Barna’s Recent Poll
Before saying anything else, recognize this: I’m a Millennial. I’m not saying anything here to Millennials which I don’t want said to me. That said…
Barna just released a fascinating poll result, in which they asked Christians from different generations about their comfort level with, and theology of, evangelism. Look at the chart (linked here), and at the top of the post and notice two points of data.
Point 1) MORE Millennials than any other group agree with the statement “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people.”
Point 2) FEWER Millennials than any other group agree with the statement “When someone raises questions about my faith, I know how to respond.”
The Truth this Reveals about Millennials
What conclusions can we draw from this information? Well here’s one that’s inflammatory, and is sure to be misunderstood: Relativism makes people selfish.
How do I get to that conclusion? Millennials, more than any other group, have grown up with the message of relativism, i.e. that the meta narrative, and personal narrative within the meta narrative, are the things that truly matter and determine truth. There is no objective “real” truth outside human culture.
Millennials are the generation of “my truth” instead of “the truth” and, even within the church, Millennials are more comfortable than any other group in telling their own story, expressing “their truth,” or, to put it more cynically, talking about themselves.
And yet, the prospect of defending the truth claims they make in “telling their story” generates more uncertainty in them than it does in any other group.
To put it entirely into the inflammatory and cynical terms: Millennials are simultaneously the most self-centered and most uninformed of all the generations.
I think this is the product of epistemological and alethiological relativism. In non-philosopher’s jargon: we’ve gotten here by telling kids that they can’t really know what’s true, and that their own feelings and experiences are of paramount importance.
According to Christianity, that is a lie.
Christianity’s Explicit Truth
Christianity explicitly teaches that there is knowable truth in the person of Jesus Christ. He claims to be “the truth” among other things. Christianity makes explicit historical truth claims about a first century Jew, what he said, what he did, and whom he was, as well as explicit historical truth claims about the nation of Israel’s role in bringing him about.
“The truth” can be summarized many different ways by the Christian, but it cannot be summarized beginning with the phrases “I feel like…” or “My truth is…” or “My story is…” It usually begins with the phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “In the first century…” or “Thus saith the Lord.”
I’ll go a step further down the inflammatory and cynical path, and make this statement, directed at all Christians: Christianity isn’t about you!
Whether or not you were ever on this earth to believe the gospel, the gospel remains true, regardless. Whether or not you ever “tell your story” the story of Jesus of Nazareth is etched in history for all who have ears to hear. Whether or not you are around to be saved by Christ is irrelevant to the fact of Christ’s ability to save whomever he wills. I say again, Christianity is not about you. Christianity is about… wait for it… Christ! (Shocker, right?)
The Problem in More Pragmatic Terms
This self-centered move in Christianity among Millennials can be seen in more practical ways. I see it most often in Millennials who disregard, or at least demean, the “knowledge” aspect of Christian faith. Quite often I hear a dichotomy drawn between people who “know a lot” about Christianity, God, and the Bible, and people who are “spiritual” or who are “strong Christians.” The dichotomy is often drawn between what you “know” versus what you “believe.” The now classic “head knowledge” vs. “heart knowledge” dichotomy. Guess what, that whole dichotomy is false. The two are inseparable. No such dichotomy exists. The latter is, in fact, dependent on the former. One cannot be a “spiritual man” or a “strong Christian” without a great deal of knowledge.
What they should be saying, what would be true, is this: Knowledge does not guarantee spirituality.
Of course this statement is true. There are people on this earth who know a whole lot about Christianity, God, and the Bible, but are far from Christians, and are the most ardent, and loud, opposition to the Church. They are by no means spiritual men, or strong Christians. However, it is equally true that strong, spiritual, Christian faith is impossible without great knowledge. You cannot rightly suggest that the two are opposite, and that suggestion gets made all the time.
Christian, if you want to “grow” then start studying! You cannot grow without it! Do not think that study will automatically yield growth, but do not think that growth can possibly occur without study.
Imagine yourself as a flower in a garden. Knowledge is the dirt. It is absolutely, 100% necessary in order for you to develop roots and bloom into a beautiful flower. There are other things which will be necessary for growth as well, but all of them would yield nothing without the ground in which you are planted.
So, what should you do? Study! Talk to the pastors, the elders, in your life, and ask them to teach you. Those Godly men who have studied to show themselves approved and capable of teaching the word of life. Those men who will love you and tell you the truth, will correct you when you are wrong, and encourage you when you are right. Go and submit yourself to their authority and counsel.
What shouldn’t you do? Go on “telling your story” but fearing questions. Don’t believe the lie that “my truth” is all that matters, or that “telling your story” is the same thing as “preaching the gospel.” It isn’t. We are called as Christians to do one of those things by necessity. No such calling exists for the other.
In short, quit making Christianity about you. Instead, recognize and live according to the fact that Christianity is about Christ.