The Doubt of Others
I’ve just finished reading John Marriott's book, A Recipe For Disaster. It’s a brilliant work that I would wholeheartedly recommend. It looks at the reasons people have for leaving the faith, and how the church and parents contribute to, or ‘prepare’ believers to turn their back on Christ.
This is an unflinchingly honest book, and that makes it often disturbing. Just reading the statistics of falling away in early adulthood left me reeling. So many young people are leaving home with some form of belief, only to lose it in the space of university degree. Why?
Marriott’s answer is that we are not preparing our children adequately, or to put it another way, we are preparing individuals to lose their faith. We do this in a number of ways; by identifying too many peripheral beliefs as ‘essential’ to faith, such as strictures on smoking, dancing and tattoos.
One of the biggest factors is an inadequate view of biblical inerrancy so that when believers encounter apparent contradictions and factual errors in scripture they are unable to maintain their faith. Another factor is the pain and emotional injuries caused by others within the church, especially when they appear overly judgemental and hypocritical.
Listening to the stories of those who have given up is profoundly unsettling, not least because a good many of them now ‘evangelise’ for their new adopted ideology, that of atheism. The ridicule and contempt they now harbour for their former faith is distilled by Marriott and amplified to make his point. Perhaps most unsettling of all are the stories of those who have felt abandoned by God, with sincere and desperate prayers left unanswered.
Marriott’s advice is general and wide-ranging, and I think most instructive on the issue of biblical inerrancy, perhaps one of the most common of the reasons people give for leaving the faith.
We are going to have to introduce our children somehow to the strangeness of the Bible and encourage them to hold it in high esteem whilst developing reasonable expectations of it. If we don’t, our prevailing culture will weaponise its’ apparent flaws against them. This is why Peter Enn’s work is worth studying. He suggests starting with teaching our children about Jesus, before introducing to the broader narrative sweep of the Old Testament.
Another part of preparing our children will be to be wise regarding the internet. Atheists and secular ideologues abound on websites and social media platforms, and it would be well for your children to know this and how to deal with their polemics constructively before they leave home. This is one of the main reasons I have set up Encouraging Faith, to encourage, equip, and properly prepare our children for the life of faith in the 21st century.