This months EN Article.
I was 16 years old. A new convert. Enthused and encouraged in my new found faith. I loved reading the Bible, until one day I was given a book with a title along the lines of ‘101 problems in the Bible – resolved’. I actually didn’t have any problems with the Bible – but after I read the book I had 101! The problems were real, but the answers were shallow and superficial. It was my first ‘crisis of faith’. The only way I got out of it was to realize that I was very young in the faith and that I could not be expected to know everything at once. I believed that over the years the Lord would guide and show. Over the years most were gradually and graciously answered as the Lord taught me to read and think biblically. I came to understand that I needed to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2) and to have the mind of Christ. I only have about four or five to go – although new issues still arise.
I fear that often the church makes a great error when it comes to our young people and their discipleship and training. We are more influenced by the culture, than by the Bible. Our education system has largely adopted a utilitarian, social engineering approach. We teach children what to think, rather than how to think. In todays society children are expected to choose career paths at a ridiculously early age. Students in Universities study narrow specialisms without considering the wider context of education and the basic principles of logic, reasoning, philosophy and culture. As a result they are drip fed opinions as fact and have little ability or encouragement to think for themselves. When young teenagers go on climate change marches – they are not being rebellious – they are being the ultimate conformists, conforming to what their teachers and culture tells them.
Sadly in the Church we too often reflect this approach. We feed children bible stories as entertainment. Our sermons are sometimes trite, clichéd and trivial. We treat the Bible like some kind of divine Alexa – we put in our question and immediately out comes our simple answer. We hide behind jargon and pious soundbites. There is a deep suspicion of ‘thinking’. And we struggle when teenagers ask deep and profound questions. We shrug our shoulders and hope they get over it, treating these questions as an expression of teenage angst or spiritual rebellion. And so we lose many of our young people. They grow up in a culture, media and education system that discourages thinking and indoctrinates them in a secular worldview. Half an hour Sunday school per week is not going to equip, disciple and train them in a Christian worldview. They are easy victims for the devils lies.
I have been asked deeper and more difficult questions from 12 year olds in our urban housing estates, than I have from Times and Guardian journalists. I have come to see that even in our social media age, where many grow up without reading books, our young people still have the capacity to think and question. Our job is not to provide them with a list of answers, but to help them think…and to think biblically.
The Living Word
What does that mean? The Bible is not an encyclopedia of answers. It is ‘living and active…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12). Therefore we come to the Bible as the living Word of God. Without error. Alive. Relevant. It shapes, judges, informs and moulds our minds, hearts and wills. We come to it humbly with our questions. We do not sit in judgement upon it, but rather knowing that it judges us. We need to show our young people by our example, that we humbly submit to the Word – that it guides, feeds, comforts and instructs us. We do not see the Word through the prism of the Culture….rather we see the Culture through the prism of the Word.
This helps us with so many contemporary questions. For example on the whole issue of gender identity what a difference it makes when you realize that our identity is not in our gender, or sexuality, or any other of the cultural shibboleths – but rather our identity is that we are made in the image of God…and our true identity is to be found in Christ.
We need to help our young people to read the Bible, to humbly question, to connect the Bible to our culture and to think biblically. Let them Ask, Seek and Knock. Let us take the renewing of the minds of our young people as seriously as the church has done in the past. They may live in Babylon, but they don’t have to think like Babylon.
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. “(Deuteronomy 11:18-21)