PA’s Mission flows from a sense of need for the church to recover its self-identification as a community of faith grounded upon a tradition of knowledge of the truth. This need stems from a series of cultural developments through the 20th and into the 21st centuries that have seriously impacted Christian discipleship.
The Situation: A generation with their pants falling down.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…(Ephesians 6:13-14)
In alerting the church to the nature of living between the two comings of Christ, Paul pointed out that vigilance is required for Christians to defend themselves from Satan and his forces who dominate this world’s order. Unfortunately for the church in Canada, a cultural battle has been fought and lost in the first area that the Christian’s armor was intended to protect, namely truth.
Truth in the 21st Century:
The cultural shift to postmodernism experienced in the 20th century included a rejection of modernist notions that objective or universal truths could be discovered through reason and empirical investigation. For postmoderns,
epistemic objectivity is impossible, and universal truth does not exist, (or if it does it can never be known). As postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty puts it: “Truth is made rather than found.” It is no surprise then that even by the late 1980’s the effects of postmodernism came to roost in the one institution that most shapes our culture; the University. In 1987, philosopher Allan Bloom observed of the emerging generation in his time, that “almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” He goes on to point out that holding such relativism is not a theoretical insight, but a “moral postulate”. After all, religious absolutist claims to truth, so we have been taught, are responsible for all oppression and every evil observable in modernist history. Consequently, making any truth claim in absolute terms in Canadian culture today is considered “intolerant”, “narrow minded” or downright “dangerous”. To create a truly enlightened and free society then we must remove oppressive (i.e. religious) notions of universal truth and replace them with the virtues of “tolerance” and “openness”, which relativism purports to uphold. This, Bloom states, is what “all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.”
The results of this postmodern turn have certainly brought and will continue to bring radical change to our culture’s views and attitudes toward truth. Unfortunately, it would appear that the contemporary Christian generation has not escaped the effects of this cultural shift. In a survey conducted by the Barna Group in February 2002, among teenagers self-identified as born again Christians, only 9% believed that objective moral absolutes exist compared with 4% among non-born again teens, demonstrating a near mirror between Christian youth and the surrounding culture. This trend was confirmed in a recent Canadian study that found “Christianity’s claim to truth” as one of the key contributing factors in turning Christian youth away from their faith commitments, seeing such a view as“intolerant” and “too narrow”. The prevailing mindset among young Canadians who have left their faith is that people should be free to determine and interpret truth for themselves. Consistent with the postmodern mindset then, truth is up to the individual.
With the cultural impact of postmodernism coming to maturity it would seem that the church has not been effective enough in equipping itself to prevail amidst such ideological attacks. But the postmodern turn is only one front in the spiritual battle for truth.
Knowledge in the 21st Century:
While postmodernism and its consequent relativism has swept through the humanities (“soft” science) departments of the Canadian University, another dominant and culture shaping idea has dominated the Natural (“hard”) sciences, namely Naturalism (or Scientific Naturalism). Philosopher John Post helps define the meaning of Naturalism and identifies the core presuppositions that lay behind it.
According to a number of influential philosophers, the sciences cumulatively tell us, in effect, that everything can be accounted for in purely natural terms. The ability of the sciences to explain matters within their scope is already very great, and it is increasing all the time. The worldview this entails, according to many, is naturalism: Everything is a collection of entities of the sort the sciences are about, and all truth is determined ultimately by the truths about these basic scientific entities.
Here, the two core presuppositions of Naturalism are laid out most clearly. First, everything can be “accounted for” (in other words understood or known) in “purely natural terms”. Or to put it another way, all knowable reality consists of natural or physical ‘stuff’. And second, of the physical ‘stuff’ that constitutes the sum total of all that exists, science alone gives us knowledge of these things. What is more, the confidence that comes from what science has already taught us justifies the optimistic belief that there is no limit to what science can and will still teach us. If there are questions to be asked about reality that have an answer, science is what will provide that answer. Foundational within 21st Century Canadian academia therefore is the assumption that the only true knowledge we have or may acquire about the world is scientific knowledge, and all other kinds of knowledge are therefore given some weaker status of ‘pseudo knowledge’. Not surprisingly, the result of this cultural shift concerning knowledge has also left Christians reconsidering the nature of their faith convictions. Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland summarizes the effect of Naturalism this way:
The scientific epistemology [theory of knowledge] of naturalism is pervasive in the university, the public schools, and the media. As a result, other forms of knowledge are regarded by the average citizen as either nonexistent or vastly inferior to science. This not only gives science incredible authority to define reality for all of us, it also causes believers to wonder if science has in some way discredited their Christian belief.
The effects of Naturalism have been influencing Christians for some time now, reaching as far back as the late 19th and early 20th century, where Christian theologians began capitulating to an increasingly naturalized view of reality. Much of Liberal Christian theology emerged as a misguided attempt to harmonize Christianity with modern science, failing to see that the very assumptions which were pushing “naturalized” science forward were a) not scientific but philosophical and b) completely incompatible with biblical Christianity. More could be said on this point, but suffice to say for now that the epistemic shift toward naturalism has produced a generation of Christians who conceive of the content of their faith only in terms of personal belief, but not actual knowledge. Further exacerbating this dichotomy has been our Canadian cultural assumption that the former belongs to the private sphere of religion or ethics, while the latter belongs to the publicly authoritative sphere of science.
A Toxic Environment:
Living in a culture where knowledge comes only through science and truth is relative has left many Canadian Christians clinging to an anemic version of Christianity. For the majority, Christian faith has been relegated to the sphere of private personal belief where its truth can only be validated in the arena of personal experience. “What does Jesus mean to me” has become the common vernacular when Christians want to affirm the merits of their faith commitments. Witness to the world means “sharing our personal testimony” about Jesus who has become our “personal savior”. For those who have been able to hang on to such a faith commitment, the reality of their Christian experience has shrunk to mere affirmation of a salvation creed that maintains belief in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins in order to attain eternal life in heaven. The transforming impact this belief brings to the here and now is often little more than some peculiar moral commitments and regular church attendance. For the rest, the average Christian’s life and view of the world looks no different than the average non-Christian’s.
With the best of intentions, many in the church believe that this deficiency in Christian holiness is simply a product of willful disobedience, the remedy for which is repentance and willful obedience. But God himself understands us well enough to know that this is insufficient since true transformation comes not from the desires of my heart, but from the Spirit empowered “renewing of my mind” (cf. Rom. 12:2). What the church in Canada has failed to address is the battle for the mind that has taken place within our culture over the past 100 years, not recognizing that while the church may have managed to keep a visible presence within the culture, the minds of its membership has been swept along with the culture toward a secularized view of reality.
Is it any surprise therefore how completely ineffective the church has become in influencing Canadian society? A generation of Christians has emerged who do not know how to integrate their Christian faith into their public lives. In fact in 2011 the Barna group reported that 84% of Christians ages 15 – 29 have no idea how the Bible applies to their field of study or professional interests. We have failed to teach a generation how biblical Christianity informs every sphere of life, not just our “religious” activities. We have allowed secularism to become our prevailing mindset in economics, politics, education and society, believing that our democratic process will allow these institutions to remain spiritually “neutral”, forgetting Paul’s warning that neutrality in any sphere is impossible since “our struggle is not with flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) but against the powers of a dark world ruled by the spiritual forces of evil. In short, we have failed to reproduce a generation trained and equipped to think biblically about the whole world and who allow Jesus Christ to redeem every aspect of life.
What is rapidly becoming apparent is that the mindset of this present age has filled the vacuum left by the church’s failure to fully address the battle for the Christian mind. In a 2009 nationwide survey, the Barna group determined that a mere 9% of Christians possessed a biblical worldview . Perhaps most startling was the finding that among the Mosaic generation (ages 18-23) that number was a mere 0.5%. Confirming this trend for the younger generation, a Statistics Canada report from 2006 notes that young adults aged 15-29 are the most likely to have no religious affiliation. The reports findings demonstrate that while “no religious affiliation” is a growing demographic trend in Canada over all, it is the youngest generation that is accelerating this trend the most. Interestingly, it is not immigration that is causing this acceleration. Where is this growing number of irreligious young people coming from? The short answer is from formerly Christian families.
According to the Rainer Institute, 70% of young people drop out of church between ages 18-22. The Barna Group estimates that as high as 80% of Christian young adults will “disengage” from their faith commitments by age 29.The reasons for leaving the faith may vary from person to person, but we may trace the root back to Paul’s warning: in the light our living environment characterized by ongoing spiritual battle, we must equip ourselves with God’s armament so that we may stand.
As we have argued above, the seismic epistemic shifts in our culture have gone unanswered by the church; the rank and file Christian’s “belt of truth” has been unbuckled, and their pants are down. They are unprepared to run from the enemy, much less put up a fight. Unfortunately, many in the emerging generation are beginning to believe that the church and its commitment to truth is the enemy and are leaving in droves. It is time for the church to respond for the sake of Christ and the next generation.
How can the church of Jesus Christ in Canada begin to stem the tide that seems to be sweeping the present generation of Christian young people away from maintaining an authentic commitment to Jesus Christ and life in His Kingdom? While no simplistic solutions can be given, one key part of the answer must be confronting the battle of ideas facing this generation. The Apostle Paul’s warning to the church in Colosse instructs us here. Sustained Christian faithfulness requires a conscious and deliberate effort to combat the false ideas that Paul warns will lead the faithful astray.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends upon human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
To engage in this battle of ideas, the church needs to restore its historic tradition of being a body that embraces and nurtures careful and critical thought. Since Paul clearly tells us that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3) Christian discipleship must include more than just practical training in personal holiness and the affirmation of personal belief. It must include critical thinking and training concerning the knowledge that Christ gives us about God, the world and our lives in relationship to both, and how that knowledge confronts the ideas that enslave our culture to Satan’s dominion.
In addition to equipping disciples to combat the “hollow and deceptive philosophies” that can lead them astray, we must also train up a new generation to reach those within our culture. For this the church must seriously engage in the task of equipping her members to intelligently confront the lies that blind those without Christ. As Paul instructs Timothy:
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:24-26)
In short, we must actively confront the confusion that postmodernism and naturalism have brought concerning truth and our ability to know it with the understanding that in Jesus Christ we possess true knowledge about the world and the human condition in the light of the Kingdom of God made present in Christ.
It is the mission of Prepared to Answer to partner in becoming an educational and training resource for local churches in Canada in order to stem the tide of attrition among the emerging generation of Christians in Canada. To read more on how PA is seeking to accomplish this mission, see our Vision statement.
 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, (New York, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.
 Ibid, 26.
 James Penner, et al. Hemorrhaging Faith: Why & When Canadian Youth Are Leaving, Staying & Returning to the Church, (EFC Youth, et al., 2012) p. 73.
 John Post, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (New York: Paragon, 1991), 11.
 J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 2007), 43.
/a> As cited in “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church” by Drew Dyck, posted at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/november/27.40.html (accessed Aug 10, 2012)