin and judgement regarding topics that would really hit their congregants close to home (ie how much absolute worthless sh^& did the average congregant buy the past year made by slave children in Asia or which resulted in widespread environmental destruction? Critiques of excess and greed at the expense of others are repeated over and over and over again in the Bible, but crickets . . .). Because keeping that basket full on Sundays ends up being primary over all else. They know their audience.

      And that’s a big reason why young people are leaving. The rank hypocrisy and selective outrage.

      • tmselden

        Just exactly what did I say that wasn’t true that upset you so much? Do you not know the Word of God? Your response tells me that you belong to the easy believism crowd that thinks that Jesus is just lovey dovey and is just standing there with open arms full of grace forgiving continual besetting sin. I suggest you spend some time reading Jesus statements and Paul’s epistles. It is time for this generation and their parents to grow up and realize that God’s two commandments that fulfilled the law (notice He didn’t erase the law) were to love God first with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others. There is no ‘me’ gospel. You either take God at His Word or you don’t.
        Is God not just? Does God not demand us to come out of the world and be separate? There is no equivocation with God. He is very specific about heaven and hell and who goes to hell and who doesn’t. You have fallen for a big lie. God doesn’t play people-pleasing games. He is calling for slaves to die to Him, put away sin, and obey Him. That probably doesn’t sound like too much fun for this coddled generation of church attenders. Walking with Christ is not for the faint of heart. I hope you will find a place where the WHOLE gospel is preached, not just where your ears are tickled.

  • newenglandsun

    I think much of the problem is that too often, non-important doctrines are emphasized and the fear of Hell is reinforced for people who question. As well, doctrines are emphasized that have not been well-defined or thoroughly explored by the said church denomination. One reason I left the Evangelical faith is because I had a lot of questions on the doctrine of the Trinity that the Evangelicals I talked to would either state were too complicated or just refuse to answer. Evangelicals have accepted numerous doctrines that are neither defined nor to be rejected. A major weakness.

    With the Catholics, I was wholly accepted as an inquirer and learned and studied their faith. Had some issues I still needed to resolve. The Anglicans I went to were more conservative but also much more welcoming than some of my own family members. A lot of my distant relatives have completely rejected my older sister’s social standing among them as she is an atheist and a lesbian–not so with this conservative Anglican denomination.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if some of the Evangelical emphasis on decrying and drawing the line on what is and is not Biblical with no recognition of a centralized authority to define this question is a major contributing factor as well. For instance, my own tendencies regarding the afterlife are more universalist but most Evangelicals I know of would quickly dismiss this as having no Scriptural warrant.

    • charles k wainwright III

      You raised a very pertinent point organized religions, particularly the evangelicals won’t admit. And that is what Paul warned the church about; falling into the trap of man-made doctrine becoming more holy than the teachings of Jesus. And yep we have done that. Far too often our man-made doctrine, creeds, dogma, rules, and ritual however supposedly Bible based have become more important than the spiritual truths taught in the Bible. Far too many Christians have become hubris, shallow, cliche spouting robots. Sadly many of our leaders fit that description also.

      • newenglandsun

        I don’t think I was attacking organized religions. From my own experience the Evangelicals are and have been far less organized than where I find myself at right now. I think doctrine, creeds, dogma, rules, and ritual are good as long as they are helping us connect to Jesus. Teaching these things as mere articles of faith to not be questioned is wrong. Teaching these things as expressions of the faith to be lived is what is important.

        The sacraments of the Church such as baptism, confession, and the eucharist, help connect us to Jesus–baptism incorporates us into Trinitarian life, confession reminds us we are sinners, and in the eucharist we devour the flesh and blood of Jesus. None of these are man-made though. The Trinity for the most part is something many Evangelicals take for granted without realizing how critical it is to Christian life.

        I’m not at all against organized religion at all. I think my comment showed an overall deeper appreciation of organized religion as opposed to disorganized religion.

  • Mike H

    To those several commenters here that are quick to solve this “problem” via the following:

    -Question the character of the young adults (or not so young adults) who struggle to “hold on” to their faith or who flat our walk away from it (at least the form of the faith that they were initially given).
    -Blame their laziness and selfishness.
    -Say that their faith wasn’t “Jesus focused” enough.
    -Convince them (and yourselves) that they never had a REAL “personal relationship” in the first place and THAT’s why this happened. Recognize that this “personal relationship” language is inevitably tied up with religious language, belief, and action, so let’s not act as if a “personal relationship” is a self-evident unambiguous concept that is unrelated to the intellect.

    There’s also the blame game: blame the parents, or teachers, the culture, or churches, or liberals, or fundamentalists.

    Is there some truth to these in ALL (not just struggling or former believers but ALL) people – perhaps. Ultimately though, these are convenient but fallacious assumptions, and they don’t do justice to the uniqueness of each individual life and story.

    Perhaps identifying a scapegoat can provide short term unity, and/or help us chart a better way forward. Of course people and institutions can do things better and there’s enough blame to go around. But such approaches are simply not helpful if you’re hoping to make a difference. And I can only assume that the reason for the comments is because you recognize that this does matter. Listen to these young adults. Do we truly believe that God as revealed in Christ is loving and forgiving, patient, and understanding of our confused existence? That God can handle questions? A fear based culture in which those who don’t toe the line are ostracized will simply not help even if the motives are good.

  • Al Cruise

    Lets tell the truth here. The right wing conservative evangelicals have been the gatekeepers of faith for many decades now. Young people are tired of their hypocrisy. Most notably the ability of the gatekeepers to remain silent and circle the wagons when one of their own leads their Church into the flesh of the world. These young people are the first generation to actually do something about it by turning their backs to it.

    • charlesburchfield

      I get the hit that right after WW2 ppl like bill graham, tho sincere & w great sex appeal stumbled on to a pyramid scheme. Fast forward to today’s baby franklin and what is it you get when you sow the wind? THE WHIRLWIND!

      • Al Cruise

        Yes exactly. I just sat with a group of university students discussing this very issue. We discussed the Creflo Dollar issue and brought up his website, and discussed what it states his Church’s mission is, clearly an evangelical message. We also brought up Gateway, and the disbanded Mars Hill Church, John Hagee, John Piper and Pat Robertson. We discussed the response of evangelical gatekeepers to these ministries, when controversy arose with them, and let me assure you, it is a great misnomer to believe these young people are not enlightened, and are ignorant of how Jesus lived and what he taught.

        • charlesburchfield

          And a little child shall lead them…(that says) ‘ the emporer has no clothes.’

    • Stuart Blessman


  • mikehorn

    I was baptized and confirmed Catholic. I read church history, Aquinas, Baltimore catechism. Listened to Sheen recordings. Then I read the bible, cover to cover.

    Now I am an atheist. From experience, the surest route to non belief is reading the bible cover to cover.

    • Aliquantillus

      Simply read the Bible from cover to cover won’t help you to understand it. What is needed is close reading and real study, and this done very creatively in the Jewish tradition. To separate Scripture from the ongoing stream of tradition of which it is part, and reading it in an individualistic approach is very foolish. It is like cutting off yourself from the source of life. American individualism, which is very much ingrained in modern culture, is one of the main obstacles in learning how to read and understand traditional texts, and in particular the Scriptures.

      • newenglandsun

        “To separate Scripture from the ongoing stream of tradition of which it is part, and reading it in an individualistic approach is very foolish.”
        If you’ll notice, mikehorn said he was baptized and confirmed Catholic. That is most likely what he had been doing as a Catholic. It is a problem in every religion. Numbers are gained and numbers are lost and often times, the reasons are unexplainable.

      • Stuart Blessman

        Nah, you don’t need study or the vain philosphies of man, you just need the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and anything you read and understand will be true because He’ll lead you into all truth. Haymen?

      • cajaquarius

        Why should we trust tradition?

        • charlesburchfield

          I honestly don’t know what the commenter meant by ‘tradition’.

        • Aliquantillus

          Because the Bible is a product of tradition.

          • cajaquarius

            So is slavery. So, again, why should we trust tradition? Where is the benefit?

          • Aliquantillus

            The benefit of trusting the biblical tradition is in the effects.

    • charles k wainwright III

      I completely understand the Bible has some very vicious nasty stuff in it. In part it depends what you are looking for when you read it. That is true of all religious or philosophical writings including the ancient and early Christian writings included in the Bible. You could say the same about some of the scientific stuff it takes a leap of faith to believe some of what they promulgate. I should add I had a similar background and in my twenties went through my agnostic/ atheist phase. Then I read the Bible again in my thirties and kept reading through my fifties. I also read other sacred religious documents. I found that I understood all differently at each of the different stages of my life. It helps to look for the positive in the Bible and ignore the errors, inconsistencies, and negative bs in the Bible.

      • Without Malice

        If you read only the positive parts of the bible you’re in for a night of very little reading.

        • charles k wainwright III

          That is true. As a wise person once said when asked to describe the meaning of all religion, Love your God with all your heart soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. all the rest is commentary.

    • Larry Logan

      So few Christians do read their holy book and only a small portion of those understand it. Study of the history of the bible and the development of fundamental beliefs upset the apple cart. By study, I mean an academic study beginning with suspension of currently held beliefs so what if found will not be distorted solely to reinforce those preconceptions. For example, I challenge Christians to study the cultural, politically, and theological process of the creation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Actually, atheists know more about the bible than most Christians, and that leads to atheism nearly every time.

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        Heck, a kid with a smartphone is more aware of what the Bible says than the Jesus/YHWH in the Bible.

    • jbarlow

      The claim that “reading the Bible cover to cover will make you an atheist” is just as facile as “praying the sinner’s prayer will make you a Christian.”

      Everyone has different reasons for their beliefs and why they change them. Your experience may not extend to others.

  • 4 WIW

    It strikes me that a lot of what is said in the article and in the comments offered regarding it miss the point of the sovereignty of God. Recall Jesus’ teaching about the 4 soils on which the sower spread his seed. It has always been the case that some will fall away. Tragic as that is, it should not be surprising. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is not mysterious that many are lost – it is miraculous (due the the salvation paid for by Christ) that any are saved. Believing that a better way to present the Bible to youth will help them become Christians is the first step on the slippery slope of “works righteousness.” This not to say that there aren’t many ways in which to make the Bible unappealing, but even the most unappealing presentation of the Gospel will see souls saved, if the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of the hearers.

    I share the sense of angst that many have regarding the waywardness of so many in our time, but God is on His throne and He is in control – that is all we have to keep sight of. God is good – all the time.

    • charles k wainwright III

      And that my friend is a perfect example of the cliched responses which even though they have an element of truth, they have a shallow ring from being overused and misused. Some of the seed falls on very fertile ground but find they can’t fully develop because they are stifled by organized religions that won’t go beyond the cliches. “All have sinned and fallen short” is probably the greatest fear tactic verse in the Bible not counting Revelations with the antidote to the fear being repeat after me John 3:16. And those seeds which fell on fertile soil and can’t grow respond, really, you think that’s all there is to it, then you haven’t read the Bible right. The follow up answer to that objection is well no you have to go to church regularly, tithe, and try to stop sinning. Really says the seed in fertile soil that’s the best you got, that will get me into heaven. Riiiiight! By the way what is Heaven really? What is God really? What is the soul? I have questions you have no answers. Maybe I need to read the Gita too.

      • charlesburchfield

        Good! good! good!

      • 4 WIW

        I’m sorry for your anger. I have prayed for you.

        • Charles K Wainwright III

          I am not angry. I am just saddened man has so twisted organized religion it obfuscates the true message and negates spiritual growth. A little more realism and more focus on the way the truth and the life could go a long way towards reviving Christianity. Why persist with things like ‘God is on his throne” when we know full well there is no throne, no pearly gates, no streets lined with gold. Such phrases are merely symbolic descriptions of a better afterlife in what we call Heaven.

    • Without Malice

      Good to know that you think God is such a klutz that he couldn’t create the world the way he wanted it. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful then there is no logical way anything can happen in the world he created that he did not know would happen even before he created it, and seeing that it would happen, he, of his own free will and according to his own design made the world exactly as it is and will be through every age.

  • charles k wainwright III

    Read correctly the Bible can be a fun read. You just have to be careful what you take literally and what you don’t. Like Leviticus, there isn’t a Christian living who takes that whole book literally. We don’t even take some of what Paul wrote literally. And then there are parts of the Bible we should take to heart literally but ignore.

    Referencing apologetic, I would say most of what I have read which was published in the last fifty years is nothing but trite, shallow, Socratic arguments. Rather than enlightening, it seems to be an impediment to seeking spiritual truths. If there is any recent writings out there which would lead you to dispute that statement, please tell me what it is.

    Those out there who can read and are seeking tire of the cliches, be they true or not. They know intuitively John 3:16 is not a get out of hell free card just because you can repeat it. It may be a good beginning, but there is more to it, and it is up to us to ferret out the deeper meaning(s).

    • charlesburchfield

      Well you mite take a look in the direction of richard rohr. A lot of the richness of my spirituality and successful living in sobriety & serenity I can attribute to following a 12 step program. Chake, rattle & roll!

  • give_me_a_break

    It’s not a popularity contest. If the Bible is truth, it does not matter if you vote yes or no. If young people cannot “hold” onto the Bible, what does it matter to the truth of scripture ? Gravity is gravity. If you are standing on the roof and step off because the truth of gravity is not compelling to you, what does your unbelief matter to gravity. I encourage you to believe what you want to believe. But let me suggest that what you WANT does not matter. If you cannot see the truth of God in the heavens and in his creation, don’t believe and embrace whatever alternative you imagine is out there. God cares nothing about market share. God, counts in individuals not numbers. If there is no God, then these arguments hardly matter as you are dead meat already. You just have not fallen down yet and all your thoughts, pro or con, are empty and meaningless

    • newenglandsun

      I disagree with the “truth of gravity”. The actual truth is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is dragging us down to the ground with his noodly appendages (PBUH!).

    • charlesburchfield

      I validate you sir!

    • Larry Logan

      Exactly, again, exactly what truth of God can be seen in the heavens and in his creation. For example, what truth of God does a stone reveal. Also, by “heavens” I assume you mean the stars we can see.

    • Stuart Blessman

      If the Bible is truth, it does not matter if you vote yes or no.

      Ah, and here is where we find the lie, the subtle sleight of hand most aren’t aware of. Because interpretation and tradition and history never plays a key role in truth at all, does it. Two different interpretations can be equally true and equally false; it does not follow that one has to be always be true and one has to always be false.

      So is the Bible true?

      No, it is not. Not as many have understood and interpreted it through it’s simple, plain, logical meaning.

  • In my experience, one big reason (not the only reason) behind this trend has to do with the Bible–maybe not the Bible itself, but how they are implicitly taught to read it:

    *As a collection of go-to verses that tell them definitively and absolutely all they need to know about the world they live in and what God expects of them.

    *That this kind of Bible is their sure anchor for maintaining their faith. Stray from it and their faith is shipwrecked and their eternal destiny is in jeopardy.

    I’m not sure how this could be changed to better match:

    What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

        “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
            and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom 9:30–10:4)

    “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”

    • What does Israel’s failure to achieve righteousness through keeping the Law have to do with Pete’s point that youth are taught the Bible is a comprehensive textbook on all knowledge?

  • Kash

    one reason young men leave Christianity is because
    it is just a muale bashing exercise
    and women or womanhood is always held as correct
    men are basically seen as failed women who need to become women…

    as all churches just pander to feminism.

    • Well, that would explain why women hold all the positions of power in churches and seminaries. Oh, wait….

      • charles k wainwright III

        Ah, but the actual control in individual churches is most often held by women despite Paul’s misogynistic teachings.

  • LMJ313

    Of course younger people are not reading the bible. They live in a world where instant gratification to satiate virtually any type of curiosity they have is found online. They are deluged daily with pornography, violence and counter-cultural messages that diminish the consequences of bad behavior. Lying isn’t so bad now because the message is driven home that everybody does it. Sex before marriage or wanton sexual romps with no strings are not taboo as they once were because slut shaming is considered misogynistic. Movies, TV and all other brands of media pass it on. I’m raising two girls and try to talk with them and have tried to keep them on a good path. But they feel pressure because now their decisions to not engage in bad behavior has often left them open to ridicule. It’s a losing battle, my only hope is that when they eventually succumb to peer pressure that they don’t end up making a mistake that ruins their lives or the life of someone else.

    • Stuart Blessman

      Peer pressure…so better to attend church and just pay lip service just in case everything is true? Kind of like that “live as if there is a God” type of apologetic, where if you just follow the Law, you’ll be saved regardless of any real faith.


      Young people have read the Bible. We know it very well. Instant gratification? Things like the Internet have been a blessing, putting knowledge at our fingertips instead of behind gatekeepers, or allowing communication in real time with similar minded people. Porn, violence, counter-cultural messages? Only those that go against a certain point of view, the stereotypical 1950s conservative white middle class American message. Lying isn’t bad now? No, we realize everyone has always lied, and those who said it was bad often employed it the quickest. Sex isn’t taboo? Because old sex laws were based on lies, deceptive history, property laws, and sophistry.

      And on. And on. And on.

      The thing most people need to realize is that we’re not “doing anything bad”…because it’s been discovered time and time again that things were never “bad” to be begin with, and we’re working on correcting that misperception.

    • LMJ313

      The question being asked was why are young people giving up the bible and giving up on the idea of even bothering to have faith altogether. The answer is obvious in today’s climate: Neither the bible, the lessons one can derive from it or even having faith is going to make your life any easier or provide some kind of material gratification. The messages for kids today is strictly about self- gratification, particularly instant gratification along with things becoming easier, open and public. Expecting the kids of today (who are bombarded by messages maligning religious faith, disparaging the bible, berating Christians and questioning Christs motives or that he was never real to begin with) to grow up hearing that every single day and yet retain the values of what they have been brought up with is a fools hope. As far as the PR war is concerned, secular humanism wins hands down because the message speaks to them. Is it “hurting” anyone? No? Then just do it. It’s your body. Life is short, enjoy yourself. Don’t be a prude, relax, it’s nobody’s business, don’t judge, loosen up, it’s cool, just be yourself, just do it, don’t be a hater, it’s your choice, don’t listen to them, nobody is perfect, everybody does it, who cares, so what?…

      You compare that common thought process being targeted at teenagers and contrast it to a religious belief system with a code of conduct, rules, limits and clear-cut rights and wrongs and add in the sheer enormity of the messages counter to all of those things…well, who can blame kids when they end up seeing religious values as a waste of time?

      • I blame the rap music and that Snoop Doggy Doggy character.

        • charlesburchfield

          Nope. it all fell apart w rocky & bullwinkle.

      • charles k wainwright III

        You have just described the original and only sin there is. Just like the symbolic story of Adam and Eve we put self-gratification ahead of God and God’s will for each us. That is the only sin, well other than to blaspheme the Holy Spirit i.e. deny God
        All the other things we call sins are simply morals or mores for the human race to evolve in a civilized manner, and many of them are still relevant in the current era.
        Breaking any of the 10 commandments is detrimental to a harmonious society. But if breaking several of them are sins which condemn us to what is called hell, then ain’t none of us going to see the pearly gates. Think about it, even something as benign sounding as being politically correct is quite often a euphemism for lying. I mean may a bolt of lightening strike me if by telling the truth or giving my opinion hurts somebody’s feelings. Thus we are all being encouraged by society to lie.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Breaking ANY of the ten commandments…? Ok, I guess it depends on what authoritarian dictatorship you are thinking of.

          • charles k wainwright III

            Really? We have all lied. Many have coveted, committed adultery, stolen (cheated), spread gossip i.e. false witness, or worked on the Sabbath. Clearly such things are not beneficial to a harmonious society.

  • R Vogel

    Posts about young people leaving the church are ubiquitous. One thing I think would be interesting is rather than try to dissect what is wrong with ‘the church’ that is causing them to abandoning it, and take a look at where they are going? Beyond all the window dressing of belief, church is a community. If young people are foresaking that community, are they getting it somewhere else? That may give some insight into what they are not getting from church. The reality is there are many options for church from the very progressive to the very conservative. There doesn’t seem to be a big rush from one to the other. There is just a rush to the exit. So NO church is meeting their needs, not just a particular kind of church. Is perhaps church just a dying concept, like the Elk Lodge? In my experience young people are no smarter or immoral than any other cohort. They are just different. Instead of all the talking, perhaps some listening and paying attention to what they actually do when they leave church will give people useful insight.

    • charles k wainwright III

      Unfortunately you are right church is a community, and that is all it is. It’s a place to socialize and network. It is sad that is all you can get out of church.
      What’s even worse is the church community goes out of their way to keep out undesirables. An undesireable can simply be someone who disagrees with the community belief or mores.

      • R Vogel

        What else would you get out of church?

    • charlesburchfield

      What saved my faith when I was young in the 70’s was the first church of the joni mitchel.

      • R Vogel

        Blessed be her name.

    • jbarlow

      As a millennial, I don’t you can separate what happens in churches from the wider demographic context of this generation. Young people are to some extent alienated from the broader community and not part of the political dialogue. We’ve come of age in the worst economy in a generation, and despite talk of recovery career prospects are dim, the cost of living and education is accelerating, real wages are dropping, cost of living is excessive, and most of these are the consequences of trickle down economics, an unjustified war, and a paranoid response to terrorism. America invested in tax cuts for the wealthy instead of her future, and we reap the consequences. And evangelical churches have championed all these policies more consistently than any other group.

      Progressive churches have not, but they were not useful in stopping them. The common denominator between the two camps then maybe be pragmatic reality: churches in general have not been useful or effective for young people, in terms of ushering in the kingdom of God which should be characterized by the increase in liberty, equality, and justice (in the sense of fairness) for all people.

      I’d say young people leave the church and go nowhere, because there’s not much community elsewhere either. Or it’s found among friends and co-workers, other new parents in daycare or baby classes, etc. If there is a difference, I’d say young people are less judgmental, or more open to diversity as someone put it in another thread.

      That said, I think Pete is quite right on a more micro-scale about how individuals reexamine their beliefs.

      • R Vogel

        Anecdotal evidence from either side is simply not helpful. It is all hopelessly biased. The older generations think millenials are whiny and coddled, and to some degree they are; millenials think they are alienated and left out, and to some degree they are. Neither really matters. On a practical basis, if your goals is to find out how to keep millenials in the fold you need to find out where they go when they leave. They don’t just float around untethered. Well, they might for awhile but eventually they find some sort of community. I think the real fear is that there is a risk that the communities they prefer won’t support full time clergy and big air conditioned church buildings, etc. Like the Post Office, the institutional church may be becoming simply irrelevant. Obviously the people who make a living at it are going to be concerned. I mean, there used to be a time that you found friends, co-workers and baby classes at church. Millenials no longer do. I suspect there is something bigger at work, but I think the powers that be are terrified to find out what it really is.

  • $9196089

    It always seems to boil down to this…..”We need to change something or do something new in order to keep people in church and get new ones in”

    Enns is indeed right on some issues but all else told a lot of the younger generation just won’t attend church just because they don’t like it no matter how differently you do it or how the pastor thinks.

    • Stuart Blessman

      And that’s mostly because many of us realize that the church did change something to keep/bring in new people…and we desperately want them to roll those changes back.

      • charles k wainwright III

        I agree. I think we would all be better served spiritually if we rolled back to the apostolic era concepts before man corrupted Christianity.

  • Tom Hilpert

    I disagree almost entirely with the proposal of this post. My background is more liberal, and over the years I have thoughtfully become more conservative. I notice, however, that many conservative Evangelicals seem tempted to try what liberal Christians have already done, without considering how it turned out for the liberals. I think this is what Enns is doing.

    The truth is, a number of churches have tried Enns’ approach (as outlined above) for at least two generations. The result was that the commitment of those churches to biblical integrity was weakened, and the young people left anyway.

    What we often fail to consider is that by far the majority of those who heard and saw Jesus turned away. Was *he* doing something wrong? Should *he* have been a little more ambiguous about being the Way, the Truth and Life?

    Perhaps young people turn away because most people do. Jesus said the way to life is narrow, and few take it. I am very cautious about trying to make it more broad.

    • What is it you think liberal Christians did that conservative Christians are tempted to emulate?

    • Marc B.

      “What we often fail to consider is that by far the majority of those who heard and saw Jesus turned away. Was *he* doing something wrong? Should *he* have been a little more ambiguous about being the Way, the Truth and Life?”

      Whether or not people see Jesus when they look at the church today is highly debatable.

    • charles k wainwright III

      You used an interesting phrase “biblical integrity”, because it can mean different things to different people. What some may call heresy I might call biblical integrity and vice versa. Is there a bright line where biblical integrity starts and stops?

    • Andrew Dowling

      “What we often fail to consider is that by far the majority of those who heard and saw Jesus turned away. ”

      But then you just correlated the ‘wrong way’ with declining membership . .

  • Without Malice

    I think young people are leaving the church because they have better BS detectors than their parents. It is readily apparent that the doctrines of Christianity are bogus and that nearly everyone of them is reputed by science. The earth was not formed 6,000 years ago, there was never an Adam and Eve, never a Garden of Eden, never a talking snake. Donkeys don’t talk, a man cannot walk on water or turn water to wine and the flesh and blood of a 2,000 years dead Jew does not turn into his flesh and blood when the right words are said. It is impossible for a perfect being who is all-powerful and all-knowing to create a world which is not entirely in accordance with his will down to the smallest detail and this renders the idea that humans somehow went against God’s wishes as pure bunkum. Therefore there was never any instance where humans went against the wishes of their creator, nor can there ever be, because he saw everything that each of us would ever do in our lives, and seeing it, he gave his approval to it when by his own free will and foreknowledge he created us. So to say that mankind needs to be redeemed from the way that God made us is absolutely ridiculous. As for sin, the Jews already had a perfectly good way to be forgiven of sins: tell God your sorry and straighten out your life. So even in theological terms there is no reason why the OT God, who hated human sacrifice, would suddenly need just that in order to forgive men their sins when he had already promised to forgive them if one repented. And then we get to the idiocy that the death of Christ was needed in order for gentiles to be brought into the fold of God. Gentiles were never out of the fold of God in the OT. The Torah was meant only for the Jews, and gentiles were not bound to keep it in order to be right with the OT God. Gentiles had only to keep the laws of Noah. And of course the story of Jonah, fanciful as it is, shows that the God of the OT was already sending prophets to the Gentiles long before the Christian apostles came along and started the fiction that God had ignored the gentiles until Jesus came along.

    • newenglandsun

      “I think young people are leaving the church because they have better BS detectors than their parents.”
      My parents both lean more liberal than I do in regards to religious matters. None of what you have stated are doctrines of Christianity though.

      • charles k wainwright III

        Are Christian beliefs different from Christian doctrine?

        • newenglandsun

          I suppose it’s what you mean by Christian doctrine. Some churches like the LCMS and WELS make as part of their doctrine belief in YEC. But there’s a major difference between a theologoumenon (theological opinion) and a Christian doctrine. My own church, the ACA, abides by the Affirmation of St. Louis which can be found in the link below. This is our doctrine. Whether someone believes in talking donkeys, that the earth is 6,000 years old, that a man literally walked on water and turned water into wine or not, a talking snake, or a literal Garden of Eden and the literalness of Adam and Eve have not been elevated to the level of doctrine though yet. And I know of absolutely no church that contends that the words you say in the liturgy are what turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

          • charles k wainwright III

            I get you think yours is better than all the others. Which means you are in fact the same as all the rest. Man-made doctrine no matter how well intended is still man-made and therefor completely irrelevant to spiritual growth.

          • newenglandsun

            I don’t believe my church follows man-made doctrine. Of course I think mine is better. I wouldn’t have been baptized into it if I didn’t think so. But I also believe my church to be founded by Christ as it claims to be so I will not state my church follows man-made doctrine.

            I agree though whole-heartedly that man-made doctrine is completely irrelevant to spiritual growth. I do not believe that the sacraments are irrelevant to spiritual growth though nor the first seven ecumenical councils nor anything else that my church believes is doctrine because I don’t believe my church teaches man-made doctrine. If I did, I wouldn’t have joined it.

          • charles k wainwright III

            WOW you have bought it hook line and sinker. All doctrine are man-made: period! There is no way to refute that. Christ didn’t start a church, Unless you go by I will build my church on this rock. The rock He was referring to was Peter which would then logically lead to the Catholic church. I bet you even believe Adam and Eve were the first humans too. Even the book of Genesis tells us they weren’t the first or only people of that time. Therefor there must be other lessons we are to learn from the Adam and Eve garden of Eden story.
            I have a friend who claims Christ started the Church of Christ which I find amusing because they are an offshoot of the Mormons. I’ll never understand why some man needed to create the fantasy that the Church of Christ was actually started by Christ. I mean shoot why not follow Hercules, he was half man and half God also. Hercules had to go through many trials and tribulations, and visit hell just like Christ before he could go back to heaven.
            One more thing how does communion and baptism help one grow spiritually? They have become meaningless rituals we do to make ourselves believe we actually follow the teachings of Jesus. Now if we were still baptized by the Holy Spirit like in the apostolic era then that would mean something. I wonder why that doesn’t happen anymore.

          • newenglandsun

            I know my church was not founded directly by Jesus. Christianity was brought to England by St. Augustine of Canterbury. Then we decided in the Protestant Reformation that the Pope had made unwarranted editions to the Christian faith and so we reformed. Then there was much internal anxieties within our church and we ended up breaking into another movement when our church abandoned the Apostolic ideals.

            Yes, Jesus founded a church–it is right there in Matt. 16. Yes, Peter is the rock but I believe he is first among equals like the Orthodox do. Due to the Apostolic continuity, I am firmly convinced my own church was in fact founded by Jesus. I did not bye that “hook, line, and sinker” as you accuse me of. I spent much time researching, praying, and questioning.

            Yes, I affirm monogenesis but my church has not made a dogma out of this as the Catholics have. I do not see any scriptural evidence that there were other humans in the Garden of Eden (which I believe is metaphorical) alongside Adam and Eve. Otherwise, God would not have the need to create Eve so that Adam would not be alone. But theologians (especially of recent) have gone froo-froo over arguing pointless issues as this and I have elected to stay out of the debate.

            Why not follow Hercules you ask? Did Hercules die for the sins of humanity? Did Hercules heal my brokenness? Did Hercules defeat Satan? Did Hercules lead a sinless life? I had thought he had abused his children, no?

            Of course baptism and communion connect us to Jesus. Yes, for a lot of people, they have become meaningless. For the Apostles, there was no distinction between the baptism of the Spirit and the baptism of water. If you want to be born again, you have to be baptized with water and Spirit (John 3:3-5). The eucharist is Jesus himself. My godmother wrote this a while back–baptism was not meaningless for her:

          • Eric Weiss

            And I know of absolutely no church that contends that the words you say in the liturgy are what turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

            Perhaps you have never heard of the Roman Catholic Church:

            1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares: (1105; 1128; 298)

            It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.204

            And St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

            Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed.… Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.205

            Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., pp. 346–347). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. (my italics)

            Also read St. John Vianney (The Curé of Ars) on the priesthood:

            “Who has the key? Who lays in provisions? Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table?” “The priest.” “And what is the Food?” “The precious Body and Blood of Our Lord.” O God! O God! how Thou hast loved us! See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world….Someone said, “Does St. Philomena, then, obey the Curé of Ars?” Indeed, she may well obey him, since God obeys him.

          • newenglandsun

            I will repeat what I said:

            “And I know of absolutely no church that contends that *the words you say in the liturgy* are what turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.”

            I’m not talking about transubstantiation in general here. I am talking about the WORDS SAID IN THE LITURGY being the factor of what turns bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Considering that the Catholics approve of several different rites (Eastern–Chaldean, Maronite, Byzantine, Coptic, Syriac, Assyrian, etc. and Western–Novus Ordo, Tridentine, Gallican, English Missal, Anglican Ordinariate), then it can be highly presumed that the Catholics don’t believe that the WORDS SAID IN THE LITURGY are what turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

            (The Eastern Orthodox also consist of Western Rite Orthodox Churches including converted Anglo-Catholics, Tridentine, and Novus Ordo Churches as well.)

            And FYI, I also affirm transubstantiation. Love those quotes.

          • newenglandsun

            I further note that my own church a few years ago nearly became a part of the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church (two possible reasons: 1-we wanted to collect other like-minded Anglicans together before making the full leap and 2: we were power-hungry and our married bishops didn’t want to relinquish power and be “demoted” to just a mensignor (they’d still be priests and able to confirm but would not be able to ordain)).

            I also attended for a while a Byzantine Catholic Church.

            We do NOT use the same words in our liturgy when we are turning the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus and yet both of our liturgies would been considered valid.

    • Ross

      Dear Without Malice. as newenglandsun says, many many “Christians” have faith but don’t believe in the things you have highlighted. There is a difference between what might be happening where you are and elsewhere. In fact many “Christians” are totally appalled by what other “Christians” state they believe. For instance many “believers” in the UK think that American fundamentalists follow a different “religion” altogether.

      In fact for many of us, people don’t leave the church because they no longer believe the things you have stated, because they were never taught to them or believed them to begin with.

      I realise more and more that American inspired Evangelicalism is a false religion every time I hear about it.

      Let’s hope God never hears about it because he’ll be really p****d if he does

      • charles k wainwright III

        You are right, “American fundamentalists follow a different “religion” altogether.” Theirs is the pharisee religion with a list of dos and don’ts. They think the Bible is the inerrant Holy Word of God because they don’t know to read correctly so they don’t understand what it means. Therefor, they ignore the spiritual meaning of the scripture.

        • charlesburchfield

          The bible as artifact, the cross as symbol…

          • charles k wainwright III

            The cross as a symbol goes back before or is not exclusive to Christianity. Think the Celtics or 4000 years ago or so the Egyptians. The Bible is an artifact. Truly great philosophy or theology last virtually forever because of the truths they contain. Think Homer, Aristotle, Plato, the Gita, the Koran, and Shakespeare.

    • charlesburchfield

      Keep on grinding malice. Ppl love you here no matter what!

  • Jeff Y

    Appreciate a number of those insights, Pete, and I’ve tried to implement those as well. But, what are your thoughts about this (published nearly the same time, on Scot McKnight’s blog). I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag (though I do think Marcotte’s argument about what drives young people off – the move to be more rigid by conservatives – is fundamentally true and in line with your similar observation above):

  • Ross

    Having attacked the Australian red I probably shouldn’t be posting again……but…To restate what I said earlier, young people will not leave the church en-mass if they see God working in their parents lives or their peers’ lives. If their peers and elders hold on to a purely incorrect set of doctrines and don’t live as God will have them live, then they will haemorrhage away. Any church which is concerned about people leaving has failed in itself to worship God.

    • charles k wainwright III

      How would you describe the difference between correct and incorrect doctrines. As far as I am concerned all doctrine is made by man and therefor subject to error.

      • Al Cruise

        Jesus did not put much credence on doctrine, because doctrine is just a clever word for “Law”. Jesus said ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, The second is this : Love your neighbor as yourself.” After Jesus spoke this, a teacher of the law said… ” You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart ,and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus answered him….” You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. What are burnt offerings and sacrifices today? Doctrines, ie. Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Calvinist, Gospel Coalition, Arminian, Pentecostal, etc.

        • newenglandsun

          “Jesus did not put much credence on doctrine, because doctrine is just a clever word for “Law”.”
          From an ethical perspective, whenever a Pharisee engages with Jesus about what he must do to be saved, what Jesus reveals is a distortion of the Law that they have that has made it easier for them to “not sin”. If you’ll notice the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not change the 10 commandments but he essentially makes them harder to follow adding to them. Thou shall not commit adultery was being used by the Pharisees to mean “don’t have sex with someone who isn’t your wife and you’ll be fine” whereas Jesus emphasizes “you shall not even look upon another woman lustfully”. Thou shall not murder is re-defined by Jesus to mean “thou shall not even hate someone”. Etc.

          There is one such example where a man, hoping to just do the “easy” thing, goes up to Jesus asking him what is necessary to be saved and Jesus responds by telling him to love his neighbor. This was well-known but the man asked him further who his neighbor was trying to achieve just the minimum. Then we get the story of the Good Samaritan. The lesson is to be the neighbor.

          One such story, a rich man asks Jesus how to enter into eternal life and Jesus says that he must keep the law. The man, hoping to do the bare minimum is happy because he has done that. Jesus then adds to the Law saying “sell also your possessions”. The man then goes away sad. Doctrine exposes our sins.

          • charlesburchfield

            I think you just can’t do any of the significant things jesus wishes w out the holy spirit. I think he was getting all of us ready to receive the paraclete and he helps us in practical as well as miraculous ways to live out jesus will, helps us be ‘in him’. There is no way we cud do any of this shit on our own!

          • newenglandsun

            I agree.

          • Al Cruise

            Doctrine, the way it was treated by the Pharisees in Jesus’s time, and the way it is treated in most Churches today, causes us to sin. Worship of doctrine in the Christian Church today is an epidemic. You can see how deep the worship of doctrine is by observing how the adherents of a particular doctrine will lash out at others simply because they won’t buy into their doctrine. As far as loving God and loving your neighbor , it is not an “easy” thing, it is the most difficult thing and requires much sacrifice, and very few Churches are able to do it. Start with a look at the racism that exists in the heart of the conservative evangelical heartland. Listen to the private conversations that go on in the foyer of white evangelical Churches after the service. This is the stuff Jesus is addressing.

          • newenglandsun

            But MOST churches don’t struggle with the issue of racism. For instance, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which are in general more dogmatic than Evangelicals were the first churches to condemn racism.

            Doctrine is VERY important.

          • Al Cruise

            Doctrine is only important as the conduit to lead people to loving God and their neighbor as themselves as per Jesus Christ. Condemning something is a far cry from actually doing something about it, as Jesus showed in the good neighbor story. The rampant sex abuse in the Catholic Church was brought to light primarily by secular institutions, media,and legal, which forced the hand of the Church to deal with it. Their Church doctrine meant nothing, it took outsiders to force justice for the victims.

          • newenglandsun

            There are lots of examples of churches not living up to their standards. How does this invalidate doctrine?

            P.S. The Catholic Church is also big and has lots of priests and so I am frankly not surprised that this would go unnoticed.

          • newenglandsun

            I should also point out that most people don’t follow American law even though they are Americans. American civil law does not prevent murder, texting while driving, drinking while driving, or gambling. So would your solution be to give up on the American legal system?

          • charles k wainwright III

            Nice writing. Good use of Biblical stories. Would you give up all of your possessions and follow Jesus. Don’t preach to others what you are unwilling to do yourself. Just saying.

          • newenglandsun

            yes i would.

          • newenglandsun

            I should also add that recently I have been wrestling thoroughly with the issue as to whether God wants me to pursue monastic life or married life.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          If one is commanding love rather than being a positive presence and a source of stability so that love develops,, how is that love not a fabrication?

          • charlesburchfield

            your comment is very thought provoking! I do experience god’s presents as a positive source of stability, serenity & wellbeing. I guess it’s subjective & practical but never the less an integral part of my being in the world right now & the only reason I am sane & sober. In the program I follow the literature that is used (alcoholics anonymous) is careful to not use the word ‘command’ or ‘must’. Instead ‘we suggest’ is used to great effect. Alkies are faced w the most exquisitly painful problem; the thing we crave is killing us physically, socially, spiritually. God has got to be real when every thing is taken away. In my case it was & I thank god for being a grateful acoholic.

      • Ross

        An interesting point, one I’ve never really solved. To some extent it may depend on whatever the definition for “doctrine” may be. ( Also I’ve never quite worked out the difference between “doctrine” and “dogma”).

        I think having a lot of “doctrine” may be having too much, plus if it is used to attack others specifically, then it may be incorrect.

    • charlesburchfield


  • WeldonScott

    The biggest reason people are leaving faith is that there are now few, if any, consequences to abandoning faith. Nobody will put your feet in stocks for heresy. You can still buy groceries and find an apartment.

    Sociopolitical coercion is really the way Christianity maintained itself over 1600 years, and that position of power is over.

    • charlesburchfield

      Yes the whip is going the kiss is comming!

  • Gary

    When I read a thread’s comments like these, I don’t think anybody has a clue how to rescue Christianity.

    • charlesburchfield

      It think maybe it’s not a thing to be rescued but more of an addiction to be recovered from.

    • newenglandsun

      I think you’re spot on and that much of the problem is all of us coming from different perspectives and experiences. Some here have said that the problem is with conservatism. Some have said their problem is liberalism. Some who have commented appear to be atheists who have completely abandoned all faith in God. Etc.

      All of us have had different experiences basically for how we’ve left/come to the faith (or have left from/come to a more conservative/liberal position of the faith). No one appears to have a clue as to how Christianity is to be rescued, recovered from (as if it were an addiction), or to be taught to guarantee that future Christians shall cling to the truth.

  • Bev Mitchell

    A big motivation for this ‘surge’ of young church leavers must be religion itself – more specifically, the way we Christians often practice religion. A great book on the topic came out over ten years ago (can it be that long?). The book, and the reviews of it at Amazon, are very pertinent to this discussion.

    Boyd, Gregory A. “Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God”

    BTW, does anyone have really hard data on the ‘leaving the faith’ problem as opposed to ‘leaving religious systems/expressions’ that market themselves as the faith?

    • Al Cruise

      “the way we Christians often practice religion.” So true, and that does not mean we should return to orthodoxy on mass, orthodoxy has it’s origins in paganism and is not the answer today. Luke 10:25-37 Jesus explains the narrow gate and explains “explicitly” what one must do to inherent eternal life. Jesus is who has the final say on this matter, not Paul, or any other human on this earth right up to the present. The primary purpose of a Church’s teaching or doctrine is to lead souls in this direction, everything else is secondary. Yes Boyd’s book is good, also good are Dr. Enns’s “The Bible Tells Me So,” and Tim Suttle’s “Shrink.” Two books I have handed out to a group of University students for discussion. Christianity does not need rescuing, what Jesus said was truth when he said it, and it’s still the same truth today.

  • Phil Mitchell

    Peter: we all have experienced the heartache of our church youth leaving the faith for some heteredox religion. You sincerely want to stop the bleeding but will your solution work? In The Bible Tells Me So you chronicle the doctrines of the Christian faith that should be abandoned–the god of the Old Testament is a genocidal tribal deity who doesn’t actually exist; questioning the virgin birth; the Bible doesn’t give clear moral guidance; etc. Telling young men and women to “read the Bible differently” and to doubt its truth has been tried before. And it was a colossal failure. The mainline seminaries–whose faculties share your views 95% of the time–are experiencing statistical Armageddon. I can predict with near certainty that your ideas will produce the same result–empty churches. Tell me where I’m wrong.

    • I’m looking through that whole “attitude of vulnerability” section with Peter’s recommendations, and I don’t see the place where he recommends doubting the truth of the Bible. Could you point out where this is his proposed solution to people having religious crises?

    • Mark K

      Well, I went to an ultra-conservative seminary and experienced my own Armageddon–along with many classmates over the years. I can say with absolute certainty that many of those classmates will never again darken a church door, and I only have done because I left evangelicalism for Episcopalianism. What a God-send! If reading the Bible in close proximity to ways it was intended to be read empties some churches, well, I’m good with that.

      • Phil Mitchell

        I’m glad you found a place to land. I, too, grew up in Fundamentalism and am now more of a generic Evangelical. But the door leading out of the Episcopal church is a lot wider than the one heading in. TEC had about 3,600,000 members in 1966 and about 1,900,000 today, a loss of almost half. And it’s much worse than this. If TEC had simply stayed even with the population it would have about 5,900,000 members today. The collapse is catastrophic.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Mainline churches decline has little to do with theological liberalism. The PCUSA, UMC, and ECA have been declining since around 1960 . . you think its because most of their churches were liberal? lol . . .

      • Phil Mitchell

        Yes. I think a lot of it has to do with liberal theology. For a good discussion see Thomas Reeves, The Empty Church: the Suicide of Liberal Christianity. He argues that the biggest question the mainliners have trouble asking is, “What’s the point?” The mainline churches trended toward liberal theology long before the 60s.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I think demographic shifts explain the decline of mainline churches much more than theological liberalism. These churches did/do have issues with often being stale, lifeless places, but that’s a cultural/organizational issue, not theological. Additionally, these churches started out with much more people and thus have much more to lose (if not for immigration the RCC has been seeing a similar nosedive, especially among middle and upper class whites)

          I mean,conservatives like to juxtapose the growth of churches like the AOG with the ECA, but the ECA lost more members in the past decade than AOG has total members! And the AOG is a relatively newer church in its current form. Look at the more established conservative churches like the SBC; they are also starting to bleed badly. And the SBC has become more conservative.

          • newenglandsun

            We could attribute all sorts of things. Liberalism MIGHT be a factor. If people go to church just to believe whatever, they may wonder why go to church at all other than for a social outing? Not like we believe differently from the atheists. Likewise, a problem is with the liturgy. The Catholic Church has collapsed recently into madness within its Western Rite Churches mostly due to the conflict of the Novus Ordo. Many don’t see that Mass as beautiful and prefer the Tridentine Mass instead yet many Traditionalist Catholics are not in good-standing with the Holy See right now. The SBC and the AOG might probably be seeing decline due to the dullness of their liturgies. Many have abandoned these boring liturgical churches and have gone over to Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, etc., just simply because the liturgy was dull in their previous churches.

            My maternal grandmother was here last Summer and she had difficulties finding a church within our area that she preferred (keep in mind my area is HEAVILY populated with Christians of all kinds so there is practically a church on every corner) simply because what she looks for in a church is their liturgical element, whether they have small groups, and whether or not they are “into” it. We took her to an Evangelical Covenant Church–too contemporary for her. We took her to a First Baptist Church–too contemporary for her. We took her to ANOTHER First Baptist Church–not enough energy. We took her to a Methodist Church–no small groups that Summer. We finally took her to an old church we used to go to–that worked out best because it had a traditional hymnal service and then had small groups and the people were into it.

    • Collins

      Phil…what would you propose? What Peter is getting at (I think) is that the “hardline” churches are losing young people because they have bent biblical faith into something that it isn’t. More than that, I would say that the core of what Peter talks about is that you read the Bible through Jesus. You read the Old Testatment through Jesus. That doesn’t sound like a bad hermeneutical lens to me…

      • Phil Mitchell

        The “hardline” churches struggle to keep their youth. But the mainline churches have lost just about all of them. What I am proposing is that Peter’s approach won’t work. And I wish Peter read the Bible through “Jesus.” But I am not sure he does. A thoughtful critic is Michael Kruger. You might read his analysis of Enns at I would like for Peter to interact with Kruger’s critique.

        • peteenns

          Phil, I understand your point of view expressed in your several comments here. I understand it perfectly. But you are actually articulating the problem, not the solution.

          I think the reason you are having such trouble seeing the benefit of “my” approach (though it is hardly “mine) is that you are filtering our moment in history through the same Cartesian and binary model of the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It seems your solution is to return to the blissful days of pre-modernity that “worked.”

          We are far beyond that historical moment, although fundamentalism and evangelicalism continue to want to keep us there and have the same old debates–which is reflected in the rhetoric of Kruger’s polemical “the gospel is at stake” review of TBTMS that you find so compelling and your talking point “liberalism empties churches.” We are very much in a post-liberal/post-conservative era, and can also attest first-hand to the resurgence of the gospel in those churches of which you seem to have such a simplistic assessment.

          I can also attest from hard experience that one reason young people are attracted to fundamentalism (e.g., the so-called neo-Calvinist movement) isn’t because it’s theology is more true or life-giving, but because of the of the false hope of Cartesian certainty it claims to supply, which breeds a culture-warrior type of belligerence and a need to be right at every turn, which is as far from the kingdom of heaven and genuine love of God and man as anything. Which is to say, “your proposal won’t work and hasn’t worked.

          You have made several claims in your comments here, Phil. I’ll let you have the last word, and then we can be done.

          • Phil Mitchell

            Peter, I appreciate your responding and I have found the thread here to be interesting. The Christian church is quite diverse! I am not only “articulating the problem.” I am also critiquing your solution and I am saying it won’t work. It won’t bring youth back to the church. It hasn’t in the past and it won’t in the future.

            There has never been a “blissful Cartesian/binary age” to return to. There is always ferment over what Christianity is. Nothing new here.

            I wasn’t aware that large numbers of youth are being drawn to Fundamentalism or neo-Calvinism. You call this a “false certainty” and it might be. (It is hard, by the way, to find more certainty anywhere than in the cultural and political Left. And false it surely is.) But around the world we are finding a new generation certain of their relationship with Christ, His saving and healing power, and His never-ending ability to transform lives. These churches grow–they don’t bleed members like the mainliners.

            Thanks to all of you for the interaction.

          • newenglandsun

            I too was wondering about the youth being drawn to neo-Calvinism. I certainly have not been part of Calvinist churches at all nor am drawn to them (speaking as a youthful college student, aged 22). Yesterday, our Vicar General came to our little place where we gather for worship (a mausoleum as the Methodist church we used to gather at was costing us $600 a month–cemetery lets us meet for free!) and gave an homily where he criticized the Presbyterian view on predestination in it as essentially negating the need for a savior. What the homily was about, I can’t quite remember–had something to do with Passion Sunday (our Vicar General goes off so many tangents when he gives his homilies).

          • charlesburchfield

            Wowza! you meet in a mausoleum? For free? What a great idea!

          • newenglandsun

            Keeps us free from the Westboro Baptist Chipmunks. I knew someone whose church was picketed by them on Super Bowl Sunday. And one couple’s daughter there goes to another church that was nearby another picket from the Chipmunks.

        • newenglandsun

          A quote from TGC’s site reads:
          “But perhaps most illuminating was the inside flap, where the publisher describes the book’s purpose: “In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins.””
          Well if that’s the worst The Bible Tells Me So does then it’s probably harmless so why not give it a go?

          “Not until after I read the book in its entirety did I realize how accurate this comparison actually is. Of course, Bell’s book (also published by HarperOne) challenged a core historical tenet of the Christian faith, namely the belief that hell is real and people actually will go there.”

          Of course! These people have probably not even read Bell’s book or paid much attention to Bell’s own views himself. Bell vehemently denies being a universalist and a big point he makes is that while God wants every one to be saved the question is not “does God get what he wants?” but rather “do we get what we want?” That it’s published by HarperOne says next to nothing. Lots of things are published by HarperOne. HarperOne is specifically non-academic and so much HarperOne books tend to have a much easier Flesch-Kincaid reading level meaning even you can understand what they’re talking about!

          I’ll admit, I haven’t read Enns’s book on The Bible Tells Me So but from the preview Amazon gave it honestly appears to be a harmless book that attacks Christian apologists who try to defend what the Bible says. Nothing to worry about even for the most doctrinal churches.

      • Stuart Blessman

        Oooh…hardline vs mainline, I like that labeling. Wonder if there is a sideline as well and who those are.

        Seriously, those are excellent descriptors. I’m going to start using them.

        • R Vogel

          I think the sideline are the people in question 😉

  • Hopaulius

    Although I resonate with Peter’s sentiment, my experience of the issue is different. Ours is the sort of church to which the straight-jacketed Evangelical youth ought to be fleeing. Or course, they are not. Instead, our youth are fleeing to a very conservative, authoritarian Evangelical congregation. When they hit college, their brand of authoritarianism will meet with disdain, and their professors will do all they can to replace it with the anti-Western-religious ideology of the academy. Some will swallow it, others won’t. But all in all I suspect we are theologizing a sociological problem. The millennials don’t just reject traditional church institutions. They reject all traditional institutions, not with the fervor of activists, but with indifference.

  • *”That this kind of Bible is their sure anchor for maintaining their
    faith. Stray from it and their faith is shipwrecked and their eternal
    destiny is in jeopardy.”

    I think that sort of rigid interpretation of the Bible gives a moral certitude and comfort that many crave (even though that certitude is belied by the fact there are so many other interpretations). Morality is at the heart of many of these disagreements. The thought process is pretty simple: How do we know right from wrong? God. How does God speak? Through Scripture. Any kind of understanding of the context of the origin of Scripture, any textual criticism, is like looking at how the morality sausage is made. It’s bound to make you uneasy, if you had unrealistic expectations to begin with.

    As others have said, I think there has been another reaction from the younger generation besides completely giving up on faith which is just as troubling: to embrace a deeper form of intellectually insulated fundamentalism. This partially explains the neo-Calvinist resurgence. The kids brought up in the K-Love, ecumenical evangelical Christian environment (heavy on emotions and worship music, light on doctrine) saw that their parents’ faith was flimsy under intellectual scrutiny. Instead of admitting that *maybe* inerrancy framework isn’t the best approach to Scripture, many of them fled into presuppositional Calvinism, which provides a method of being dogmatically rigorous while refusing to honestly engage with real intellectual problems. This is a trajectory I’ve been observing that is as common as people leaving church altogether (however, it may be limited to the circles I belong to or follow).

    • charles k wainwright III

      It always saddens me a bit when some people think God only speaks to them through the scripture. I guess after they threw the Bible together in 325AD God decided to shut up because He had said all he had to say. My God is currently present and speaking although listening is sometimes a problem. Heaven and Hell may not exist as actual places but my God is real and here not somewhere in some distant place. I don’t have to wait till I die to meet Him. We may not know what He is or what he is made of but He is real.
      All theology/doctrine is flimsy under intellectual scrutiny that is why we have faith hope and charity. Faith hope and charity transverses all the different religions not just Christianity.
      Intellectually I can shoot holes in any theology, any doctrine, of any kind.

      • Stuart Blessman

        It all depends on how you define God speaking to you. Leading you into ALL truths or new truths? Definitely not God, unless your name is Joseph Smith, he gets a pass. But is God with you, comforting you, guiding you silently through still small voices each and every day? Absolutely.

        • cken

          So I guess to your way of thinking visions, dreams, intuition, or actually hearing His voice boom from the heavens is out of the question. Even though He did those things in the old testament and apostolic era they don’t happen anymore. Would that be correct in your opinion? I suppose miracles and faith healing can’t happen anymore either. Personally I think if you don’t believe in all of the above you are worshiping a dead God. Your “still small voice” is nothing more than organized religion’s cliched baloney; indoctrination to make us believe God isn’t as powerful or as present as He used to be.

  • Chris Falter

    As it turns out, the Barna Group has actually collected data from extensive interviews with Millenials who have been raised in evangelical churches. Moreover, David Kinnaman, president of Barna, wrote up his findings in You Lost Me, which is in incisive and quick read.

    I know, I know: why should I bring up actual data from real social science research, when I could instead be just recounting anecdotes that support my long-held assumptions? Call it a flaw in my character.

    Anyway, Kinnaman has identified 6 key issues that tend to drive away the Millenial generation:

    1. Overprotection
    2. Shallowness
    3. Anti-science orientation
    4. Repressive moral attitudes
    5. Exclusivity
    6. No room for doubt and struggle

    A couple of thoughts come to mind as I look at this list:

    * Some of the issues have more to do with mannerisms than theology. For example, Kinnaman does not want to imply that churches should drop all claims to moral standards. Instead, churches should be leading with a positive view wherever possible. For example, when speaking of sexuality, we can focus on how the sexual relationship between a husband and wife is good and joyful and an expression of God’s love. Once that is clear, then and only then are we ready to address the ways in which sexuality can be tragically misused. When we ignore the good part on focus on condemning the misuse, though, it does not represent very well the attitude of the Savior who created wine to keep a rip-roaring wedding party going.

    * Pete is spot on when he describes inerrancy as a huge problem. In American evangelicalism, the claims of inerrancy are perhaps the most important impetus for overprotection (e.g., not helping the kids understand textual criticism), anti-science attitudes (e.g., rejecting evolution because of a particular interpretation of Genesis), exclusivity (e.g., those who think Genesis is not a scientific/historical text are dangerous heretics), and leaving no room for doubt and struggle. Moreover, Pete’s prescription of vulnerability is a helpful tonic.

    * However, vulnerability as measured by theology and academic discourse should not be our primary aim. Instead, the vulnerability that will really win the day is that which comes from living the love of God in the midst of a painful, lost world. Doing things like:
    – Being with the poor where they are.
    – Having weekly fellowship with brothers and sisters behind bars.
    – Investing ourselves and our resources in efforts to combat illiteracy, malaria, hunger….
    – Welcoming the prodigals everywhere, even if they don’t have all their systematic theology worked out.

    • Stuart Blessman

      1. So just double down on what has failed, but tell it more nicely? If the answer is always “don’t change/preserve the status quo”, nothing will improve. Because it can’t.

      2. Inerrancy is a huge issue. Luckily we have a date we can look at in history for when these problems started…and let’s see, an entire generation post Chicago is ditching things.

      3. No, vulnerability needs to be measured by all of the above. For what good is love and living the love of God if you believe and are teaching lies and falsehoods? What good is love without truth…very little.

      • Chris Falter

        Hi Stuart –

        I do appreciate your interaction, and I hope you are having a great day.

        1. I am not proposing that any church double down on overprotection (#1), shallowness (#2), anti-science orientation (#3), or sweeping aside any space for doubt and struggle (#6). Did I say something to that effect? If I did, I hope you will accept this paragraph as clarification.

        What I am saying about repressive moral attitudes (#4) and exclusivity (#5) is that there is a middle ground we need to seek. After all, the opposite of repressive morals (according to some) is antinomianism, but antinomianism is no solution. Also, some would say that the opposite of exclusivity is the doctrine of universal salvation. However, Jesus did speak of a narrow way leading to life and a wide road leading to destruction. So repudiating exclusivity based on race, class, education, gender, and sexual orientation does not necessarily mean that we must accept the doctrine of universal salvation, IMO.

        A lot of churches are not seeking that middle ground, though, so you and I agree that we need a big change on these points, too.

        2. I agree that the CSBI is not helpful. (But I have many dear friends and brethren in faith who do not agree with me, and we love one another anyway.)

        3. I agree that we should not aim at love without truth. But I think I am agreeing with Paul the apostle when I say that we should value love above doctrine:

        “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

        – I Corinthians 13:2


      • Dean

        “2. Inerrancy is a huge issue. Luckily we have a date we can look at in history for when these problems started…and let’s see, an entire generation post Chicago is ditching things.”

        Are you sure? The entire New Calvinist movement is based on trying to get Christians to embrace the Chicago manifesto on innerracy, I think they care about that more than the Creeds!

  • Duncan Pugh

    Perhaps a focus on Ecclesiastes would help?

    • charlesburchfield

      Hi duncan! I’m not sure I follow you. What is it abt eclesiastics….?

      • Duncan Pugh

        It is accessible and emphasises human hubris/ignorance … all is vanity! I think that message would appeal to disenchanted young ex-Christians … perhaps particularly at the moment?

        • peteenns

          Qohelet is also angry with God and doesn’t see the point of religion.

          • Duncan Pugh

            When my dad died aged 54, I was 28 (does that count as young) I wanted the first reading to be Ecclesiastes 1 verses 1-11, the minister agreed that the reading was very much in line with his discussions with my dad as the cancer (he worked in an asbestos mill until his 30s) slowly but aggressively destroyed him. Anyway, the minister insisted on Chapter 3 verses 1-12. The other reading was from Paul, Corinthians I think and went on about all that ‘he’s gone to a better place’ BS. I still think that now, you don’t have to believe in the supernatural and that’s one of the main things that turns people off in my opinion. Ecclesiastes and The Song of Solomon and Proverbs for that matter show a side of Judaeo-Christian belief/understanding that many are unaware of.



            1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David king in Jerusalem.
            2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher: vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

            3 What remaineth unto man in all his travail, which he suffereth under the sun?
            4 One generation passeth, and another generation succeedeth: but the earth remaineth forever.
            5 The sun riseth, and the sun goeth down, and draweth to his place where he riseth.
            6 The wind goeth toward the South, and compasseth toward the North: the wind goeth round about, and returneth by his circuits.
            7 All the rivers go into the sea, yet the sea is not full: for the rivers go unto the place whence they return, and go.
            8 All things are full of labor: man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
            9 What is it that hath been? that that shall be: and what is it that hath been done? that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
            10 Is there anything, whereof one may say, Behold this, it is new? it hath been already in the old time that was before us.
            11 There is no memory of the former, neither shalt there be a remembrance of the latter that shall be, with them that shall come after.

            It’s pretty powerful stuff!

          • Gary

            Being angry at God is what one does *before* not seeing the point of religion. Qohelet is a guide.

        • charlesburchfield

          I hear ya! I was just thinking what it’s like for me now is like when I was in my senior year in high school. I was almost adult. Those last few months bf I graduated I felt a sense of betrayal. I wondered what I was prepared to do w tje rest of my life. I feel a change comming over the whole of humanity. I feel unprepared to meet tje challenges ahead. I think we only just now have past a point in time that the hand off of a bunch of bad karma is going to directly effect the future of ppl under 40. It’s a bad scene! It’s vain to think that anything can forstall the inevitable consequences. The ‘churches’ have no answers. Why do I go on? I think bc i’m here, i’m suffering, i’m lonely, i’m afraid. My anxiety abt existing is driving my desire to answer the question what shall I do to make the time pass more creativly?

          • Duncan Pugh

            For me here in the UK one glaringly obvious fact about churches that are declining, Anglican, Methodist, URC etc. is that they have physical stone/bricks and mortar within easy reach of almost everybody … they should make those spaces more accessible through both preaching and practising an ethos that is relevant to our own times … there is plenty of stuff in the Bible that speaks to us in a profoundly subversive way when held up against our society … look at Psalms 12-14 for example.

            Having said this in recent years St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey have shown that they are not in line with the gospel by any means, if there was any hope that they may have been in the first place.

          • charlesburchfield

            Yes the two cathedrals that rep these faiths are famous artifacts that survived 2 world wars & are valuable tourist destinations producing an industry that earns an income for a few ppl. So goes the story of a long ingrained pattern of abuse when empire joines w empire to produce compliance & complicity w the have-nots who are many and enslaved & the haves who are few & seem to control all resources.

    • Stuart Blessman

      One of the best, most underrated books of the Bible, and it NEVER gets preached.

      • peteenns

        Uh…the person hosting this site wrote a whole commentary on ECCL. I love that book 🙂 Qohelet appeared prominently in my last book and will again in my next one.

        • Duncan Pugh

          I put it in my Amazon basket but may have to save up for it!

        • Mark K

          Oh, sure, play the book card again. And also too, some of us can’t read that fast.

      • Gary

        In the Revised Common Lectionary, chapters 4 through 12 are never read from. Chapters 1 through 3 are read from in part. Part of chapters 1 and 2 are read from during one Sunday during Year C’s ordinary time (“nothing new under the sun…”). However, the beginning of chapter 3 (“for everything there is a season…”) is read every year and is so on New Year’s Day. Given though that’s not in the Sunday lectionary, in the RCL, Ecclesiastes gets touched on a Sunday once in every three years. So, while technically not “never,” it’s less than one-in-a-hundred.

  • Stuart Blessman

    In light of today’s news, let me bring up another reason: the growth and transformation of the Christian Right into the New Apostalic Reformation movement as represented by God’s latest presidential candidate.

    You can’t separate religion from politics. And as they transform and doubledown their rhetoric, more and more young, smart, intelligent believers will walk away from the church and the Bible that props up the lies and heresies our politicians stand on.

    And unfortunately, as one pastor in the documentary American Jesus state, most don’t understand the true meaning of “religious liberty” or “separation of church and state” anyways.

    We’ll see a new wave of #nones and #dones over the next two years. And depending how this election goes, it’ll be either a tidal wave or a monsoon.

    • hoosier_bob

      I don’t think it’s an accident that evangelicalism emerged from fundamentalist isolation just as the patriarchal social order began to succumb to more egalitarian approaches. In some sense, social conservatism is an effort to re-establish the old patriarchal social order by force of law. Evangelicalism arose as a theology designed to cloak the social-conservative agenda with the aegis of divine warrant.

      Today’s cringe-inducing announcement simply resolved any doubt as to whether there is an evangelical “faith” apart from the social-conservative political agenda. The answer is a resounding, “No.”

      • Gary

        Almost. The answer is a resounding, “No thank you.” Or no answer at all. Many are just getting up and leaving in silence.

        • hoosier_bob

          Yep. I just silently walked away after 15 wasted years in the PCA. I’m quite happy to be back in a PCUSA church. I think my evangelical experience was useful in helping me grow in certain respects. But as I look back, most of the growth occurred within my first 12-18 months there.

      • Ross

        I think there is more than just a “grain” of truth in what you are saying and as someone who is fairly anti-“evangelicainerrentamundalist” I may make similar statements. However, I also see some good in the Evangelical emergence. Within all the BS, was a good desire to see people still seek the “God Who is there” against many leaving God altogether for all sorts of reasons. Unfortunately, Evangelicalism was too close to see that people were leaving an empty faith alongside a move to enjoy the “World’s delights”

        The big problem is that alongside the “power hungry Pharisees” are very many good-hearted seekers after God.

        From my point of view I can still see the baby within the bathwater, so am a bit wary of throwing the whole lot out. Okay, Evangelicalism (particularly in it’s major American form) is fundamentally flawed in so many respects, but has so many lovely people within it (and quite a few demons).

        From my own experience, it’s actually a good place to start. The emphasis on there really being a God and trusting in him is fine. However Evangelicals really don’t seem to get off the starting blocks. Rather than getting rid of the buggers, we should encourage all newcomers to start as Evangelicals but after a year or two they must leave Evangelicalism to get to know God. (If not they have to move directly to Middlesborough).

  • jrj1701

    As I have read the commentary on this post, I view a spectrum of reasons of why the young turn from faith. I have come to understand that Holy Scripture is a mystery, a product of the faithful for the faithful and subject to our broken understanding, this understanding took years and many prayers for understanding, yet I have found that those who persist in striving to understand an infinite, all powerful God Who created the universe and all that it contains will not foolishly discard pertinent information. The Bible and the history of its compilation cannot be separated from the lives of the faithful, it should not be the foundation of our faith, the foundation of our faith should be the god-man Jesus Christ and the Church that He built, the Church that will prevail against the gates of hell. I notice that there is anger and a feeling of betrayal from some that comment on this thread, and this is natural when the teachers have put on blinders and refuse to engage in the tough questions that striving to understand the mysteries of Holy Scripture brings, at times it is best to set the Bible aside and pray for the understanding needed to acquire the most needful thing, that needful thing can only come from God, not from our own finite abilities.

  • Applestar

    Ok, so I’m a secular pagan atheist, so feel free to dismiss my comments, but personally I feel that you would do better hanging on to your youth if you concentrated less on doctrine and more on social justice and love. Young people want to feel part of something important that is accomplishing something meaningful and real and that is also respected by outsiders. I promise you, if you focus your efforts on helping *everyone*, not just yourselves, your churches will revive, your communities will be invigorated, and those people who might otherwise leave because, let’s face it, the Bible is a mass of contradictions and doesn’t really relate to now, will stay. Its completely up to you. You can’t blame people for leaving for a secular life if the alternative that you offer is so rigid, judgemental and lacking in love. *backs away waiting for the flaming to begin*

    • Doug

      This disenfranchised fundamentalist agrees with your whole-heartedly.

  • pat_mat

    Faith should be seeked , not forced. Not all youth are turning down the Bible.The problem is simple.We choose religion by birth.Then due to circumstances we are forced to live with it.Something forced wouldn’t be taken with an interest.But if it is seeked and found to be an ailment through hardship of life the respect lasts.

    I have just started learned android app development.I thought i should start developing apps with something divine.I made a biblebox app from which bible words could be taken randomly, and published via a friends google playstore account.Please do support by downloading it .