During the 2014 Christmas season, Newsweek published an article that accused Christians of being ignorant of what the Bible really says, and also of having fabricated essential parts of the Scriptures throughout the centuries — the kinds of things on which we base our faith, like that Christ claimed to be God.
Setting aside the fact that the author did exactly what he accused Christians of doing (failing to verify the accuracy of his research and citing only texts he believed supported his point), the story concerned me. This is why: As a young adult who believes the Bible is full of life-changing truth, I was motivated immediately to find out what credible Bible scholars and other Christian leaders had to say in response. I would venture to guess that a large percentage of the young adults who read that article were less motivated to seek out contradiction.
A few months earlier, Barna Group had released a study on Millennials and how they view the Bible. In some ways, the research seemed encouraging. It found that practicing Christian young adults still have a very traditional, high view of Scripture. But it also found non-Christian Millennials have mixed and sometimes extremely negative perceptions of the Bible–and also of those who read it.
According to Barna’s research, non-Christian Millennials’ view of the Bible should make pastors stop to think hard about what “relevance” means to this generation:
…non-Christian views of the Bible often tip from benign indifference toward strong skepticism. While a plurality of non-Christian Millennials relegate the Bible to merely a “useful book of moral teachings” (30%), nearly half agree with more negative characterizations: About one in five say the Bible is “an outdated book with no relevance for today” (19%) and more than one-quarter go so far as to say the Bible is “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people” (27%).
“We believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God.”
Lots of pastors make this statement from the pulpit, on their websites and in one-on-one conversations. I’m not taking issue with it. But I do want to shine the light on the fact that young non-Christians don’t simply disagree with it, they are skeptical of people who make claims like that. And if young Christians can’t explain why they agree with that statement, they aren’t in any better of a position to reach their peers for Christ than you are.
What’s to be done?
Millennials need pastors who are proactive in addressing their questions, pastors who try to see through their lens and then jump in to provide clarity. They need pastors who read Newsweek and aren’t afraid to discuss it on Sunday or on their blogs or after church. They don’t expect you to have all the answers immediately — in fact, too quick a response probably inspires distrust. Many would love to ask their questions, but they aren’t always bold enough to do so. They tend to start with a Google search. And Newsweek is there waiting.
If you really want to reach the next generation, you need to be in tune with the skepticism of the culture and preach the truth of Jesus unashamedly, but also not expecting them just to take your word for it. They need more than to know you believe the Bible is inerrant: They need to know why.
Can you and will you make delivering that message a priority?