. . . his blood I will require at your hand (Ezekiel 3:18).
I have been saying for a long time now that what young people of this generation need, what they have always needed, is a direct, passionate, declaration of the truth as it is in Jesus. David Murray, in citing an article by Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation, Birmingham, Alabama1 makes this point very well. Larry Taunton wanted to know why so many college-age students, who grew up in the church, have left Christianity and now call themselves atheists. So he began asking questions and his conclusions are intriguing. Murray summarizes Taunton’s main points and writes:
1. They had attended church. Most of them had a church background and had chosen atheism in reaction to Christianity.
2. The mission and message of their churches was vague. While there were many messages about doing good in the community, they seldom saw the relationship between the message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.
3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions. Churches did not address questions like creation versus evolution, sexuality, reliability of the Bible, the purpose of life, etc. Messages were bland, shallow, irrelevant, and boring.
4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously. This is summed up in one student’s response, ‘I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.’
5. Ages 14-17 were decisive. Most embraced unbelief in the high school years.
6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one. Although all gave rational reasons for becoming atheists, for most there were powerful, emotional reasons too – usually associated with suffering.
7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism. Instead of being ‘converted’ through the popular New Atheists, most were influenced by YouTube videos and website forums.
From here Murray makes seven recommendations, based on each of Taunton’s seven observations. What are the lessons for a stronger Christianity?
1. The church must evangelize its own as well as those outside the church. We cannot assume that just because kids go to church, they are saved and thus will continue to attend. Our first mission-field is our own family and church. This also requires professing believers to believe, speak, and act consistently because so many who left the church were turned off by hypocrisy.
2. Our message must be clear and gospel-centred. All doctrine, practice, service, and devotion must continually be tied to the centre of the gospel, the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We must tackle the hard questions. We cannot simply preach nice, heart-warming, encouraging, and inspiring sermons. We must face the reality of our current culture and its varied challenges to Christian faith. And if we do engage these questions, then we must do so fairly, lovingly, and honestly.
4. Evangelize passionately and persuasively. Students were unimpressed by dispassionate presentations of the truth and a reluctance to press the claims of Christ upon them. Perhaps this is the most surprising finding of all. We have somehow been convinced that sermons must be more like lectures or just conversational – cool, calculated, casual discussions that present truth with as little feeling as possible. We have come to believe that we must not be ‘pushy’, emotional, or earnest in our witness. But according to students, this bland approach is a complete turn-off.
5. High School years are more dangerous than college years. We cannot wait until college to equip young people with spiritual armour and arms.
6. Appeal to the heart as well as the head. As most people turned to atheism for emotional reasons, usually related to suffering, we must also appeal to their emotions to win them back. We cannot just offer cold logic and philosophy, nor even just biblical truth. We must communicate love, joy, and peace in our witness, as well as offer them an experience of these healing Christian emotions through the Christ who purchased them through his own suffering.
7. Use the internet to promote Christian truth. Many kids are in church and Christian youth groups a couple of hours per week, but are spending twenty to thirty hours per week online. Unless we give them some healthy, regular alternatives to the videos and forums which are overtly and covertly attacking the Christian faith, then we should not be surprised if they gradually drift from the faith.
So, what does this mean for us? Yahweh spoke through Ezekiel to the people of Judah who, due to their stubborn, unrepentant idolatry were facing impending judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. Ezekiel was to serve as Yahweh’s watchman to the house of Israel. That is, whatever word Yahweh gave him, Ezekiel was to speak to his covenant people. The message was one of warning. He was to say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die.’ That is, judgment is coming on all who do not repent and flee to the only Saviour and lover of their souls. And Yahweh has a warning for Ezekiel too. ‘If . . . you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered yourself.’ Has anything changed? Are we somehow to mitigate the prophetic word of judgment simply because we want to gain a hearing or be hip or cool? Do you really believe your neighbours, high school and college students, are on the road to hell if they do not have life in Jesus Christ? Do you even care? Why would you think this warning to Ezekiel, ‘. . . but his blood I will require at your hand,’ would not also apply to you?
Can we, once for all, put away ‘cool and hip’ and speak directly, intentionally, and passionately to people, warning them to flee from the wrath of God which is to come and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!
This is why I love my street preacher brethren who are regularly preaching to college students who really get it. Put away your cowardice and ambivalence and be a watchman, warning those around you of impending doom, offering them deliverance in the great Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ.
- The Aquila Report, October 30, 2014. You can read Taunton’s entire article at The Atlantic, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity, June 6, 2013.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Eagles’ Wings January 20, 2023
In Exodus 19:4 God says that he bore his people on eagles’ wings. What does that mean? It’s a picture he returns to in Deuteronomy 32:11, where he says he dealt with Israel Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on […]
A Pastoral Mistake January 19, 2023
I often make the same pastoral mistake. It is not deliberate, it is often well-intentioned, sometimes it is even hopeful. It is this: to presume upon the biblical knowledge of the people to whom I speak. I do not at all mean by this to deliver a backhanded insult, appearing to confess a shortcoming of […]