Why Do Kids Leave the Church? Don’t Forget Bad Theology!

by Sean Mcdowell

There has been a lot of talk recently about why kids leave the church, including this recent post by Bishop Robert Barron, and books such as You Lost Me (Kinnaman) and Sticky Faith (Kara Powell and Chap Clark). These authors, and many others, rightly point out that issues are complex and can involve a number of different factors (moral, volitional, emotional, relational, intellectual, etc.).

And yet there is a component often left out of these discussions—the influence of theology—that is so often at the heart of why kids leave the church. In my experience, there is often a faulty theological view driving why kids disengage the church (and many times their faith). Consider three examples:

1. Misunderstanding the nature of man: Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell:How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth (and by the way, most of my apologetics points were borrowed from C.S. Lewis!).

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin (See Romans 3:9-18; John 2:24; Mark 7:14-23). An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith…

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Why Do Kids Leave the Church? Don’t Forget Bad Theology!