Concerning Graduates Who Walk Away from God

Do you know anybody who grew up in a religious environment, maybe even a Christian one, and walked away from faith/church/God when they turned eighteen and went away to college?

These are the words of Rob Bell. This is how he opens the discussion of LOGOS in Movement Three of his penetrating book Velvet Elvis. He calls the “movement” TRUE. I’d like to share this section with you. Before doing so let me attempt a brief summary of this portion of the book.

Some Background Information

1) Bell asserts: “…as a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.” (p. 080) Indeed, because we are God’s, and all things are God’s, then all things are ours.

2) He bases this conviction on two examples from the Apostle Paul’s writing. In one instance Paul claimed the truth of the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, calling him a prophet, when he wrote to Titus, whom he had left on the Isle of Crete with specific ministry assignments. (cf. Titus 1:5ff)

3) The second instance he references finds Paul in Athens at a meeting of the Areopagus. He notes that Paul appropriated and claimed the truth espoused by some of their own poets who had without full understanding stated, “We are his offspring.” (cf. Acts 17:22ff)

4) Thus, with Arthur Holmes, whom he quotes, Bell believes that “all truth is God’s truth.”

Compelling Thoughts

Against this backdrop asks the above question regarding those who turn eighteen and walk away from their faith/church/God. This is a long reading, but it is, in my estimation, quite compelling. Bell writes:

Whenever I ask this question in a group of people, almost every hand goes up. Let me suggest why. Imagine what happens when a young woman is raised in a Christian setting but hasn’t been taught that all things are hers and then goes to a university where she’s exposed to all sorts of new ideas and views and perspectives. She takes classes in psychology and anthropology and biology and world history, and her professors are people who have devoted themselves to their particular fields of study. Is it possible that in the course of lecturing on their field of interest, her professors will from time to time say things that are true? Of course. Truth is available to everyone.

But let’s say her professors aren’t Christians, it is not a “Christian” university, and this young woman hasn’t been taught that all things are hers. What if she has been taught that Christianity is the only thing that’s true? What if she has been taught that there is no truth outside the Bible? She’s now faced with this dilemma: believe the truth she’s learning or the Christian faith she was brought up with.

Or we could put her dilemma this way: intellectual honesty or Jesus?

How many times have you seen this? I can’t tell you the number of people in their late teens or early twenties I know, or those I have been told about, who experience truth outside the boundaries of their religion and abandon the whole thing because they think it’s a choice (which is a fatal flaw in thing we’ll address in a moment). They are experiencing truth in all sorts of new ways, and they need a faith that is big enough to handle it. Their box is getting blown apart, and the faith they were handed doesn’t have room for what they are learning.

But it isn’t a choice, because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” If you come across truth in any form, it isn’t outside your faith as a Christian. Your faith just got bigger. To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it. It’s not truth over here and Jesus over there, as if they were two different things. Where we find one, we find the other. Jesus is quoted in the book of John saying, “I and the Father are one.” If Jesus and God are one, if Jesus shows us what God is really, truly like, and God is truth and all truth is God’s truth, the Jesus takes us into the truth, not away from it. He frees us to embrace whatever is true and good and beautiful wherever we find it.

To live this way then, we have to believe in a big Jesus. For man, Jesus was presented to them as the solution to a problem. In fact, this has been the dominant way of explaining the story of the Bible in Western culture for the past several hundred years. It’s not that it is wrong: It’s just that Jesus is so much more. The presentation often begins with sin and the condition of human beings, separated from God and without hope in the world. God then came up with a way to fix the problem by sending Jesus, who came to the world to give us a way out of the mess we find ourselves in. So if we were to draw a continuum of the story of the Bible, Jesus essentially shows up late in the game.

But the first Christians didn’t see Jesus this way, as if God were somewhere else and then cooked up some way to solve the sin problem at the last minute by getting involved as Jesus. They believed that Jesus was somehow more, that Jesus had actually been present since before creation and had been a part of the story all along.

In the first line of his gospel, John calls Jesus the “Word”. The word Word here in Greek is the word logos, which is where we get the English word logic.

Logic, intelligence, design. The blueprint of creation.

When we speak of these concepts, what we are describing is the way the world is arranged. There is some sort of order under the chaos, and some people seem to have a better handle on it than others. Some understand math, some the human psyche and others can speak clearly and compellingly about the solar system. When we say someone is intelligent, we saying they have insight as to how things are put together.

And the Bible keeps insisting that Jesus is how God put things together. The writer Paul said that Jesus is how God holds all things together. The Bible points us to a Jesus who is in some mysterious way behind it all.

Jesus is the arrangement. Jesus is the design. Jesus is the intelligence. For a Christian, Jesus’ teachings aren’t to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the best possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are.

I don’t follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me”, he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God. I love the way Paul puts it in the book of Colossians: These religious acts and rituals are shadows of the reality. “The reality . . . is found in Christ.”

Final Thoughts

Well, if you read this line you’re really a trooper. In my opinion, this is a topic that merits not only our thoughtful dialogue, but, also, our fervent prayers. May God help us help others, especially our precious children, come to know Him. Please do share your impressions regarding Rob Bell’s thoughts with us.

Grace and peace,
-bill
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About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Blogroll, Children, Christian Living, Discipleship Training, Family, Following Jesus, Graduation, Kingdom Living, Life, Parenting, youth. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Concerning Graduates Who Walk Away from God

  1. Neva Cooper says:

    I enjoyed this post Bill. I just started reading that book, along with about four others. 🙂

    I pray for young people searching for their faith all the time. When I went back to college at age 35, I was a single mom and started a home bible study for college kids and on saturdays, they came and I fed them breakfast and they did laundry at my house. It became an amazing outreach with many conversions. These college kids were searching for God just like we are. They wanted a faith of their own. It was a powerful experience.
    Peace
    Neva

  2. Lisa says:

    Wow, I thought that was really insightful. It seems as if the solution is really simple! Maybe not so easy, but simple. If we are teaching our children where to find TRUTH, they will not be so confused when heading off to college and being presented with many truths that are outside their “religion.” Amazing. I feel really inspired and energized from reading this.

  3. Nicole says:

    Once again the responsiblity of Truth begins at home. When a youngster with unsaved family is getting his/her only spiritual education at church, the burden and responsibilty is shifted to the ministry of the church.

    The problem lies not in “claiming truth” wherever it is to be found but in discerning it from the lies which accompany it, much like the serpent in the garden delivering the message so persuasively. This is what is often found in colleges, moreso in secular colleges but also occasionally in Christian colleges which is sad and potentially more dangerous.
    There is also the difficulty in discerning truth from opinion. Students first entering colleges are exposed to opinions, lies, and truth. Adults are tested regularly with the same convincing arguments to believe opinions and lies mixed with elements of truth. It can be very challenging to carve out the truth from some of the information offered with such convincing statistics and “facts”. Once again preparation to be able to prayerfully discern these things is essential.

    Without rock solid foundation in biblical doctrine, without a concrete relationship and love for Jesus Christ, and without understanding the nuances of temptations for oneself, how is a young person to survive the onslaught of the world? If they’re ill prepared, they’ll most certainly falter just as many adult Christians do. However, if they truly have experienced that loving relationship with Jesus, He will pursue them to return them to the fold.

    It is that love which demands we cover them and all others who stray in prayer and break down the devil’s hold on the gates of True life. As we must also do for ourselves.

  4. Mak says:

    I love this portion in Velvet Elvis and agree with Bell 100%

    I think another thing that allows me to resonate with Bell in this is that I don’t see the “world” as attacking me…or anyone. I see the enemy as the thief and killer and lier but he is present everywhere. God also is present everywhere and where God is present, truth is present and all truth is our truth.

    I think we need to admit that there is HUGE variation on “truth” in the Church so to blame the “world” for steering our young away form truth is arrogant.

    I have more thoughts but I’ll return later…off to watch some sci fi with my love.

  5. Nicole says:

    Clarification of the term “the world”–refers to the essence of opposition to the truth of biblical living, i.e. following Christ, all that Christ is and stands for. Secular, “the world”, as in James 4:4.

  6. Michael krahn says:

    Hey Bill,

    This is one of the many passages of the book I agreed with. There were a few I disagreed with and questioned too.

    I just finished a series on the book at http://ascenttotruth.blogspot.com/

    Join me for some conversation.

    Thanks, Michael, for sharing your perspective and the link to your series. Like you, I have questions re: some of what Bell writes. In my estimation he would be just fine with that. In fact, in the section in which he discusses the notion that labeling something as Christian does not necessarily make it so he writes:

    The danger of labeling things “Christian” is that it can lead to our blindly consuming things we have been told are safe and acceptable. When we turn off this discernment radar, dangerous things can happen. We have to test everything. I thank God for the many Christians who create and write and film and sing. Anybody anywhere who is doing all they can to point people to the deeper realities of God is doing a beautiful thing. But those writers and artists and thinkers and singers would all tell you to think long and hard about what they are saying and doing and creating. Test it. Probe it. Do that to this book. Don’t swallow it uncriticaly. Think about it. Wrestle with it. Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion. God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right? (pgs. 086-087, Velvet Elvis)

  7. Bill, I taught for years in a Christian school and “all truth is God’s truth” was a mantra, so I have no problem with it. Except, I have to admit, I felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of 18 year olds being free to claim truth wherever they find it.

    Discernment seems to be most needed.

    Our “all truth is God’s truth” stance led to integration of Scripture in all of our teaching because the filter through which truth needs to be viewed is the Bible. It’s the only way to weed out opinion and the “truth” claims of theories like evolution.

    Becky

    One of the hardest things to do is to set quotes like this in context. I gave a bit of backgroud, which I thought would be helpful. I probably should have included a word or two about the following section in which Bell discussions “labeling” things Christian. I believe he makes a valid point. One that a creative person like you will surely appreciate. He writes:

    The danger of labeling things “Christian” is that it can lead to our blindly consuming things we have been told are safe and acceptable. When we turn off this discernment radar, dangerous things can happen. We have to test everything. I thank God for the many Christians who create and write and film and sing. Anybody anywhere who is doing all they can to point people to the deeper realities of God is doing a beautiful thing. But those writers and artists and thinkers and singers would all tell you to think long and hard about what they are saying and doing and creating. Test it. Probe it. Do that to this book. Don’t swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it. Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion. God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right? (pgs. 086-087, Velvet Elvis)

    I have my share of questions re: some of what Bell writes. But, I do find his voice extremely valuable in understanding a couple of generations that have come along behind me who have grown up in a world very much different from the world I grew up in and, for that matter, different from the world in which I’ve raised my children.

  8. Mak says:

    I thought I had more to say here but I really don’t.

    God and his truth can be found anywhere and if we limit ourselves to blindly consuming all things labeled “christian” we miss seeing God where he can be found

  9. Thanks for that quote, Bill. I do love that and think it is impressive that he calls readers to the task of testing his words. I especially like these lines: “I’m contributing to the discussion. God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right?”

    Becky

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