Study after study shows that this generation of twentysomethings is not interested in their parent’s Christianity, and although everyone has varying answers on why that’s happening, I can’t help but wonder if this is just another part of growing up and it’s just more apparent among the youth in the information age.
As I’ve journeyed through my twenties, I have had to face up to my own beliefs and discover what Christianity really means to me. Even though I was raised in the Church, I’ve learned more about Christianity in the last eight years than I ever imagined I would.
So, here are five things many of us have to deal with as we march into adulthood and journey through examining our beliefs:
1. There are more divisions between Christian denominations than I thought
Growing up, I never gave much thought to what other Christians believed. I was raised in an evangelical church that used the word “interdenominational” in the name, so there was a sort of openness to diversity of beliefs in my church. Even so, everyone still pretty much believed the same things.
As I grew older and made friends with everyone from Baptists to Catholics, I began to talk to these people about their own beliefs and their own convictions. My preconceptions about Christian diversity were shook to the core by some of the things many Christians denied and affirmed that did not match up with what I thought were common beliefs.
Observing the diversity of belief even within the Church can sometimes be a catalyst for doubt. How can we all call ourselves Christians and have such various expressions of the same belief system? Confusion about this was the start of my “belief bubble” slowly eroding, and I soon found myself questioning whether the whole thing was even true at all.
2. Faith has a deeper foundation
Our childlike faith often disappates as we move into adulthood, and we can start questioning what faith actually means. Is faith just knowing there’s a God and rejecting all conclusions to the contrary? Is faith blindly accepting that everything in the Bible is true?
As I asked myself these questions, I found I wasn’t the only one who had them. I found communities of skeptics who could not accept the simple talking points I knew from growing up around other believers.
Often, the journey of figure out our beliefs for ourselves starts with going back to the very beginning, abandoning the things we accepted as true and rebuilding from the ground up. For me, it started with going back to basic theism. Although I had reached a point where I wasn’t sure I believed in the God I had been taught about, I still had lingering questions about the ultimate origins of the universe and the meaning of life, and I soon discovered I was at a crossroads of empirical belief and experiential belief.
I began to retrace my steps, going back to the foundational belief that there’s a God who created the universe and He did so with a purpose in mind. I realized that I could not rely only on what my eyes could see, and I had to choose to believe that I can never really know everything. This was the start of me rebuilding my own faith.
3. Tradition is not the enemy
Having firmly grasped onto theism, I wondered if I really wanted to believe in Christianity specifically. And if so, what kind of Christian do I want to be? I started reading books. Lots of books. Not just the Bible, but works from teachers and scholars with many differing views. I read philosophers, scientists, scholars, pastors and teachers.
As I read the letters and books of these great men of faith, something resonated in me. I was seeing a clearer picture of the Christian faith than I ever had before. These people actually seemed to take Jesus’ words very seriously.
Through this time period I learned I can’t just take what other Christians tell me wholesale and expect to understand the Christian Church in her fullness. Instead, I must read the narrative from the beginning to find the oldest and truest claims of what I claim to believe myself.
4. Salvation isn’t about a way to avoid hell
Through my continual searching of the Christian faith, I quickly learned I could no longer accept Christianity merely as a tool for avoiding eternal damnation. The concept of Jesus Christ coming simply to save us from hell sounded more like an insurance plan rather than being a “new creation” as Paul wrote about.
I found a possible answer to this question in On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “For the Lord touched all parts of creation, and freed and undeceived them all from every deceit.”
This had a profound way of changing my perception of salvation. Salvation became personal, but also universal, displacing me as the center of the love story that God was in the middle of weaving. Jesus Christ died to free creation, not just me.
To put a finer point on it, salvation became filled with purpose for me. And in a world filled with empty promises, our generation needs purpose more than ever. Jesus became human and through humanity redeemed all of creation. He died not just to save us from an eternity in hell, but to draw us into eternity spent in the new heavens and new earth with Him.
5. Faith isn’t about having all the answers
Possibly the strongest points of contention for my wavering faith was stressing out about having to have an explanation for every one of my beliefs. When I’d run into an ideological dead end, I would panic and either try and forget about the nagging doubt or I’d let it overtake me until I kicked the problematic belief to the curb.
How did I overcome this nagging doubt? I didn’t.
I let doubt continue to be doubt and I categorically denied the black-and-white definitions of “certainty” and “knowledge” that I had clung to. This means faith is not about believing in something you can’t see against all facts, but it’s clinging to hope in the middle of realistic chaos. It’s choosing to believe in God when you cannot see Him.
The issue with twentysomethings leaving the Church is a multi-faceted issue, and everyone seems to want to crack the code. I don’t have any answers, but I know as a twentysomething myself, I re-found Christianity on my own terms.
When I moved out of my parents’ house physically, I had to lay my own foundation and build my own house spiritually. In building this house, we should never stop adding rooms, never stop renovating and re-evaluating our beliefs. Doubt sheds light as we grow and explore our own existence. God may reveal Himself in the nooks and crannies of rooms unexplored as well as the common room.
Freelance writer, blogger, full-time husband and father of three. Zach is also co-founder of Theologues.com, a website for Christians to grow in learning about their faith. You can find him on Twitter or his blog.