It turns out that, while they may profess the faith and indeed love Jesus, the vast majority of Christian teenagers in this country actually hold beliefs fundamentally antithetical to the creed. The forces of moral relativism and "tolerance" have gotten to them in a big way. In fact, some leaders believe that mushy doctrine among the younger generation ranks as the No. 1 crisis facing American Christendom today.
About one-third of American teenagers claim they're "born again" believers, according to data gathered over the past few years by Barna Research Group, the gold standard in data about the U.S. Protestant church, and 88% of teens say they are Christians. About 60% believe that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings." And 56% feel that their religious faith is very important in their life.
Yet, Barna says, slightly more than half of all U.S. teens also believe that Jesus committed sins while he was on earth. About 60% agree that enough good works will earn them a place in heaven, in part reflecting a Catholic view, but also flouting Protestantism's central theme of salvation only by grace. About two-thirds say that Satan is just a symbol of evil, not really a living being. Only 6% of all teens believe that there are moral absolutes--and, most troubling to evangelical leaders, only 9% of self-described born-again teens believe that moral truth is absolute.
"When you ask even Christian kids, 'How can you say A is true as well as B, which is the antithesis of A?,' their typical response is, 'I'm not sure how it works, but it works for me,'" says George Barna, president of the Ventura, Calif.-based research company. "It's personal, pragmatic and fairly superficial."
Although the survey was of teenagers, I doubt the numbers would be much different among the older generations. I'm not really sure if these numbers are something to be concerned about, or if they're just hot air. Not that I question the poll itself, but in my experience the vast majority of everybody -- from all religious/philisophical systems -- has very little real understanding of what they purportedly believe.
There's a term for this: rational ignorance. It means that people make decisions without undergirding every position with a strong foundation. Why? Because it's impossible to know everything and we have to cut some corners. For instance, we trust building inspectors to make sure our buildings are safe; we don't each individually inspect every building we enter. We decide to be rationally ignorant. We know that building inspectors exist, but we don't take the time to learn every detail about how they do their job, and we don't take the time to check out many buildings for ourselves. If we did, we'd never have time for anything else.
Similarly, even though religious questions are potentially very important -- eternity itself hangs in the balance -- many people just aren't interested enough to worry about the details. They hear something that makes sense, they decide to believe it, and then they go on with their lives. From a Christian perspective, this attitude is short-sighted because it will cause us to miss out on many of God's greatest blessings which can only be obtained by serving him vigorously. However, the Bible teaches that very little is required of us to actually ensure our salvation.
Second, we must realize that the punishment we earn for our evil is eternal separation from God and that our only hope for salvation is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
That's it. That's all God requires of us; but lest you think it sounds too easy, remember that Jesus did the real work. There are no additional facts to be learned, no political positions to affirm, and no theological truths to comprehend. Is it highly advantageous to seek wisdom beyond these mere basics? Of course. But such understanding is not required for salvation.
As Dale Buss notes, he teaches truth to the youth under his care, and I do the same for mine. However, many Christian leaders probably don't have very firm convictions, so it's no surprise than many of their students don't, either.