Are you or were you Already Gone?

I just read the book: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, (Master Books, Green Forest, AK: 2009). In it, Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham and marketing researcher Britt Beemer seek to understand the plight  of American Christianity as we see more and more young people leaving the church, and in most cases, never returning. They do some exhaustive surveying of those who have left the church and discover some startling statistics. Of the 20-somethings raised in a Bible-based church interviewed who no longer attend church regularly, 95% attended through middle school, 55% attended through high school, and only 11% attended through college: i.e., 90% were Already Gone by the time of college. From their findings, much of this loss is due to doubts these students have about the Bible. In addition, about two-thirds of the youth leave the church by the time they are a young adult.  Their exhortation is for the church to wake up and be the church (body) it was intended to be, faithfully adhering to and teaching from the authoritative Scriptures in a way that is relevant (defensible) to culture and history.

There is much that I think is very true and that I agree with:

  • The dismal state of the church in America and how it is losing it’s youth
  • How the authority of the Word has disintegrated in the church today
  • The church really can’t change culture (105)
  • Music is a minor element to the church at best – truth is relevant and needs to be the emphasis (110). In fact, much of the emphasis and approach for music in the church has no Biblical basis at all (127).
  • Hypocrisy and the institutionalizing of church is a major reason why young people leave (110ff)
  • The need for more interactive ways of teaching the truths of Scripture and apologetics, e.g., small group settings (125ff), similar to the early church
  • Focus on youth and young adults (135) — in fact a major priority should be to equip and let them lead and reach out to their own generations (160-161)
  • The need for revolution (141)
  • The opportunity to win some of those back who have left the church

I applaud the authors for their uncompromising view of Scripture as authoritative and the need to quit being lame in the way it is presented or glossed over in favor of “worship”.  I also appreciate their candor and critique of the way we do church. Not only the worship service but also Sunday school — which is not getting the job done. The emphasis on Bible stories and entertainment as opposed to the Bible as real and historical undoubtedly plays into the doubts raised in the minds of teenagers and young adults who encounter the sophisticated arguments of the kosmos. In addition the reliance on Sunday school to be the source of Bible teaching as opposed to the home.

 

However, I do disagree with the Young Earth view advocated by the authors and a missing element to their view of reaching the younger generation.

First, their emphasis on a Young Earth apologetic overshadows much of the good things they have to say [1]. Undoubtedly they would probably counter that I am compromised and fail to uphold the historical truth of a six 24 hr day creation and have allowed “millions of years of evolution” to creep into my view of Scripture which results in the decline of Scriptural authority and relevance and eventual milk-toast Christianity.  However, I do not believe that Scripture mandates the Young Earth view at all. There are plenty of good arguments for the days of creation not referring to 24 hour periods [2].  It may be true that the advent of naturalism and evolution may have influenced some of the old-earth interpretations of Genesis 1. However, that does not mean that they are merely compromises. The fact is that Genesis 1 is a single chapter with few details compared to the enormity of what happened during creation (the few details in Genesis 1 about creation do compare relatively well with what little is known from science). The emphasis in Genesis is the creation and fall of humanity and how God did and will deal with it. I agree with the need for effective teaching and training in handling the truth accurately, knowing the arguments of the kosmos and the apologetics to counter those arguments which includes the historical reliability, inspiration and veracity of Scripture. My experience is that Genesis 1 is not the biggest stumbling block as the authors make out. Yes it is thrown out there but there are very reasonable answers and one typically finds other issues at the heart of people’s antagonism towards Scripture, God, and/or the church which are just as if not more important to defend as well. Some of this was addressed  in Chapter 6 of their book, but I think it needs a much bigger stage.  I’m curious if the age of the universe is something we could “agree to disagree” on. I could, but the Young-Earth apologetic appears to be so intricately tied to everything else in their view, I’m just not sure. 

Second, I feel the book is missing or underemphasizing a significant reason for the loss of young people to the kosmos which is that the church is not just here to teach and emphasize truth, but it is here for a purpose: the ministry of reconciliation to the world. We are God’s ambassadors we have purpose – when young people realize this things become much more relevant. The book lacks an outward focus to reach the lost. Speaking the truth in love is the combination that must be balanced and emphasized. The lost need to see and experience the love of God which lives in the church and which touches them as people share the gospel with them in a life-giving way and not just for the purpose of “winning converts”.  The authors touch on this at the end with the application that students can be equipped to reach out to their own generation, but it is really much more than that. They need to experience and be active parts of the living Body Of Christ in which Scripture is wielded (which is stifled by the institutionalizing, worship service-oriented practices of most modern churches). When those truthing-in-love relationships are seen by the world people are drawn to Christ and that age group can turn from  a declining population to one of vibrant growth.  It seems to me that is the hope for this generation. It’s also why I am so thankful to be part of  a fellowship where students are a vibrant part of the church and not only sticking around but leading their peers to Christ.

 

1. When trying to show how far things have gone astray, their examples overly emphasize the decay of a Young Earth view of the world with those who have left the church. For example, when listing the negative beliefs of those who attended Sunday school and now have left the church, six of the sixteen characteristics  (more than a third) dealt directly with a view contrary to the Young Earth position (39). 

2. The account of Genesis 2 where man is created followed bya the population of the garden with foliage, with animals, the naming of the animals, followed by the formation of woman out of man took longer than 24 hours of Day 6 in Genesis 1:24ff. Some claim that Eve was within Adam on the 6th Day (positionally or metaphorically) and was brought out later (on the Eighth day?), but this seems as much of a “reading into the text” as saying that the days of Genesis 1 could be very long periods of time. See Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction for different views of the interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1.

5 thoughts on “Are you or were you Already Gone?”

  1. Greg, thanks so much for reviewing this book! I’ve read about halfway (until I realized that we need to be reading a different book for our trip this week). I had a tough time reading past the Young Earth focus this book has. However, I am glad that they are trying to address why people are leaving the church.

    Since I know you’re an educated scientist, the whole time I was reading I kept thinking, “I wonder what Greg would say about this.” Now I know!

  2. Great another book for my nightstand. Seriously, thanks for the write up. You’ve motivated me to get back to the books and the deep thoughts in life.

    But first let me indulge in a sanguine moment:
    “‘Cause I’m already gone
    And I’m feelin’ strong
    I will sing this vict’ry song, woo, hoo,hoo,woo,hoo,hoo..”

    I love the Eagles. :)

  3. Lisa,

    But let me tell you I got some news for you

    And you’ll soon find out it’s true

    And then you’ll have to each your life all by yourself

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