Skip to comments.Learning From Young Atheists: What Turned Them Off Christiany
Posted on 07/03/2013 8:22:51 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
It's something most Christian parents worry about: You send your kids off to college and when they come back, you find they've lost their faith. The prospect of this happening is why many parents nudge their kids towards Christian colleges, or at least schools with a strong Christian presence on campus.
But in many ways, the damage has been done long before our children set foot on campus. That's the message from a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly.
My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation set out to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by employing a method I don't recall being used before: He asked them.
The Fixed Point Foundation asked members of the Secular Students Associations on campuses around the nation to tell them about their "journey to unbelief." Taunton was not only surprised by the level of response but, more importantly, about the stories he and his colleagues heard.
Instead of would-be Richard Dawkins', the typical respondent was more like Phil, a student Taunton interviewed. Phil had grown up in church; he had even been the president of his youth group. What drove Phil away wasn't the lure of secular materialism or even Christian moral teaching. And he was specifically upset when his church changed youth pastors.
Whereas his old youth pastor "knew the Bible" and made Phil "feel smart" about his faith even when he didn't have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.
Phil's loss of faith coincided with his church's attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil's story "was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country."
These kids had attended church but "the mission and message of their churches was vague," and manifested itself in offering "superficial answers to life's difficult questions." The ministers they respected were those "who took the Bible seriously," not those who sought to entertain them or be their "buddy."
Taunton also learned that, for many kids, their journey to unbelief was an emotional, not just an intellectual one.
Taunton's findings are counter-intuitive. Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them.
The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But as Taunton found, young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction-provided they know what they're talking about.
Taunton talks about his experiences with the late Christopher Hitchens, who, in their debates, refrained from attacking him. When asked why, Hitchens replied, "Because you believe it."
I don't know what that says about Hitchens' other Christian debate partners, but it is a potent reminder that playing down the truth claims of the Christian faith doesn't work. People don't believe those they don't respect.
Here's something that one of the students told Larry Taunton; he said, "Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven't seen too much of that."
Folks, that's pretty sobering. This puts the ball in our court. Are we living lives that show our children that we actually believe what we say we believe? And here's another question-do we actually believe it? I have to say, as a parent I'm taking this very seriously. If possible, join me in reading Taunton's excellent article. Come to BreakPoint.org and we'll link you to it.
Very interesting. I would never have guessed the findings...
I personally believe that the messages of Christianity are at the same time very fundamentally simple / straightforward AND profoundly sophisticated and complex. To me, they are both very important, and both need to be embraced. I think we sometimes tend to ignore the mystery and discovery aspects of trying to find God in our lives, and I think that when we try to put God in a box we take away some of what would get young people excited about Christianity. I’m not sure I said that very well, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Just my two cents.
Phil's loss of faith coincided with his church's attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him.
The ministers they respected were those "who took the Bible seriously," not those who sought to entertain them or be their "buddy."
Much of this applies to parenting and is exactly how the Dr. Spock parents raised the brats who are in charge of our government today.
It is not the message but the messenger.
God’s Word does offend people, His Word shines light on their sin, and it hurts.
When the messenger starts being afraid, the light grows dim, and the the hearer falls in the dark.
For me it was reason and logic.
That is the truth; it begs a simple two-part question: what has changed in your life? and how have you changed the lives of others because of your Christianity?
Jesus answered him, If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
Phil's loss of faith coincided with his church's attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil's story "was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country." These kids had attended church but "the mission and message of their churches was vague," and manifested itself in offering "superficial answers to life's difficult questions." The ministers they respected were those "who took the Bible seriously," not those who sought to entertain them or be their "buddy."
What was it we used to say?
"There's a seeker born every minute."
“Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them.”
Absolutely. The “teaching” is very puffy and sort of sprinkled in among the “Awesome Weekend Retreats!”, the “Total Laser Quest Domination!”, the “Build 70 Houses in a Weekend”, etc., events. It is largely event-driven and the student has to really hunt to find a weekly Bible Study that isn’t just an “accountability group” (read “Christian gossip”).
I say all this as the father of two girls who went through our church’s big-time youth (sorry, “Student Ministry”) program and both largely withdrew during their senior years. One plugged into a Christian sorority in college, the other went completely off the map for about 18 months - became a person we didn’t even know - and finally made the turn-around (now engaged to a great young man headed for seminary). We thought that both we and their youth pastors had given the firm foundation of faith that they needed. I know we did. Not so sure about the youth pastors.
Here's the problem for Larry. He is to base his faith on a personal relationship with Jesus and not base his faith on the actions of sinners.
While it is true that Christians should take their faith more seriously, we are still sinners and will continue to sin. I wonder if Larry ever said anything to his youth pastor or other members of the church?
I was the complete opposite of this guy. When I was in college, I looked for my faith. I tried join a Catholic group and went to several services. They were not very welcoming but I did not turn away from Christianity because of it. I continued to look for a Church. It has taken many years to find that church but my faith in God and of his son Jesus has always been there.
I'm not totally going to poo poo Larry because I think he has awaken us to what people are needing in our churches. We also all need to renew our relationship with Jesus and follow his commandants.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
How many Christian youth programs and preachers tell young Christians that Jesus tells them, “Take up my cross and follow Me.” In our wicked world, to stay faithful to death, the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Bible. How many young Christians, and not so young Christians, are steeped in God’s Word?
Living according to the Scriptures makes one different from the ungodly majority. There’s the problem.
Reason and logic are truth, God always appeals to us through our intellect. It is Satan who appeals to us through our emotions. Love is not an emotion or a feeling...it is God’s extraordinary gift through the Spirit that lives within each of us. If we know God’s love intimately, then the light shines within us and it is easier to ward of decisions made with emotions and look to our intellect to guide us.
Really? I would be hardpressed to find any other religion that was more reasonable and logical. Yes, there are things that I just cannot fathom: the Trinity, for one, the timelessness after the Angel in Revelation declares there won't be time any longer. Things like that I cannot rightly imagine. But none of that is rightly illogical or unreasonable (take a couple of high-level math courses and you'll quickly get into a similar spot, and that's pure science.)
In a nutshell the story is this:
God lovingly creates man, so much so that He made man in His own image (s.t. mankind can rightly be called
children of God), but man then sins — God being infinitely Just cannot stand sin (and sin demands death); but God loves man and, being infinitely merciful Himself, dies instead. But this would only break the chains, leaving man alone and
in the dark so he comes back! to lead us and light our way out of the dark despaired place we'd gotten ourselves into because of sin.
Yes it's on oversimplification, but it has all the main points and shows just how awesome God is. I mean I wouldn't do what He did, I seriously doubt you would either, but that's because we are unrighteous. That said, God's actions and work in people's lives have seriously changed the world — it is entirely because of Christianity that slavery is illegal in all countries today.
He told them still another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.
Matt. 13:33 NIV
When God’s word is accepted by you, it works its way into all of your life. Thus changing you for the better. It doesn’t just sit somewhere in the back of your mind until you pull it out on Sundays.
This makes it sound like you're saying that God doesn't care about emotions (or ever appeal to them) — but what of Abraham and telling him to sacrifice his son? (That's arguable; certainly a test of will & obedience) What of Jesus asking Peter
In my case, it was a lack of evidence, and the cult-like veneration, er, “respect” accorded to the clerisy of the branch of Christianity that I was raised in.
He told them still another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. — Matt. 13:33 NIV
This is very true — and it can be very frightening, because sometimes I am very blind to God's working in me, sometimes I get frustrated with how imperfect I am. A holy and righteous God deserves nothing less than utter perfection: thank God for Jesus.
I believe salvation is between the individual and God. I’ve been getting the bible in pretty heavy doses lately and I’m getting to the point where I think that the concept of pre-destination is pretty accurate. That is, it is not that someone is “pre-destined” to be a believer, but that God, being outside of time, knows what someone’s final condition will be and that is why they are in the book of life.
If a person leaves the faith, I see them as the seed dropped along the side of the road.
And if only it was so simple that one could convince their children to become Christians. Your salvation does not depend on whether your parents were Christians. It is completely irrelevant. That would have far reaching implications that contradict the message of the bible.
In many cases they my not be practicing and attending church but their beliefs are still there. In my personal case I haven’t attended church in years, because I have seen too many organizations that dither too much in political/social/gossip activities and not enough in the Word. Sorta the way the Rinos have abandoned conservative principles.
People are sinners blindly following any person or group of people will eventually lead us away from the path in the same manner that a minor compass error uncorrected will eventually result in being miles off course.
I have continued to read the Bible and literature about the meaning of the Bible - the literature varies as well, but this is where I believe the personal relationship with God comes into play.
We can never 100% understand God he is too vast and powerful and wonderous for our measly little minds to comprehend, but we can have faith and endeavor to know more and strive to adhere to our understanding of his Word.
Whereas his old youth pastor “knew the Bible” and made Phil “feel smart” about his faith even when he didn’t have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.
Phil’s loss of faith coincided with his church’s attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil’s story “was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country.”
People will let you down all the time. That is why Jesus had to die for them as well as me. When people fall short of “my” standards, even if they are church leaders, it doesn’t prove the falsity of Jesus’ message. Rather, they prove their need for the blood of Christ.
A person is setting themself up for disaster if they put their faith in people. But then, a true Christian will still come back to the faith from that disaster. The “false Christian” will have left his “god” permanently.
We shouldn’t poll atheists and no studies are needed, the Word of God clearly answers these questions for us. All those things can do is help us understand why some men reject outward shows of religion. We can mold our churches and our lives to accommodate those who reject Christ and build vast herds of goats, but only God can build a herd of born-again sheep. (1 Corinthians 3:7) We need not fear, not one of His sheep will be lost. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep. They hear His voice and they follow Him (John 10) Christ said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me...” John 6:37)
We should never be surprised when anyone rejects Christ. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”(1 Corinthians 1:18-19)
That so many men reject “the preaching of the cross” as “foolishness” ought to give us tremendous confidence in His Word. It is God who gives us the ability to understand, believe and trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is by grace that any of us believe. Who am I that He opened my eyes to see and believe? What grace He has shown me!
The things of God are foolishness to men dead in trespasses and sins. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Unless a man has been born again by God, he cannot even see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3).
Instead of polling atheists, let’s love them and witness to them. Let’s pray that God will open their eyes to the truth of His Word and His glorious gospel. “But by the grace of God go I” couldn’t be more true.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
They are being taught by those who are ashamed of what they are teaching. The teachers come across as phony or hypocritical. This makes sense to me.
In my case, it was a lack of evidence, and the cult-like veneration, er, respect accorded to the clerisy of the branch of Christianity that I was raised in.
I am not a Christian because my parents raised me Christian. They didn’t. And my three daughters were all raised Assembly of God and were even members of the Junior Bible Quiz Team. They knew their bible and were very involved in the church. That didn’t save them. Only the blood of Jesus can save them.
Their mother divorced me (no fault. She was just tired of being married) in the late 90’s when my oldest was 16. Now one is a Bhudist and the other two are agnostic. So far...
Does it bother me? Yes and no. I love them and would like to see them in heaven, but Jesus is very clear on the matter when he describes who his “mother and brothers” are.
To the “perfect” Christian, blood is NOT thicker than water. I’m not “perfect”, but I am being perfected.
There are plenty of people I can share the gospel with beyond just my blood relatives. All of them are equal in God’s eyes.
I cringe every time I see an American flag in a church. I wonder if the seven churches had their nations flag in them. ;)
I think you said it very well. And, no offense taken. But, you bring up a good question...if the "...messages of Christianity are at the same time very fundamentally simple and profoundly sophisticated and complex." what are those messages?
I said, “I am not a Christian because my parents raised me Christian.”
I needed to follow up with, “I am a Christian because the Lord called me via the teaching of others.”
I left the impression that I am not a Christian. Sorry.
Amen, FRiend! They may have lost some lucky rabbits foot they were holding on to, but no Christian has ever become a non-believer. You cannot slip into and out of the family of God. God finishes what He starts.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Bottom line: If you don’t “walk the walk” then it is useless to “talk the talk”...!
To the Church in Laodicea
14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.
15 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Great point. It also explains what is happening within the Republican party.
I think what you wrote is quite correct.
Christianity can be as simple as “believe and receive” and it needs to be in the beginning. But Christianity is also a relationship that takes decades to build upon and also one where you need to see God’s handiwork in your disappointments and failures as much as your victories. That’s very nuanced stuff, particularly for those who haven’t take the first steps.
What youth want more than anything from church leaders is authenticity. Be able to admit what you don’t know and say that some Scriptures can be seen in more than one way but that the Author is always correct and we must accept His guidance even when the world thinks differently.
When my oldest, Christian daughter was in high school, someone asked her about going to college. She said, "I've seen the (spiritual) fruit and am not impressed."
Wonderful article. Thanks for posting this, SeekAndFind. Sending it my my 30-ish pastor who just took the adult Bible study through the fundamentals of the Reformation, without prejudice towards Catholicism. We got down to bedrock on what we believe as followers of Christ’s teachings.
It’s not that surprising to me. Many churches have liberalized their message to the point where it shows they have no real respect for the Bible or the faith that was handed down to them. If there is one thing that is sure to put off young people, it is such perceived hypocrisy from those who presume to lecture them.
My kids were engaged in a Military Chapel youth group and shared how it was all silliness. The leaders were always excited about the number of kids who showed up at the beginning of the year, but then by mid-year the only ones left were the serious Christians.
One of the leaders was becoming cynical. I told her my thoughts but she didn't want to hear about it.
On the flip side, I know a young combat arms SFC who came to Christ because he said he saw a group of men who took their faith seriously. He was cynical about the easy believism he saw all around him. When he met us the lights came on...
I lost my faith after my dad fell into the cult of Armstrongism (Worldwide Church of God) which utterly destroyed all non-church activities, and as a bonus estranged us from our non member friends and family. As another benefit, we kids were pulled from the top performing school system in the province and dropped into the public schol system, but NO extracurricular activities that happened on Wednesdays or weekends were permitted
The actual realization of and rejection of faith didn’t occur until HE realized how he had been defrauded.
I have reasoned it out and have returned to the Catholic church, but I regret to say that civility to proselytizing protestants is in short supply in my life.
Proselytizing atheists, I wouldn’t p155 on if I saw them burning on my sidewalk.
I don’t know that I was ever turned “off” from Christianity...I never had a negative experience with it, but was never particularly religious. I was an agnostic by age 18, and an atheist by 30 (and remain so).
Perhaps if I’d been brought up in a household with stronger religious traditions, things would have turned out differently.
I just went to my Concordance to look up what the angel said about time ending, in Revelation, and couldn't find it. I'm interested. Could you give me chapter and verse?
You can't lose something you don't have to begin with.
No one who has learned to persistently commit complete trust in the faithfulness of Christ has ever "lost" their commitment to Him.
One who knows Him and walks with him cannot be dissuaded of His real presence.
Rev 10:6 [KJV]Though upon looking it up I see other translations have
And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:
delayinstead of time. Interesting; I really hadn't thought of that (e.g.
there's not more time!).
Please forgive me for intruding?
"When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright, and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there."
(1st stanza of the spiritual song "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,"
words and melody by James M. Black, an American song writer.
Found in almost every Protestant hymn book.)
Thanks very much. It was an online Concordance and I didn’t know which translation would work ;o)
Both are true, I'm thinking: there will be no delay, and time will really end.
Yes, that song's an old favorite!
In my case it was certain life events followed by the realization that neither of my parents believed(despite their insistence to the contrary). Both occurred before I was 13.
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
"And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
"Without (the quality of) faith, it is impossible to please Him for he that cometh to God must believe that He Is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." (see Heb. 11:6)