Russell and Duenes

Why Our Children Walk Away From Christ

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I want to think out loud about this issue some more, and weave in various strands along the way. I take it as central to one’s faith in Christ that one believe in the overall narrative of Scripture. In other words, genuine faith in Jesus must include confidence in the fact that a sovereign, intelligent, good, wise, just and loving God created everything and rules over everything, that sin and rebellion entered into our human existence and brings with it the judgment and wrath of God, that God’s response to our sinfulness is a program of redemption – culminating in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that God is accomplishing his redemptive purposes in this world through His people – the church, and that God will consummate the ages of our earthly history through the return of Christ and the bringing about of the new heavens and the new earth.

I want to key in on the part that God’s people play in bringing about God’s redemptive purposes in the world. If God has saved “a people for His own possession” and made them “ambassadors for Christ” in order to bring about the promised reconciliation between Christ and the nations, then it stands to reason that God’s people, embodied in local communities, must have a shared life together that bears witness to the movings and motions of God’s gracious rule. There must be some kind of rhythm and culture, if you will, to the way in which God’s people live their shared lives of faith, which then bears witness to others around them. This rhythm and culture will obviously look different in the multitude of Christian communities around the world, but by God’s command, any genuine Christian community – no matter what language, ethnicity, geography or folkways – will reflect certain things. What are some of these things?

To list them all would go well beyond the scope of this piece, but let’s consider a few. Any genuine Christian community, anywhere in the world, will “not give up meeting together” (Heb. 10:25), will “love not the things of the world” (1 John 2:15), will be “devoted to one another in brotherly love,” (Rom. 12:10), will “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), will “show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:2), will eat the Lord’s supper together (Luke 22:19), will bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), will “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), will remember the poor (Gal. 2:10) and will “disciple the nations” (Matt. 28:19). These are not things that can be done in a radically individualistic way. There must be not only some strong identification with God’s people and program, but also significant loyalty to it, some deeply ingrained and internalized sense of the distinct, world-despised culture of redemption. The Christian has to feel, taste, if you will, the fact that his or her allegiance is to an alien worldview, a peculiar people and an other-worldly calling and mission. His or her priorities and loyalties are distinct and move along different universal and “cosmic” lines than those of his or her non-Christian counterparts. The Christian must sense that the gospel’s alternate loyalties and priorities are good, are compelling, and are in tune with reality and the way life is best lived. And perhaps most importantly, the Christian must sense that these things are true in community, among God’s people, in a shared redemptive culture, and not just individualistically.

Yet so very little in our church communities pushes us toward this, at least in my limited experience. Our children do not grow up responding to the motions of an alternate, yet winsome, communal culture. Even if they grow up in church, they do not structure their lives around the biblical plot lines and loyalties. There is a kind of “Christian culture,” but it is not largely one where the Christian feels himself a part of something transcendent, global in scope, cosmic and universal in purpose. The “hard drive” of our Christian lives is not formatted along gospel culture conforming itself to the biblical plot lines, and therefore, many children in the western church grow up identifying far more – both emotionally and intellectually – with the rhythms, loyalties and priorities of the secular culture. They see themselves at home there, rather than within God’s missional community, and therefore, the secular culture maintains a more firm “air of plausibility” within their hearts, whatever their personal and individual commitments to the faith might be.

And I wonder if this, as much as anything else, is why so many children grow up to “leave the faith.” They have never experienced truly “living in” a thick Christian community, one that inculcates a distinctive, gracious and redemptive culture, which becomes compelling for them in terms of their identity, that is, in terms of the way in which they see themselves and want others to see them. I wonder if leaving far too much of the secular “cultural hardware” in place has left our children adrift, without both the intellectual and affectional tools to remain loyal to Jesus when his gospel is tested in their lives. I wonder what role education plays in this. I wonder what role geography, urbanization and our postmodern, highly mobile, industrialized culture plays in this. And even if we knew what role these things played in our children’s abandonment of the faith, what would we as local Christian communities be prepared to do about it? Would we, by God’s grace, be willing to construct “thick” Christian community and culture by choosing differently in matters of, say, where to go to church, how to educate, how to structure our church gatherings, how to meet one another’s practical needs, and many more things?

I’ll leave it at this for now, but I wanted to put these thoughts out there, poorly formed though they may be at this point.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 9, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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