Ever met an ex-Christian? I know a few. Maybe you are that someone. Sociologists who study 18-to-30-year-olds are currently debating as to whether or not the large number of people turning away from faith are a permanent trend or something that will reverse itself over time.
Now I am not here to suggest that I know the one-size-fits-all reason as to why people jettison the faith they once held onto so dearly. What I do know is that I heard a recent explanation that both surprised and challenged me as a pastor.
Skye Jethani, in a short Vimeo online video entitled "Why the Mass Exit?" begins by stating that all human religion is based on the belief that we share a dangerous world. Our religions, in effect, are used as a tool to gain control over our circumstances. Stated slightly differently, religion protects us from the dangerous world by helping us gain control over it (or the God over it).
In case you think I'm quoting one of the new atheists, Skye is a Christian leader and directs his sharpest comments at the approaches we commonly use in Christianity. In short order, he diagrams four common approaches or postures that Christians use to control God.
The first, "Life Under God" is where we seek God's favour, influence, or blessing by our use of morality. The only problem is that this approach leads people (especially young people) to struggle with feeling they are a profound disappointment to the God they are trying to please. The second, "Life Over God," is where we use biblical laws or principles to bring us the success that we are told the correct application promises. Simply discover and follow God's timeless principles and God's favour or blessing will surely follow. The only problem, according to Skye is, "what do you do if do all the right things and your finances are still a mess, your kids are still jerks and your spouse is still leaving you?"
The third posture, by far the most popular, is "Life From God." In this posture, we come to God so He can meet our many personal needs and desires. This is the faith held by most Christians in the church and Skye say (with a measure of sarcasm) "if you really want to do well by this posture ask people what they want and tell them that God is the way they get it."Again he queries his listeners to wrestle with where people are left when God doesn't come through like they expect or a set of needs remain stubbornly unmet?
The final posture "Life For God," is where we reverse the previous stance and tell people they exist to serve God. This activist approach gets people to do more for God and gain their significance by changing the world around them. We pastors love this one.
The problem with each of these four postures is that while they each contain an element of truth, each approach fails to satisfy the deepest longing of our souls when used "bearing walls." They also don't measure up with an honest approach to reality. The end result of our best intentions is that certain people walk away from God hurt, confused, angry or disappointed. God notoriously fails to play by the rules we thought He was bound to. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, I have been guilty at times of giving the impression that you can cut a deal with God. This is why Skye states that despite our best efforts, the church has often served to inoculate people to the true gospel rather than leading them to it.
So what is the true gospel? I'll give you a hint: think of the coming season-or the word "Immanuel"-that should get you started down a different path.
? Vern Tompke is the lead agitator at the Vineyard Community Church. Reach him at email@example.com.