“UnChristians”- An Examination

What do we say about “UnChristians”?

I just read about “UnChristians,” former Christians who have walked away or drifted away from faith. Many are 20- or 30-somethings.

Commentators can’t agree on whether this trend is new.

Some researchers who are watching young people leave Christianity say this is a normal, “life stage” pattern. In past generations, those who left the faith came back, often when they entered marriage, bore children, or started a career. These researchers say the same is true today.

Other scholars sound alarm bells. Those starting adulthood do naturally “pull away” from their family or community of origin, they say. But the rate of faith abandonment is unprecedented. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings are leaving in larger numbers and coming back in smaller numbers. The number of UnChristians who come back to faith when Junior is born is remarkably smaller today.

Based on what I’m seeing, I think the reality is between these extremes. I’m not an alarmist. But something broader is going on today, compared to past generations.

What causes all this?

This question is obvious. The answer isn’t. I agree some life stage issues in previous generations are still in play today. I also think our culture is shifting in fundamental ways.

I think an historic Judeo-Christian consensus in Western culture is eroding. I don’t mean that fewer people are Christians; I just don’t know that. I do mean that the Christian way of thought and life is not culturally supported or socially respected as it was in the past. I’m not wringing my hands about this. I’m just describing what I think is true.

I do feel confident about one thing: today’s UnChristians aren’t getting deep wisdom regarding the truth of our faith.

At an American Sociological Association meeting a few years ago, a team of scholars from the University of Connecticut and Oregon State University claimed that “the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in de-conversion was in amplifying existing doubt.” That is, the new UnChristians who are walking away from faith often shared “burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member … only to receive trite, unhelpful answers” (cited in CT, ).

This is tragic. Here’s why: the intellectual grounding of the Christian faith is profound. But that message isn’t getting to where it’s needed. The long-dominant myth that faith and thought oppose each other still carries weight.

I long for a day when the church gets it right: deep wisdom, when it digs all the way to the fundamental assumptions of thought, supports faith. Admittedly, narrowly-defined technical knowledge can often contradict the Christian faith. But the knowledge claims that seem to negate Christian teaching typically overlook more fundamental assumptions. And when we dig up and examine these buried assumptions, the conflict between faith and knowledge dissolves.

Let me give one example.

I just make a pretty bold claim. I can’t produce a full meal of a response. Let me give an appetizer.

I’ve heard people combine these statements into an argument:

· If you can’t prove something scientifically, then it can’t be true.

· The claim “God exists” can’t be proved scientifically.

· So the claim “God exists” is false … meaning God does not exist.

Now this argument sounds impressive. We all believe in science. Science is intellectually powerful. So the argument seems irrefutable. So atheists, following this scientific line of thinking, feel justified in their atheism. And believers, following the same logic, feel embarrassed about their faith.

This cluster of claims is deeply flawed. It feels irrefutable, but that’s only if we leave a key assumption deeply buried. The way to refute the argument is to dig up this assumption and examine it carefully.

So let’s reexamine the claim, “If you can’t prove something scientifically, then it can’t be true.” The whole train of thought hinges on that.

This assumption sets up a rule a thought requiring us to support every belief scientifically. But the question is: Has the assumption itself been supported scientifically? Well, no! In fact, it can’t be supported scientifically because it’s not that sort of claim. So it doesn’t (can’t) meet its own requirement, and on its own ground, it’s self-refuting. All that means that the train of thought I cited above will never even leave the station—let alone reach the destination which says there is good reason to disbelieve in God.

This is just one example. It’s a single point among hundreds that Christians can weave together to form a web of belief which shows the Christian faith is not just consistent with the deepest human wisdom, but is strongly supported by that wisdom.

All of which means that UnChristians who feel knowledge fails to support wisdom have it backwards.

And that means that the current patterns of faith abandonment demand, among other things, a humble but well-conceived strategy for spreading the good news: the deepest wisdom supports the Christian faith.

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