This is intriguing, and so pathetic–in the older, non-disparaging sense of that word. Rod Dreher goes to a conference, and hears not only the problem laid out nicely, but the cause of it:
This Wichita conference I’ve been at over the weekend was on the theme of wonder in Christianity. I had several important conversations about Millennials and the Christian faith, and the strong consensus — I’m talking about among college professors who teach them — is that even in Christian colleges, undergraduates come almost entirely ignorant of the Christian faith.
In a panel discussion yesterday, the Reformed philosopher James K.A. Smith told the audience, “We need to remember that for every finger we point at Millennials, there are three pointing back at us. We have failed them. We have failed to catechize them. This is our fault.” He added that this is the fruit of a completely discredited approach to youth ministry.
Speaking with another academic there, I told him about a discussion I’d had with a group of Evangelical professors, who not only said that many of their undergraduates had not even a rudimentary understanding of Christianity, but that many of them came from such broken homes that they lacked a concept of what a stable marriage and family life looks like. These weren’t professors griping about their students; these were professors grieving over what these kids have been cheated of by the adults who ought to have formed them. When I related that story yesterday, the professor I told it to, who teaches in a Christian college in the South, said he sees the same thing every day of every year.
(My dad just told me that at the Christian school run by his church, one-third of the students are being raised by their grandparents—and at the public school where his sister is a principal, that is true for more than half.)
And what does Dreher see as a potential solution?
On the panel discussion, Catholic theologian Bo Bonner made an intriguing suggestion: that we need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead to “be a lot stranger.” His point is that if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? Because that is not historic Christianity.
Because that is not historic Christianity. The real thing is wild, and weird; it is not a set of ideas, but a way of life. There will always be some people — young, middle-aged, and old — haunted by the sense that there is something else there, a longing that cannot be anesthetized away. If the church stands true to itself, and doesn’t apologize for itself, then they will come.
What? “Be a lot stranger”? Why not simply be more practical, and dedicate ourselves to teaching them how to live a faithful Christian life, to forming their characters–which, of course, would require us to form our own characters to the point where we can model a faithful life for them.
The theologian says “if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? ” Well, no one, surely. But are those the only two choices we have left to present?
I’m all for learning to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation, but this smacks of desperation: we’ve failed at the hard job of teaching people how to live a Christian life, and so far our gimmicks have proven ineffective in the long term—maybe this wonder thing will get them back inside!