Why People Leave the Faith
Last year an old college friend sent out a mass e-mail to his entire address list announcing he had lost his Christian faith after 50 years. The shock and grief I felt for him was devastating to me. In retrospect my response to him was pretty poor--I wish I could have a do-over. My own faith is firm and vibrant that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I can't imagine life without Him. It made no sense to me--like a man scraping his own new car with a key. But this was because I was looking at my friend through the lens of my own life and not trying to understand his. I'm concerned that the way we Christians witness should help people find faith and not cause them to lose it.
Atheism is on the rise these days primarily among young adults in North
America and Europe. I believe one reason is because of the shallow and un-researched witness of us Christians today. Our speaking about faith is perceived as simplistic and trivial because it often is. The internet has shifted the ground for faith sharing in the modern world. People have access to all kinds of detailed information on any topic. My veterinarian gave me guidance about our dog's health issues. That evening I spent 20 minutes on Google and was instantly up to speed with the latest research and treatments. When the vet called me the next day, I was able to ask all kinds of detailed questions to make a better informed decision. I was tempted to think I knew as much as she did.
Let's not kid ourselves that non-religious people aren't doing the same thing with Jesus Christ. Not all the information on Google is reliable or even rational but the point is that many non-religious people are better informed than longtime church goers. The moral of the story is that we Christians need to be doing more thinking and not less. Paul is our role model. In his speech before the Athenians in Acts 17, he demonstrates a familiarity with the philosophies of his day: Epicurianism and Stoicism. He is even able to quote from these sources to support his argument. Paul doesn't insult the paganism of his audience. Instead he is encouraging them to think because really good thinking leads people towards Christ not away.
It is popular these days to hear the conviction that science has disproved religion. That is true for some. Yet a little research on our part will show that a deep understanding of science can just as easily lead toward the faith as away. The dramatic Christian conversion of geneticist Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project is a case in point. It's a false dilemma to pit science against faith. Hundreds of well known scientists are believers, we ought to get to know their names and tell their stories when we share our faith.
I need to get better with questions and conversations. Someone comes with a question about evolution, science, reincarnation or sexuality and they often get an off-the-shelf answer from the echo chamber of the already convinced or they get no answer, worse yet they get judged for asking the question or voicing the doubt. If I am open to honest conversation about the doubts and questions of others, they are more likely to be open to a different set of answers than those they're finding on Google. I once had the delightful experience of listening to someone else talk themselves out of their own question and come to make the same point I might have offered at the beginning had I not bit my tongue.
Non-believers will go to those places that are open to conversation. If Christians are not, they'll find a chat room or a coffee shop that is. They are likely to follow along with what they hear from those who have welcomed them. If we embrace the questions people have, we also embrace the people who ask them. When this happens they are far more open to hearing the Christian faith we have to share. I wish for each of us a manifold increase in godly conversations with those who Jesus loves but who do not yet love him.