A recent survey indicates that about 70% of young people stop going to church between the ages of 18 and 22. Many eventually do come back. However, 4 out of every 10 kids who grow up in evangelical churches will leave the church when they get out of high school… and NEVER return. NEVER.
Think about that for a moment.
I was very young in my Christian faith when I took one of my first religion classes at a secular college. It was entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”. I thought it would be nothing more than a Bible study and an easy grade.
Boy was I wrong.
After several hours in class, I was scratching my head, wondering whether or not Christianity was really true …or not! It was a mind blowing experience that rattled my faith. Thankfully, I had some good Christian friends and a few good resources from InterVarsity Press to tackle my intellectual doubts.
Today, if a young person goes off to college and takes a religion class, chances are very, very high that they will read a textbook written by Bart Ehrman, professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ehrman grew up in the heartland of evangelical academia, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Ehrman eventually abandoned his Christian faith and is now perhaps the leading, agnostic New Testament textual scholar in the country. Given all of the TV documentaries and New York Times bestsellers, Ehrman is practically an icon of American popular culture, too. Ehrman’s latest book, How Jesus Became God: Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, promises to challenge deeply held beliefs by Christians (note the up-and-coming book-length response by Australian scholar Michael Bird and others, with the provocative title, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman). If you think young people in our evangelical churches will not be impacted by prominent skeptics like Bart Ehrman, then I am sorry, you are terribly deluded. I will pray for you.
New Testament scholar Darrell Bock, along with fellow scholar Andreas Köstenberger and pastor Josh Chatraw have written a very accessible book that helps to orient young people, parents, and youth ministers to address the type of issues that Ehrman and others are raising that are typically never discussed in most evangelical churches today. Here is the promo video for the book written by Bock and his team, Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World:
From what I have read so far, this book does not go for the combative, culture war mentality so predominant in many apologetic books of the past. Instead, Bock and his colleagues are trying to foster a type of engaging dialogue that encourages conversation.
I think this is the way to go forward in apologetics and the way to approach the type of questions that Bart Ehrman raises. I know of at least one high school student graduating and heading off to college this year. I plan on getting them a copy of this book.
How are you going to address the issues that Bart Ehrman raises?
When I was taking that “Jesus of Nazareth” class in college, I had to work through in my mind what it meant to read scripture in a devotional way, like how a follower of Jesus typically does, and what is often called the historical critical method, which is basically a way of looking at the biblical text from the viewpoint of an historian, whether that person be a Christian or a critic of Christianity. Bart Ehrman in Jesus Interrupted argues that reading the Bible devotionally and reading it as an historian does are completely irreconcilable approaches. Here, Darrell Bock corrects such a misguided distinction: