As I write this introduction to a new series of blog posts there’s a small dustup on the internet about something said by the pastor of a large church in the south. These controversies arise periodically and predictably. Usually I ignore them. Something about this story, however, grabbed my attention. This pastor has said that preachers need to stay away from phrases like “the Bible says”, “God’s word is clear”, and “the Bible teaches”. He has said that such language doesn’t connect with the Millennial generation, especially those who are college educated.
Now, I say “the Bible says” all the time in my preaching. I have no intention of changing this. Our service at our church is not seeker sensitive in the sense of making the focus of the service those who don’t hold Christian faith. Our service does aim to connect with the language and need of our time, but the emphasis is on equipping believers for the work of ministry wherever in life they’ve been called. We assume a shared commitment to Scripture by regular attenders and members of the church while at the same time reaching out to those who may be visiting or may be questioning the basis of their faith.
Because I do want to reach out to those questioning I paid a little more attention to this controversy than I normally would, and I think the pastor is right. Millennials do appear more prone to question their faith, if they believe, or to question why they should have faith, if they are not believers. Recent surveys bear this out, and I’ve experienced this first hand in my encounters with Millennials, and it’s not just the college educated.
It used to be that college was the place where young people were first exposed to new ideas. I was just visiting with an older person who spoke of their time in college. It was there that some of this person’s long held beliefs were challenged by encounters with people who did things differently. These people were credible examples to them that life could be viewed and lived in a different way than the way they had been taught. It changed this person’s life. Today such experiences occur much sooner. For one thing our communities have become much more diverse. A young person is much more likely today to encounter a wide range of lifestyles and beliefs while growing up, both in their community and in their school, and even if this isn’t the case, with the advent of the internet kids are encountering diversity through interactions online (the website Reddit is one such place).
More than ever it’s important that Christian believers be able to give reasons for their faith–credible reasons and honest answers. Young people are far less likely to respond to authority, and therefore, far less likely to have faith. As I will share later, faith is a response to what one finds to be true. While I certainly believe faith in Christ is a gift of God, God has chosen to give this gift in and through means, the means of hearing and listening. People listen to that which they find worth their time, which means that which seems to them to be plausible and credible.
I agree with the pastor, appeals to the Bible’s authority no longer earn a hearing from many people. To start there is to never get started with many people, and therefore to never be heard. We need to be able to start from someplace else, and I agree with the pastor’s answer, we need to start from Christ. I will say more about this in future posts, for now let me just say that the key to an intellectually honest faith, one grounded in reasons, is the person of Christ. He is the basis for believing.
Finally, I’m also motivated by the need of another group of people. In addition to the need of our younger generation I’m deeply aware of the need of pastors, especially those educated in mainline seminaries and divinity schools. Many of these pastors were presented with the questions but never given answers. In the effort to be ecumenical and broad in focus many of these schools have left the constructing of the answers to the student. As a result many pastors have felt lost in the pastorate.
My hope is that I would be able to point them to some resources for constructing an intellectually honest faith, one that takes into account the truths to be found in the analytical methods they learned in seminary while rejecting that which is grounded more in the presuppositions of certain academic schools of thought than in the serious study of the origins of the Christian faith.