Concerns about the future of the church

This might be considered somewhat of a spin-off from @Nick_Allen in his post under the “what are good arguments against theistic evolution?” where, referring to some regular meetings, he wrote:

It strikes me that this may be (or may lead to) a bigger issue that needs our attention. And that issue is this: youth may simply be reflecting back to us the values that they see/saw pursued by prior generations. In short, if people are worried about declining Sunday morning attendance in some quarters, the problem may not be so much with the youth, but with the rest of us.

Faithful church-goers may be talking a good talk, but in the end if they chase after the same things that everybody else chases (pleasure, wealth, power, honor, and the media that now strokes so many of those nerve-centers for us) then all such talk is just that. It won’t matter how biblically correct it is. In fact, it may even be detrimental to combine “correct” biblical talk with the life-style that seduces so many of us, because it then becomes associated with hypocrisy in the minds of observers (our youth).

YECs and TEs of all stripes have soul-searching to do; YECs because they implicitly push the message that modern science (no matter how much they distill, “correct”, qualify, or restrict that to some approved category) is the only real arbiter of all truth. And this deadly seduction is not made one whit less true or dangerous by loud (but in the end deceived) protestations that the Bible is being held above science. In fact the failure to discern this elephant just makes it that much more spiritually tragic for youth.

But the same thing is just as true for those (like TEs) who have acclimated themselves to more widely accepted science. Despite the loud TE protestations that “all truth is God’s truth”, even so --how do the youth in such households see their parents spending resources? Is time and effort spent pursuing the same big four (honor, pleasure, …) but with a religious veneer put over it? Are scientific understandings/advances pursued with more zeal than spiritual health / relationship with God? Is the near entire focus of energies on making our present situations (or near future --think rich man building more barns) more safe/secure/pleasurable? If so, Sunday morning won’t be doing much for our youth, and they know that. It may be that the only advantage the TE has over the YEC in all this is a greater awareness that there even exists the elephant of scientific tyranny that has become a virtually invisible backdrop for so many who are otherwise earnest in their reverence for scripture.

But greater understanding --even greater Scriptural understanding, is for nothing if we are all together seduced by the many other siren calls that keep otherwise good convictions and correct beliefs locked away where they can’t interfere too much with real agendas.

So as we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the grave tomorrow, let’s not forget the “so … what? …” that needs to follow on Monday morning and every day after.

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Kenda Creasy Dean wrote an interesting book a while back called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. (Here’s an article about it) I’ve only read excerpts of the book, but I’ve seen it cited frequently on the subject of youth and the rising “nones.” Basically, she affirms what you are saying. A faith that is basically middle/upper class mores with a coating of religious vocabulary (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, she labels it) is not compelling and doesn’t address the deeper questions of life.

She says, "If teenagers lack an articulate faith, maybe it is because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation. Maybe teenagers’ inability to talk about religion is not because the church inspires a faith too deep for words, but because the God-story that we tell is too vapid to merit more than a superficial vocabulary.”

She said parents and other spiritual role models have to do things that kids can point to as radical acts of love, welcoming, and service, and clearly articulate that we do these things because this is how Christians live, and this is who Christians are.

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I was sitting in church last Sunday, and was thinking along the same lines, and thinking of how our local congregation has changed over the years. It brought to mind that local churches ( as well as denominations and the church universal) can be thought to evolve. You have a population that responds to cultural pressures and changing theology and either increases or decreases in population, The church may change into a congregation that sometimes is not compatible with the former associations, and a new species arises-a new denomination. Or it may fail and go extinct.
The typical church today would be difficult to recognize by the 1st century Christians I suspect. The challenge is to maintain spiritual integrity, while at the same time accepting those changes needed to reach a changing world.

I think that’s exactly it. Children tend to, in general, return to their parents values by the time they turn 30. Not the habits, necessarily, but the values. There are many church-attenders that hold more of our culture’s values than Jesus’ values.

Thanks for the article link, @Christy. As much as it scares those of us (like me) who want to be comfortable and feel like we are in control, it is probably a necessary kind of shaking up.

@jpm, it probably is a pretty good thing that we don’t look like the earliest church since we live in a very different world. I know some Christians think that in everything we should emulate the early church down to every discernible detail. But the most necessary thing that actually does need to be freshly emulated by each new generation is: a radical trust in Jesus.

@fmiddel, That’s a big “ouch” for all of us. The running joke I’ve heard goes something like this: “We desperately pleaded with God; we prayed and implored long and hard, … but in the end … our children turned out just like us anyway.”

I am glad that the disciples were so thick-skulled and faithless right up to the days of these events. Not that we should revel in the failures of others, but then to read what God did with them over the next months and years; --and not always despite their weaknesses, but sometimes even through them – that truly does bring hope to all of us cracked vessels.

Here’s that hopeful looking toward Easter, everyone!

My NT professor Norm Erickson used to say over and over that the reason we have most of the New Testament is because “churches had problems.” :smile:

Happy Easter to you too.

I think one of our big danger-points today is our thirst for control (power). And here is one area where YECs may have an edge over other Christians, not because they have some better kind of grasp of science or biblical interpretation (I’ve already betrayed my bias that they have neither); but because, by the very nature of their willingness to commit to a biblical principle (regardless of the integrity of that principle) at all cost, they tend to have more of an attitude of trust that despite all appearances, God has and will be sorting everything out. So in the service of this principle (which to their minds is inseparable from the Bible itself) they are seemingly more willing to toss everything else to the wind; or in the case of science, to violently wrench it into conformity, or to reject anything that cannot be so wrenched. As much fault as their detractors find in all this, we are yet forced to admire perhaps from largely inferior positions this posture of trust, and even relinquishment of control. Not that YECs are close to perfect in this, or that TEs are uniformly disadvantaged. But I think that a desire for understanding (science) is a close cousin to the desire for control (technology). This comes with the territory for anybody who celebrates all of science, whether from within Christian perspective or from without. And it is probably hard to assume a posture of trust when we are busy immersing ourselves in what our own efforts can achieve.

This posture of trust, if necessary in the natural world, should be ever more recognized in the ecclesiastical world. To echo a bit of Pharisaical wisdom recorded by Luke: If the Church (or whatever parts of all the institutions and peoples claim that identity for themselves) is really of God, then nothing done by its hypocrites within or enemies without will be able to make it fail. If it is not of God then no amount of ingenious strategy, evolving relevance, or noble acts of great people within will be able to save it. While Gamaliel no doubt had shorter spans in mind for the course of this “experiment”, I think the wisdom still holds over the longer terms as well. God is God, and we are not. Thank you to our YEC brothers and sisters for gently reminding us of this.

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I like your desire to let yourself be inspired by our YEC brothers and sisters by looking at possibly admirable aspects of their position. I think this certainly holds for those more humble YECs who maintain their position for an apparent lack of a better alternative according to their own understanding.

However, I would say that the more dedicated YECs actually do not hold that position in a posture of relinquishment of control. Rather, they seem to be feeding an urge to have absolute control and in some way to have God in their “pocket”. To me, this seems to be the opposite of an attitude of trust. It seems that, for them, any and all things regarding God and His Creation have to be boiled down to a logical structure that fits entirely in their own human mind. Everything else has to be rejected. Would you agree with me that it does not express an attitude of trust in any way?


I do agree that such an attitude does not characterize the kind of trust I described. But I would also maintain that some TEs are also prone to wanting “God in their pocket” if/when they insist that God would never …[insert scientifically incredible claim here] … because God always works through natural means. Now; I know not all TEs go there. The more cautious ones (I include myself here) qualify that by saying instead: “God typically works through natural means and people (so far as we can see)… and that indeed all of nature is God’s work”. But even with that, I think none of us are immune to this temptation to desire or pretend to have more control than is spiritually allotted for us. From James we read that it is not good to make plans without always having the qualifier on our minds, if not our lips: “…if the Lord wills it.” Not that we stymie that sovereign will by our failure to acknowledge it – we hurt only ourselves in such shortcomings.

So yes, our YEC brothers and sisters are cracked vessels just like we are, and perhaps I exaggerated their partial immunity from this temptation. But I think some of them excel in spiritual gifts right up to their personal relationship with God in ways which we dare not repudiate, and in fact (speaking for myself) should learn from. It would seem you might agree as long as I use the qualifier “some”, also meaning that such a person, saint though they may be, isn’t necessarily right about everything they think.


I agree completely.

Also, I completely share your concern regarding that universal temptation of ours to believe that we can be on top of everything… It’s the notorious account of the Tower of Babel with which we were warned of such arrogance.

Submitting the entirety of our hearts, souls, and minds to loving our God will always remain the greatest challenge of the Christian life. Those of us who are interested in matters of the mind therefore are vulnerable to two risks. One is to overemphasize the mind while leaving the heart and soul out of the story… The other is to end up loving our mind instead of loving God with our mind…


Another challenge comes from the same source I used before in another thread, but that merges into the theme of this thread, is the liberal, subjective, experience-centered themes that so many Catholic and Protestant thinkers of recent centuries have centered themselves around. I get this again from a long speech by Bishop Robert Barron; and since I now have a more realistic appraisal of how few blog readers are willing to wade through long videos, I’ll just bring his points up myself here --though the link is easily shared again should someone be interested.

Barron credits a prominent Catholic theologian (Karl Rahner), for “traveling the Schleiermacher autobahn” --a reference to an earlier German theologian: Friedrich Schleiermacher. This liberal road was one that emphasized the importance of personal experience in Christianity, following the rationalistic impulses of Kant and Descartes. Under this subjective program, all experience is brought into the personal courtroom of our own intellectual appraisal. Our contingent approval of any theological claims is then tied to how well those claims accord with our own experience.

In other words, when we bring this to bear on our modern scientific attitudes, it would seem we have a legacy that owes much to Descartes both in our scientific and theological thoughts. To study something, we bring it into the lab, dissect it, and extract all the hard data we can. This kind of thinking bleeds over into our religion as well, perhaps leading to the Scientism that plagues so many well-intentioned creationists. And I argue that beyond that, this kind of personal subjectivism may, in its more rampant forms, be dangerous to us all -youth or aged.

According to Barron, Rahner “chose Kant”, while a later Catholic theologian, Hans Balthasar, “chose Goethe”. Barron credits Goethe with denying this liberal subjective approach, and insisting instead that the way to really study something is to “go to it.” Don’t kill and dissect it in your lab and insist that it answer your questions on your terms; (good science has us thinking of sterile lab with all variables tightly controlled). Instead, let it interrogate you, and show you its life in its own environ on its own terms.

And the obvious application of these philosophies in our Christian lives is our approach to the living Word. Do we bring that Word into our personal laboratories of experience and analysis where we can dissect it, make it answer to our scientifically-oriented curiosities on our terms? Or do we instead, “go where Jesus is”? In this approach, we submit to his interrogation, his judgment, letting him work in us. It is a reversal of what we try to achieve, as if we could somehow step outside or above that Logos, to evaluate and judge it as if we had some sort of independent platform from which we could even attempt such a thing. We don’t, and therefore can’t.

I think this radical submission may be at the heart of our difficulties that cuts through every church. Are our institutions modeled after this experiential way in which we try to retain tight analysis-driven control over everything, including how Jesus should work for us? Or do we practice radical submission, turning that around, and asking where Jesus is and how we can work for Him?

That may be the question that the Lord is asking of us both personally and corporately. When the Lord enables us to be in that submissive posture, then I/we can stop fretting about the future of the church, since it is in God’s hands – not ours.

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Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

In other words, some people do not want Christ and if you try to force Christ on them, they will turn on you. On the other hand, if someone seeks after Christ, they will find him. Some people (including young people) will seek after Jesus and some will not. If we require that kids believe something that is not true, as a prerequisite to believing in Christ, then kids will see through it and will not accept Christ.

Luke 11:52 “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”

I would argue that YEC hinders kids from believing on Jesus.

Except, God put it in our hands. Read Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Sometimes kids are better (more moral) than their parents.

We are not excused from laboring with heart and mind, to be sure. We just need to be clear when thinking of Jesus and ourselves, that we are the branches, and He is the root. It is our job to bear fruit, which may even involve actively supporting other fruit bearing branches. But it is not given to us to pretend that we are the root, or to have category confusion between those two. Nor are we the head of the body, to jump to another Pauline metaphor. Yet we are given minds and expected to use them. So I do struggle with the demarcations of self-control versus submission. In the end those two categories cannot be completely mutually exclusive since they are both lauded. It may be that they need to be held in creative tension within our presently limited understandings.

Thank God for that!

I do agree that there are many stumbling blocks that we tragically put between people and Christ. I don’t think YECs have any monopoly on such things, but yes, I would agree that movements like Biologos can help mitigate/remove that particular stumbling block for many people.

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