We have all read the statistics of young people who flee the Faith in which they have been reared soon after hitting college. There is more than one reason for this defection. The first and most obvious issue is probably the state of the heart. Is this individual actually saved? I’m not asking, “did they think they were saved?” I’m asking “were they saved?”
Now, before someone calls me on stating the obvious, or what is worse, on relying on the easy explanation, let me make a personal observation. This shall also act as my baseline:
In my experience most churches and most Christian parents do not teach the Christian Faith in a way that supports Godward faith in the world we are called to live in. And the major reason for this is a general disinterest in or else fear of doing apologetics.
There it is. There is the statement I am going to try to defend and, more importantly, expound in these posts. But I’m going to begin where too few Christians today would want me to. I’m going to put in a plug for some good old-fashioned negative thinking!
Starting in the Negative
People don’t like the negative. They would far rather things were all positive. There’s too much negativity in the world, they say. I hear them, and I agree, but only up to a point. If the negativity comes from a dour outlook, a refusal to say anything nice or anything edifying, then without a doubt negativity is unwelcome. If a person is always looking on the bad side they must not be allowed to dampen our spirits for too long. Time with such people, even if they are our friends, must be measured lest we get dragged into the doldrums.
Yet when addressing important issues it is often proper to begin in the negative. To start off all sanguine often brings a temptation to keep on looking at the bright side even when it has stopped being bright. It is difficult to be analytical with a perpetual smile on one’s face. How easy it is to fool someone if you can make them feel good! Isn’t that what con artists do?
Think of a shell game or many types of gambling. Commonly you will be lured into thinking you can track the little ball under the cups; often you’ll be allowed to get it right the first time. Or you’ll win a hand or two, or get “lucky” at the roulette wheel once or twice. You’ll start feeling positive, and you’ll get taken. “All that glisters is not gold.” A critical approach can keep us out of a lot of trouble.
I think that for most adult Christians, what they want from their Christianity is solid values, wholesome music, nice friends, lively youth activities, and a bit of teaching thrown in. They want it all upbeat and uplifting. With these ingredients in their lives, many of God’s people are satisfied with what they have. No need to go deeper, and certainly no need to connect their kids minds up to the ramifications of being a Christian.
More Than Mere Belief
The trouble is that church environments like this are not very biblical, nor are they very solid. Grown-ups may have tempered the Christian Faith to their middle class outlooks, but young people are not content to ask no questions. And if they are not given the opportunity to think through Christianity, it is likely they will not really make it theirs!
Positive thinking is not the same as having a hopeful or joyful frame of mind. Christians are to have joy in their lives, a joy fed by a sure hope. However, in today’s church culture, filled so often with upbeat songs, sentimental stories, and man-centered messages, there is a big push to keep it positive and slanted towards the light side. Positive thinking in this vein will always tend to produce wrong views of God. He simply must get with our programs.
Although God’s mercy and goodness is a given, He is not a God to be used to help us get through life. His claims on us transcend our wants and our happiness. If Christian parents do not understand and act on this principle, they may well be nurturing false beliefs about God and the gospel in their kids’ minds.
The world bids us, “look into your heart.” God tells us that our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). The idea expressed by the prophet is of an ailing disposition which cannot produce anything but crookedness. Hence, the Bible unsurprisingly counters the world’s advice by stating bluntly that it is the height of folly to base anything on how we may think or feel about it. We do not consult our hearts. We consult God’s Word. Does our sanguine attitude toward trendiness and personal choice not teach our kids that those values are to be highly prized by them? What happens to Truth in such an atmosphere?
The Price of Truth
Christianity, if it is anything, is true. And if it is not true we better abandon it, for we don’t want to live a lie. If, then, Christianity really is true (and it is), our allegiance ought to be to Truth. But Truth can only thrive in the right environment. The ground must be cleared so that God’s Truth is clearly seen and forcibly heard. I use the capital “T” to emphasize the fact that Truth is outside us and above us. Truth is an attribute of God, therefore when we interact with it we engage God Himself, and God wants us always to treat Truth with that regard.
You see, Truth cannot stick where its claims are not acknowledged. That means we have a duty, both to ourselves and to our children, whatever their ages, to make sure the Truth does stick! Truth sticks when we admit our sinfulness and our helplessness. Truth sticks when we avert our eyes from this present evil age to the age to come. Truth sticks when we permit it to tell us what is right and what is wrong and what to do about it at every turn.
Our kids need to be taught that the reason people don’t believe in God is because they simply don’t want to face up to the fact that He is really there. Denying God’s existence always comes from an impious foolish heart, and stems without any exceptions from our sinful drive for independence. Let’s see how the Bible puts it. Consider this text:
The fool has said in his heart there is no God. (Psalm 14:1)
Where does this verse (repeated in Psa. 53:1) put the blame for unbelief? On the lack of external evidence for God? On the vagueness of that evidence? No. The blame is placed squarely on the unbeliever. The verse says that someone who denies God exists is a “nabal”—a corrupt fool. Not a very complementary way to speak about a person! If we look further we see that the verse locates the problem in the very place the world wants us to trust—in the heart. The trouble is not that there is not enough information to make “an informed decision,” but it is what we automatically do with the information God has given to us.
In biblical parlance, people don’t notice God because they are not looking at His world rightly. They are looking independently. They are interpreting the world independently. And the Truth can’t come home to a person who is not in the proper state to receive it. All real knowledge must be true. And Truth has its price!
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.