As a Youth Pastor, I have met several youth who have, at some level, doubted the Bible. It’s not that they want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, but more so that they only want to believe parts of the Bible. So, like Picadilly Cafeteria, they pick and choose what they like and leave the rest behind.
Obviously this is not limited to just youth (middle schoolers/high schoolers). But, what is so surprising is how young CHRISTIAN youth are willing to compromise their faith in scripture. Even as soon as 12 years ago, when I was in high school, I don’t think I met a Christian that had this struggle. It was more typical to see this struggle take place during college. But, I guess with the erosion of the family and the encroachment of secular humanism in the public square and in our schools, it should come as no surprise that this generation of youth are questioning the Bible at a younger age.
And, in typical postmodern fashion, these youth do not totally give up their faith. They’re cool with God, Jesus (even Jesus dying on the cross for them), and most of the attributes of God. But, when it comes to ethical issues such as homosexuality, who they should and should not date or marry, abortion, music, politics, evolution, racism, and their social life- well, they’re more likely to listen to their friends and the culture in general than they are the Bible.
So, is the Bible reliable? I believe every word of it is. I have studied Bible scholarship that is both approving of and critical of the Bible- specifically textual criticism- and I have found that the best of the critical scholars are unconvincing. But, this blog entry is not about the reliability of the Bible. To read more on that I suggest any book written by FF Bruce, Craig Blomberg, DA Carson, or Bruce Metzger. At this time I am more concerned with the dangers of genuinely born-again Christian youth compromising their view of scripture and what we can do to avoid those pitfalls.
The Dangers of Doubt
Doubting the Bible in some areas and not in others reminds me of the Titanic. When the Titanic was struck by its imfamous iceberg, it ripped several holes in the hull of the ship. Underneath the hull were 16 water-tight compartments that were broken up on purpose in case there was a breach in the hull. It was designed to handle four flooded compartments. Unfortunately, it was ill-designed in that the “water-tight” compartments didn’t go all the way up to deck level. So, the water would fill up one compartment and over flow into another, and another, and – you get the point.
The Titanic is not the Bible in this comparison. It is a young person’s understanding of the Bible. If we do not give our youth a truly water-tight foundation, then that little bit of doubting that you think is just a phase they’re going through, will quickly become full-blown skepticism. Although they may be saved, they will continue to flounder in their spiritual life long into adulthood.
You want to know why a good Christian man or woman ends up divorced? Then start with their understanding of scripture right around the time they were dating their spouse. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but I am pretty certain it has to do with what they thought the Bible said concerning marriage. There are so many youth that I’ve known that are dedicated Christians and are clearly Biblical in so many areas, yet they will scoff at anyone who even dares to tell them their definition of romance, love, dating, or marriage is unbiblical.
And it’s not just dating/marriage. Politics is to be left untouched by the Bible as well. In fact, so strong is the family’s influence on a youth when it comes to politics, I have actually heard youth admit to me that the Bible proved them wrong about a certain issue or the ethics of a candidate. Yet they were going to go ahead and vote for said candidate because they trust their grandfather’s or parent’s opinion more than they do the Bible.
There are certain areas in a teenager’s life that are just off limits to God and His Word. Parents, youth workers, pastors, and concerned friends need to take note of these sensitive areas. These are NOT PHASES! They are to be treated very seriously because you don’t know what is corroding their Christian foundation underneath a so-called phase. What starts out as a one or two-issue problem will quickly snowball into something much more damaging as the youth connect the dots and begin to tell themselves “if the Bible is wrong about THIS, then it may be wrong about THAT as well.”
With as much Bible-centric jargon as I am presenting here, one may think I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures. No, I am not trying to elevate a physical Bible with ink and paper to some mystical level equal to that of God. To do so would idolatry. However, it is God who created us and therefore it is God who gets to decide how He would speak to us. He has clearly shown us that he speaks to us through a book written 2,000 years ago and has stood the test of time. That is why I go to great lengths to keep the Bible on the frontburner of the minds of our youth.
So, how do we keep the Bible in the forefront of young Christians’ minds? It is a three-fold response: 1) Parents 2) Pastors/Youth Pastors 3)youth themselves.
1) I mentioned the strength of parental influence in terms of politics. But, it is also true concerning religion. Parents listen too much to pop culture which has told them that their kids’ friends and tv icons are more of an influence than they are (and if they are to win over the affections of their kids, they have to compete with said friends and icons). This is simply not true. When they get older most of them are not going over to the friends’ house for thanksgiving and Christmas- they’re going back to the strongest influence in their life- their parents. That’s because family has the kind of bond only God could have created.
So, parents need to step up and take back their role as the primary discipler of their own children. Have regular Bible devotions with them, constantly bring up issues and how they relate to the Bible, and for petessake, don’t be afraid of answering their questions (or asking them for that matter). Trust me, they may act like their not listening, but they are: “Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
And as I said before: parents should not think that doubts concerning scripture is a phase. Confront it head on (with love) and nip those doubts in the bud.
2) Pastors should understand that their congregation cannot survive by just sucking on the milk of the word. They need meat. Pastors today need to put to bed the old fundamentalist understanding of the “simple gospel” and give these youth the answers that their ever questioning minds demand.
And youth pastors need to spend less time fiddling with their powerpoint lessons and youtube “application” videos and more time actually studying the Bible. I have had questions ask to me by young people that would make Nietzche’s head spin. And I’m going to win them over with cool audio-visual aids? I don’t think so. Not that I’m against those things- but, if you find that your youth pastor is leaving most questions left inadequately answered, then they need to be challenged to study more.
During my first stint as a youth pastor, several youth pastors put their youth groups together so that we could do our own youth camp. The speaker they invited preached on the “more than conquerors” passage throughout the week. Although I have my own issues with the speaker, I thought that his main sermons were quite excellent- and were well-recieved by the youth. But, after camp, one youth pastor mentioned to me, “Yeah, we’re not inviting so-and-so back to speak next year.” “Why not?” I asked. “Because, the youth need the gospel, not a lecture on theology.”
Not a lecture on theology. I guess the gospel isn’t theology.
No, what they need IS theology- the kind of theology that satisfies their souls and helps them make sense of their world. Youth pastors have maybe two hours a week with their youth. That’s it. For most youth, that’s all they’ll give them. Do we really want to fill those two hours with fluff? Or are we going to do the hard work it takes to break down the deep truths of the gospel into bite-sized pieces that the youth can understand?
3) “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17 Many times a simple helping hand from a peer will do what a parent or youth pastor cannot do. The whole “You just don’t understand me because your too old,” excuse melts away when a Christian peer reaches out to another Christian peer. Benji Thigpen, David Crowe, Jonathan Adams, Eric Snow, Stuart Henslee. These are the names of guys that were in high school the same time I was- guys who had a profound impact on my spiritual development. I looked at these guys and though- geez if they can do it then I sure can. Youth need to challenge, encourage, and keep each other accountable on their view of the Bible.
One more thing: Sometimes the reason why we don’t dig deeper into the lives of young people is because we are afraid of what we may find. We may find that they never turned from their sins and accepted Jesus to begin with. We may find that they don’t really believe. It’s a scary thought for a parent who wants desperately for all of his/her children to be Christian. It’s also a scary thought for a youth pastor to think that the work they put into that teen’s life is for nothing.
Yet, we must ask. As Charles Spurgeon said, “If we are to err, let us err on the side of caution.” It is better to be wrong about a person’s salvation and have a good laugh about it one day when you’re both in heaven, then it is to be wrong about a person’s salvation and be the only one in heaven laughing. It’s not that we are responsible for their salvation (they are and ultimately God is) but we definitely don’t want them to leave this world with any excuses as to why they didn’t believe.
So, yes, let us teach the whole Bible to our youth- not just the easy parts. And if all three parts are functioning together- parents, pastors, and youth- then we will easily see how the word of God is still alive today and still in the business of transforming lives.