Trying to make Christianity entertaining makes people think that it’s fake

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church sucks, that’s why men are bored there

My friend Bruce shared this article from the leftist The Atlantic on Facebook. It’s written by Larry Taunton of Fixed Point Foundation.  Larry surveyed some people who had left the church, and I thought it was worth it to look at this case of Phil.

Larry writes:

“Church became all about ceremony, handholding, and kumbaya,” Phil said with a look of disgust. “I missed my old youth pastor. He actually knew the Bible.”

[…]Phil was in my office as part of a project that began last year. Over the course of my career, I have met many students like Phil. It has been my privilege to address college students all over the world, usually as one defending the Christian worldview. These events typically attract large numbers of atheists. I like that. I find talking to people who disagree with me much more stimulating than those gatherings that feel a bit too much like a political party convention, and the exchanges with these students are mostly thoughtful and respectful.

[…]A smart, likable young man, he sat down nervously as my staff put a plate of food before him. Like others after him, he suspected a trap. Was he being punk’d? Talking to us required courage of all of these students, Phil most of all since he was the first to do so. Once he realized, however, that we truly meant him no harm, he started talking — and for three hours we listened.

Now the president of his campus’s SSA [Secular Student Alliance], Phil was once the president of his Methodist church’s youth group. He loved his church (“they weren’t just going through the motions”), his pastor (“a rock star trapped in a pastor’s body”), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim (“a passionate man”). Jim’s Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: “He didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.”

Listening to his story I had to remind myself that Phil was an atheist, not a seminary student recalling those who had inspired him to enter the pastorate. As the narrative developed, however, it became clear where things came apart for Phil. During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.

An hour deeper into our conversation I asked, “When did you begin to think of yourself as an atheist?”He thought for a moment. “I would say by the end of my junior year.”

I checked my notes. “Wasn’t that about the time that your church fired Jim?”

He seemed surprised by the connection. “Yeah, I guess it was.”

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a woman who grew up in a Christian home that was very focused on externals. There was a lot of bullying to get her to comply with expected Christian behavior, although the expected Christian behavior was often arbitrary, and had nothing to do with Christianity and more with just appearing “nice”. There was no discussion of the evidence, no talking through objections. No focus on truth at all. She was always very curious about me, and how come I didn’t drink, and how come I was able to stay a virgin through college, grad school, to the present day when many people who were raised in the church fell away from it in college. My answer was simple. I never grew up in a Christian home so I was never bullied into acting like a Christian beyond what I was convinced of myself. There was no rebellion, I just took my time and proved everything out before I had to act any particular way.

I didn’t ever have to go to church. I didn’t go to church until  was comfortable going, and I would say that I still am not comfortable in church – ever. If I felt bored in church, I read an apologetics book, and I did this openly. If I didn’t like the words of a song, then I didn’t sing. I liked to read apologetics books from the beginning, and when I talked to church Christians, I just classified the ones who didn’t read apologetics as non-Christians – as fakes. So I never felt like there was anything wrong with me because I didn’t sing, pray, read the Bible or do more church stuff. To me, if you didn’t like apologetics, you were a fake and you were faking behaviors that you had no way of verifying. Apologetics is the baseline activity of church, and only fakers try to skip over it. Knowing the truth about God comes before acting as if God is real and God has a specific character and will for us. From the existence of God, we move on to the accuracy of the Bible, and on to theology, and then and only then do we start the outward behaviors of a Christian. If you skip to the behaviors, that is unnatural – like acting a part of a doctor when you have never been to medical school. It’s morally wrong to try to pretend to be something you are not.

Bruce commented this above the post:

When authentic conviction is lacking in your words and actions–or your “zeal” lacks the requisite knowledge to back it up–your teenager knows it.

Right. Young people in the church can tell when old people are more interested in feelings and posing. All they have to do is ask you how much you have done to study whether the things you believe are true. If you have read more devotional literature than you have read apologetics, then you’re a fraud. And that, more than anything, is what causes young people to step away from a two-way relationship with God.

My friend Stephen Bedard tweeted this, recently:

“Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.” – William Lane Craig

I think you have to blame parents and the pastors when young people reject Christianity.  They are the ones who focus on outward behaviors, feelings and rituals instead of frank discussions about truth where reason and evidence are center stage.

If I had to rely on deciding what Christianity was from looking at people in the church, or from looking to my parents or peers, I would never be where I am today. I can barely tolerate church, especially the singing. I generally don’t like pastors. Pastors who think that simply speaking the words of the Bible out loud will magically cause a person listening to become a Christian. Pastors who assume the Bible is true without ever arguing for the truth of it. Pastors who never connect their preaching to historical context, historical evidence, philosophical arguments or scientific evidence. Pastors who try to make me feel things. Pastors who never mention current events or public policy. Christianity ought to be more like engineering or lab work if you want to appeal to young people – testable, repeatable, practical. Think back to math class, and how teachers would insist that students show their work, instead of just writing the answer down. Instead of just saying “the Bible says”, pastors and parents really need to show young people their work – how did they arrive at their worldview? It’s not respectable to be ignorant about these things – there should be no respect in the church for people who put piety above truth.

5 thoughts on “Trying to make Christianity entertaining makes people think that it’s fake”

  1. I hear you on this. I left my church for an expository bible teaching church, that has bible studies and the pastor teaches word for word from the bible. I love singing praises to God but I’m there for His word and being taught it.

  2. I can empathize to some degree, but I also see a ton of dangers in this line of thinking.

    I agree 100% that any person can tell when someone is “faking it until they’re making it,” and it often does come off as a lie. On the other hand, not everyone is truly faking it simply because they aren’t seeing God from your perspective. Thinking of Chrstianity in a fashion similar to engineering or science works for those of us who are engineers or scientists. We fail to see, though, that some just don’t see the details as we do. To the person who “grew up in church” (any kind of church), the worldview of those who were raised in other environments is alien. They cannot understand why someone fails to see, for example, that faith is required both for secular science and spiritual apologetics. You and I understand axioms, lemmas, and assumptions. Those not prone to such analytical thought don’t see it that way. And that’s OK!

    People of all ages are looking for something real. We look for something that can address our deepest longings. Sometimes that’s analytical, and sometimes that’s emotional. It must always allow me to be me, though. That won’t fit everyone else. In fact, it shouldn’t exactly fit anyone else, or one of us isn’t needed. It must challenge me to change, which is rarely comfortable, but it should also encourage me to change through the Holy Spirit and through personal example.

  3. Oh WK…..challenging people to think in church, building disciples, having a serious encounter with God The Holy Ghost takes too much work! It’s easier to talk about the bake sale, the free diapers, the amazing solo the pastor’s wife / daughter / niece did during the collection. The way the pastor made all the single women laugh at “the men” of the church right after the opening prayer before his sermon. It’s easier to ignore serious shortcomings because if you open your mouth, out come the “you’re judging / God knows my heart / mind your own business / pull the plank from your own eye” comments. Confront sin? Talk about the true glory of real repentance? No way! Too hard! Let’s have another fellowship-fundraiser dinner for the building program…because our church is “bold” and “reaching out”! Let’s have all the children come up and sing……in fact, let’s sing that annoying chorus to that one song AGAIN…we only sang it twenty five times (“you are worthy and I will worship you”) in a row.

    Pain, hurt, rage, anger, resentment, hurt, sin, healing? No, we don’t talk about that because that would actually require the Body to WORK.

  4. Wintery —
    When I was a seminarian (I had minored in music, had done a lot of sight-singing, a capella music, vocal harmonization), I used to wonder if I would worship God more focusing on the music or on the words. My fellow seminarian pointed out — BOTH!

    Surely great hymns have had wonderful theology behind it (for instance, read all the verse of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” or “Hark the Herald”). However, my senior pastor, who generally prefers excellent theology, has also pointed out the if the Psalms are meant to be sung in worship and they were part of the original worship music, some of the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 150) are not terribly filled with interesting and different thoughts. (It does contain great theology, as in, “Let everything worship God, and in every way!”)

    Sometimes reflecting on the words is great. Sometimes making terrific music is also great.

    Sometimes I’m floored when I go to my old church (let’s say it’s a historic church over 200 years old, that has ~500-700 people in the two major services) and when you hear 700 people joined in chorus to worship God — it’s awe inspiring. I think that Heaven will not only be an endless time of praise and worship of God, but I’m sure when our bodies are perfected (and maybe musical talent and so on) — that our worship with the presence of God in our midst, and with everyone who will trust in Him throughout the ages — will be more than thrilling.

    I think you’d enjoy a class or two at seminary especially in the basics (Greek, Hebrew, Systematic Theology, Church History, Christian Ethics, etc.) Sometimes I’d show up to service with the original languages, a translation, an outline… or sometimes in applying Haddon Robinson’s “there’s only three things you can do with a point: explain it, prove it, and/or apply it” — I’d try to figure out what the preacher was trying to do.

    I didn’t grow up in a Christian family/Christian home either. I had to learn a lot of this on my own. Of course, I seemed like an odd duck for doing what I did.

    Kids grow up going to Vacation Bible School or Kids’ Sunday School, and it’s a fun, campy experience. Kids do some crafts, maybe hear some largely sanitized Bible stories ™, sing some songs, and it largely does not have a huge bearing on how one lives. Many Christian parents don’t know what to teach, how to teach, or what resources are available.

    Fast forward a bit. Teen years. Still a campy experience… Christianity is largely what the Christian subculture does. VBS is replaced by teen camp; now you have youth group. But a lot of youth groups (as even J. Warner Wallace mentioned he has repented of) entertain and have fun instead of teach, instruct, train, and so on. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2012/the-choice-between-entertaining-and-training/

    Wallace has mentioned that many high school students seek out intellectual advancement including AP or IB classes, or even register at local colleges/universities/community colleges — so their intellectual faculties are capable of handling these ideas and concepts. Why do we Christians not engage their minds?

    And then not surprisingly, many of them leave their ‘traditions’ (I hesitate to call it ‘faith’) during their college and early professional years…

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