The world is changing. The poster boy is definitely President Obama. No matter what one thinks of his policies, there’s no denying that he’s ushering in an era where ideas formerly labeled “liberal” are going to be mainstreamed.
Change is going to be felt in churches as well. Old ways of witnessing (EE, etc) are not going to work with young people. Why? The Bible isn’t respected anymore. At best, it’s equated with every other religious text and viewed as a relic of ancient superstitions. At worst, it’s viewed as a textbook for madmen. The church as an institution has largely discredited itself in the eyes of young people. They see the infighting among denominations over (seemingly) minute and meaningless distinctions. They see the highly-publicized sex scandals. And most damagingly, they see the Christians of their acquaintance as ignorant, anti-intellectual, and judgmental.
Christians have had it easy for too long. We’ve cruise-controlled our faith in previous eras where everyone was at least a Deist, went to church on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday and respected the Bible. The current generation is completely unfamiliar with the Bible, doesn’t believe in God (and doesn’t want to), and knows nothing of any sacred holidays.
Will has had an ongoing discussion with a young English gay man in the xkcd IRC channel. Julian went to Sunday school as a child, but now considers himself an atheist. He accepts nothing that cannot be proved by science. I think Julian is probably typical of the way the world has bent. Arguments from Scripture will no longer work, except to clear up misconceptions about not eating shellfish and not wearing poly-blend socks. Whenever somebody wants to make fun of Christians, they inevitably go for the Levitical law. They don’t know enough about Scripture to know that most of the Levitical law was rescinded in Acts 15—and when we point that out, the reaction is “Well, it’s all [baloney] (sic) anyway, so why does it matter?”
Will is still talking to Julian about various religious topics, especially homosexuality. I’ve had my own share of conversations with various online acquaintances. What we’ve learned from these encounters is how incredibly vital it is to know what you believe and why you believe it, and to be able to explain yourself without using Scripture or Christian buzzwords. There are a lot of hostile people out there who will rip you to shreds if you waffle just the slightest bit. Also, when you hit a dead end, be willing to say that you don’t understand something, but wiser heads than you have taken a stab at it—so know your Church Fathers so you have references to back you up. Be ready to admit your doubts and failings. The slightest whiff of hypocrisy will send a non-believer packing. And really, isn’t it time Christians stopped being fake with each other as well?
My goal in talking to those people is not to convert them. The Lord knows their hearts and the elect are pre-destined. My goal is to give an accurate representation of the truth I believe and to plant that seed that not all Christians are stupid and scary. And I really wonder if any un-churched young people do come to the Lord, whether they will eschew the conservative denominations? I really think that issues like the condemnation of homosexual practice and the ban on women’s ordination will prove to be too alienating for my generation, who grew up with CEO mothers and openly gay and bisexual friends. I have a hard time with the ban on female clergy myself. I know many ministers’ wives who are better speakers than their husbands and it really bothers me that they must take a supporting role. However, there are things in the Bible I don’t understand and don’t like, but they are there for a reason and I must trust that the omniscient Lord knows better than I do. When put that way, the question becomes laughable. Me? Know better than God? Ha! So I abide.
We sideline ourselves when we care more about how fellow believers keep the Sabbath (to eat out or not?), etc., than whether the Gospel is being preached to a world that needs it, but doesn’t want it. Christians need to stop chewing over Roast Brethren for Sunday lunch. We must get over ourselves and get back to work.