Learning To Use Your Noggin
I am a Christian young person . . . to any of my regular readers, that fact won’t surprise you. I am a 23-year old involved in pastoral ministry, working on obtaining a seminary degree, launching a part-time business, and seeking to honor Christ in each facet of life. One of the intriguing aspects of my life is that I am sort of at an in-between stage. I am a fire-breathing confessionally reformed conservative Christian. However, I am still very young and graciously recognize I have much to learn. At this point, I have older Christians from whom I strive to glean wisdom. I have younger believers with whom I communicate and try to invest in as I can. Therefore, I have a glimpse in each world. Being a passionate conservative makes me a bit of an anomaly from many in my age group, but my young age also necessitates me as an abnormality from those who are older. This stance gives me a unique window from which to see my own generation.
My firm assertion is that one of the greatest threats facing people in my age group is that they have not developed the ability to think in a robustly biblical manner. Now, to be certain, this fact is not true in all cases. I know wonderful Christian young people who truly seek to understand the Scripture and love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). However, there is also reason to be suspicious that many do not even have robust educational knowledge or developed convictions. The growing prevalence of support for the critical social justice movement in American young people is concerning. A lack of education regarding history is incredibly alarming. Over 10% of Americans under 40 have apparently never heard of the holocaust, and 63% did not even know that 6-million Jews were murdered.1 51% of young people have a positive view of socialism while seemingly not knowing what it is in actuality.2 They claim to be socialists, but when asked if they want increased governmental power, a hallmark of socialism, they deny it. Clearly, we need to train young people so that they will love to use the brains God has given them for His glory.
What is Driving This Problem?
Lest you think the issue is only in America’s secular youth, data indicates Christian young people are struggling greatly as well. All the way back in 2010, which seems like a cultural centurion ago, The Jesus Survey was conducted. It polled more than 800 teenagers ranging in age from 12 to 18 who all professed Christianity and were active in their church youth groups.3 A whopping 70% of these “Christian” youth said they had major doubts regarding what the Bible says about Christ. 1 out of every 3 of these teenagers taught in Christian churches, expressed that religious leaders like Buddha or Mohammad lead to heaven, as does Christ. Only 5% said they study the Bible daily. It is thus not surprising they do not have a robustly biblical theology seeing as they rarely read the Scripture.
How is it that the nation profoundly influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview has young people who don’t even know what Christianity is in the churches? How is it that in the highly developed nation of America, young people struggle to even have a basic understanding of ideologies like socialism or historical atrocities such as the holocaust? The scope of that question is far beyond this one little blog post, but I will focus on two of the driving factors here. First, young people are being taught to live for their feelings, not factual truth. Secondly, they are being told happiness is the ultimate virtue, and God only wants them to experience pleasure. Therefore, once they buy into these beliefs in their minds, can it really be surprising when they live them out on a daily basis? Let’s break this down a little bit more.
A Feelings Driven Society
Emotivism is a driving force in our society, explaining why feelings trumps the actual facts of reality. Carl Trueman, in his book The Rise and Triumph of The Modern Self, builds off the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and describes the societal function of emotivism in this manner:
“Essentially, emotivism presents preferences as if they were truth claims. Thus, the statement ‘homosexuality is wrong’ should be understood as ‘I personally disapprove of homosexuality, and you should do likewise.’ The plausibility of this position rests on the failure of other attempts to find objective grounding for moral claims.”4
This analysis helps us to understand many of the problems in our society. Emotivism teaches the reality of truth is based in your feelings. I, as an evangelical, reformed Christian, assert homosexuality is wrong because God says it is in the Bible. If, however, you only believe homosexuality is wrong because you personally disapprove, frankly, who cares. A Christianity that is not grounded in Scripture is left only in the realm of emotively assertive opinions rather than divinely inspired revelation.
Let’s tie this line of thinking up into a nice little knot now and apply it to our young people. You can be assured, little Johnny was taught variations of emotivism from a young age in society. More than that, I will contend many of our “evangelical” youth have been taught this framework for years. For example, how does the youngster determine if worship was good? Because he could really “feel” the power of the Spirit when singing worship songs. How can you know that you are in a good church? Because I really feel loved and appreciated by everyone in the congregation. It does not matter what the pastor teaches, I feel good when I am there, I have the feeling of acceptance and fun. How can you know when to marry someone? It’s just that you really develop this “feeling” for them, and that is the only basis for the decision.
My point is not to say you should not have an emotional component to yourself as a human, of course, you should. I am trying to show that when your emotions become the driving arbiter of truth, the results are disastrous. You should have a burning love for your spouse, but if that is the only thing holding your marriage together, you will be divorced in about 6-months. That burning love must be substantiated by a deeper love that seeks to sacrifice for the other. Similarly, you should know that you are loved by other Christians. True love in the body of Christ is driven by biblical doctrine being preached and applied. Emotional feelings are a good and healthy attribute when used rightly, but they are a terribly catastrophic grounding for your life. Therefore, when a generation values emotions over truth and feelings above facts, they will flip flop their opinions and morality as often as the emotional winds shift.
Happiness: The Ultimate Agenda
If the dangers of emotivism being taught in society and churches aren’t bad enough, imagine coupling that teaching with telling young people their personal happiness is the ultimate purpose of life. Well, that is exactly what we have going on right now. Rod Dreher makes this great point:
In 2005, the sociologists of religion Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe the decadent form that Christianity (and all faiths, in fact) had taken in contemporary America. It consisted of the general belief that God exists, and wants nothing more from us than to be nice and to be happy. In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish.”5
Notice that last point, the greatest and most atrocious sin you can commit is to stand against someone in how they want to find happiness. If, on the basis of biology as created by God, you stand against a man wanting to say he is a woman you then you must be a Hitler-like disgustingly evil individual according to this idea. What about if two 18-year old young people want to be “live-ins” throughout their college life? Well, if happiness is the ultimate goal and emotions drive truth, then they should just pursue their pleasure according to their feelings.
We see living examples of this idea exhibiting itself all of the time. A Christian young person is told to do “whatever makes them happy” when making major decisions. Parents will frequently exclaim they do not “want to stand in the way of their child’s happiness.” Therefore, if going to a Marxist, leftist, radical university will make the young evangelical happy, the Christian parent will usually let them go. Well, the young person follows this logic to its conclusion. If parents encourage them to choose a university based solely on what makes them happy, not on the teaching, and homosexuality makes their classmate happy, then why would that not be permissible? This mindset is disastrous. Those who pursue personal pleasure as the ultimate good will not act virtuously and will know nothing of true eternal pleasure in God. Joy is a biblical concept. Joy allowed Paul to sit in prison while being beaten and still talk about thankfulness to God and praise Him. Pursuing merely pleasureful happiness as the final objective is what causes men to leave their wives in a tough season of life. It is why individuals shirk responsibility when the going gets tough. If joy in God is the objective, that endures whether or not the time is good or hard. However, happiness is a fleeting emotion rooted in the ever-changing circumstances of the individual.
What Is The Solution?
I am well aware we could discuss more than just these two issues of emotivism and pleasure-based reality when talking about young people. As mentioned earlier, a lack of robust education is a tremendous issue. Another point is secular ideologies, yet another is infiltration of critical theories. However, these two that I have covered prove to be basic to so many of the other issues. Education suffers because young people are not expected to learn deep subjects that are difficult because that might offend their ideas. Instead of being encouraged to learn biology, they are taught that there is no difference between men and women. You get the idea I am driving at.
How then do we fix the problem? We need to teach and model before young people what it means to live well for the glory of God. Our society needs a robust commitment to biblical theology, thirsting more and more for truth. Proclaiming the truths of Scripture and living not for happiness but God’s glory. We should seek to please God and find our joy in Him. Feelings and emotions do not determine truth; God does. Therefore, we must use the measuring stick of Scripture as our judge for everything in life. All of these truths must be modeled by the older generation. Instead of pursuing the “good-time” of retirement, older individuals should model what it means to use their last decades in service to others. Parents should exhibit a commitment to biblical values even at a cost to themselves. Ultimately, we must teach youth the biblical facts and not let them fall captive to the propaganda of those seeking to undermine Christianity. They must know the cross of Christ is heavy, but worth it. Their reward will not be given in this life but the one to come. Each Christian is focused not on the judgment of the world, but the judgment of the eternal God. These truths must be reinstituted in our youth one day at a time.
4 Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of The Modern Self, p. 85-86.
5 Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 12-13.