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October 20, 2017

by Rev. Stan Key

How can parents say to their teenager, “Let me take the speck out of your eye; when they don’t even see the log in their own eye?” (Matthew 7:4, NASV-Non-Authorized Stan’s Version).

It happened again this week. At a local sandwich shop, Katy and I ran into a young lady who used to attend both LCC and LCS. She was a product of our church and school. Katy greeted her warmly, calling her by name. She smiled weakly but it was obvious she didn’t want to talk. We know little about her except that there have been two pregnancies (she’s not married) and she is no longer in church. I found myself muttering: “What’s wrong with young people today? Parents work with church and school to instill faith in these young lives and to what end? They turn out like this! How did we fail so miserably to pass on the faith to the next generation?” But then I began to think more deeply. Maybe this dear girl in the sandwich shop was not an anomaly after all. Maybe, just maybe, she was the logical product of the religious tradition in which she was raised. Maybe her lifestyle was not a rejection of the faith she had been taught but an illustration of it! 

A book I’m currently reading is actually confirming some of my deepest suspicions. Written by Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian1 examines the faith of teens and young adults in an effort to discover not so much what their religious practice reveals about them but what it reveals about the churches and families in which they were raised. The author claims that the problem is not that the church has failed to pass on its core beliefs. No, the real problem is that she has succeeded! 

The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people.... What if the blasé religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all? (pp. 11-12). 

Reading this book has refocused my attention. No longer is my burning question “What’s wrong with them?” Now, I find myself mulling over the far more troubling question, “What’s wrong with us?” Could it be that many young adults raised in evangelical churches like ours are not rebelling against the faith of their parents? Maybe they are living it out! 

For those of us old enough to be parents, teachers and role models in the church, this is a call for serious self-examination. Though we cannot turn back the clock and relive the past, we can be honest enough to confess those areas where our walk has not matched our talk and ask God to give us the opportunity to “get it right” from this day forward. It is not too late to declare war on all forms of inane religiosity, the cult of niceness and benign whatever-ism (what Dean calls “Moralist Therapeutic Deism”). Let’s ask God for a fresh baptism of pentecostal fire that ignites our hearts in love empowering us to live in selfless devotion and radical commitment for Christ and his kingdom. The future of the world is hanging in the balance. 

1Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford University Press. 2010.

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