First published May 9, 2014
I've listened to plenty of discussions about sensitive issues such as politics, war, global warming, homosexuality, abortion and whether Israel should be allowed to occupy Palestinian land. Polarising as these topics are, many arguments are lacking in discernment, research, and knowledge beyond what Wikipedia/parents/friends/professors or pastors think.
"I read somewhere…" "I watched this documentary about…" are too often precursors to a ridiculously contrite piece of overused misinformation.
As a journalist I've been trained to take an unbiased approach, to not take sides but to report the facts. Although this is difficult, a good journalist should research both sides of an argument before framing thoughts on a subject. For me, it seems the more I learn about an issue the more complex it becomes, and it can be scary to see how far deep set prejudice, propaganda and cultural persuasion go.
This is especially the case when we are considering those previously mentioned 'hot' issues, and it's dangerous when huge numbers blindly tow the party line.
Simple, like an apple
When I think of some of the ways our Christian culture can dismiss critical thinking on certain topics and go with 'the way we've always done things' mentality, I think of simplicity. Simplicity can be good. Apple products have used the idea of simplicity to make them billions. They've mastered the art of a making an mp3 device into a basic functional piece of hardware a three year-old can master, and it’s the same ethos with their other products too.
They took the complicated jargon out and made us all feel like a computer whizz; it's simply genius. When it comes to thinking most people prefer simplicity also, and the implications of this are scary. If we're being told how to think, or what to think, then we're in big trouble.
I fear that the masses are easily persuaded by those who proclaim 'to know.' Five bullet point sermons are easy to digest, and when paired with an engaging speaker equipped with humour and relatable content, ideas about life and theology can seem enticingly palatable. Just like the iPod, we're all buying it.
Someone smart said that when 'sufficiently conditioned, the human mind can be trained to believe anything about God, no matter how monstrous. Test all beliefs.' I believe that the cosmic and mysterious, the ideas about God and all the big questions we have of life is that it's not all that simple.
There's no easy answers to many if those big questions I mentioned at the start; if anyone ever tells you that it's as simple as three easy steps, with a weekly donation, then run in the other direction.
The postmodern split
I don't want to get into some postmodern-versus-modern war of words about which style or set of emphases best represents Jesus in 2014. We're all called to love God and love others, and I think the church is doing many amazing things. I would however like to see more people question, debate and stretch their minds so they can articulate a conversation in the real world with a real human who has big questions about what Christians believe.
Quoting Romans chapter one may well be biblical truth, but why? It's going to sound a little contrived to your gay neighbour when he leans over the fence and asks a tricky question about why the church you belong to seems to demonise him and his friends.
Generation Y is full of questions. We're tired of the outdated rhetoric from the powers that be that claim they know with certainty, things that academic biblical scholars are still disputing. The old 'modern' guard of Christendom has made scapegoats of a few set issues, but again my sceptical generation asks: why? Why does it feel like uncompromising, rigid leaders in the church can seemingly ignore the bigger picture and sacrifice grace for the sake of a specific issue?
I'm not suggesting we water down the gospel to appeal to more people, and I'm not suggesting that all opinions about reality are merely relative. There is plenty in the bible we can agree on, across denominations and generations. Any view that enters those grey areas of life need not be polarising, held with arrogance, or driven by a need to be right or in control. I love it when Christian leaders have the humility to suggest they're not ever going to fully understand all the intricacies of Christian thought on all subjects.
Some big questions
My generation has been referred to as the 'why' generation: we question everything, and stock standard answers won't do. Why is my generation tired of attending church, and fleeing in large numbers around the world? Maybe it's because many of those big questions seem to be swept under the rug, or simply ignored.
I've recently read a book that briefly mentioned John Nelson Darby, the father of the dispensationalist theology which started at the turn of last century. This way of thinking has vastly influenced modern Christianity with its view on end times and Zionism and its attitude toward the environment. I want to discover why so many Christians know what the rapture is, but have no clue who Mr Darby is?
Is there room in churches to ask why a loving God can allow suffering? What do Christians promote as an alternative to abortion, and does being pro-life and pro-war cancel each other out? Can we love our gay neighbours? Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution? What does it mean to be saved, and what did Jesus actually do on the cross? Is it okay to have more wealth than the poorest in my community?
I don't have many answers to these questions, and I certainly don't think we have to draw a line in the sand or take a fundamentalist position. I think robust debate is healthy. If you want to martyr yourself for the sake of one specific issue, then let it be a good one. Let it be one that is essential to the gospel. Too many divisions and confusion about what Christians believe surely makes it more of a maze for people to find Jesus.
I hope that in thinking, in learning, in putting time and effort into understanding the complexities of all controversial (and seemingly mundane or tired) issues that can create division, we as a generation of questioners can become a generation of learners. We can learn from the mistakes of the past, we can sit and listen to the lessons learnt from a previous generation, and we can bridge that modern-postmodern gap.
Healthy churches that hold on to their young people allow and encourage space for generations to encourage each other. The millennial generation can learn from 12 year-old Jesus as he snuck off to the temple to sit with the religious teachers, and to ask questions.
I think there is an unarticulated hunger in all of us to understand spirituality and what God is up to in this world, but maybe not such a hunger to learn. Rather than being quick to condemn or quick to jump on a bandwagon, we should be quick to forgive and listen and understand. I think it says something like that in the book of James.
I think it's good to ponder and question, and discuss the reasons behind why we believe what we believe, and just like the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians, I agree that we should... 'Think on such things.'
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist/builder/video editor and lives in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html