"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 have not love, I am nothing." --1 Corinthians 13
I receive regular email updates from a Christian organization that is dedicated to Christian apologetics and teaching "the Christian Worldview"....or at least their particular version of it!
A recent post by Brannon Howse, We Must Reclaim the Church Before We Can Even Begin to Reclaim the Culture, extols the virtues of a new book by Ken Ham, Britt Beemer and Todd Hillard entitled, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. The book takes note of the mass exodus from the traditional, evangelical church. The reaction to the "crisis" of young people leaving churches is not a matter of debate: "The answer to this crisis is Biblical worldview and apologetics training."
As one who has extensively studied Christian apologetics and a "biblical worldview," I would like to say a few words regarding modern fundamentalist Christian apologetic movements. It is a simple truth, but one that obviously still gets missed in some circles: you can't brainwash yourself into genuine faith. At least Brannon Howse is honest with us. He believes that all you have to do to keep people in churches is to give them the right "training." It actually sounds quite creepy, like the next step might be to fly the whole group down to South America and establish a paradise for Christians who have "the biblical Worldview."....my apologies as I digress a bit into sarcasm and satire, but there is an important point to be made. People cannot be "trained" to have genuine faith just by giving them the so-called "true worldview." I can testify from personal experience that it doesn't work. Several years back I found that the more I digested and devoured Christian apologetic books, the more I found a growing spiritual emptiness. In my soul I was sincere in my quest, and in the process I was learning. And I would even say that I was in some sort of process of spiritual growth. But there was something deeper that was telling me that it was time to move on, to expand and explore. Having a true "biblical worldview" wasn't The Answer or The Truth.
Then I found that the whole idea of one biblical worldview is itself a very disrespectful way to approach the Bible. The Bible does not present itself to us as a worldview textbook. It is true, that it is possible chop the Bible up, pull out verses here and there, and assemble a grand systematic approach to the world. But as I engaged the text itself, in its original languages and in some of its original settings, I found that Scripture is a collection of highly diverse texts, with a wide range of genres (some that are even original to the Bible itself), written by many different persons over a long period of time. Gradually I realized how un-systematic the Bible was, and I was able to relax, which opened up the Bible to me in a way that renewed my faith and pushed me forward.
This is not to undermine the process of thinking.
The life of the mind is important, critical even. What we think, the beliefs we hold, our philosophies and perspectives on what's going on in the world--all of these are crucial. We are not other-than our minds. Just like we are not other-than our bodies. And yet we can't bet the farm on one Absolute Truth, one so-called "biblical worldview." That's not the way our minds were meant to work. They were meant to be used to develop discernment for the perspectives of others, to learn to listen well, particularly to the voices of the poor and oppressed. To be truly wise.
I see an irony: "Training" the minds of the young to believe that only one perspective has all of the answers actually produces mind-less-ness. The healthy mind is active in engaging other perspectives, not for the purpose of proving one's own perspective but in order to learn and grow.
Let's bring this discussion back to the mass exodus.
"Training" the minds of the young is not the answer. But more modern, American methods of evangelical church aren't really working either: Churches are modeled to look like coffee houses, big bucks are spent on youth group pastors and youth group programs, nifty upbeat sermons are designed to be "relevant" by tying in a theme with the latest and most popular Hollywood film releases (I remember a sermon series about "being like Neo and getting out of the Matrix of 'the world'"), worship bands with pop worship sounds and smoke on stage, etc. But all of these cool and hip upgrades don't seem to be saving our souls. In addition, I have to agree with my fundamentalist brothers in their criticism of the contemporary church scene: it seems to be a watered down version of faith. High on hype, low on substance.
Even though the contemporary evangelical church manages to stay afloat during this mass exodus, there is still the sense that it isn't doing any real, substantial good--that it isn't producing genuine transformation. It starts to feel like spiritual fast food: do the drive thru and grab a snappy sermon with a side of Jesus music and slurp down a latte while you chat with a few folks in the lobby before you go. The contemporary church scene seems to be a spiritual support group to aid and abet the status quo culture of the white American middle class. In short, to me there is this pervasive feeling of spiritual narcissism. Church begins to exist as a therapeutic aid to our modern American lifestyles: the odd and remarkable blending of our puritanical work ethic with our superficial consumeristic drive to buy more and more cheap, disposable goods.
So, what of the mass exodus?
The post by Brannon Hows summarizes (from the book he is reviewing) the statistically-supported characteristics of this flight from Egypt:
A mass exodus is underway. Most youth of today will not be coming to church tomorrow. Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that the next generation is calling it quits on the traditional church. And it's not just happening on the nominal fringe; it's happening at the core of the faith.
Only 11 percent of those who have left the Church did so during the college years. Almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school. By the time they got to college they were already gone! About 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years!
If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of those who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts; it will only take a couple years before their bodies are absent as well.
The numbers indicate that Sunday school actually didn't do anything to help them develop a Christian worldview...The brutal conclusion is that, on the whole, the Sunday school programs of today are statistical failures.
Part of the concern is that the mere existence of youth ministry and Sunday school allows parents to shrug off their responsibility as the primary teachers, mentors, and pastors to their family.
A few things intrigue me. First, that the young are spiritually checking out at a very early stage. They will go through the motions, but they are only biding their time. Also of interest is that Hows used "heart" language. "If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of those who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts." Right. I agree. It's not a matter of "training" people's minds to think correctly. The problem is a spiritual problem, a lack of depth and meaning in the church itself. Like so many American made products and services in this disposable society, churches appeal to the superficial rather than engaging the deep and stirring something more fundamental than emotion, rationality, or social networking.
My general feeling is that the mass exodus is a good thing. There are those who wish to stay in traditional churches, and I certainly do not wish to disparage these efforts. Truly. I do not mean to suggest that there are not deep evangelicals. There are. But even they are often quite frustrated by what is going on around them. Kudos to those of you who are staying in traditional churches and trying to tap into something deeper. I support you.
However, for many of us, the call is to pack up our travel gear and head out, searching for something deeper and cultivating the calling that we see before us in our own souls.
This is the pilgrim's path.
The bottom line is transformation: are we tapping something genuine and life changing within us, a deeper encounter with self, God, and the world that leads us to make a real difference in the lives of others.
"You equip yourself for transport, then wait to see what happens. Use the things you find around you to assemble a rudimentary shelter. Experiment with ways of distinguishing food from poison. Allow yourself to become a gill-breather. Experience moods that have no names." (p. 73 of John Doyle's The Stations)
“On just about any dimension you can think of, humans tend to clump together. Go farther and farther away from the center and you see fewer and fewer people. It’s hard not to see evidence of some sort of force at work, pulling everybody toward the center. Maybe the force emanates from a particular point in the world, like gravity, pulling people in. Maybe it’s a force that’s embedded within individuals, impelling them to move toward each other....But what about the outliers, the people who resist the pull to the center? Do the outliers lack the normalizing force within themselves? Do they try to huddle with the masses, only to find themselves drifting away? Do they float effortlessly above the pull of gravity? Or do they exert a counterforce that drives them out of orbit? Maybe the outliers are already moving toward what’s destined to become the new center of gravity, and the rest of us will eventually find ourselves being drawn toward them. For good or for ill. (p. 47)