Young Atheists Diagnose Anemic Christianity

The following excerpts are from an article in The Atlantic that I read recently, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity, by Larry Alex Taunton. The piece was about a nationwide survey of young, college atheists as to why they lost their faith.

Now the president of his campus’s SSA (Secular Student Alliance), Phil was once the president of his Methodist church’s youth group. He loved his church (“they weren’t just going through the motions”), his pastor (“a rock star trapped in a pastor’s body”), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim (“a passionate man”). Jim’s Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: “He didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.”

Listening to his story I had to remind myself that Phil was an atheist, not a seminary student recalling those who had inspired him to enter the pastorate. As the narrative developed, however, it became clear where things came apart for Phil. During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.

When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

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  1. dr. james willingham   •  

    As a former atheist, I read with interest the foregoing article. One of the things I addressed during my forays in the intellectual realm was the nature and effect of the biblical ideas. By the time I came to Southeastern Seminary, I was working on naming the phenomenon of the nature of these truths and how they influence a believer’s behavior. The terms I use are crisonist and Crisontological, noting that the truths are apparently contradictory and not meant to be reconciled but held in a tension which enables a believer to be balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. This, in short, I believe, is the answer to the issues that are now being used to disabuse Christians from their faith.

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