I'm reading a new release by Michael Horton titled Christless Christianity. So far this book is incredible and may be the best book I'll read all year. One terrifying observation made in his book, however, is that recent research suggests that there is little difference between churched and unchurched teens in their ability to articulate the actual content of their faith. Citing Christian Smith, Horton makes the following observation.
Smith observed that most teens--including those reared in evangelical churches who said their faith is "very important" and makes a big difference in their lifes--are "stunningly inarticulate" concerning the actual content of their faith...In contraast to previous generations that at least had some residual knowledge of the Bible and basic Christian teachings, it seems there is very little serious ability to state, reflect upon, or examine their beliefs, much less to relate them to daily life. Many young people seem to be living on the hype and the familiar circle of friends in the youth group, both of which eventually lose their influence, especially in college.
It seems then, that for many teens, church is a place to belong instead of a place to become. No longer are they challenged to learn God's word and be changed by it, but instead are invited into a safe place for "relationship building." Pastors, parents, and youth pastors need to wake up to this growing trend in the church. These are the future leaders of the church, and the gospel they will be peddling will not be the gospel of the Bible, but instead the gospel of what Smith and Horton call, moralistic, therapeutic deism. Moralistic, therapeutic deism is defined this way
1. God created the world
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in
the Bible and most world religions.
3. The central goal o flife is to be happy and to feel good about
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when
needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
In simpler terms, this is the gospel popular TV icons such as Joel Osteen and Robert Schuller, but it is not the gospel of grace. This distorted and perverted gospel will serve to turn the church into an institution of damnation rather than salvation because it explains away sin and had no need of a savior or of redemption. As Mark Dever writes, A gospel that in no way offends the sinner has not been understood. Why? Because the message of the cross is a message of offense. It's not a message of self-esteem and fitting in, it is a message of death and life in Christ.
If the best our teenagers can offer to explain their salvation is that they have "Jesus in their heart," they do not have a firm grasp on salvation. Salvation is God's miraculous activity of giving life to the spiritually dead. It is the reconciling act of Christ on the cross that appeases God's wrath so that his enemies can become his children. Our teens need to know the true gospel, not the feel good gospel and it is the responsibility of their parents and pastors to educate them.