Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc
That’s what 12% of Americans thought when the Barna Group asked the question back in 1997. But surely we’re better educated today, right?
Not really. This morning’s USA Today website quotes the president of Barna, who describes the spirituality of young adults as “extremely wide, often shallow and always compelling.” Consider the “extremely wide” category: 56% of those under the age of 25 believe that “the Bible, Quran and Book of Mormon are the same expression of truth.” Heading the “often shallow” category, young adults view Paris Hilton more favorably than Billy Graham and think Wicca is patio furniture. Only 30% believe that the Bible is “accurate in the principles it teaches.”
But there’s good news in the “always compelling” category: according to Barna research, young adults “see spirituality as connected to all of their life, not a compartment within their life.” They don’t want to discuss spiritual ideas so much as they want to see spirituality lived in ways which make the world better.
I think Jesus would have agreed with them. His harshest sentiments were reserved for religious leaders who “do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:3-4). Early Christians lived their faith so practically and sacrificially that Tertullian (died AD 220) could quote their enemies: “How they love each other.”
I was a seminary student in a day when people questioned whether Christianity was right. I took and later taught classes which described ways to defend the authority of Scripture, the validity of the resurrection, and the uniqueness of Christ. Today the question in the minds of most people, especially young adults, is whether Christianity is relevant. I can defend the historicity and resurrection of Jesus, for instance, only to hear a skeptic say, “That’s just your truth.” It’s conventional wisdom today that all truth is relative, personal, and subjective. “You have no right to force your beliefs on me,” people claim.
Lest we despair, it’s worth noting that our culture is remarkably similar to the first-century environment of early Christians. People in their day worshiped the emperor, the gods of Mt. Olympus, and the mystery cults; others followed neo-Platonists, Skeptics, Cynics, Stoics or Epicureans. Jews worshipped Yahweh; Christians worshipped Jesus.
Early believers showed people that their faith was right by showing that it was relevant. They couldn’t outlaw slavery, so they purchased slaves and freed them. They couldn’t make prostitution illegal, so they bought prostitutes, set them free, and gave them homes. They couldn’t outlaw the abandonment of unwanted babies, so they rescued them and raised them as their own.
Our culture wants to know if Jesus is relevant to their lives and problems. As my friend Ken Medema says in one of his songs, “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.” Who will find God’s love in yours today?