These generations are only responding to what we are teaching them, but we teach only part of the truth.
Mr. McDowell opens his book, The Last Christian Generation (2006), with a smattering of statistics that demonstrate that, while many of our young believe in God and still want a relationship with Him, their foundational concepts differ from what we claim to be teaching in our churches. Some of the differences in what they believe are shown in a chart on page 15:
- 63% don't believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God;
- 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths;
- 51% don't believe Jesus rose from the dead;
- 65% don't believe Satan is a real entity;
- 68% don't believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity;
The words in the book are:
"In other words, our kids are departing from the faith of their fathers...and mothers." (Page 15, last paragraph)
Little different from the world
There is a chart on page 17 that shows the percentages of professed Christian Youth and Non-Christian Youth when their ethics are compared. In categories such as 1) being satisfied with their ethics and character (over 90% in both groups), 2) lied to a parent (93% both groups), and 3) cheated on a test (74% of Christians to 76% of non-Chirstians), the two groups are amazingly close in results. The largest variance was 2% between them, and in question 2), the percentages were exactly the same (93% of both groups lied to their parents). And again, these statistics are from youth that over 90% of which claim to be satisfied with their ethics and character. So, regardless of what we claim to teach them, even the Christian youth are little different than those of the world.
Seeing, but not believing
When you boil these opening statements down, the youth of today just don't believe what the Bible says, and even many of the Christian youth do not show the results that you would expect from Christian living. Based on what McDowell says in the book, this is supposedly because of the influence of the world on our kids.
However, if you read the Bible for what it says, then listen to the average "evangelist" explain what it means to him or her, you can get a very good idea why the younger generation may think it is OK to change a few things and think what they want. The average "Christian" church has changed the basic truths to such a distorted view that it is hard to believe they are from the same Bible you and I read. In fact, chapters 2 through 5 are about the distorted views the young people have of Christianity, Truth, Reality, and The True Church. While this is a very accurate assessment of the cause of the problem, the book consistently puts most of the blame on the world and none on the churches.
"Distortions? We don't change the Bible..."
One result of these seemingly harmless distortions is the number of denominations out there, each with their own version of the truth, with some huge differences between all of them. Each of them think they are the only ones with the truth, and we all just go along, tolerating and "loving" each one with no word of challenge or encouragement to correct the differences. Even Jesus didn't let that go (Matt 22:29
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."
). He brought attention to errors.
Each of us thinks everyone else is wrong, but we show our "love" for them by letting them go on believing their way. Remember, Christ has only one church, and it follows Him regardless of what the world believes. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:11-13
11My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."
13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
, we are all supposed to belong to Christ and be of one mind.
One Book, many messages?
All these denominations show that we are not even trying to comply with what the Bible actually says, but when anyone points that out, we each stake out our territory and defend it as the only true one. If that's the case, which one is right? I submit, as did Christ, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures." (Matthew 22:29) Most of our error is in the slanted view that our own denomination has because of all the "notes", "commentaries", and "translations" we each have. Few people will try to read the Bible for what it says and listen to that message instead of change it to something they believe that is different from the message.
Right problem, wrong diagnosis
Basically, McDowell's book has a good grasp of what has happened to the faith of our national youth. The problem is that he is not pointing at all the culprits. When you point a finger at someone, notice that three of your fingers are pointing back at you. Some of the fingers should point back at the churches, the Great Distorters, themselves.
"What? The churches? Not my church..."
The problem is not just that the world disagrees with the foundation of Christianity, it's also that we haven't prepared our youth to deal with the argument of the world against that foundation. Christian youth become persuaded by simple arguments that actually fly in the face of truth. Including, by the way, simple arguments not only from the world, but "Christian" distortions of the truth of the Bible. When this is pointed out by their worldly acquaintances, they check it out and find out that a lot of it is true - especially when the same words are used as a justification for all the different beliefs of the various denominations.
Yes, your church
But, it's worse than that. When Christians read passages like 2 Corinthians 5:17
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
, and then listen to their pastor explain it, they feel that some magical transformation has happened to give them freedom to ignore the law of God as though it was no longer there. They seem to feel that they now will just automatically know if they do something Christ wouldn't like, so if they don't get a "prompting" from the Holy Spirit, it must be OK for them to do. And, our pastors are implicitly agreeing with them by saying that there are no longer any formal rules.
The difference between the right and wrong position on this decision is in the definitions of key words held by each generation. On page 22 and 23 of McDowell's book, we see a list of how the older generation definitions differ from those of today's youth:
TRADITIONAL vs MODERN DEFINITIONS
|Tolerance||Accepting others without agreeing with or sharing their beliefs or lifestyle choices.||Accepting that each individual's beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal.
|Respect||Giving due consideration to others beliefs and lifestyle choices without necessarily approving them.||Wholeheartedly approving of other's beliefs or lifestyle choices.|
|Acceptance||Embracing people for who they are, not necessarily for what they say or do.||Endorsing and even praising others for their beliefs and lifestyle choices.|
|Moral Judgments||Certain things are morally right and wrong as determined by God.||We have no right to judge another person's view or behavior.|
|Personal Preference||Preferences of color, food, clothing style, hobbies, etc., are personally determined.||Preferences of sexual behaviors, value systems, and beliefs are personally determined.|
|Personal Rights||Everyone has the right to be treated justly under the law.||Everyone has the right to do what he or she believes is best for himself or herself.|
|Freedom||Being free to do what you know you ought to do.||Being able to do anything you want to do.|
|Truth||An absolute standard of right and wrong.||Whatever is right for you.|
Distorted View of Christianity
When these new definitions are accepted by today's Christian youth as reasonable, then you have the world dictating behavior instead of Christ. But, when today's churches soften the word of God to their more lenient definitions of law and obedience, the effect on the youth is worse because it becomes "church approved" behavior. And if these young people then observe that these churches each change it differently from each other, wouldn't they wonder why they shouldn't be able to make their own interpretations based on their own reasoning? Again, the result is behavior based on personal reasoning instead of the truth of the Bible as written.
No cost means no lesson is learned
When you observe the differences between the definitions in the box above, what stands out as different for each of the stands? Can you see the biggest one? The underlying basis for each column is the authority for the stand taken by each side. The Adult Culture gives the authority to God, and that means they bear the God-decided consequences of their actions. The Youth Culture definitions are decided by themselves, and there are no consequences of crossing the line except being accepted by the group or ostracized from it. In this new view, there is no moral authority other than the group itself.
Once they feel they can make up their own rules as well as anyone else, they will never accept an outside authority. What they don't realize is that God is the authority even if they don't accept Him as such. Just because they ignore His rules doesn't mean that those rules don't still apply and that He is not their final judge. That is what they must learn from us. But today's churches don't even believe this, much less try to teach it to their youth.
Lying is OK?
These modern pastors soften Christ and God to the point where even openly gay pastors are approved, and, from personal experience, they advocate that lying is OK if you are doing it for Christ. I know this because my wife and I were asked to do so by church leaders in order to smooth over a conflict happening in the church that my wife used to attend. We did not succumb to this request, so my wife is no longer attending that church. You cannot ignore the rules of God and Christ and still claim to be a Christian.
Distorted View of Truth
The youth of today, both Christian and non-Christian, have a different view of truth. McDowell's book lists the following summary of their discoveries based on their own research:
- Moral and religious truth does not exist in any objective sense.
- Instead of "discovering" truth in a story (such as the Bible) that presents a unified way of looking at life - postmodernism rejects any overarching explanation of what constitutes truth and reality.
- Truth - whether in science, education, or religion - is created by a specific culture or community and is "true" only in and for that culture.
- Individual persons are the product of their cultures. That is, we are not essentially unique individuals created in the image of God; our identities are defined by our culture (Aftican-American, European, Eastern, Western, urban, rural, etc.).
- All thinking is a "social construct." In other words, what you and I regard as truths are simply arbitrary "beliefs we have been conditioned to accept by our society, just as others have been conditioned to accept a completely different set of beliefs."
- Any system or statement that claims to be objectively true or unfavorably judges the values, beliefs, lifestyle, and truth claims of another culture is a power play, an effort by one culture to dominate other cultures.
McDowell appropriately says that our young people and this culture haven't necessarily adopted these concepts, but have absorbed them over time from the society around them. In my view, that society of influence inludes a massive influence from today's churches - in the wrong direction.
That is the hard part to teach
One of the things that McDowell's book brings up is that the church must teach the youth to develop a relationship with the loving, caring, forgiving Jesus Christ. While this is necessary to show that Christ is not an Ogre in the Sky waiting to pounce on every mistake, we must also teach that to be part of this relationship, we must conform to some guidelines. Our actions of continued, willful disobedience have consequences that will be eternal. Yes, Jesus is loving, caring, and forgiving, but He is also judge, jury, and executioner. To leave this out is to redefine Christ, which is a form of idolatry.
God is still in charge
When we look around, it may not look like God is in control, but He is still in charge. Most Christians, in Christs own words, do not follow Him as directed (Luke 6:46
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
), quoting whatever excuse feels best to them. To be a Christian, you must follow Him, act like Him, and obey Him. God (Jesus) is the final authority. We must teach the youth that they either are the church, His ecclesia, or they are not. They shouldn't be allowed to think they can merely go to church and everything will be fine. They must know that God's will doesn't go away just because they don't want to hear it. There are consequences to disobedience because the law of God is still the expression of His will and the final word on every matter.
Unless He forgives each instance of disobedience, after our sincere confession, admission of guilt, and the recognized need for forgiveness, we will pay the price later. But, since no one has ever seen eternal consequences happen in this life, that price is not real to today's youth. Add to that the fact that the churches are sugar-coating the truth so well that consequences seldom even come to mind, much less become part of their daily thinking.
No one wants to hear it, but we should fear God
On pages 110 and 111, Josh McDowell makes a point that provokes anger in the hearts of today's sugar and honey Christians. That anger denies the clear statements of the Bible:
What this culture lacks, what our youth lack, and what I'm afraid many of us, as parents, grandparents, pastors, youth workers, and Christian educators lack is a healthy, biblical fear of God, such as the prophets and apostles knew.
Here is where mushy Christians jump up and shout, "God loves us! We shouldn't fear Him!" While the first statement is true, the second part is not true. I'm not saying hide-in-your-room fear, but trembling-respect-because-our-life-is-in-His-hands fear.
A perfect example
Think of it this way. When a child reaches the age where he/she understands discipline, a parent will communicate displeasure with a stern word or swift swat. This is not done out of meanness, but concern for the child's disobedient behavior. Now, when this message sinks in, the child now has a fear - not of the parent, but fear of disobeying the parent. That is the fear we read about in the Bible. The spanking will make the consequences of disobedience a real consequence to the child. If the child does not understand the consequences of their actions, there will be no fear and disobedience will continue. Today's Christians are no different.
No fear means no respect, therefore no obedience
Two things are apparent in Christian living today. First, they are constantly told that the law of God does not apply to them, which tells them that they can't disobey something that doesn't apply. Second, because of the first statement, they feel that there are no rules to even cause consequences to be waiting for them if they disobey. They feel that they have been saved instead of are being saved. Look again at Heb 9:28
28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
. Paul didn't say the we are saved and are just waiting for the Bus. He said that salvation is coming when Christ returns. We are not yet saved.
We need more "fear" of God
The author communicates this idea of a "healthy fear" well in the last paragraph on page 110 and the first two paragraphs on page 111:
When moses came near to the burning bush that symbolized God's presence, he was warned, "Take of your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Moses obeyed, fell to the ground, and hid his face from God's greatness. (page 110)
When John the Apostle, who had known Jesus Christ and walked the dusty roads of the earth with Him, saw the resurrected and ascended Lord in his heavenly glory, he "fell at his feet as though dead."
Those men loved God with a sacrificial love out of a deep reverence for him, but so many of our young people have a perception of God as a Father Christmas type, dispensing gifts and favor to his children. One young man said God was like his grandfather - a person who didn't really care what he did and left him alone. (page 111)
McDowell goes on to say that this doesn't mean that God is a monster waiting to pounce on us, but He is a God who holds our future in His hands and expects us to stay in His will. When we ignore that, we show no fear or respect, and that should cause us to have the stomach-churning fear the author mentions in later paragraphs.
God's rules are there for a reason
Today's Christian youth feel that since all churches believe differently according to their own rules, these youth have no reason to conform to Christ by any of those church rules, so they can make up their own. They have been essentially told that God (Jesus) is too loving to have them follow any rules, much less those restrictive, harsh, Jewish rules. When will our churches wake up and start teaching that God is real and expects us to act like we know that He is real - and serious about our eternal lives?
Church is who, not what, when, or where
In order to get the real message, the youth of today can't go on thinking of church as some place where they have to go that is boring. They are supposed to be the "church", though the word that Christ used was "ecclesia", not "church". So, what does it mean that they find church to be boring? It means that they are boring themselves by not getting involved in God's work. The building is just the gathering place for people who want to compare notes on their faith - and learn why faith in the real God is necessary for survival.
It's not just for the fun parts, or singing, or entertainment, or blessings that we gather in His name. Being the ecclesia is necessary for our eternal salvation. The youth are supposed to be the ecclesia, not the building to which they go once a week. But, by our actions and repetitive "church" routines, we seem to be trying to drive them to the other side before they can develop the interest to be able to learn anything about who God really is. We don't seem to be giving them a reason to learn.
At least have a plan
In setting up a plan to follow to communicate his ideas, Mr. McDowell describes a "blueprint" of sorts that he hopes will help to develop goals by starting to:
- Understand the Distortions That Our Young People Have Adopted
- Re-introduce God to our Young People for Who He Really Is
- Lead Our Young People to Properly Respond to God through a Spiritual Formation Process
The first two items are right on target. However, it seems to me, it is when we start to work on number three that the problems happen. If you accomplish the first two items, the third will become natural - a response from their own heart. If you try to teach how to respond to God, then the response is yours, not theirs, and will likely not last.
Tell them the whole truth, let them respond
The youth of today do not respond as we do. They respond based on their understanding of the situation. So, if we can get them to see the distorted definitions they have and then see who God really is according to His own words, rather than some interpretation, then they can develop their own response. That one will last.
In describing the steps he feels are needed to begin to recover from this crisis, the author makes a statement of the process that is needed. He lists this on page 76 under the heading Building from the True Foundations:
Discipling this generation to become true followers of Christ is not a simple task, yet the process can be stated quite simply: Reintroduce God to this generation for who he really is (the God of redemption, relationships and restoration) and lead it to a continuing response of living a life of (1) faith, (2) worship, (3) prayer, (4) loving others, (5) making godly choices, (6) spiritual warfare, and (7) spiritual reproduction.
Do the same old thing, with feeling, and it will work better?
Now, not to cast this advice in a dark light, when was the last time you went to a church and heard anything but that advice in the box above from the pastor? Look at the parenthetical statement in the box above: (the God of redemption, relationships, and restoration). Yes, God is this, but that's not all He is. Where is the Judge, Seeker of Vengeance, Maker of Rules to be followed, Just God who will judge every person who ever lived? If you expect the youth to take God seriously, you must describe Him as He really is - a serious God with a plan to save us from ourselves. That plan makes Him someone to be feared if He is not respected.
The pastors of today's churches all speak about the loving, gentle, forgiving God, but the youth going through these same teaching processes of the churches are the very ones that have the problem the author is complaining about. Repeating the same drivel without some sort of enforcement authority is worthless to them and will not change the results from what we see now.
Appeal to the mind as well
The issue is in the description that McDowell uses to portray the "real" God as the "the God of redemption, relationships and restoration". To repeat the thoughts above, that is only a portion of who God "really is". This part of their discussion is only trying to reach the hearts of the youth. The section that follows this on the very next page is called Reaching their Minds and Hearts. If you tell a young person that God loves him/her, wants their worship, and wants them to love their neighbor, just where is the mind part of this appeal?
Sometimes it takes hard facts to reach the mind
Take driver education, for example. When taking the class, if all the instructor did was tell people to follow the rules, be courteous, wave and smile so as not to upset people, and make sure you don't let your underage brother or sister drive the car, how well (and safely) would they be able to drive on the real streets? When I went through the class:
1. We leaned that a car is very heavy, so it will cause damage if it hits something.
2. We watched a movie called Signal 30 showing the results of accidents with various causes. In this movie, we saw:
a. real dead people still stuck in the cars they wrecked
b. crumpled vehicles from horrible accidents
4. We saw statistics about the number of crashes caused by drinking and driving.
5. We learned that there are rules of the road designed to prevent these accidents
6. We learned that many, many people do not follow these rules, and when something happens, they are usually the ones who are hurt.
7. We learned that if you drive responsibly, and follow the rules, you will get where you are going, and get there safely.
Now, there's a message for the mind
At the time, I already had been driving for a year and a half, but needed the credit for high school graduation. These visual, factual images in the movie meant more to me as a driver because I had seen the potential situations and possibilities first hand. The admonitions of the lessons impacted my mind as well as my heart.
The message that breaking the rules led to bad consequences came through loud and clear. During the class we learned that you follow the rules, drive safely, or you will lose your driving rights, privileges, or perhaps much more. The Bible, read as it was written, contains the same message about this life as the movie does about driving - especially item 7 on the list.
Are we teaching the honest, hard facts about God?
Now, comparing this to the introduction of God "as He really is" (described above), we need to add some of the tough side of the real God and Jesus to the discussion and reach the minds of today's Christian youth. The prophet Jeremiah reported the naked word of God as we should do:
40I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (Jeremiah 32:40)
Authority must have some teeth, or it is not effective. If a person does not fear God, then He hasn't communicated the fear in this verse to them in any real way. But, we also need faith that God has our best interests at heart - the same way we know our earthly father still loves us even when he spanked us. Our youth need to learn the criteria by which our God (Jesus) will judge every soul who has ever lived. When they learn of the potential consequences of disobedience to God's rules, and learn that these are real, only then can they make a valid decision as to whether they should become the persons built "from the True Foundations" paragraph above.
God is forgiving, but He also means what He says
If those consequences do not seem real to our youth, they will not become part of their thinking or actions. Any rebuttal not learned (mind) will never be used to refute the ridiculous arguments of the world to which our Christian youth are succumbing. A truth, real objective truth, must be seen as such before it is recognized as a truth. Not just the comfortable, loving, forgiving truths, but the hard ones as well. Like McDowell says in the book:
Because the truth is true whether one believes it or not.
The truth we must teach our youth is that which will keep them from becoming the ones standing outside the door on the Day of the Wedding when the Bridegroom returns for His bride - the ecclesia. That truth explains why that might happen and how we can avoid being left outside. The only truths worth anything are the ones that keep us in the will of God and under the forgiveness of Jesus. Nothing else matters for salvation. Nothing.
Are We The Last Christian Generation?
This is not a new thought. Jesus expressed the same thought in Luke 18:8
8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
. What we are seeing in McDowell's book and in the youth today is the very essence of another of His sayings in Matthew 24:12
12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
. While many see this as referring to pagans and unbelieving Gentiles, you must recognize that love cannot grow cold if it was never there in the first place. You must first believe before you can "no longer believe".
The faith He will seek is that which He taught to His disciples. He is speaking of true Christian love for God, Himself, and our neighbor. Often, whatever personna people may present to other people around them, inside "most" will not have kept the faith that they once had, and that's the faith that Jesus will seek when He returns.
There will be faith left on the earth for His return, even if it's only the faith of those true followers who died that He resurrects. But Jesus seems to be speaking of the faith of those left living at the time of His return. That is part of God's plan, and His plans work out. The question is, how many living at the time He comes will be following that faith by seeking the Truth, staying in the will of God, and living as the Lord told us to live? How many of us alive now are doing that?
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