How Faith Comes to Seem “Less Real” for Our Young People

Why have destructive ideologies such as critical theory (underlying current race and gender controversies) made such headway in the church? Phillip Johnson gave us a hint more than 20 years ago in his book Defeating Darwinism when he wrote of how the oppressive, day-by-day assumption of materialism in science education and work spills over into other disciplines Christian young people study in colleges:

“As students grow more and more accustomed to assuming materialism and naturalism in their academic work, the concept of creation by God gradually tends to become less real to them. It is not so much that any single finding undermines their faith; rather, the day-to-day practice of thinking in naturalistic terms about academic subjects makes it awkward to think differently when it comes to religion. Young intellectuals may insist for years that they are still believers, but then one day they wake up to realize that their belief has been emptied of its content, and they either throw away the empty shell or fill it with something else. That is why every mainstream Christian institution is beset these days by people who want the church to turn away from its old business of sin and salvation and devote its energies to whatever social causes are currently fashionable in the secular world.” (p. 88

Note that last line in particular, in light of many current trends among younger Christians. What Johnson warned about 20+ years ago as merely the church being “beset these days” has become the uncritical default assumption in our youth. And unfortunately, the moralistic and intellectually deficient sort of culture-warring that has prevailed in Christian educational circles for just about as long as it has been since Johnson wrote “Defeating Darwinism” has only made it all the more likely that Christian young people will keep defecting in favor of the much more viscerally-engaging and “relevant” ideologies trampling our whole culture into the dust “these days.”

There is hope: but only if classical Christian educators start taking the classical tradition much more seriously than we currently do. It isn’t enough to read the books around Harkness tables and have kids write worldview analyses that begin and end with what they (or we as the teachers) already knew. We need to learn to challenge the reductionistic kind of thinking that makes content less important than method, that substitutes a vague, subjective supernaturalism for a robustly wonder-based engagement with the created world, that teaches kids to be cynics about ideas they don’t immediately understand or that they don’t find relevant to “the real world” of living just like everyone else does Monday through Saturday, but with a little “religion” sprinkled on top in “Bible Class” and at church.

Otherwise we’ll just keep getting shallowness and keep on laying the foundations for cultural irrelevance and even actual defection from the faith.