Why Are Young Americans Leaving the Church? Irrelevance?

February 27, 2014

Part 2 of 4

We have seen that the three most common excuses given for what some say is an en masse departure of American youth from the church, are: (a) the church is intolerant, (b) the message of the church is irrelevant, and (c) too many church-going adults are hypocrites.

Having addressed the “intolerant” question in Part One, we turn now to the “irrelevance” question.

Patently, many representatives of Christianity have, in spectacular fashion, made God and the Bible irrelevant. That fact is a no-brainer and is particularly comforting for those searching for such geniuses. I say “geniuses” because it is truly a tour de force that a human being could be capable of taking anything God said and make it appear irrelevant. Such a person is a prodigy. A sick prodigy, but a prodigy nonetheless.

I make two essential observations here. The first is this, which really says it all. It covers the entire waterfront: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning, consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without difficulty to find satisfying reasons for the assumption. Most ignorance is (a man’s) vincible will that decides how and upon what subjects in the (world) generally (make sense) because for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless….We objected to morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” That is from Aldous Huxley (Ends and Means, 270-274), and such statements from honest people could be multiplied endlessly. The celebrated psychologist William James put it this way: “If your heart does not want a world of moral reality, your head will assuredly never make you believe in one.” (The Will to Believe, 23) The question of moral relevance of any act is always, at base, a moral issue, not a mental one.

The second observation I make is this: I propose a test for those who say the message of the Bible is irrelevant. The test is comprised of two parts, both simplicity personified. First, pick a city, say, Chicago, Tokyo, Gnatty Flat, whatever. With that city firmly fixed in your mind, take the second step in the test: Ask yourself: which one of the Ten Commandments would be irrelevant in your chosen city? Or, differently put, which one of those cities would not be seriously improved by the faithful implementation by the people therein of any single one of the ten?

Seriously. What about, oh, say, #9? That’s not (at first glance!) as tough as some of the others. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor?” Or how about #3, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?” Or how about that tenth one, the one about greed? But I desist lest the pressure become unbearable. You may choose to love or hate God, love or hate His word, love or hate His people, but you should not insult all people with IQs above 32 by saying that you really believe those commandments are irrelevant, and thus not needed. Will Durant, in a post-script to his and Ariel’s magisterial The Story of Civilization said the most important question facing modern man is this: “Can any civilization survive without the constraints and consolations of religion?” (Emphasis added)

Ponder that sentence: after telling the story of man’s attempts at civilizing himself, from the dawn of history to the present, it all comes down to that issue? The implications of Durant’s sentence are vastly more voluminous than all the previous millions of sentences he wrote recounting the entire human story!

C. S. Lewis was more succinct: “…to be united with that Life (the life of God) in the eternal Sonship of Christ is, strictly speaking, the only thing worth a moment’s consideration.” (Miracles, 185)

Years ago I was working through a knotty problem in biblical prophecy. One author, offering several possible interpretations of the text, concluded with this, in stunningly profound understatement, even though written, one imagines, with a quiet pen: “The event itself will clear up the questions.” It is at least conceivable, from a purely philosophical view, that five minutes after the event of your death the relevance of the message of Christ may be a bit clearer.

Bill Anderson
Grapevine, Texas