The Last Christian Generation
Our society is filled with many different denominations, faiths, and religions. There are, however, a large majority of people in the United States, Southeastern United States, and South Carolina who identify with Christianity. Research from the Pew Research Center indicates that about 70% of people in the United States refer to themselves as Christian. In South Carolina, about 78% of people identified themselves as religious and Christian. A clear definition of Christian is very valuable. For most evangelicals, the term Christian means that a person has trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and strives to follow Him in all things and in every way of life. Also, in regard to evangelicals, discipleship is very important, as well as evangelism. Interestingly, only about 35% of those in South Carolina, however, identify themselves as being evangelical protestants.
Protestants are those who are non-Catholic and are affiliated with a local denomination, for instance, Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. To best understand, Pew Research states, “Evangelical Protestants are identified mainly on the basis of their affiliation with evangelical denominations (such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or the Presbyterian Church in America, to name just a few) or with nondenominational evangelical churches. Evangelical Protestantism is the nation’s single largest religious group, exceeding the size of the nation’s Catholic (20.8%), mainline Protestant (14.7%), and religiously unaffiliated (22.8%) populations. Half (49%) of evangelical Protestant adults reside in the South, which is home to 37% of the overall U.S. adult population. Nearly one-quarter of evangelicals (22%) live in the Midwest (as do 21% of all U.S. adults), and 20% live in the West (along with 23% of Americans). Just 9% of evangelicals live in the Northeast, which is home to 18% of all U.S. adults.”
Of course, statistics can be skewed and may, or may not, represent the reality of those who profess faith in Jesus and their faithfulness to their local church. These statistics, however, do give some kind of indicator as to those who identify denominationally and religiously. At the very least, these numbers give a synopsis of those who claim to be Christian and evangelical protestant.
South Carolina may truly have a higher number of those who identify as an evangelical protestant. For sure, the South has more people who identify as Christian with some portion identifying as evangelical protestant. Regardless, these statistics are alarming for sure. For instance, just think about South Carolina with only 35% of those identified as evangelical protestants. Historically, the Southeastern United States, namely, South Carolina and those bordering states, have been known as “the Bible belt.” Do we believe we live in the Bible belt because there are so many churches, or do we live in the Bible belt because we have so many people who truly follow Jesus? What if, in reality, we who reside in South Carolina are not what that title suggests? Or, what if it has changed? What if the worship we offered in the “Bible belt” was not faithful to God? What if we poorly modeled our faith in Jesus? What if all along there were some kinds of distortions that crept into our churches and hindered us from true discipleship?
In regard to our young people, what if we have presented a distorted view of Christianity to them? Hopefully, our churches in the U.S. and South Carolina are not contributing to any kinds of distortions to truly knowing Jesus and walking faithfully with Him. We should not ignore the warning signs of any distortions or distractions from true discipleship, one that is God-honoring. In his book, The Last Christian Generation, Josh McDowell gives some alarms that we should not ignore.
Distorted View of Christianity
According to researchers, there are many students, namely, those who are in adolescence and have yet to reach adulthood, who have a distorted view of Christianity. For instance, research suggests that a growing number of churched teens do not necessarily hold those same convictions when they are older. According to Josh McDowell, famed youth evangelist and apologist, our youth [and a generation of young people] are not necessarily embracing true Christianity. He states, “It is apparent…a generation of young people no longer hold to what most evangelicals consider to the true foundations of the Christian faith; belief in the deity of Christ, the reliability of Scripture, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus.”
McDowell further says, “If I hear one dominating and recurring theme among the many church leaders and families I come in contact with, it’s fear. Some can express their fear. Others can’t quite put it into words.
But most admit to a fear, deep down, that their kids, having been raised in Christian families and having spent their childhood and teenage years in the church, will, nonetheless, walk away unchanged…
The obvious, but, nonetheless, shocking truth is that we are not seeing the majority of our young people appear neither to understand who the true God is nor the true meaning of Christianity.” Undoubtedly, that is a major fear among parents, guardians, youth workers, and church leaders alike. Many Christian parents, student pastors, and children’s ministers are all aware of the potential of students graduating from our programs and missing the gospel. What a tragedy that would be! Our desire is that any and all students come to know Christ, live out His will for their lives, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Also, it is the desire that our young people persevere in their faith throughout their life and be bold witnesses for Jesus.
For these young teenagers, namely, those who profess Christ and then seem to walk away from their faith later in life, it appears they were not grounded very strongly in the first place. Moreover, the faith they were taught, and confessionally believed, do not necessarily persevere the test of time. There can be many reasons for this, however, it still comes down to having a deep and close relationship with Christ, growing in Christ, and living that faith out. Therefore, it is imperative to have close friends, small group accountability, and brothers and sisters in Christ who help a student grow deep in their faith.
It is heartbreaking to hear that someone has walked away from their faith in Christ. Imagine knowing someone for years, who was a strong believer in Christ, then only to find out they don’t believe the Bible or trust in God anymore. Our hearts simply break, knowing that they walked away from God, who loves them and provided a way for their sins to be forgiven through Jesus Christ. Several questions come to mind, of course. “Was our friend truly saved?” “Did they ever truly repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” Or, “are they just backsliding and mad at God about something?” Maybe our friend was not discipled well? Moreover, maybe they made a profession of faith in Jesus at some point but were never mentored or discipled to grow in their faith and walk with Jesus?
Yes, it could be that our friend never truly met Jesus. Meaning, that a person can know a lot about Jesus but not know Him in a personal and salvific way. In contrast, it also could be the result of our friend not being discipled well. Consequently, teaching, discipleship, and mentoring, over an extended period of time, are very helpful. Making sure that our young people are truly grounded in the faith and teachings of Jesus are vitally important, for several reasons. First, once someone trusts Christ for salvation, they need to grow in their faith. Second, they need to be able to share that faith with others and learn how to help others grow in their faith. Discipleship is a major factor in helping our teens build a strong foundation for their faith in Christ.
Moreover, accountability coupled with helping our teenagers truly know Christ and grow in Him are essential. McDowell says, “When our young people understand and yield to this truth [truly knowing Jesus and live for Him], a mysterious and miraculous change takes place.” The change here is supernaturally done through the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer’s life once they repent and accept Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross (John 14:6). When our lives have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and guidance in our life, a change takes place and we begin our growth in knowing Jesus more. The theological word for this process is sanctification. Meaning, we grow to be more like Jesus.
Distorted View of Church
One problem with students who walk away from their faith could very well be they have a distorted view of the church. In other words, and in opposition to the old slogan, “perception is not reality.” A church may have a lot of students who attend but that does not necessarily mean they follow Jesus and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit. The perception would be those who come to follow Jesus. However, that is not reality. Not everyone who attends church has a relationship with Jesus. Someone’s perception may be one thing, while the reality is much different. For example, a person’s perception that a business might be successful could be misplaced. Their “perception” of something might not be the true “reality” of it. Meaning, that perception does not prevent collapses, tragedies, hardships, bankruptcy, or a whole host of other things, that might not have been perceived at all. Josh McDowell, in like manner, equates that our student’s perceptions of the church might be distorted to what the true church is and should be. McDowell even says, “sadly many churches are a distortion of what God wants them to be.” This should be a warning sign to us all, to make sure our church is and does what God wants.
Josh McDowell lists several distortions that students have voiced in regard to their local church. They are: “Church is boring,” “Church is a non-stop activity,” “Church isn’t the biggest influence in my life or my spiritual development,” “Church seems like just a series of events to me,” and “Church may help save my soul but it won’t help me grapple with the real issues of my life.” Of course, these are loaded statements, all of which could have an article written about each one, however, the best way to successfully work through these distortions is a mutual understanding of the role of the church and the role of a church member.
The local church must do its job to give relevant, truth-saturated, messages that help people understand their roles in knowing Jesus and living for Him. For the individual, they must come to understand that the church is a “training” ground to help them grow to maturity in Christ and be a bold witness for Jesus. The church is not supposed to be a circus of entertainment, rather, it is meant to equip and train saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12-13).
There is hope! As Josh McDowell says, “every church and family has a golden opportunity. Our young people are in just the right place to grab hold of a discovery process that is real, relational, and relevant to life.” That process, namely, is knowing Jesus, growing in their walk and faith with Him, and helping others know Him. Teaching our students the spiritual disciplines, namely, knowing God through His word, prayer, sharing their faith, growing in the likeness of Jesus, and living a life that glorifies God, will help to prevent these “shipwrecks” and crises of faith. Be aware, that Christ-followers are in a spiritual battle (Eph. 6) and we must be prepared to live in a culture that is increasingly moving away from God. We need God’s help to equip and train up a generation of students who will live boldly for Him.
Pew Research Center Religion and Faith in the U.S. and S.C.
The Last Christian Generation by Josh McDowell
*All materials and quotes come from The Last Christian Generation by Josh McDowell