This is an observation, an assessment, and some prayerfully considered recommendations for the upcoming generation of evangelicals. There are rough seas ahead for them, far more hazardous than what their parents have experienced. They are heading into a perfect storm of apostasy for which few of them seem to be prepared. Much of what they will face and the fact that they are ill equipped to successfully weather what's ahead is at least in part the fault of the preceding generation—my generation. That is not to say that each generation is not responsible for their own sin (Deuteronomy:24:16; Ezekiel:18:20), or that they are merely victims of their environment, but nevertheless, my own generation failed specifically (although I thank the Lord for the exceptions) to do what God commanded of the Israelites:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children....Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children....And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children.... (Deuteronomy:6:4-7; 4:9-10; 11:19-21)
"Evangelical," as the term is used in this article, refers to Christians who consider the Bible to be their authority in all matters of faith and practice. In other words, they profess to go by the Scriptures to guide their lives. Sadly, that isn't much more than lip service for most professing evangelicals, if various surveys identifying their beliefs and practices have even a modicum of accuracy. But does the same apply to the upcoming generation of "Bible-believing" Christians? There's little doubt of that, although the blame for their condition can certainly be shared with my generation.
Who among believing parents can honestly say that they heeded the instruction that God gave to the Israelites to "diligently" teach their own children the Word of God? As I think back on raising my five children, now in their 20s and 30s, my wife and I "coulda done better." Although we knew that their instruction in the Lord was to be first and foremost our responsibility at home, too often we turned them over to a Sunday school class, a church program, and/or a youth pastor (who in my view has one of the most difficult callings in ministry). Not that those experiences were all bad; some of them truly blessed our kids. The basic problem was that we lost sight at times of our personal responsibility to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," allowing the church to become our family's "spiritual babysitter."
That fault is hardly unique to my family or my generation but is widespread among evangelicals today. The outcome is of no small consequence, contributing to a generation of true and professing Christians who arefunctionally biblically illiterate. They know how to read, they have Bibles, but they rarely put the two together. That creates a serious quandary. James exhorts us in his epistle to be "doers of the Word" and not hearers only. Obviously, if they don't know God's Word, they can't do what it says. Furthermore, most have come to rely on what others tell them the Bible says. They have been conditioned by being "spoon-fed" the Scriptures, and many seem okay with that. Spoon-feeding is reasonable for baby believers until they are ready for the meat of the Scriptures, but God's Word tells us to wean them off that process as soon as possible(Hebrews:5:12-13). It's tragic that such a condition prevails among young evangelical Christians today.
Tragic? Yes. First of all, it brings into question whether they were taught and have understood and truly believed the gospel, the good news that Jesus paid the full penalty for their sins and that He offers salvation to mankind as a free gift that must be received by grace through faith alone (Romans:5:10; 1 Corinthians:15:3; Ephesians:2:8-9; Hebrews:2:17). Although the acceptance of eternal life with Jesus requires only child-like faith, living one's life in Christ is a growth process that begins with a new birth (being born again spiritually) and then develops into spiritual maturity. At least that's the biblical plan. For the majority of the next generation of believers, however, their situation seems to be a case of arrested development. The reasons for, and the dire consequences of, such a condition are numerous.
During the last three decades, many have experienced Christianity in church settings that major in entertainment rather than in teaching the Scriptures and discipling those who attend. Thus, they are the products of years of church-growth marketing schemes that have attempted to fill pews with the "unchurched" and keep them coming back by using consumer-oriented tactics. It's a "keep the customer happy," seeker-friendly approach that has critically diluted biblical content as churches compete with the world in order to interest their youth. The game rooms of some mega-churches could put to shame their cities' most popular arcades. The marketing mentality of "do whatever it takes to attract and keep the kids coming back to church" reflects a "bait and switch" scheme, and in most situations the "bait" (games, music that mimicks the world, and entertainment) overwhelms the intended "switch" (learning the Bible). That endeavor has both trivialized and marginalized the instruction of the Word of God for those who have been subjected to that worldly approach. The outcome has resulted in a shallow Christianity for millions of young professing Christians.
Biblical shallowness, however, has many contributors. Even in situations where scriptural content has made an impact on our youth, quite often it has been accepted simply because an engaging preacher or teacher captured their imagination. Although that condition is not exclusive to the next generation of believers, it has the overall effect of stunting one's growth. If one believes a biblical doctrine only because they were persuaded by a compelling teacher, they may become dependent upon the teacher instead of being rooted in the understanding of the Scriptures. Believing something because "so-and-so said so" is faith by proxy, a faith that isn't one's own. Such an attached belief is not only wrongly applied, but it does little to strengthen one's faith. Moreover, it may be tied to the spiritual status of the person who taught the doctrine, and should the preacher/teacher go south morally or doctrinally, so may go his followers.
Akin to a faith by attachment, and just as potentially destructive, is a faith acquired by osmosis. Both are secondhand. Faith by osmosis rarely goes beyond what a person has "picked up" from his believing family members, friends, teachers, and assorted Christians throughout his life. Scripture does say that "faith comes by hearing," but for that to produce fruit, the verse goes on to say that the "hearing" has to be "by the word of God" (Romans:10:17). To this James adds that we are to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only," the latter causing one to be vulnerable to deception (James:1:22).
If deception is a potential problem for one who hears the Word of God but doesn't do what it says, what might be the situation for those who only incidentally hear the Word and have nothing more than a superficial knowledge of it? Ignorance may be bliss for some, but scripturally it makes one the "devil's delight." Since the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is the only formidable weapon against the one whom the Bible calls "devoid of truth, the father of lies, a liar and deceiver, who goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour," what then of those who can't handle the sword of the Spirit—whose Christianity has been shaped by most of the conditions mentioned above? When you add it up, they are indeed functionally biblically illiterate and therefore defenseless against God's adversary.
Young evangelicals who are involved in ministry tell me that the increasing state of easy access to information through the internet, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and various blogs and apps has compounded the difficulty of encouraging their peers to study the Bible in depth; what's more, it reinforces their appetite for instant gratification. That's comparable to some in my generation, who were of the mentality: "Why read the book when you can read the CliffsNotes version?"—on steroids! It's also been noted that such believers areaware that they are seriously deficient in understanding the Scriptures-—which has led to other problems: a) they are easily intimidated by those who tell them to leave the Bible answers to the scholars and experts, and b) they tend to seek out the latest Christian books for enlightenment rather than gleaning insights from the Bible itself. Once again, all of this makes them ripe for deception.
If that real-life scenario regarding the next generation of evangelicals sounds disheartening, brace yourself for the rest of the story that they will be facing. When Jesus was asked about the last days, His first words were, "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matthew:24:4). Deception was His characterization of the time prior to His second coming. In Luke:18:8, He further underscores the situation when He implies that the faith, the actual living out the truth of God's Word, will be scant among men at His return. We are given many prophecies that tell us what to look for and when that time will be drawing near. Scripture overwhelmingly declares that escalating apostasy will precede His second coming. No one other than God knows the exact time of Christ's return for His church, the Bride of Christ, to take her to heaven, but as these apostasies escalate, it makes a rapture event even more imminent. The apostasy is primarily geared to the advancement of the religion of the Antichrist. It will include seductive beliefs and practices, most of which have a form of godliness but are diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. They are beliefs that seem right unto men(Proverbs:14:12; 16:25), and they are taught either by those who are themselves apostate—deceived professing Christians—or by true believers, the latter unwittingly (Acts:20:28-31). This false universal religion won't just suddenly arrive; its preparation began at the fall of mankind and will culminate following the rapture of all believers prior to the beginning of the Antichrist's seven-year reign.
Has the apostasy captured the hearts and minds of our young generation of evangelicals? Certainly there are many who have not succumbed to the rampant deception, even though they may be ill equipped to maintain a steadfastness in the faith. No doubt it is their love for Jesus and the grace of God that has kept them thus far. Furthermore, among young people, there are encouraging signs that they have a desire to see biblical Christianity manifested in their lives as they pursue a closer walk with the Lord and a deeper understanding of His Word. Yet too few are truly prepared for the spiritual battle and the rough seas ahead, which will only intensify. Although the next generation may not be the generation in which the Lord returns, it will nevertheless face conditions unprecedented among the generations that preceded it.
The Lord willing, in part two we will address specifically some of the more serious issues that have already led multitudes off course from God's Word and have shipwrecked the faith of many. Those turbulent waters feature the unbiblical "self" teachings, such as self-esteem and self-love; the fear of being considered intolerant; the desire to be accepted and respected by the world. These times also exhibit gross lack of discernment by churches and individuals who allow community and relationships to overshadow biblical truth; who buy into the pseudo-sciences of evolution and psychotherapy; who appear to have an inability to recognize the heresies of the emerging church movement, the contemplative movement, and mystical and occult practices, the word-faith and healing and prosperity movement, and the inner-healing movement. There is a lack of understanding regarding Replacement Theology; the rise of anti-Semitism within the church; yoga in the church; the false gospel and anti-biblical dogmas of Roman Catholicism; and no apparent concern regarding the errors of the youth-oriented para-church organizations; the misdirected propensity to help others by means of a social gospel, eliminating social injustice, and other programs that lead to "works salvation."
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith and one of the pastoral leaders of the generation that would succeed his own, these sobering words of warning:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy:4:3-4)
In addition to the warning, he also gave Timothy instructions for helping to correct those things that would take place and would draw believers away from God's truth:
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season [always be ready!]; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine [hang in there with the teachings of Scripture]. (2 Timothy:4:2)
That's the simple solution to anchor a generation adrift: simple, as in "not complex." Yet neither is it easy—it demands discipline and diligence.
It is our prayer that this ministry and believers who are of my generation will, by God's grace and enablement, come alongside those of the next generation of believers, helping them in their walk with the Lord, supplying information where it is needed, and, most important, encouraging them in the diligent study of the Word of God. TBC