Christians disagree, and sometimes argue, about many things. Current hot topics include: homosexuality, divorce, hell, evolution and Genesis, the place of women in the church, Biblical inerrancy, war, climate change, and the importance of ‘good works’ like social justice and social welfare.
Some christians get very worried about the failure of many of their fellow believers to keep to the traditional positions on these, and other matters, and the discussion can get quite heated.
But I think change may be upon us sooner than we think, whether we like it or not.
The youth revolution
Growing up today is very different to my experience as a teen in the 1960s. In many respects, I think it is tougher, but, at the same time, high school and university students have unprecedented opportunities to get information and a broader view of life than I ever had:
- The internet and the ready availability of search engines, smart phones and social media, means teens and young adults are more instantly connected to their peers, sometimes from all over the world, and can search for information at almost any time – and be almost assured of finding what they want.
- There is much more mixing of races, religions and social backgrounds than ever before, both in person (most western societies are much more multi-cultural than they used to be) and via the internet.
- Their education is much more likely to include being taught values like racial and religious tolerance, environmental concern and acceptance of differences.
These influences are now leading to widespread, though certainly far from universal, changes in attitudes. Many teens are more tolerant of differences in belief and behaviour, less dogmatic about their own beliefs, and tend to be passionate about different issues than their parents may be – see Barna Group research.
Cause for concern, or confidence?
In my limited experience and observation, supported by some of the Barna Group’s findings, well-educated teens and young adult christians are likely to take a different view of some of the ‘hot issues’ among christians:
- While they may still believe homosexuality is wrong, they are likely to be more tolerant of it, and quite likely to not find the issue so important. They may not wish to speak up because they may have gay friends, and they may not oppose gay marriage.
- Their education in science is likely to make them more inclined to accept evolution as fact.
- There is gender equality in their education, and mostly in their peer relationships, so they are likely to support equality for women in the church.
- A more developed sense of justice and compassion is likely to make them either less likely to believe in the torments of hell, or at least less inclined to talk about it.
- Teens and young adults, even strong christians, are more likely to find the attractions of sex and porn difficult to resist, and may be less committed to monogamous sex within marriage.
- They have been taught, and are often motivated, to be much more environmentally concerned and to accept the scientific consensus on climate change.
- A sensitivity to other religions (because of the greater stress on tolerance in their education, and because they are more likely to have friends of many different ethnic backgrounds than I ever did) tends to make them less dogmatic about the exclusive truth of christianity, and hence less likely to evangelise their friends.
- Teens are increasingly less likely to regard the Bible as without error (Barna Group, reported here).
These are by no means universal. Teens brought up in close religious communities or with a narrower education will be less likely to fit these loose descriptions. But I believe they are broad tendencies.
Many christians are concerned about these trends (see, for example, here and here). They feel these attitudes are signs of a loss of faith. I am less worried. I’m not happy about all of the above tendencies, but I believe many of them are positive rather than negative.
One thing is almost certain
But one conclusion is unavoidable, I think. Christianity will change greatly, as teens with these attitudes gradually become influential. Whether we like it or not, some of our current battles have already been won or lost. It may just take a little while to become more apparent.
And before we rush in to try to oppose or support these trends, we should make sure we are willing to re-examine our own cherished views, and sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to show us if our current understanding is wrong.
- Why teens leave church, Barna Group
- Youth attitudes to morality – Barna Group, reported here.
- Youth attitudes to tolerance and homosexuality.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons