The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the third in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
The creation / evolution battle has been front and center in the culture war that rages in America. Those opposed to the Bible and Biblical Creationism have been very successful in redefining the conflict between evolution and the Bible’s teaching on creation as “science vs. religion.” This fallacious concept has infiltrated the thinking of much of the church. Evolution is not science; it is an anti-Christian religious philosophy disguised as science. Unfortunately, most Christian leaders do not understand this distinction. Many recognize that atheistic evolution is incompatible with the Bible, but because they lump evolution and science together, many Christian leaders and pastors are also suspicious of science. Then, this misinformed, anti-science attitude is preached from the pulpit and taught in the Sunday School classroom. There should be no tension between Christianity and science; the conflict is between Christianity and evolution.
How should the church address the concerns expressed in the Barna study? Over a third of those surveyed stated that, “Christians are too confident they know all the answers.” Perhaps many in the church have a problem with pride? I know I do not have all the answers. But, I know where all of the answers can be found – in the Bible. This is the message that the church must communicate: the church does not have all the answers; pastors do not have all the answers; ministries like Answers in Genesis, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, and Focus on the Family do not have all the answers; only the Bible ultimately has the answers to all of the important questions of life.
The other issue with the perception that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” is the post-modern, relativistic belief that truth is ultimately unknowable. Many young people have been indoctrinated with the idea that truth is relative, that whatever one believes is truth for them. This illogical, fallacious belief has also infiltrated the thinking of many church leaders. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV), and “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32 NKJV). Absolute truth exists; Jesus Christ is absolute Truth; and the Bible communicates the absolute truth. Church leaders need to get this concept firmly ingrained in their thinking, and they need to communicate this clearly to their congregations.
How can the church change the perception that it is anti-science and out of step with the scientific world? First, we need to properly frame the issues. The church should not be anti-science. God gave us science so that we can better understand and utilize the world He created for us. Science has given us medical advances to cure disease, agricultural advances to produce better crops, and technology that allows us to share the Gospel to wider audiences in more diverse ways. The philosophy and pseudo-science of evolution are anti-Christian; science is a gift from God.
Secondly, the church needs to stop teaching spiritual truth in isolation from the rest of reality. Truth is truth; there is no distinction between spiritual truth and scientific truth. Rather than avoiding scientific discussion, the church must embrace it. Pastors and teachers need to be informed about the current scientific issues, and teach how to apply Biblical truth to these issues. Young adults would have far less problem “staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries” if they were taught why there is no conflict between Biblical truth and real science. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we need to be prepared to defend the Gospel. The church needs to equip science-minded Christians to stand up for the Gospel, and all Christians to defend the Gospel against the attacks of evolutionary pseudo-science.