How Churches Train Kids to Be Atheists
by Matt Rawlings
I am a preacher’s kid who left the faith, declared myself to be an atheist, returned to the faith after a cancer scare, nearly lost my faith again and was saved by evangelical theology and apologetics. So, I am passionate about helping others avoid the decade of destructive sin and despair I spent wandering through the atheist wilderness.
A few years ago I was intrigued by David Kinnaman’s book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Baker 2011). Kinnaman argued that there are at least six reasons why men and women between 18-30 leave the faith behind. He posted a summary of the six reasons on the Barna website and they were:
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
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Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
One may argue that these findings are more perception than reality in most churches. For example, I would be unpleasantly surprised to learn that most evangelical churches still spend much time decrying pop culture as if they were the town council from Footloose. Also, I rarely hear sermons on sexuality at all anymore and growing up most condemned all sex outside of marriage but did so fairly graciously. However, I think reasons #2-3 and #5-6 are probably valid. Also, from my own experiences, I would add that some young people simply feel the faith doesn’t work.
Too many churches do in fact present a shallow faith that skips doctrine and apologetics for “how to…” sermons that are little more than self-help talks with scripture sprinkled over them. The refusal to learn theology and how to defend the faith as well as to spend the time thinking about how to present them in a clear and winsome manner is at the heart of all four of the valid objections by young people to the evangelical church…
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