Losing Faith?

In the newest issue of Mission Frontiers, Dr. Ralph Winter cites an alarming statistic in the first of a number of articles on losing one’s faith. He writes, “Nowhere, in fact, is this catastrophe more obvious than in the United States. Here, estimates are that 75% of teenagers in Evangelical homes will lose their faith after high school. One denominational study says 85%.”

I cannot find the documentation for these statistics, but Dr. Winter is not one given to making up statistics out of thin air. If even close, this should give all of us in evangelical, Bible believing and teaching churches something to think about. Later, he mentions a number of currently prominent debunkers of faith who were once considered one of us. He includes:
Hector Avalos, former Pentecostal minister, now Professor of religious studies at Iowa and an avowed secular humanist, and author of The End of Biblical Studies.
Bart Ehrman, Moody and Wheaton grad, whose latest book is God’s Problem, How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.
John Marks, former Young Life staffer, author of Reasons to Believe, a book that concluded there were none.

A succeeding article by Dr. Ruth Tucker reflects on the factors that led former missionaries and pastors to give up their faith, and it makes for depressing reading indeed. One take away from the article: you cannot argue someone back to faith any more than you could argue them into faith originally. Any “restoration” takes the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Is this new news? In fact, it is not. Ever since John wrote his first epistle, there have been those “who went out from us” but were not really part of us, even though they looked and talked the part.

But what is it that causes the majority of evangelical young people in the U.S. to abandon their faith after high school, with only a minority seeming to return after wandering in the world’s “wilderness” for a number of years? Theologically we can go back and forth about election. We might wonder if families have failed to “train up a child in the way he should go,” but then again some of the wanderers have brothers and sisters who don’t stray.  The children in our Awana programs, Sunday schools, and youth groups rarely leave them saying that they are not “saved,” yet nationally three out of four will not be following Jesus a few years past high school.

What might we do?  For starters, remember the parable of the seed and soils that we studied in Mark 4.  If we learn anything there, it is that salvation is a process that has a definite beginning, yet only can be seen to be taking place as fruit appears.  Perhaps if we were less insistent that our children were saved, we would be more careful to encourage them to continue to seek Christ, to look at their lives, and even examine themselves to see if they are in the faith as they grow older. 

We might also remember that Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go…”) is a proverb that describes reality, but not a guarantee in all cases.  Our best efforts as believing parents do not assure us that our children will trust the Lord.

Third, we might be much more intentional about training our children and young people in the Scriptures at a deeper level, wrestling with questions like the existence of evil sometime before a crisis or tragedy occurs.  Teaching freshmen at Cedarville University, I must say that I am appalled at the lack of general Bible knowledge of many of my students who come from Christian homes and evangelical churches.  Worse, they not only lack Bible facts, they have no theology–a coherent system of biblical thought that helps them know how to think about questions that come to them. 

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Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. Thanks for mentioning my book. However, I should say that your plan of better Bible education
    may not always help. Deeper Bible study is precisely what made unbelievers out of many
    of the so-called New Atheists (e.g., Ehrman). I address this issue in detail in my book, The End of Biblical Studies.


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