by Bob Wheeler

In a recent CNN Belief Blog evangelical blogger and author Rachel Held Evans tells us that she is frequently asked to speak on the question of “Why millennials are leaving the church.” She recites a familiar litany of complaints. Surveys, she says, show that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political too exclusive, old-fashioned unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She then makes the interesting observation that simply adapting a more contemporary worship style will not succeed in drawing young people back into the church. “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. . . You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re no leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

    It must be admitted that Ms. Evans makes many valid criticisms. For too long the institutional church has put style over substance, only to find itself outdated and irrelevant as soon as styles change. And yet it is strange that she would also criticize the church for being too “old-fashioned.” Which is it? Trying too hard to be “cool” or too old-fashioned?

    Ms. Evans also criticizes the church for being “too political.” But here criticism here rings a little hollow as well, for in practically the same breath she complains that we are “unconcerned with social justice.” Might she not be trying to replace a right-wing political agenda with a left-wing one?

    It can be argued that the Christian Right is too closely aligned with one particular political party. But in retrospect it is a little hard to see what evangelicals could have done differently. When the United States Supreme Court hands down an atrocious decision like Roe v. Wade, should Christians simply stand by quietly without a whimper of protest? Where, then, would our “concern with social justice” be? And when one of the major political parties aligns itself with radical feminism, where are social conservatives expected to go? The Democrats effectively drove us into the arms of the other party.

    But more to the point, Ms. Evans seems to suggest that the church should leave room for doubt, accommodate modern science, and change its sexual morality. “We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith . . . We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers . . . We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome to our faith communities.”

    It is at this point that it becomes evident that Ms. Evans has grossly misunderstood the nature of Christianity. The aim of Christianity is to bring individuals into a real relationship with the true and living God. But God is eternal, transcendent, and unchanging. He is the Creator and sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He has revealed His will to us through His chosen prophets and apostles. And what He expects of us is that we bow before Him in humble adoration and submission to His will.

    We suspect that the trouble with many young adults raised in Christian homes is that they have only a secondhand faith. They know what they have been taught to believe, and they know that the larger world does not share those beliefs. They are desperately trying to find a way to “fit in.” They find themselves caught with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. But Christianity requires repentance and faith. It requires a clean break with the world and a firm commitment to Christ.

    At one point in her discussion Ms. Evans stated that millennials long for “faith communities in which they are save asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” Apparently it never occurred to her that there is a contradiction between faith and doubt. It is understandable that people have doubts, and they deserve our understanding – but they do not belong in a “faith” community. It is fine for a seeker outside of the church to look for answers to honest questions, and we welcome an open discussion of the issues. But a seeker should never be admitted to the membership of the church until his doubts have been resolved and he is ready to commit himself wholeheartedly to Christ. Baptism is a confession of faith, not an admission of doubt.

    In a way many millennials are probably victims of the very methodology Ms. Evans criticizes. For too long the church has tried to attract converts by appealing to their sense of self-interest and their thirst for entertainment, instead of challenging them with sin and righteousness, heaven and hell. The result is a host of sociological conversions — people who want to think of themselves as members of the evangelical community, but lack a genuine encounter with the living God and thus are not convinced of the truth of orthodox, biblical Christianity.

    Ms. Held says, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.” Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV). Christianity is a life of faith and obedience, of love and self-sacrifice.

    As for the church, it needs to do what it should have been doing all along. It needs to challenge the world with the truth, call sinners to repentance, and point them to the cross. “. . . each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:13). Are we not looking at wood, hay, and straw?