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Forget millennials. How will churches reach Generation Z?

Image courtesy of Jen Johnson via Unsplash - http://bit.ly/2qqdnvS

For the last decade, church experts have been wrestling over the best ways to reach and retain “millennials,” which is a phrase the describes individuals born from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. Data shows that many millennials leave the church during their college years, and some never return. The fastest growing religious identifier among this generation is “spiritual but not religious.”

But as millennials age, get married, and start families, they are no longer the only “young people” that churches must consider. A new cohort has risen: “Generation Z” or individuals born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Generation Z diverges from millennials in many ways and presents unique challenges and opportunities for churches who hope to capture their attention.

For this reason, I decided to speak with Pastor James Emery White about his new book, “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.” Here we discuss what sets these young people apart from their elders and what he believes it means for modern ministry, evangelism, and apologetics.

RNS: What do you mean when you say that the church is at the beginning of a ‘seventh age?’

JEW: During my studies at Oxford, I was introduced to the writings of a Catholic historian named Christopher Dawson. He had an intriguing thesis he introduced just after WWII that I have come to appreciate: that the history of the Christian church can be divided into segments of 300-400 years, and that each of these “ages” began — and then ended — in crisis. The nature of each crisis was the same: intense attack by new challenges, if not enemies, from within and from without the church. Apart from new spiritual determination and drive, the church would have lost the day. Dawson accounted for six such ages at the time of his writing. I believe we are now living at the start of another — a seventh age.

Image courtesy of Baker Books

RNS: Everyone keeps talking about millennials, but you’ve chosen to talk about Generation Z. Who are they, and why are they so important?

JEW: They are the youngest generational cohort on the planet — and the largest. This means that in the coming years they will not simply influence culture, but be culture. Added to this is the fact that they are the first post-Christian generation in American history. I would argue that this makes them the most pressing generation to study. They will be the most influential religious force in the West and the heart of the missional challenge facing the Christian church.

RNS: You say that Generation Z is the first truly post-Christian generation. Yet more than 70 percent of Americans are Christian and more than a third of Americans attend church regularly. How are they ‘post-Christian?’

JEW: I would push back a bit on 70 percent being “Christian,” at least in light of how the majority of that 70 percent are self-defining and self-designating the term. If we mean Bible-believing, heaven-and-hell existing, Jesus-resurrecting Christians, the number would drop rather precipitously. If you are going to contend for 70 percent of the American population being Christian, the majority of that number would be “Christian” in name only.

The latest research shows that for those between the ages of 18-29, 39 percent would actually place themselves in the “nones” or religiously unaffiliated category. As for a third of Americans attending church regularly, that means that two-thirds (again, a majority) do not. The word “post” means “past” or “after,” so “post-Christian” means “after” the dominance of Christian ideas and influence. To my thinking and observation, this is where we are culturally.

RNS: What are the unique concerns and questions Generation Z has about faith?

JEW: I’ll give you three, though there are many more. First, they have a strong desire to make a difference with their lives and are attracted to what will enable them to make that difference. A faith that is privately engaging, but socially irrelevant, will not attract them. Second, traditional morality will be a tricky conversation, as they are not only sexually fluid themselves, but consider relational acceptance and lifestyle affirmation to be synonymous. Individual freedom is simply a core value. Third, a final faith question will revolve around their amazingly deep sense of awe and wonder about the universe. More than any other generation, Generation Z has an openness to spirituality via cosmology.

RNS: How well equipped are most churches to meet the needs of Generation Z?

JEW: Sadly, the majority are not well positioned at all. On the most superficial of levels, most churches are divorced from the technological world Generation Z inhabits. But on the deeper level, they are divorced from the culture itself in such a way as to be unable to build strategic bridges — relationally, intellectually, aesthetically — to reach Generation Z. The church simply has too many blind spots.

RNS: What are the church’s biggest blind spots when it comes to Generation Z?

JEW: The first one that jumps to mind is how truly post-Christian they are. They really are biblically and spiritually illiterate. I’ve often described how most churches have an “Acts 2 mindset,” referring to Peter speaking before the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem, as opposed to an “Acts 17 mindset,” which is Paul on Mars Hill. Two radically different contexts and two radically different approaches.

Unfortunately, we have churches with an Acts 2 approach in an Acts 17 world. Added to this is the “curse of knowledge”: once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Too many Christians have forgotten what it’s like to be apart from Christ. Generation Z needs us to remember.

RNS: How will evangelism need to change when it comes to Generation Z?

JEW: It must move from being event-oriented to being process-and-event-oriented. For the last several decades, evangelism capitalized on a unique state of affairs. Namely, a culture filled with people who were relatively advanced in their spiritual knowledge and, as a result, able to quickly and responsibly consider the event of entering into a relationship with Christ as forgiver and leader.

In light of today’s realities, there must be fresh attention paid to the process that leads people to the event of salvation. The goal is not simply knowing how to articulate the means of coming to Christ, but how to facilitate and enable the person to progress to the point where they are even able to consider accepting Christ in a responsible fashion.

RNS: What about apologetics?

JEW: I often talk of “old-school” apologetics as opposed to “new-school” apologetics. The old-school apologetics was very evidentialist in mindset. Think Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel answering Enlightenment-era questions about whether you can believe the Bible or whether God exists. This is all well and good and still needed, but new-school apologetics answers different questions.

Instead of, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” the question is now, “So what if he did?” Instead of asking, “Does God exist?” the question is now, “What kind of God would call for the killing of an entire people group?” Instead of testimonies about lives changed through Christ, their question would be why lives currently lived by Christians aren’t more changed, but are instead marked by judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and intolerance.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

112 Comments

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  • This is really helpful. I work at Willow Creek, which I think was one of the first churches to embrace the modern “Acts 2 approach” verbiage. I oversee the high school ministry at the main campus, so this article and the book are giving me plenty to think about. God has used that approach for over 40 years to do some pretty incredible things, but this conversation is timely and helpful

    It’s funny because we just had Josh McDowell speak a couple weeks ago in our high school gathering- and it didn’t exactly land the way I thought it would. The danger in traditional apologetics is that we answer questions that nobody is asking. McDowell and Strobel are two of my heroes, and two of the main reasons I became a Christian at 21, but their work has rarely had the same impact on my students over the past 16 years. The apologists can argue strongly for the proofs of the resurrection, but my students want to know how the resurrection affects them today.

    One last thought: I think that today we have more of an Acts 2 goal (fellowship, generosity, etc) than an Acts 2 approach (talking to religious people about religious things).

  • Actually we are getting very close to the time where we will have to ask a new generation to accept Christ…A generation of computers with an artificial conscious, human-like intelligent androids, and manufactured life forms…Should they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior?

    A computer or robot with an AI conscious and intelligence can be rebooted…essentially rising from the dead with memory intact…just like somebody else we know. A new kind of savior is at hand !!

  • As long as churches will embrace reactionary causes and bigotry, they will lose more and more relevance with successive generations.

  • They won’t reach Generation Z because the word is out on all religions. Once again to make it quick and easy:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    – A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Re the headline: The faithful fashionista’s directive to “Forget” people of a certain age, as if declaring them out of style, is a forgettable fad I would like to see fall out of fashion in the Church of Chestnuts.

  • I’ve heard of Willow Creek. It’s in Chicago and you’ve got that Canadian guy there preaching.
    On your one last thought, the older generation, my generation and up, we are religious people talking about religious things. The topics range from the generation coming up, fellowships, and generosity. When it comes to generation Z we might be part of the problem.

    The two paragraphs that follow the question, “how will evangelism need to change when it comes to generation Z” resonated with me. We are quite spiritually knowledgeable but maybe we are quite spiritually immature. The second paragraph talks about process. When I think about process I think about Abraham who would have no knowledge of how to follow God. His was a process that was OUTSIDE OF “a culture filled with people who were relatively advanced in their spiritual knowledge.”

    Lastly the “curse of knowledge” ‘too many christians have forgotten what it is like to be apart from Christ. Generation Z needs us to remember.’ For my generation and older that will take an act of faith. I agree the church is at a critical point today. Its either a great time to be apart of something great or a terrible time to be apart of something failing.
    On another note: I heard an old WC guy at LP last weekend, you guys probably miss him.

  • A very interesting an insightful article, but as one who is pretty much disengaged from the last two generational sets and their proclivity to be welded to the latest technological and cultural developments, I freely admit I am poorly positioned to aid them in their spiritual quest, if they have one. Still, I am familiar with some young folks putatively members of the millennial set, as well as the “Z’s,” and they are clearly focused on the basics of the Gospel and are on track to remain so, praise god.

  • A great pun, but an odd thought. What underlies the notion that the “Z’s” might be thus inclined?

  • Great assertions without any substantial evidence that they are true, please don’t provide a hyper-link, I’ve seen most of them and the don’t stand the test of scholarly credibility.

  • The problem is you misunderstand the premise. It is not required to disprove the existence of Moses or Abraham, as one can not prove a negative. The whole point of the apologists is to prove the positive, e.g., that these individuals existed. The assertion that the sky is green is insufficient unless/until proven. The same holds for religion and ultimately it is where all believer versus non-believers must part ways. It is impossible to prove the existence of Abraham or Moses or ultimately even God, hence, the underlying principle of faith.

  • It’s not? Or more to the point, why the restrictive wording on “organic sense.” I assume you’re using the term to restrict “life” to carbon based forms, but even that seems specious. Ultimately, “life” is merely the ability to self-replicate in this context as AI would in principle be capable of the other three main components of “life,” e.g., growth, functional activity, and continual change.

  • If you know a “Gen Z” that is in need of resources and community I would definitely recommend http://www.ymi.today. It invites young people into conversations about faith and life with other young people.

  • I left the church because there were no answers and it was full of hypocrites. When I was little, my stepfather went to church every Sunday. Then he would beat the living sh*t out of us for no reason. I have PTSD, depression and anxiety still to this day because of my horrific upbringing. And my psychopath of an ex listens to nothing but Christian music and goes to church. He got me pregnant on purpose, cheated on me, treated me like shit and didn’t want anything to do with his daughter for most of her life. He only sees her now because his wife makes him. When I started seeking answers for burning questions, I had alot more spiritual experiences. I even had a spiritual awakening as well as a soul healing. I’ve never been more fulfilled spiritually now than I ever was as a Christian.

  • Buddhism and Taoism aren’t religions, per se. They’re more philosophies, despite having some supernatural elements. One can be an atheist and still be a Buddhist or Taoist. Whether the Buddha has supernatural powers or not doesn’t affect the validity or applicability of Buddhist ideas. Ditto with Lao-Tzu and Taoism.

  • Yes but if AI beings, androids or other forms of carbon “artificial” life comes to dominate…I would imagine the Christians would want them “saved”…If for no other reason then the Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, etc. may not have qualms about converting these new beings — and then having their respective religion enforced by superior life forms. I’m sure the Christians don’t want to take that chance!

  • It’s one thing to not be able to prove god and the others, it’s another for archaeologist, historians, and science to have looked for evidence of these for a millennia and not found a single thing. If there were no science involved you would be right, but now that science has recreated the big bang and evolution is a fact and theory, and failed to uncover even the slightest evidence to prove any bible story happened? Absence of evidence where there should be evidence IS proof of non existence.

  • That’s not how the scientific method works. You state a hypothesis: “God exists” then you develop an experiment to test your hypothesis. If the experiment fails to prove your hypothesis, then you accept the null. However, the null is not always the inverse of the question. In this case, you can’t even develop an experiment to begin with. What you can never do, however, is prove a negative. You can’t write the hypothesis “God does not exist.”

  • No one even questioned whether the bible was true till the late 1600’s, it was illegal in most places. There were blasphemy laws here till the 1970’s, people were still being jailed in some states for saying there is no god publicly. There were people who spoke out in books and events before the internet to say there is no god but it didn’t explode till we could all (and generation Z does) go on line and look for evidence either way. 25% of them are atheists according to Pew, most of the nones are non believers they just can’t say it out loud (only to pollsters) and still keep their lives together.

    It’s a matter of rules of evidence that divide the two. Atheists don’t use third hand accounts, he said she said, the writings of people like Josephus and Tacitus who were not born yet during jesus time, and NT stories that do not match and in fact contradict themselves over and over. The story of jesus ‘of Nazareth’ is false because Nazareth was destroyed 300 yrs before jesus time and not rebuilt till after. All this is provable to an objective observer, just not to any believer. I could have faith in something that we don’t know anything about if other evidence was there, but the religious can still have faith even if everything they believe has been disproved on the ground.

    BTW there are stories of god and gods going back 5k years but no one has ever seen one do anything. YHWH was thought up in Median Egypt and written into stories from then on, but only exists in stories. Remember the first encounter of god was a burning bush that talks.

  • Regarding rules of evidence. There is evidence and there is experience. If you have not had an experience with the divine, a mystical experience, and have a focus on the left brain, then you have nothing to base your evidence on except other peoples stories, which are doubtful at best, whether or not they are recent or ancient. Evidence or experience is one of the divides…

  • In the case of a particular god, such as the Abrahamic god, you can demonstrate the strong likelihood that he doesn’t exist because the books that purport to define him and his actions are scientifically and (for the most part) historically inaccurate and internally contradictory. He can be easily dismissed as Thor.

  • I’ll be the objective one to your apologist. Your hypothesis is that god exists, he answers our prayers, heals people, and he didn’t really kill 158 times in the bible like it says. If that is true we would have found evidence that Moses, Abraham, jesus, Nazareth, the exodus, the flood, the resurrection, creation, all happened. We would have found trails of it outside the bible in popular texts not the bible, in the carbon dating of idols and cities in Canaan, we would have found weapons in the streets of cities that had battles, evidence of a world wide flood described in tales from 5k forward in many different ways (or evidence there was enough water available to have such a flood). This is the experiment, let’s see if we find evidence in the cities the bible describes where there should be evidence, and no evidence in cities the bible says were peaceable.

    But what we have found all over the middle east is evidence where there shouldn’t be evidence (of wars, of eating pork, of worshiping idols, etc) and no evidence of war where the bible said there were battles, no evidence of towns where the bible said there were towns, no evidence of 500k ppl roaming the desert for 40 yrs, no evidence of the flood (or any of the different versions of the flood), and proof of where and how we evolved and how old our planet is that contradicts the bible. The result of the experiment is that the X’s and O’s are in completely different places at different times than the bible describes, or nothing there at all is there.
    That’s what most of generation Z won’t do, ignore the facts to have faith there are no facts.

  • “Strong likelihood” is not “prove” 🙂 Hence why it is a matter of faith and not science. The same can be said for the big bang to an extent. We can’t “prove” the big bang happened. However, the evidence we have observed demonstrates a “strong likelihood” that it is true. The very nature of the big bang, that the universe came into being everywhere at the same moment, is in of itself somewhat fantastical.

  • “What kind of God would call for the killing of an entire people group?”

    “Why lives currently lived by Christians aren’t more
    changed, but are instead marked by judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and
    intolerance?”

    These aren’t new questions from a new generation. These are core fundamental questions by young and old alike, still awaiting answers instead of excuses.

  • I was raised Baptist, and was at my closest to god in the late 1990’s. I had that experience and wanted to know more. So I read the whole bible several times, had questions, went for answers (including the book ‘how to know god’ by Chopra), tried to get those answers from my pastor, and just wasn’t satisfied with the answers I was getting. They didn’t quite describe what I felt. Eventually I found my answers exactly in science/neurology etc.
    Turns out that ‘experience’ is a natural function of the brain. Everyone experiences awe and wonder no matter what religion or if there is belief or not. The closeness to god after services is because of the quiet calm of the service, not what is said at the service or which god is worshiped. Our compassion and love is something we are all born with, we don’t learn how to do it from a book. Fact is you can call anything a spiritual experience from a sudden flash of light to a fart, it’s in the eye of the beholder. If you attribute those experiences to your god (and only YOUR god) and that makes you happy fine.

    Remember we are a secular country and that freedom only exists in your mind. When your belief harms another person you still go to jail.

  • “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

  • This problem, if you can really call it that, arises from the natural evolution of man’s intellect. Gen Z is one way to label the most recent conclusion that religious concepts are stories not unlike Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Fun to believe when you’re too young to know better, but embarrassing when you’re a grown-up. Widespread sharing of knowledge, belief and opinion through technology is necessary to encourage thoughtful analysis, and we have unwittingly empowered our Gen Z children to make the right move away from religion and all of its fairy tales. Turns out it was much easier than struggling to hold onto the outdated concepts of religion–there’s a reason for that.

  • Actually the plan in the upcoming “Benedict Option” is for people to stay offline as much as possible, and no phones, iPads, etc. for the kids….keep them ignorant and they stay with Jesus.

  • There were blasphemy laws here till the 1970’s, people were still being
    jailed in some states for saying there is no god publicly.

    Where is here for you?

  • It’s got to be awkward for your initials to be “JEW,” especially for a Christian minister. At the very least I wouldn’t order the monogrammed briefcase.

  • “From Webster’s dictionary:

    Definition of Buddhism

    : a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Siddhārtha Gautama that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by cultivating wisdom, virtue, and concentration. ”

    Definition of Taoism

    1: a Chinese mystical philosophy traditionally founded by Lao-tzu in the sixth century b.c.that teaches conformity to the Tao by unassertive action and simplicity

    2: a religion developed from Taoist philosophy and folk and Buddhist religion and concerned with obtaining long life and good fortune often by magical means
    “:


  • It is true that many exponents of Buddhism, most notably the Dalai Lama, have
    been remarkably willing to enrich (and even constrain) their view of the world
    through dialogue with modern science. But the fact that the Dalai Lama
    regularly meets with Western scientists to discuss the nature of the mind does
    not mean that Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism, or even the Dalai Lama’s own
    lineage, is uncontaminated by religious dogmatism.

    Indeed, there are ideas within Buddhism that are so
    incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison.
    No one is served by a mode of discourse that treats such pre-literate notions
    as integral to our evolving discourse about the nature of the human mind.
    Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not thespiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many
    centuries.”

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2

  • Pennsylvania enacted a law against blasphemy in 1977. In the fall of 2007, George Kalman sent the completed forms for incorporating a company to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Kalman wanted to incorporate a movie-production company which he called I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. A week later, Kalman received a notice from the Pennsylvania Department of State which informed him that his forms could not be accepted because a business name “may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.” In February 2009, Kalman filed suit to have the provision against blasphemy struck down as unconstitutional.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_the_United_States

  • Much of the anxiety over the millenials’ and “Z’s” spiritual issues is due to millenial and Z style unawareness of history. This decadent and jaded culture is not that much different from the one from which the Wesleys arose in transformative power to usher in the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings. Its hard to read about those evil times and not be amazed that anything was salvageable.

    As has happened many times over the centuries, God can raise up more “transformers” should He so choose. Or He can let human nature take its course all the way to Armageddon. Either way we can trust the Alpha and the Omega.

  • http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/high_school_and_beyond/2015/09/latest_sat_scores_continue_downward_trend_college_board_reports.html

    “You may have noticed that the less I know about a subject the more confidence I have, and the more new light I throw on it.” Mark Twain

    I teach high school in the urban core and at least half of the students are on their phones constantly during class – in all classes texting their friends etc. Teachers can’t get them off. Administrators won’t enforce the cell phone policy. Parents won’t help. And you post your nonsense above. Students aren’t on their ipads/phones/computers engaging the lesson – they are on their electronic devices talking to each other. They are contributing to their own mal-education. And try to take it away from them – they will literally fight you.
    I tell them they are cognitively truant – and they have no idea what I mean.

  • You might not write the hypothesis “god does not exist,” but you might as well go ahead and presume he doesn’t. He’s no logical necessity, and he sure as hell has been playing a great game of hide-and-seek. I think it just makes more sense to assume that humans have created their gods, as their attributes favor their creators, rather than the other way around.

  • This James Emery White comes across as very pretentious to me. These all sound like the same complaints Christians have been making about young people since the 70s about how all young people are terrible and sexually immoral and all going to hell and Christians should feel horrible and guilty about it because young people are a lot kinder and more diverse than they are. It’s a very dire and dreary message and I’m not sure why so many Christians find this faith crisis alarmism to be an attractive message. At the end of the day, White doesn’t seem to be offering any new arguments or evidence and this book sounds just like a repackaging of other books from previous years that were popular for a time with Christians but all had the exact same rants. Go look up books like UnChristian and Churchless and you’ll see they all sound exactly the same as this one and none of them had any answers either. I’m sure it’s great marketing for book sales though.

  • This presumes A.I. reaches the degree of sophistication that would allow for both consciousness and conscience: This I think extremely unlikely; Star Trek, etc. notwithstanding. But time will tell.

  • This leaves out one thing upon which you and I would probably disagree, and that is the existence of a couple of metaphysical components known as the soul and the spirit. I think it extremely unlikely that A. I. can conjure these.

  • I’ve heard the argument before that, “one can not prove a negative,” but why not, proof is always predicated on evidence. Surely evidence can prove a negative. As to Abraham and Moses, it is not outside the realm of possibility that additional archaeological evidence awaits us in their regard. Further, to discount the declared evidence of the bible is mere subjective bias with respect to the patriarchs. God perhaps is a trickier question, but not for me. The scripture itself declares, “Faith is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen.” Such things are indeed “proven” to those with the eyes to see them, and “unproven” to those who do not. That may not meet the arguments of rationalism, but then I find rationalism to be most irrational at times.

  • There is nothing wrong with faith. I have nothing but the greatest respect for those who have it. However, faith is not proof. As for proving a negative, it’s simply not possible. You can design experiments all day long that prove or disprove a particular possibility. However, you can never design an experiment (or enough of them) to disprove every possibility. There is no way to disprove the existence of God. There is also no way to prove the existence of God. It’s the number of atoms in the universe scenario. It is impossible to prove that the total quantity of atoms is either even or odd… because there is no way to count them.
    .
    As for biblical proof, that’s a much muddier subject then people like to admit. The oldest of the NT books is probably 1 Thessalonians, dated to c. 51 CE. However, we only know of it existing back to 175-225 CE and even there what we have of it is fragmented. Understand, this is just the physical limitation of the Papyrus 46. It doesn’t even begin to discuss the linguistic issues. Or for that matter, the underlying issues of Paul to begin with. There are so many layers of complexity to the question of “biblical proof,” that honestly, it ultimately just comes down to faith… and there is nothing wrong with that.

  • I don’t have a problem with those concepts. I just think they are poorly defined 🙂

  • God doesn’t need a cause because God is a matter of faith. The univerise, however, is a matter of emperical reality 🙂

  • There is no slug but the Great Slug
    and DougSlug is his spox.
    Thus spake the Great Slug.

  • Hear hear. I have to laugh when I hear this nonsense about kids “finally having access to information” via the Internet, learning “the truth” about science and history and religion and so forth ad nauseum. I KNOW what kids are doing with this MAHvelous technology — text-gossiping (more with emojis and acronyms than with words), watching YouTube, playing games, taking and exchanging innumerable “selfies,” and shopping for the same over-priced crap clothing and shoes that everyone else is wearing. It has actually destroyed a whole generation’s attention spans and with it their potential for organized logical thought and love of reading, without which there can be no actual education or cultivation of mind. Unbelievably sad. I hate waste and that is exactly what this is.

  • Good work.
    Here’s a valid syllogism

    Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
    Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

    http://crossexamined.org/312/

  • I could not have said it better myself. These kids are addicted to their cell phones and are reaping what they have sown. And our society is too.

  • But is it the supernatural element that makes these things religions or not?

  • “What kind of God would call for the killing of an entire people group?”

    A minor tribal hometown deity that happened to make it big.

    “Why lives currently lived by Christians aren’t more changed, but are instead marked by judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and intolerance?”

    That’s easy. We don’t know without some rigorous study if those believers would be better people or worse people without their faith.

    But much more interesting questions would be about thoseTV preachers who preach hatred and need mansions and jets. Why would an all-loving and all-powerful god allow so many people to be led astray? Why would this god not protect His Holy Name from these slanderers and libelers?

  • Having spoken on college campuses for almost thirty-five years in the US and Canada, I’ve transcended a number of the various generation demographics – millenials, gen X & Y and will get to meet the Z’s as they will soon be incoming college freshmen. I have also pastored for thirty-eight years. I wish I could disagree with much said here but the church (generally) has not been responsive on a large scale to any of the generations listed here. Even new churches made up of each of these designations can be seriously blind to the generation coming up. Skip a generation and the breach goes off the charts. I applaud your concerns (and will read your book) as the American church has a lot to show to keep from becoming a “ghettoized”, redundant and slowly vanishing community.

  • Assumption is not science, but science employs operational assumptions.

    “God (exists) as a matter of faith,” is the weakest tea. Other examples of matters of faith: prayers work, the bible is inerrant, heaven exists, hell exists, whites are superior, Trump will grow into the job, an undetectable celestial teapot circles the earth, Christ rose, he visited North American Indians, Muhammad flew to the afterlife on a winged horse, we are reincarnated, all meritless notions.

  • I don’t understand how you can maintain “there’s nothing wrong with faith” when the faithful, time and time again, try to impose the their invisible sky daddy’s strictures on others who don’t share their delusions.

  • Re: “I would push back a bit on 70 percent being “Christian,” at least in light of how the majority of that 70 percent are self-defining and self-designating the term. If we mean Bible-believing, heaven-and-hell existing, Jesus-resurrecting Christians, the number would drop rather precipitously. If you are going to contend for 70 percent of the American population being Christian, the majority of that number would be “Christian” in name only.”

    Seems that for Mr White I as a Gen X progressive Christian am a Christian in name only. BS. What he means by that moniker is very different than what I mean by it. A Christian is primarily someone who follows the way, teachings, and example of Jesus – not someone who believes X,Y, and Z about heaven or hell, or about the Bible, etc. It’s about how we live our lives not giving intellectual assent to certain truth claims.

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  • Historicity is a bitch sometimes 🙂 There have been plenty of cases of imposing the strictures of science on those who don’t share them when ultimately those strictures failed to be true. Civilization works because we can agree to disagree on the small stuff; and ultimately, the question of faith is pretty damn small. There’s a quote from a “little know” black preacher that sums it up well, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

  • Please remember that the early Christians were all Jews and there is nothing about Christianity that precludes Jewish people from being Christian. Also keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew. Your comment strikes me as unconsciously anti-Semitic, or, at the very least absurdly parochial, tribal, and fearful.

  • Why is salvation based on one’s geographic proximity to another Christian?

    Millions of people have lived and died where Christianity, Christians, the bible and proselytizing are banned under penalty of death.

    Why can’t Jesus whisper his existence in the ear of every Muslim, Jew, Hindu and atheist on earth so they’ll at least have a *chance* at salvation?

  • I do seriously think this generation Z that the article speaks of will be the last that is conceived in modern societies in the traditional way. After that — the amazing genetic programming, technological advancements in neural computing and artificial intelligence will produce life forms fundamentally different from what we have understood.

    A form of technical immortality of at least consciousness may also be possible as biological human neural systems are transferred to AI computers. Religion will have to grapple with salvation when somebody’s consciousness never dies. It will be quite disconcerting for most faiths.

    In poor, underdeveloped regions, traditional children will still be produced as always…but they may be considered inferior beings and they will continue to be burdened with the current religious dogmas that hold them back. Various faith traditions will have to adapt to this situation. What would be the soul?,What would be salvation?…I am not simply being just hyperbolic.

  • Look at my comment history, then tell me I’m an anti-Semite. My comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but now that you’ve upped the ante, I doubt you know what it’s like to be on the street, subway, airport, etc. as a visible Jew. To have people make comments about your kippah-wearing spouse. To worry that any innocent misstep by your child will be interpreted by others as being “those people.” Yes, my comment was tribal, just not the way you took it.

  • A few years ago, also in PA, a teen was charged with “desecrating a venerated object” for having simulated sex with a Jesus statue. That was essentially “back-door blasphemy”.

  • “In light of today’s realities, there must be fresh attention paid to the process that leads people to
    the event of salvation. The goal is not simply knowing how to
    articulate the means of coming to Christ, but how to facilitate and
    enable the person to progress to the point where they are even able to
    consider accepting Christ in a responsible fashion.”

    The process leading people to salvation won’t change, regardless of how radically the times and technology does! Generation Z will come to know Christ through the quiet, consistent witness of other Christians who LIVE the Gospel as well as preach it!

  • origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?

    NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly

    Adverb:

    Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whosereputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling
    nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in
    Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance
    among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these
    ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million
    Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and
    commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz
    Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that
    incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and
    the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it
    represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious
    mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true ”is more or less settled and
    understood among most Conservative rabbis,” observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at
    Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ”Etz Hayim.” But some
    congregants, he said, ”may not like the stark airing of it.” Last Passover,
    in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said
    that ”virtually every modern archaeologist” agrees ”that the way the Bible
    describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.”
    The rabbi offered what he called a ”LITANY OF DISILLUSION”’
    about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological
    lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said,
    archaeologists digging in the Sinai have ”found no trace of the tribes of
    Israel — not one shard of pottery.”

  • I’m sorry that I misread your comment. I didn’t think you were being satirical. Peace.

  • And it seems to get worse every year. One wonders if we will not eventually see a lot of high schoolers sitting in class in adult diapers blithering incoherently as they stare into tiny screens.

    I exaggerate, of course, but one does wonder how much worse it CAN get.

  • You make a very interesting argument, but it is grounded primarily in the science fiction epics of the past, by such masters as Heinlein and Asimov, not to dismiss the technological advances currently underway that such writers essentially predicted. But as a theist, nothing will convince me that any human contrivance will be able to match the metaphysics of God. Some would consider that a hidebound perspective, but it is a perspective formed from what both my rational capacities and physical senses have provided me in terms of data received and data assessed.

  • Nah…CH is dead we have evidence of that…Jesus Christ is risen and the empty grave is the evidence of that.

  • Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
    Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

  • Hebrews 11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old obtained a good report.

    You are correct: it is by faith. But you can apprehend Biblical truth by faith.

    John 20:27ff [Thomas speaking] But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail prints in His hands, and put my finger in the nail prints, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.”
    27 Then He [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand here and place it in My side. Do not be faithless, but believing.”
    28 Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”
    29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have yet believed.”

    “I believe so that I may understand.” -a maxim of Anselm of Canterbury

    Personal Note: I trusted Christ on Aug. 6, 1973. Life has never been the same since.

  • The accusation that Generation Z is biblically illiterate is patently false. Just like with Millennials, they know more about the Bible than previous generations. They have access to the Bible itself and all of the relevant historical facts which disconfirm it.

  • So either buy a cheap cell-jammer, or study up on Socrates and learn to trick kids into wanting to learn.

  • You should not be so quick to disregard younger Generations and their proclivity for technology. I’m sure at some point in your life you met somebody who read four newspapers a day. Was always up-to-date on the latest information. Always had news radio playing in his car. That is Generation Z. Granted, a good deal of what they use their technology for is the equivalent of the opinions page in a cheap tabloid. But a large portion of it is young adults who want to be well informed about the world around them. So show a little bit of respect.

  • I would argue the opposite. Most young people today are keenly aware of history and Christianity’s effect upon it. That is why many young people discount or reject Christianity. They have studied to the effect it has had on the world, and come to the rational conclusion that Christianity has nothing positive to offer them.

  • Phooey. Most young people today are keenly aware of nothing except the newest crap in the Apple store.

    A majority of college students do not know who Saul of Tarsus was. Fewer than one in five can find Israel on a map of the world. Less than half can name the gospels or know that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Jesus. Four out of five don’t know the essential difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. More than half think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. Almost a third think Billy Graham was part of the First Great Awakening. Don’t try to tell me with a straight face that kids this ignorant have “studied” anything of importance with regard to Christianity.

  • And yet if I ask my nine year old nephew any of those questions, he could not only provide the correct answer but also explain why the Sermon on the Mount is just a collection of terrible advice that nobody should listen to, or explain what is irrational about believing in Saul’s account of his conversion experience. Mind you, his mother and father are extremely religious. I have had virtually no influence over him. And he is reaching the same conclusions I reached 5 years earlier than I did. You’re going to have to face facts. As free access to information expands, so too does secularism and the rejection of myth.

  • I still say that a clever teacher can trick students into wanting to learn.

  • And that has to do with “keen awareness of history,” what exactly? The kid’s brain isn’t even nearly fully developed. He probably barely knows his multiplication tables. His beef with religion is probably because he’s bored in church and would rather play (both my parents went through that as children), not because of anything he’s “studied.”

    I’m all for access to information expanding…I just wish today’s young people were interested in acquiring some. Instead, they’ve whined until most public universities have dropped their western civilization history requirements – and then we wonder why young people have no clue about the source and importance of our fundamental rights, assuming they know what those rights are at all.

  • I could say the same with you. I don’t you know what our fundamental rights are or where they stem from.

    I could also make the argument that your brain is not yet fully formed either. studies done on the brains of religious people have shown that exposure to religious indoctrination, overtime, causes severe atrophy to the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking, decision-making, and the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. so I I’m fairly certain my nephew’s brain is more reliable than yours.

    And my nephew doesn’t have a beef with religion. He simply doesn’t care about it and has a handful of responses ready to explain to people why he doesn’t care when they badger him about it. You have no idea how proud I am of him. He is what every good parent should want their son to be. Intelligent, inquisitive comma socially well-adjusted, well informed about the world, and completely apathetic about obsolete belief systems that he does not ascribe to. It drives my brother crazy, especially since he has taken pains to avoid me expressing my opinions to the boy. My nephew did not even know that I was a fellow atheist until last Christmas.

  • “I could say the same with you. I don’t you know what our fundamental rights are or where they stem from.”

    I’m rubber and you’re glue, huh? Higher order thinking, to be sure. ?

    “studies done on the brains of religious people have shown that exposure to religious indoctrination, overtime, causes severe atrophy to the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking”

    And other “studies done” have shown that the brains of atheists show less activity in the part of the brain responsible for empathy. Atheists brains are most like those of psychopaths. And reducing activity in certain parts of the brain through neuromodulation reduces religious thought and experience. Perhaps one of these is responsible for your nephew’s, um, lack of caring and use of canned responses? I mean, science and studies and all…

    Do you really want to go down this silly path?

    In any case, your anecdote about your nephew addresses nothing in my original comment. Whatever the reason is for young people being less religious on average, being “better informed” ain’t it. Not by a long shot. Sorry.

  • It’s not logical to assume generation z will be irreligious like its parent generation. Unfortunately, I think this book comes too soon. Most people would say gen z started with those born in the early 2000s, making the oldest members of generation Z 17 years old. Even if we consider the late 1990s as the start of the generation Z, that still puts members of the generation at around 22, meaning most are still in college.

    Who knows how God will act on generation z? Perhaps youth evangelism will cause a rise in church attendance. Don’t let the devil tell you that the game is over– it’s not over. Millennials dropped the ball on faith (which is really the fault of their parents, the baby boomers), and generation z will definitely be at a distinct disadvantage.. but it’s way too early to speak such negativity over a generation. Let’s have faith that God can work miracles on any generation, and let’s begin to pray and stand in the gap for those who have not yet found eternal salvation.

  • Religious reactionaries lost that war centuries ago when they entangled church and state. There is no better way to kill a religion than giving it an official political benefactor.

  • Im an ex christian. Belong to the Millenial/Generation X hybrid list. I also had Near death experiences, and out of body experiences, some say its imagination, drugs etc etc. Not going to sit here and argue over whether or not my experiences are legit. I will say that none of my experiences pointed to the conclusion that christianity is and should be validated as a religion. To me, Christianity breeds a passive ritualistic facade of spirituality. To put it bluntly, Christianity is for people that dont want to put in effort to be decent human beings, christianity is for people that dont want to meditate (unless you are one of those Cafeteria Christians) but the bottom line is, Christianity is tapering off and from what ive seen and experienced, good riddance.

  • I disagree with that. History shows who the winners and losers are. then there is the dark ages, the crusades, the witchtrials, the holocaust. Not to mention the old gods and goddesses that christians constantly screech *those are false gods, demons etc* You will see when you die, as will I, but ive already been to the afterlife you fluffed up zealot.

  • The foundation of Christianity and Judaism is Zorostrianism. It must be nice having an ego so big it leaves little room for other thought.

  • “The Two Universal Sects

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,

    The second, religious without intellect. ”

    Al-Ma’arri

    , born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .

    Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and
    writer.[1][2] He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the
    dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on
    truth.”

  • I’m sure that apologetics needs to change. But one issue we need to pound hard on is “what the Bible says, Jesus says”. There is a lot of propaganda out there trying to separate Jesus from the rest of the Bible, both the OT and Paul. This was not Jesus’ view.

  • First you need to figure out whether artificial intelligence is fallen, and if so, second, what plan of salvation there is for it. Probably Jesus died only for humans.

  • I believe in God, but I think many who don’t directly believe in a personal God believe in transcendent moral values. Even Ayn Rand did, though hers were a bit odd.

  • The cultural relevance part is what really struck home for me. I’m one of the “post-Christian” young people this guy talks about. I drive past religious billboards, and listen to religious comments from my father in law that assume I come from the same Christian world view and every time I ask myself, “Why/how is what he/they are saying relevant to my life?”. Because it’s always assumed I already have the relevance, the question never gets answered and I am left thinking most Christians don’t know how to answer it.

    For example, this morning I mentioned that Psalms seemed pretty devoid of real content other than praising god, and I was hoping Proverbs might be better (reading the Bible to understand Judeo-Christianity historically). I got the answer, “Well maybe it’s only meaningful if you’ve had similar experiences to what they’re writing about”. I left the conversation with the conclusion that Proverbs is valueless unless you’re already a Judeo-Christian.

  • Late Millennial/Early Gen Zer here. My mother was a devout Catholic until the late 90s, when I was born. She wanted to have my agnostic father baptized Catholic the same day I was, but the peripheral rules surrounding baptizing an adult wouldn’t allow it. That was the day my once-devout mother’s faith began to erode. She then began to notice other transgressions; my godmother, a divorced and remarried woman, was seen as more devout despite violating Catholic law because she had donated more money. She took a bible studies class at community college, where she discovered the abhorrent way women and children are treated in the bible, not by evildoers, but by God himself.

    I haven’t set foot in a church since the day I was baptized as a newborn. My mother decided after leaving the church that she would allow my brother and I to choose our faiths as we grew up instead of telling us what to think. I only learned of my mother’s bad experiences with Christianity as an adult- she was otherwise impartial.

    Now, as an adult, I am an athiest. I believe that life’s only meaning is the meaning we as individuals attribute to it, and that we have a personal responsibilty to lead lives that make ourselves and others happy.

    So, given that religion has always been my choice to make, why is it that I never chose Christianity? For one thing, I, and by extension the majority of people my age, were raised to respect people who are different. Evangelicals have a long, ugly history of pushing conformism and punishing people for being different. Historically, Evangelicals have sided with anti-suffragists, segregationists, and militant homophobes. You want to tell me that concubines (sex slaves, of which Solomon had 300) are okay, but two adult men in a consensual relationship isn’t?

    Which brings me to the next problem. Never has a pastor justified the unending hypocrises in the Bible, and no, I don’t just mean between testaments. The only justification I can see is that when someone cobbles together a bunch of folktales in a book, claims they all apply to one doctrine, and translates them thousands of times over two millenia, things are going to be screwed up. Which also brings into question the reliability of the Bible of the actual word of God, but that can be explained away with “faith”, and I digress.

    The concept of “faith”, which is basically blind trust, is deeply incongruent with the values of people my age. We only trust entities after given ample justification. We’re given plenty reason to trust science, for instance, because everyone interacts with and learns about it in a concrete, tangible way. We went to museums where we saw fossilized dinosaur bones, we watched things we planted and cared for grow, we looked at planets through telescopes. The scientific community has happily handed over evidence every time it’s been asked. Evolution? They’ve got the bones of every homonid between us and high apes. The Big Bang? Infrared telescopes show the remaining energy from a gaint blast billions of light years away. Atoms? There are microscopes that can see them now. Amazingly, too, is that all of these explanations agree with each other and make sense in context.

    Compare this to Christianity, which expects us to ask no questions; it leaves no room for curiosity or critical thought, which my generation also highly values. We just have to trust this entity not because we’re given concrete reasons, but because we’re told to or we’ll suffer in eternal damnation.

    Speaking of which- hell. The concept of hell is cruel and antiquated. No human being, excepting Hitler or someone similarly horrible, deserves to burn for all eternity. According to the moral perameters of the bible, the majority of the figures I respect most would be in hell. That’s the last place people like Harvey Milk, Marie Curie, Frederick Douglass, JRR Tolkien, Susan B. Anthony, and Michelangelo deserve to be. The idea that anyone who disagrees with you burns indefinitely is probably the most cartoonishly evil thing I can think of. Why your “kind” God would allow such a place to exist, run by his former favorite angel (Lucifer) no less, is beyond me.

    So, to conclude, the biggest reasons people my age aren’t religious are: 1) the church aligns itself with very judgemental, bigoted values, 2) the hypocrises and inconsistencies make the Bible difficult to trust, 3) blind trust is the antithesis of the scientific process we highly value 4) the concept of hell, that people who disagree with *any* of the word of God are doomed to eternal suffering is extremely sadistic and unsympathetic.

  • I’m a high school senior (part of gen Z), and even in AP and IB classes, most people have only rudimentary knowledge of religious doctrine and dogma. It’s not a plethora of biblical knowledge that is turning people away from religion, it’s the lack of appeal and the aversion to religious views on social justice movements. However, most kids are less religious simply because it’s not a valued part of their life, since churches are often so disconnected, and the one’s which can connect to teens have to forgo controversial nationalistic, morally questionable, or overly superstitious/supernatural passages.

  • This is an overreaction if I’ve ever seen one. Phones are certainly not used for educational purposes per usual circumstances, but phones are not a tool of retardation. I actually use YouTube as a mode of accessing free tutorials and science lessons, and I use my laptop for news articles. The overuse of social media is a cause of our culture, not the reverse. It’s a natural outcome of rampant materialism and social hierarchies which are such time-honored characteristics of western civilization that one would be forgiven for assuming them to be the very foundation of our society. The Silent Generation decried the household TV, the Baby Boomers decried the landline in their child’s room, and Gen X decries the cell phone. What shall the Millennial’s choose to vilify?

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