Tuesday, March 28, 2017
1. In our modern evidence-based, logic-oriented culture, we may have a certain picture in our head of what it means to be a doubter. Many Christians believe that people who experience doubts simply lack the proper evidence or depth of conviction. But doubt is a far more nuanced and slippery experience that involves personality, lack of fulfillment, notions about certainty, relational alienation, and even mental health.
- Is the Christian community capable of holding doubt and faithfulness in tension, welcoming hard questions even as we press together toward answers?
- Or will the church continue to be seen as a place where doubters don’t belong because certainty is the same as faith?
- Will we push doubters to the margins in order to be people with no doubts?
2. Intellectual Doubt
Let’s begin with the doubters we expect: those who struggle with evidentiary forms of doubt, who are not satisfied with rational proofs that God exists or that Jesus was resurrected. Most Christian teenagers and young adults are not racking their brains (or their souls) in an effort to bring logical consistency to their faith claims. However, these types of concerns do affect millions of younger (and older) Americans and should not be minimized. What are the implications? There is still an important part to be played by traditional apologetics in dealing with intellectual questions that stand in the way of faith commitment—though the form apologetics takes must be adapted for the next generation. We might consider shifting away from a focus on “experts” toward a more relational approach.
- How might this shift be implemented? At what potential cost?
3. Institutional Doubt
A particular type of doubt experienced by the next generation is a form of institutional skepticism directed at present-day Christianity. As we described in the chapters on nomads, prodigals, and exiles, one out of five young people (21 percent) with a Christian background said, “I am a Christian, but the institutional church is a difficult place for me to live out my faith.” Exposure to some of the darkest parts of religious life can also sow seeds of doubt. Among the young adults with a Catholic background, one-fifth reported “the priest-abuse scandals have made me question my faith.” Another doubt breaks my heart and has dire implications for the leadership of tomorrow’s church. Nearly one out of every eight young Christians (13 percent) said they “used to work at a church and became disillusioned.” Our research did not probe whether they were church staff or church volunteers, but either way, there are tens of thousands of twentysomethings disconnected because of firsthand negative experiences serving in a congregation.
- How can we do a better job of monitoring the experiences young people are having in leadership?
4. Unexpressed Doubt
I believe unexpressed doubt is one of the most powerful destroyers of faith. Our research reveals that many young people feel the church is too small a container in which to carry their doubts. Fully one-third of young Christians (36 percent) agree that “I don’t feel that I can ask my most pressing life questions in church.” One out of ten (10 percent) put it more bluntly: “I am not allowed to talk about my doubts in church.” This statistic signals one of the challenges that the next generation of Christians brings to the church. They are used to “having a say” in everything related to their lives. As we noted earlier, communication, fueled by technology, is moving from passive to interactive. Yet the structure of young adult development in most churches and parishes is classroom-style instruction. It is passive, one-sided communication—or at least that’s the perception most young people have of their religious education. They find little appetite within their faith communities for dialogue and interaction.
- Is this how some young Christians perceive us? Why/why not?
5. Transitional Doubt
Two out of every five young people (38%) say they have experienced a time when they “significantly doubted their faith.” We offered an array of options in our survey for why doubt arises, and a substantial number of respondents indicated that their doubts were rooted in personal, rather than intellectual, reasons. 12% said, “The death of a loved one has caused me to doubt.” 18% said that they “have or had a crisis in life that has made me doubt my faith.” 20% indicated that “church does not help me with depression or other emotional problems,” which negatively affects his or her faith journey. We might classify these types of doubt as transitional, arising out of a deeply affecting personal experience. Most believers experience transitional doubt at some point in their lives, yet not all receive the kind of support and encouragement from fellow believers that can catalyze it into a sustaining faith.
- Have you or a family member experienced transitional doubt?
6. Doubting Turns to Doing
Creating faith communities where doubts of all kinds can be honestly, openly, and relationally explored is one way to make the turn with the next generation. Another is giving young adults an opportunity to put feet to their faith. Many of the deepest truths of Christianity become clear when we put our faith into action; in the doing, believing makes sense. Sometimes the best thing we can do with our unbelief is to stop fixating on it and get busy for the sake of others. We need to help young adults do something with their faith in order to contextualize their doubts within the church’s mission.
- Where have you witnessed this approach succeed?
- How has it served to strengthen and grow your faith?
Monday, March 20, 2017
1. Sarah’s story illustrates one of the most pervasive perceptions among young adults: the church is exclusive. Many in the next generation believe that Christians have an insider-outsider mentality that is always ready to bar the door to those who don’t meet their standards. This flies in the face of the Mosaics’ collective values and reference points. Tolerance has been the cultural North Star for most of their upbringing. Inclusiveness, diversity, and political correctness are ideals that have shaped this generation.
- Where have you experienced church life as “exclusive?” How did you feel about it then? How do you feel about it now?
2. Could it really be that, for America’s younger generations, intimidation and intolerance are on a level with oppression by a foreign power? Even if not, their affinity for tolerance poses a significant challenge for the church, in four related ways.
A. Agreement versus Disagreement
B. Peer Responsibility versus Individuality
C. Fairness versus Rightness
D. Participation versus Exclusion
- Review/discuss the merits & challenges of each.
3. Most young committed Christians have a great deal of theological consistency with their parents’ viewpoints on these issues. Aside from exiles and other committed believers, however— that is, among the wider population of young Christians and former Christians— we find significantly more religious pluralism than among the older generations. What, then, is the difference between young Christians and older believers? It’s their context. The younger Christian community is “doing theology” in an environment different from that of the past; not everyone within the community connects with the historic faith’s truth claims. This fact is causing younger Christians, especially exiles, to rethink theology and practice in at least three areas:
A. Evangelism; B. Denominations; and, C. the “Other.”
- Again, review/discuss the merits & challenges of each.
4. At the heart of the Christian story, however, is the Triune God’s rejection of both exclusion and tolerance. The Creator was not content to exclude those who had rejected him, but neither was he prepared to tolerate our hatefulness and sin. So what did he do? He became one of us, one of the “other,” identifying with us to embrace us in solidarity, empathy, and selfless agape love— all the way to the cross.
- What would it look like for the church to do the same?
- How would the church be different if we were to reject exclusion as unacceptable and tolerance as not good enough?
5. What would we do differently when discipling young adults to help them cultivate Christ-like empathy that identifies with the least, the last, and the lost?
A. Embracing Scripture - We might start by seeking a fully biblical view of Christ’s message and mission. A good place to begin this endeavor is with the stories Jesus told about the “other.”
B. Embracing Practice - As we share practices and fellowship across denominational lines, we reject both exclusion and tolerance and can truly embrace each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.
C. Embracing Empathy - The next generation needs workable, biblical, grace-filled ways to relate with people who are not believers. For the sake of Christ and the church’s mission, we must give them better tools and a thoughtful, livable theology to match. I wish I had easy suggestions, but the truth is that relationships are hard, complex work. No two are alike. Yet learning how to love others with the courage of our God-given convictions is the fine art of following Christ. Teaching younger Christians how to do this is the fine art of discipleship.
- Where do the witness Christians moving in these directions?
- Where are we challenged to grow into these roles?
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
1. Let’s get right to it. Sexuality is one of the greatest expressions of God’s creativity and of his intention for human flourishing. It is also confounding and confusing to teenagers and young adults on their spiritual journeys. Marriage and childbearing, if they happen, are coming later in life for most young adults— but sex is in the picture earlier than ever. Among many of those with a Christian background, the perception is that the church is out of step with the times. Many, though not all, view the church as repressive— controlling, joyless, and stern when it comes to sex, sexuality, and sexual expectations. On the other hand, many are also dissatisfied with the wider culture’s pressure on them to adopt lax sexual attitudes and behaviors. They feel torn between the false purity of traditionalism and the empty permissiveness of their peers.
- As we begin our review, how does this description compare with your perception of today’s attitudes and behaviors regarding sex?
2. While few young Christians admit that their sex life specifically caused them to drop out, many perceive the church and the faith to be repressive. One-fourth of young adults with a Christian background said they do not want to follow all the church’s rules (25%). One-fifth described wanting more freedom in life and not finding it in church (21%). One-sixth indicated they have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them (17%). And one-eighth said they feel as if they have to live a “double life” between their faith and their real life (12%). Two-fifths of young Catholics say the church is “out of date” on these matters (40%). Add it all up, and millions of young Christians feel torn between two ways of understanding and experiencing sex.
- How do these categories and percentages apply to persons you know in this age group? Why might they feel this way?
3. Christian teens and young adults are caught between two narratives about sexuality. The first we will call traditionalism and the second individualism. The traditionalist view can best be summed up this way: Sex? What sex? The new narrative, which has come to define our broader Western culture, is that of the individualist: Sex is about me. In the individualist narrative, sexuality is about personal satisfaction.
- How is each of these groups defined… first, by themselves; and second, by each other?
4. The changing narrative of sexuality, like the other areas we’ve explored in this book, has been shaped in the next generation by the three A’s, covered in depth in chapter 2. Young people have grown up with unprecedented access to sexual content via the Internet, television, movies, music, and video games, which have brought sexuality into their lives earlier and more easily than was true for previous generations. Their alienation from formative relationships (especially from absent fathers) has created a host of emotional issues, many of which are manifested in their sexual decision making. And their suspicion of authority, inherited from their Boomer predecessors, invites them to dismiss “old-fashioned” traditions without wondering first whether they might be healthy and life-giving.
- To what degree have you witnessed the effects of these three A’s?
5. The unsustainable tension between the traditionalist and individualist views has led to profound cognitive and behavioral dissonance in the next generation of believers. Young Christians hold more conservative beliefs about sexuality than the broader culture (for example, that one should wait until marriage to have sex, that homosexuality is not consistent with Christian discipleship, and so on). Yet their sexual behavior is just as libertine as non-Christians in most ways. In other words, they think in traditionalist terms, but most young Christians act like individualists.
- Does this result surprise you? Why or why not?
6. We need a new mind to cultivate a deeper, more holistic, more Christ-filled ethic of sex. Neither traditionalism nor individualism is working— nor are they biblical. Most of us sense this, but what can we do? We need to rediscover the relational narrative of sexuality. Sex is about selflessness, not primarily about self. It is about serving, not only about personal pleasure. It is about God’s creativity intersecting human action, not our personal identity and self-expression. Rather than saying that sex is taboo (traditionalist) or that sex is about me (individualist), the relational approach to sexuality says, sex is good and it is about us.
- Considering this “relational” approach, how is sex “good” and why is it “about us?”
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
1. Science has come to dominate and define our collective culture. Today’s teens and twentysomethings have been even more profoundly influenced by these developments than previous generations. From their earliest days, science and technology have had a hand in nearly every area of their lives—from food production and distribution to medical treatment, from computers at home and in the classroom to easy and affordable air travel.
- How is this generation’s worldview different from yours at that age?
2. One reason young Christians feel acutely the antagonism between their religion and science is that there is animosity on both sides - Western science has often seen itself as an opponent of faith. We could call this opposition “scientism,” the assumption that science has cornered the market on knowledge, and something can only be true if it can be tested by scientific methods. Unfortunately, scientism’s epistemology (theory of knowledge) has come to dominate our culture. “True” has come to mean “verifiable in the lab.” For scientism, what is reasonable just is what is scientific. The number of atheists (many of whom affirm scientism) is disproportionately larger in higher education than in the culture at large, which means that many undergrads each year are unknowingly subjected to the false dichotomy of “faith versus reason.” On these and other grounds, the church has reason to feel antagonized by the scientific establishment.
- Where have you experienced or witnessed this antagonism?
3. I have interviewed scores of teens and young adults who are pursuing careers in science and I’ve also had occasion to meet many parents of students gifted in these areas. In the majority of cases, there is a deep sense of conflict within these young people—and sometimes with their parents—about staying faithful, given their interests and capabilities. In my observations, the nomad-scientist simply puts his or her faith involvement on the shelf, compartmentalizing spiritual pursuits away from career. The prodigal-scientist feels forced to choose his or her affinity for science over faith and may resent the church for “forcing” the choice. The exile-scientist attempts to reconcile competing narratives of a life of faith and the life of the mind.
- How conflict might be played with each of these three types?
4. Young adults who do find it difficult to keep their faith growing through college do so, I believe, because of relational, educational, and vocational gaps that were left unaddressed in the years prior to and during college. In other words, when students struggle in college, many times it is because the Christian community has not provided a sufficiently strong set of relationships, sense of purpose, or whole-life coaching. This is particularly true in the lives of science-minded students. We should not assume that the tough questions of a hostile professor are at the root of lost faith. Rather in many instances, I believe the Christian community has failed to disciple its science-inclined students to become responsible, intelligent, capable, resourceful, and faithful followers of Christ. We need to do a better job stewarding the intellect of this generation.
- What new opportunities to “steward the intellect” await us?
5. If how the church has responded to and interacted with science is a problem, what needs to change? What should be the response of the Christian community to a science-dominated culture? I believe that people of faith have a responsibility and an opportunity to speak positively and prophetically to issues of science, rather than responding out of hostility or ignorance. We must work together to offer a viable, respectful Christian voice to our culture’s collective dialogue about stem cell research, cloning, animal testing, pharmaceuticals, technology’s impact on the human brain and soul, cosmetic and elective surgery and beauty enhancement, nutrition, agriculture, weapons and military technologies, and many other matters of science and ethics. This will not be easy—the learning curve will be steep for many of us—yet if we desire to steward the next generation for faithful service, we must tackle this complex challenge.
- Where is the church most challenged to speak positively/prophetically?
6. Here are some ways we might become credible, trustworthy partners in dialogue with the scientific community:
- More Science, Not Less
- Scientific Apprentices
- Good Thinking
- Humble Disagreement
- History Lessons
- Review and discuss each of these strategies.