I want to join my friend Barbara Graves who took to Instagram to say that she is still in. She is still a follower of Christ. God has been too good to her.
And I could not agree with her more. I am still in.
I am writing this as a parent raising kids who I pray will love Jesus to their dying breath. And I am writing this as a pastor who prays those I lead find Jesus more beautiful every day.
I am writing this as a member of the broader church who is saddened by the apostasy of those who formerly professed Christ.
This last week evangelicalism had another high-level defection: Rhett and Link, a Christian comic duo who were on the “What’s in the Bible” videos and found fame through YouTube and their podcast Ear Biscuits.
With a reach of over 19 million subscribers on YouTube, Rhett and Link’s reach is far beyond evangelicalism.
While the evangelical pastor Josh Harris couldn’t be any more different than the comic duo, it is interesting to see the seemingly similar path they followed to apostasy.
It seems what they call “de-conversion” and history calls “apostasy” follows a familiar trend. We need to be aware of this trend, and we simply must teach kids how to navigate today’s culture in context of Scripture.
I’ll break down the familiar recipe from recent high-level apostates below.
1. Trouble with the Old Testament in General and the Canaanite Conquest in Particular
This is where problems seem to start with most modern apostates. They see the God of the Old Testament as a grumpy, angry, indefensible curmudgeon whose actions are embarrassing and shameful.
They contrast this angry God with the all-loving view of Jesus that modern evangelicalism seems to be pushing to fill seats.
Because they see God as only love to the exclusion of His justice and holiness, they cannot reconcile how God could order Israel to destroy whole groups of people—in their conquest of Canaan—and still be good. How could the God of love order His chosen people to kill and destroy in His name?
Once you separate the attributes of God or feel that you can no longer “defend Him,” you invariably erode the authority of Scripture because it no longer presents a holistic view of who God is from the Garden to the City.
2. Difficulty with the Bible as Authoritative
What most modern apostates do is treat the Scriptures as literature rather than as communication. When you see the Bible as literature, you dissect it and compare it to other texts. You stand above it and judge it and apply only the parts that you feel are “authentic.”
When you see the Scriptures as communication, you view it very differently. You realize someone is speaking to you, and you should listen. Viewing Scripture on these terms places you under the authority of Scripture, so you submit to its commands.
3. Trouble with the Sexual Ethics of the Bible and the Belief that Homosexuality is Not A Sin
Most de-conversions stories in the last several years feature this argument because the person de-converting struggles with this particular sin or is close to someone who does. They feel the church has sinfully mistreated those who struggle in this area.
The way they typically conclude that homosexuality is not a sin in Scripture is by placing themselves above Scripture and saying, “that’s not what Paul meant,” or “our culture is different than theirs.”
Paul is clear in Romans 1:24-27 that homosexuality is unnatural without cultural exception.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 again condemns homosexuality in clear strong terms. He says “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Justice and Righteousness
What is important to note is that Paul does this alongside other sexual sins and ends by saying “such were some of you.”
The God who is just in His condemnation of our sin, who condemns us with a holy justice, provides for us in Christ His own holy righteousness.
This is what the holy love of God looks like in action. What God’s holy justice rightly demands, His holy mercy provides in the form of His perfect, holy love.
When we dismiss Scripture as culturally out of step, what results is a failure to see the Bible as authoritative—we don’t allow it to speak for itself. Instead, we pull verses out of their original context and change their original meaning to fit our present cultural moment.
It’s important to find out why a particular book was written, to whom it was written, and how it has been applied throughout church history before we start to proclaim what Paul actually meant.
4. Pat Answers Given to Them by Those Who Lead Them—Particularly When They Were Young
When we don’t study Scripture and wrestle with hard texts, our tendency is toward pat answers. We try to give simple answers and end up giving our kids a simplistic answer that will give them false confidence in what they believe.
In order for us to give our kids more robust answers in terms they can understand, we have to understand.
In a world filled with YouTube preachers and Google at the ready, we have to speak to the complexities of our faith in ways that will prepare our kids for future doubt as they wrestle through present doubt.
One of the things I always tell parents is kids can understand more than you think. We need to give our kids a faith they can grow into rather than a faith they will grow out of.
An overly simplistic view of Genesis may have seemed just fine for ten-year-old Rhett, but it didn’t serve forty-year-old Rhett well.
We have to teach kids the Gospel in full, including the hard parts.
How Do We, As Pastors and Parents, Address These Issues with Clarity, Passion, and Humility?
Our view of God informs our view of how He communicates with us, which in turn leads us to understand what He requires of us. How we explain these things to our kids, the kids we lead, has eternal consequences.
- Give kids clear answers based on natural revelation that points to spiritual realities.
- Pray for their spiritual awareness to see what is hidden.
- Teach them to order their loves rightly.
Let’s dive into these three things.
1. Give Them Clear Answers
The knee jerk response to hearing about kids who grew up in the church and walked away dramatically is to think that we can fix this problem through information. We believe that this is something that apologetics alone will fix.
Apologetics has its place. When kids ask questions, we should answer those questions with clarity, soberness, and humility.
Especially in this age of the internet, we must force ourselves to avoid giving pat answers.
We should respond in an age-appropriate way and teach them how our world is ordered in a specific way that points to the spiritual reality beyond what we see.
There is a beginning by which all things have become. We have to have answers for our kids when they ask how and why things are the way they are. To say God made it all is ok when your kids are young, but as they get older, they need to know how and ultimately why.
Our faith is not baseless. Peter says that in 1 Peter 3:15 “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
There are many powerful and compelling historical, textual, and scientific resources out there that have helped me dig for answers. The most compelling argument that there is more to life than DNA and biochemistry is what Lee Strobel calls the evidence of consciousness.
The Evidence of Consciousness
Many scientists are concluding that the laws of chemistry and physics cannot explain our experience of consciousness. Professor J.P. Moreland defined consciousness as our introspection, sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and free choices that make us alive and aware. The “soul” contains our consciousness and animates our body.
According to a researcher who showed that consciousness can continue after a person’s brain has stopped functioning, current scientific findings “would support the view that ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ or the ‘soul’ is a separate entity from the brain.”
As Moreland said, “You can’t get something from nothing.” If the universe began with dead matter having no conscious, “how, then, do you get something totally different—consciousness, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures—from materials that don’t have that?” But if everything started with the mind of God, he said, “we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.”LEE STROBEL, The Case for A Creator
We must answer our kids’ questions with clarity when we know, and humility when we do not know. Yet we must still create compartments in their minds for paradox and mystery.
We live in a day when we know more than we have ever known about everything. Yet there is so much that we will never know, and we have to train our kids to search out truth because all truth is God’s truth.
Raising kids who are passionate about their faith is important.
2. Pray for Spiritual Awareness
Our kids will not see the beauty of Christ and the power of the gospel if God doesn’t open their eyes to see Him.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4-5
“4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
The difficulty of raising kids is realizing that you can’t make your kids love Jesus—you can only show them what loving Jesus looks like.
You can’t change your child’s heart. You can’t make the kids you teach on Sunday choose Jesus.
This is where faith and humility come in. We have to depend on Jesus. We have to ask Him over and over to do what only He can do. To take a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.
This is God’s work, not ours. Our job is to plant and to water. God alone makes faith grow.
3. Teach Them to Order Their Loves Rightly
We are not what we think as the enlightenment has relentlessly pounded into our heads. We are what we love. In my experience working with kids and youth for decades, a kid’s faith fails when his love for God is eclipsed by love for self.
When people de-convert, it is most often because their love for God collided with their love of self. When that happens, apostasy is the result.
Kids need information but crave transcendence. If our homes and churches are nothing more than information transfer stations, we have failed to form their loves. We must train our kids to love the Lord with their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27).
The majority of our youth today would say that love is love. What this means is that my idea of love is the same as your idea of love. This is the very essence of disordered love.
Love is not what I think it is.
Love is what God says it is.
We must teach our kids that God’s love for us is not a romantic sort of love that we are hoping that He feels toward us. The Bible isn’t a love letter from God to you. God’s love is only understood in light of His goodness and His holiness.
Our culture has reduced God to be defined only by love. In elevating love above all the other attributes, we diminish His other attributes and distort His love. His love is holy and perfect and is other than anything else we know or have experienced.
How do we know God’s love is holy and perfect? Because the Bible is God’s self-revelation of himself to us.
How Do We Practically Do This?
Make sure our kids have access to old saints. Our kids don’t just need a 30-year-old youth pastor who looks like Justin Bieber, or someone who knows more about sneaker culture than the culture of the ancient near east.
Kids need grandparents in the faith, saints who have been through wars, trials, and pain—and held on to Jesus through it all.
2. Gospel Fluency
I remember that everything changed for me when I understood what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15-17.
“15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. We must train our kids not only to proclaim the power of Christ for salvation but also to understand the power of sin in their lives and their need for a savior.
3. Point to Jesus
The Gospel must not be something our kids hear only at Easter; it must be the oxygen our kids’ breath daily at home and weekly at church.
Our kids desire happiness and to be loved—they are not satisfied with information alone. That is why God didn’t just tell us about love but also demonstrates His love for us.
We are orientated by our longings, directed by our desires. We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of the good life, not usually because we “think through” our options but rather because some picture captures our imagination. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, succinctly encapsulates the motive power of such allure: “If you want to build a ship,” he counsels, “don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”James K. A. Smith
Smith is right. If we want our kids to love Jesus, we have to do more than transfer information each Sunday and hope something sticks. We have to teach then to “long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
The question for us as parents and/or children’s ministry leaders is not if our kids will “love something as ultimate: the question is what [they] will love as ultimate.” (Smith)
To keep our kids from apostasy, we must discipline our kids in gospel truth, founded in historical faith, that flowers form a tangible and experiential love of God for them from before the foundation of the world.
I am still in.
And when my kids turn forty, my prayer is that they will still be in too.