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Understanding the times

Understanding the times

An intellectual and cultural divide

As the Church contemplates what the future might hold, it is (as the paper from Russell Moffat highlights) essential to undertake an honest and realistic assessment of where we are, and how the message of the Gospel might be more effectively communicated today. To continue the ‘war’ metaphor, a military commander will seek to understand not only the nature of the conflict/ challenge but also the terrain on which contending sides meet. If the engagement is intellectual/philosophical/theological in nature - Christianity vs ‘isms’ as set out in the paper - the terrain is cultural and societal.

The stated future focus, rightly, for GTN is on young people and the question is how to bridge the gap between Christian faith and the world that 10- to 30-year olds inhabit. Young people are not apathetic – their concerns are real, wide and laudable (climate change, social justice, equality, and fairness). Nor are they amoral – reports are clear that today’s teenagers value personal fidelity, honesty, and integrity as much as any previous generation.

Two recent books (among many) provide further background to the discussion: -

As alluded to by Russell, Dominion (The making of the Western mind) by Tom Holland (2019) explores the thesis that Western culture arose because of its unique setting within a Christian worldview. The life, teaching, sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ provided for centuries the bedrock of our way of thinking and living, and of the establishment of just and fair societies. Holland states that we are in the process of unmooring ourselves from this anchorage, and we do so at our peril. After evangelicalism (The path to a new Christianity) by David P Gushee (2020) (a leading authority on Christian ethics in the USA) laments the state of Evangelical Christianity in the USA especially within the White church. The perils of the symbiotic relationship between the largest Christian ‘denomination’ and the Republican party are laid bare. Professor Gushee’s analysis of Christianity and its future is wider, however, than a critique of the religious Right. As a senior professor on campus, he is exposed constantly to young adults and sought to gauge their concepts of, and interaction with, the Christian church. The issues, he states, are principally cultural and societal and constantly changing.

These works illuminate the unprecedented challenges that face the Church and present a conundrum – how do we secure (re-)affirmation of the Gospel with its message of truth and love as a basis for a just society, exercise a Christian prophetic (forth-telling) voice in the issues that face the world, but at the same time recognise that the future doesn’t look like the past.

The ’terrain’

In what way can we pursue ‘honesty and realism’, not launch another (over)optimistic ‘decade’ initiative, and yet carry forward under God’s direction the task of bearing witness to the eternal truths of the Christian Gospel. Uncomfortably, we have to recognise that there has been an historic, seismic shift in key societal norms and accepted mores that the Church has largely not responded to or accommodated – possibly correctly on theological and moral grounds, possibly because of institutional inertia, possibly in missional error - but consequences follow from the position taken. What are the characteristics of culture and society today that have changed since the heyday of the church in the post war period 1950-70?

Altered landscape of societal norms: To switch metaphors, in the 1950-70s societal norms reflected the contemporary teaching of the Church and the ‘gap’ between society at large and the Christian community was bridgeable (the Gospel message could be shared) with traditional approaches (in-church services, revival meetings etc). Arguably, in 2021, the gap takes on the dimensions of the Grand Canyon, one side may not be able to hear the other, indeed they may not be talking the same language. Appendix 1 illustrates the virtually complete disconnect between young adults and the established church in England; other mainline denominations do not fare much better.

The focus of GTN is to bring Christianity, its teachings and claims, to the attention of all but especially young people. It follows, therefore, that the majority of the intended audience (16 to 30-year olds) has no church connection, and it is likely their parents had none either. On average, a member of this audience is single or cohabiting, 50% will have children, and for the most part are 4-8 years from getting married, some may never ‘tie-the-knot’ (Appendix 1). This landscape presents a considerable challenge to the traditional church view on these matters. As Gushee bluntly puts it does the Church really expect young healthy adults to be chaste for the 16-20 years until they marry. As a leading Christian ethicist, he addresses many of the issues facing the Church from a theological and moral point of view. With regard to relationships, he coins the term ‘covenant realism’ to describe a potential view that takes into consideration the new societal norms. What reception this concept has in the Church is yet to be seen – is it wrong for the Church to even consider a broader view of relationships?

What is clear is that the drivers that led to the shift are now embedded, and the change in the socio-cultural landscape is permanent.

Information age: We are now on the second ‘internet generation’. With access to a global library of information, young people are increasingly detaching themselves from hierarchical teaching by authority figures. Ideas are drawn from multiple sources and peer-to-peer exchange for 10 to 30-year olds is the basis for opinion-forming and the development of a perspective on life. This ‘genie’ isn’t going back in the bottle either.

There have been a number of surveys as to reasons behind the disengagement of young people from Christianity/ Church. One example is appended (Appendix 2). GTN could repeat this exercise for Scotland but it likely from that the answers may be roughly the same as this 5-year study from the Barna Group, although emphases will differ given the cultural differences with the USA. Also, these are the views of those who attend church or have left; the views of young Scots in general are likely to be significantly more negative.

A note on cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance

Psychology (and common sense) tells us that healthy humans cannot simultaneously hold two competing belief systems regarding moral/ethical issues. For the last two decades especially, from the earliest days at school and throughout the working environment, there has been education and training in equality and diversity (in most large organisations it is mandatory). This generates a set of beliefs and behaviours that in large part align with traditional Christian positions. However, there are significant points of dissonance as described above (and pertaining to other well-rehearsed issues). These have to resolved on an individual basis which involves choices/ alterations, one of which is, knowing the potential for dissonance, not to enter into a situation where this might arise.

Building a response

GTN cannot address all the challenges identified in Appendix 2. It has the potential, however, to build canyon-spanning bridges and offer situations where a common language can be formulated. Once the barrier that accepting the findings of science negates belief in God has been dismantled, the way is open to develop themes for fruitful and healthy discussion and debate on a range of topics of interest to young people.

A number of GTN initiatives offer promising avenues to better engagement: -

  1. Exploring TGQ: Development of The God Question material for a range of ages from the animation version through the ITGQ modules to the full broadcast/ study versions. The latest ‘bite-size’ extracts with key questions fits well with the present media paradigm. We have not as yet achieved the objective of seeing a large-scale younger audience take this up. This may come with the newer material but arguably must be driven by peer networking (not the older generation) and in this regard recruitment of a young people’s advisory board is critical.
  2. Exploring further: Creation of opportunities to explore consciousness and identity (Who am I), spirituality (Is there a higher being) and engagement with faith (What are the benefits of belief) can be introduced as a life-enhancing exercise. A bridge-building opportunity is the exploration of the nature and origins of spirituality as exemplified by the evening event with Dr Peter Bowes. The depth of discussion may be challenging in places but this is a topic that can be handled at a number of levels. The mental health of young people is front and centre at the moment and spiritual health is an essential part of that. It should not be difficult to develop this bridge but this cannot be principally by didactic teaching, rather older experts can be invited to say their piece.
  3. Personal perspectives and experiences communicated through social media. The Facebook initiative ‘As I see it’ offers a route to a much wider discussions which again can be delivered in a variety of styles. ‘It’s a Fair Question’ is an excellent initiative that could be broadened.
  4. The ecumenical approach by GTN is real and to be applauded. It is predictable that for most young adults today, doctrinal distinctions are hard to fathom and a source of confusing messages given the existential issues that the Church faces.

The big issue.

Assuming a successful outcome for the GTN-mediated engagement with young people results in a degree of interest in what Christianity and the Church has to offer, what next? How does the enquirer proceed further along the bridge to faith and connection to a worshipping Christian community? Is it envisaged that acceptance requires compliance to a different ‘terrain’ – how realistic is this?

GTN has further plans with regard to generating material relating to core features of Christianity – Resurrection and Incarnation, Suffering. When these are at a level of readiness that equals the TGQ material, can they be deployed in such a way as to create a ‘meeting ground’. With a range of formats accessible to 10 to 30-year olds, as well of course as older adults, can an expanded on-line community be created where the Christian faith can be explored more fully in neutral territory. This community can be, as GTN already is, multi-faceted – web site forums, Facebook events, a YouTube broadcast channel. In this way can we promulgate the core Christian message without the baggage of institutional Christianity.

Can GTN Live-on-line become for many who would be hesitant to attend a physical church service a stepping stone / bridge to engagement with a worshipping community?

Appendix 1

Government statistics office – marriage and childbirth:

A few statistics illustrate what we all know. In 1970, the average age at marriage was 22-24 years, in 2020 it was 32-34 years. In 1950 -70 puberty was 14/15 years, in 2020 it is 12/13 years – the interval between female puberty and marriage has increased from about 9 years to 20 years, the interval from reaching adulthood to marriage has gone from 4-6 years to 14-16 years. In 1970, 5% of children were born to unmarried mothers, in 2020 this figure was about 50%. More than 95% of 20-year olds in 2020 reported being sexually active, and the majority had other sexual partners, prior to marriage.

British Social Attitudes Survey (2019)

British Social Attitudes Survey (2019)


Appendix 2

(reprinted from Biologos.org)

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

By The Barna Group

on June 05, 2017

• Education

• Views & Attitudes

Many parents and church leaders wonder how to most effectively cultivate durable faith in the lives of young people. A five-year project headed by the Barna Group explores the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in a new book titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.

The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysomething Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Turning Toward Connection

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults—those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

“Consequently, churches are not prepared to handle the ‘new normal.’ Instead, church leaders are most comfortable working with young, married adults, especially those with children. However, the world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.”

The research points to two opposite, but equally dangerous responses by faith leaders and parents: either catering to or minimizing the concerns of the next generation. The study suggests some leaders ignore the concerns and issues of teens and twentysomethings because they feel that the disconnection will end when young adults are older and have their own children. Yet, this response misses the dramatic technological, social and spiritual changes that have occurred over the last 25 years and ignores the significant present-day challenges these young adults are facing.

Other churches seem to be taking the opposite corrective action by using all means possible to make their congregation appeal to teens and young adults. However, putting the focus squarely on youth and young adults causes the church to exclude older believers and “builds the church on the preferences of young people and not on the pursuit of God,” Kinnaman said.

Between these extremes, the just-released book You Lost Me points to ways in which the various concerns being raised by young Christians (including church dropouts) could lead to revitalized ministry and deeper connections in families. Kinnaman observed that many churches approach generations in a hierarchical, top-down manner, rather than deploying a true team of believers of all ages. “Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”

by Prof Chris Packard
 

6 Responses

  1. /February 13, 2021/ by Andrew Torrance /

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    Moving forward, I wonder whether it would be possible for Grasping the Nettle to build connections with Young Life?

    At risk of stating the obvious, the thing that can have the biggest impact on drawing people into the life of the Church are friendships with Christians. It seems to me that such friendships are perhaps the main thing that can address the reasons you list. Friendships communicate the Gospel in a way that makes it less alien and serves to challenge the misrepresentative caricatures (evident from the list of reasons) that so many people have about Christianity (because people fear what they do not know). Again, I realise this is perhaps an obvious point, but it strikes me that we aren’t always good at prioritising the fact that we need to win the person (through friendship) before we can win the argument. We almost never win persons by winning arguments.

    I know that Young Life is having an incredible impact across Scotland by reaching out to youth by forming friendships between Christians and non-Christians.

    GTN has done an incredible job of creating excellent resources and holding events. The main challenge it now faces is finding avenues through which to disseminate these resources successfully and also invite persons to its events––success on this front, will also be likely to draw young people into engaging with GTN’s strong online presence. It strikes me that Young Life could be one such avenue.

    (I know that GTN has worked with Scripture Union, and this is definitely work that’ll be important to keep investing in.)

    Best wishes,

    Andrew

  2. /February 13, 2021/ by Peter Donald /

    Dear Chris (and others)
    Thanks for all of this. The talk of terrain is I think critical. Where do we communicate with those who are not necessarily in our close company? That is young adults of course, but others too. And as we see answers to that question, what do we communicate about? And how will these communications not return empty? I am moved to offer brief thoughts on these three questions.
    The terrain as it happens at the moment is almost entirely online. OK, that won’t be forever, but it is highly relevant in the lives of many people at this point in 2021, and so there is everything to be said by using well and creatively the opportunities that online and social media posting allow. For all that we are aware of their limitations, I for one have become so much more aware during this pandemic of their positive opportunities they offer. And as the joke runs, people can always hit the mute button or switch posts if they are not engaged. It is a remarkably open and non-threatening way of communication.
    So what do we communicate about? It always has been important, and is certainly the case now, that the communication task is better as dialogue rather than monologue. That questions are taken seriously; that the possibility of divergent views is recognised; that attentive listening without necessarily wishing to final conclusions is very precious. Jesus was particularly strong on this. He took so often starting points from where people themselves were, and if he needed to shift the focus, yes he did, but I don’t think people ever went away from him thinking they had been ignored or wilfully silenced.  And so in 2021, when there is conversation about health and about wellbeing and about what matters for human community etc, these are more than suitable places to be engaging communication.  And with GTN, I so appreciate how the style of “the God Question” upholds enquiry, discussion, not settling for too easy or false answers.
    On the third question above, well on the one hand we might both believe that nothing done in Jesus’ name is in vain and yet at the same time how it is responded to is truly out of the communicator’s hands. But the cleverest words, the sharpest made points, the most glorious windows on to eternal truths will have their carrying impeded if the ones communicating do not open up themselves. I mean, grace should be visible; and being very personal, including acknowledgement of weaknesses, is not something to be afraid of. That counts with young people and with not so young people. GTN does well to keep identifiable individuals and not just issues up for scrutiny.
    One of the beautiful facts about this point in 2021 is that we are in transitional times. The church may have quite a bit of baggage to divest itself of, but at the moment everyone is in so to speak marginal territory. What a great time to be communicating! I pray that as church re-forms, it will be re-formed well - authentically, focused on what matters, full of grace and truth in Christ. How much we need one another, with no barriers of age and gender, background or wealth, is a lesson from these pandemic times. How much we all of us care about science is a lesson from these pandemic times. How much Jesus Christ has to give to us all, through pandemic and through whatever next, is what is very particularly on us to be learning and sharing. Let’s do it in dialogue with science. Let’s do it in dialogue with our faith family and others besides. All strength to GTN in its part of the vineyard.

  3. /February 13, 2021/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi Chris

    Thank you for your excellent contribution to the discussion. I better say at the outset for the benefit of readers that your response is both to my last blog post and to my expanded paper on that topic which was given to the members of the Council of Advisers of GTN at the recent conference. As readers have had no access to the latter they may well miss some background to the points you make. I utilised the “war” metaphor as a way of forming a cutting edge for our work and as a way of lifting morale and rallying the troops so to speak. Your post here raises this to a different level by considering the “terrain” that we are engaged on. So thank you for that.
    Therefore, you are quite right to narrow the focus to the younger generation and to changing societal norms which have been, and increasingly will be, a huge challenge to the work of the Institutional Churches given the demographics involved. I will confine myself to several brief points.

    1 A book I read about 15yrs ago thrilled and depressed me at the same time. It was by Leonard Sweet and was entitled “CARPE MANANA: Is Your Church Ready to SEIZE TOMORROW?” It was written in 2001 and brilliantly outlined his thesis that due to unprecedented social and technological changes people of my generation were “immigrants” and the young people were “natives” in this strange new world that we live in. It used to be that adults had “power” because they had the knowledge and children learned from their elders. That is the way it has been from time immemorial. Today that is reversed. It is a young person’s world and adults are struggling to keep up. Given that this was written 20yrs ago what would Sweet write today? I dread to think as I couldn’t handle this back in 2005 and put the book back on the shelf. It made me feel inadequate and old. I have looked at it again in the light of your comments and it makes my heart sink. Put simply, I am out of my depth on this one. We will need to utilise young people to reach young people. That said there is a saying that the art of living is to “Turn information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into action.” Perhaps in this information age Oldies have something to pass on after all and one reason that every Christian project should try and utilise mixed ages.

    2 Demography is going to be a key issue here not just regarding numbers of young people in the future but also regarding changing societal trends. Two books useful here are “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity” by Philip Jenkins and secondly, “Shall the religious Inherit the Earth” by Eric Kaufman. The former points out that the centre of gravity of Christianity has moved from the West to the Global South and the former may in fact be rejuvenated by Christian immigration from these countries. The second book is written by an atheist who predicts that through religious organisations and cultures which not only promote family values but see demography as a spiritual and theological weapon (in other words as well as evangelism there is a real plus in “growing” your own through fertility rates) there is a real possibility of major societal changes in the West as religion makes a surprising but real comeback in Western countries. The author maintains that secular culture has no defence in the long run against this. The generation of the New Atheists will be in major demographic decline by 2030. Now Kaufmann admits some these projections may not come become fact but believes the evidence requires we take it seriously. This could be a major cultural counter balance to secular influences. By 2050 the landscape may look radically different from today. Kaufman certainly provides plenty of evidence for his predictions.

    3 Let me share a couple of anecdotes. Recently, a Ministerial colleague shared with me his encounter with a young 17yr old male in Edinburgh who had converted to Roman Catholicism. When asked about this by my intrigued friend, the boy said “It is my Dad’s generation that are atheists not mine.” Now one example a trend does not make, but perhaps this shows the openness that many young folk have to spiritual things as you point out Chris. It also shows that young people may not necessarily be drawn to contemporary forms of worship as is often assumed. This is backed by recent surveys which indicated the powerful effect of school visits to Cathedrals. There is still mileage in tradition and liturgy so it seems. The second anecdote concerns two young teenage girls from the Czech Republic who came to Killin and stayed at the Manse with us whilst on Pilgrimage. Again mystery and spirituality seemed to be what was sought. Can we learn from this?

     

  4. /February 16, 2021/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi Chris

    Since there is a word limit on blog responses I wasn’t able to include everything I wanted to say.
    So here is another response to your excellent post. I am aware that you cover a lot of ground which is complex and multifaceted even when it is selective and targeted. Such is the real world! I liked your summary of the reasons young people leave the church. I want to make brief points to all six.

    1 Churches Over Protective

    I would think this would depend on the theology or lack thereof regarding the particular church in question. Acknowledging that labels are problematic, can we say that broadly speaking more “Evangelical” churches would tend to being “protective” over and against more “Liberal” ones. Of course this raises huge issues about what it means to be a Christian and how Churches can exercise discipline (another loaded, controversial and misunderstood term).

    2 Experience of Church is Shallow

    Is this solely the fault of the churches? Let me be provocative for the sake of discussion. Given the attention span of our “online” young folks is it any wonder they find church boring? Do they not find most things “boring?” I have heard this complaint from Armed Forces Instructors to leaders/helpers of a variety of non-church youth organisations. I also remember a conversation I had with a leading Scottish politician who said that everywhere he goes the same question pops up from the members of every secular group or organisation that he is asked to speak at – “How do we attract and keep young folk.” His advice was that the Church shouldn’t beat itself up about this as it is a widespread cultural issue. It seems that the majority of young folks aren’t becoming members of anything. I also remember a Ministerial colleague commenting on Generation X (or was it Y - lol) and he said that when you run through the list their characteristics “do you really want them in your congregation?” Now again in case anyone is offended this was said tongue in cheek but raises an interesting discussion point. As a noted regarding the work of Leonard Sweet in my first response, when I read the seismic cultural changes that have taken place in our culture which he so forensically outlines I feel I should retire. Hopefully some younger members may post comments on this particular topic.

    3 Churches Antagonistic to Science

    Dare I say again that this topic relates to the divide in general terms between Conservative/Liberal churches (again I acknowledge the labels are problematic but I assume the readers will understand what I’m trying to say). I had coffee in a Christian Conference Centre recently and was dismayed but not surprised to see that in the bookshop every title on the topic of science/theology was written from a Creationist or Intelligent Design perspective. Need I say more!

    As I’m approaching my word limit I’ll deal with the remaining three points in the next response.

  5. /February 16, 2021/ by Alan Fraser /

    Dear Chris (and others)
    Thank you for a very helpful contribution.
    When I was thinking about understanding the times my thoughts went back to my student days in the sixties. I remember sitting in St Giles, January 1968, listening to an unlikely preacher, Malcolm Muggeridge, delivering a sermon entitled, “Another King.” As newly installed rector of Edinburgh University, he took the opportunity to tell the students, who had recently elected him, why he was resigning after a short time in post. He could not identify himself with the goals of the social revolution spearheaded by the students. He characterised this revolution as being obsessed with “pot and bed”. The old cynic had turned on the new cynics. Muggeridge had failed to find meaning in his own rejection of Christian values and was thinking again about the Christian worldview that he had spent so many years excoriating with his acid tongue, finding much to fuel his accusations in the lifestyle and words of the Christian establishment. There is much food for thought in this memory. However far any individual may be from accepting the Christian worldview there is hope. There was hope for Saul of Tarsus and there was hope for each one of us.
    The sixties certainly saw a social revolution, a rejection of the faith of their fathers, and a turning to new political saviours with a good dash of hedonism. As that generation grew up secular humanism took root and flourished. Two generations later we find ourselves in another social mix. The old atheism is becoming passe. Celebrity worship is not satisfying. Magic and ancient superstition are gaining ground. Fantasy genre in literature and film is increasingly popular. In the constant questioning of current values there is hope for genuine apologetics to connect with people today. The main obstacle to apologetics would be the low level of Biblical literacy among those holding to a Christian worldview, along with a resistance to risk losing cherished traditions, right across the denominational spectrum. The shake up we are experiencing in the pandemic may do much to force a new realism on God’s people and a willingness to re-examine the gods of tradition. Using the military metaphor we badly need training in the use of our weapons and a good dash of morale boosting through connecting with the captain of our salvation.
    There is one element in today’s thought mix that I find the most challenging. Reason is greatly undervalued. As a scientist it worries me that science, on which we depend for so much of our medical care and food production, may cease to recruit young people to a scientific career.  As a Christian I find it frustrating that so much is decided, both in the Church and in the World, on the “likes” of social media, on the confident pronouncements of extroverts, on the alluring prospects of fantasy, and on a sever undervaluing of evidence and logic. World politics with its fake news and populism illustrates this trend. More disturbing is the replacement of Christian values, based on the revelation of God,  with ‘Scottish values’ that are ill defined and a product of a vague consensus of popular opinion, but increasingly intolerant of any who may beg to differ.
    It is into this mix, whether we like it or not, that we are called to present the Good News. In doing so I suggest we take a positive approach. We present Jesus first and foremost. We present Christian beliefs that provide a solid basis for human identity. We talk up what is true rather than sniping at what is false, while conscious of the insidious influence of false ideas that undoubtedly affects how our message is received. In all this love for God and for our neighbour must be the driving force.

    Alan J F Fraser

  6. /February 16, 2021/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi everyone continuing my response regarding reasons young people leave the church

    4 Sexuality and Judgmentalism

    This again is a huge subject. Let me begin by saying that it has always been a problem.

    Every culture in history that I can think of has tried in a variety of ways either to curb or channel male promiscuity (a legacy of Darwinian evolution and therefore just one of the problems science poses for us which is never acknowledged far less discussed?). There is a tendency to criticise honour/shame cultures today forgetting that within living memory we were one ourselves hence the dreadful shunning of and/or incarceration of teenage mothers in asylums. Not the Church’s finest hour. Alan has mentioned the sixties counter culture in his response and we should remember that the packed churches of the 1950’s and 60’s lost young people in their droves so this is not a new phenomenon. What has changed is the empowerment of young people through the information age which adds another layer of complexity to the social revolution of previous decades.
    And yet there is something about traditional values which is still attractive. Young women in particular are converting to Islam in the West in considerable numbers… apparently fed up being sexualised and objectified in contemporary culture. We are witnessing, according to recent news reports, a resistance now among young people to the infamous 18/30 club lifestyle of holidays booze and sex. The problem is there are not a lot of healthy role models for young people in this regard. Can we talk about and share the benefits and blessings of Christian sexual ethics without being cringy and crass? Can we find it in ourselves not to judge or exclude those young people in our churches who may not being living in relationships we all approve of but who nonetheless appear to be following Jesus in other ways. Does this not keep the lines open for conversation and pastoral care?

    5 The exclusive nature of Christianity

    One can believe in the ultimate truth of Christianity but still be loving, kind, considerate, and friendly towards people of other faiths. We can even find common ground quite easy in this regard without that threatening our faith. Unfortunately, contrary to the teaching of scripture “fear” not “love” seems to be a controlling factor in some Christian attitudes in this regard. Not all political parties are the same and neither are religions. Therefore giving others respect and dignity should not diminish us or our witness to the world. Surely this can be communicated to our young people through our attitudes and behaviour. How can we ever win someone from another faith to Christ if we treat them as rivals or enemies?

    6 Doubt

    Faith and doubt are two sides of the one coin. Doubt is different from unbelief. If a church does not allow or frowns upon open honest questioning then something is seriously wrong and young people in this situation should be advised to find another church!

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