|Three Persistent Challenges for Evangelical Christians in America—A Father’s Perspective|
|Author:||Ev. Kalvin Budiman, Ph.D.|
|Posted on:||2015-04-03 01:04:37|
My son will turn eight years old next month. Ten years from now he will become a fully grown-‐up man. Like any other good parents, I pray that he will be a more faithful follower of Christ than I am. But I think most parents will agree with me that becoming a faithful follower of Christ is getting more and more challenging day by day. America is changing rapidly, and it is sadly becoming less friendly toward evangelical Christians. So I wonder, what are some tough challenges my son will likely have to face a decade from now when he is a grown up? What do I have to do now to prepare him to face up the challenges?
In this short article, I want to propose three social issues that have to be taken seriously by every Christian parent. These three issues, in my opinion, will continue to post serious threats to Christian faith in the United States in the next decade, or even decades. Those three issues are homosexuality, Islam, and the Internet or digital technology.
I think the issue of homosexuality will linger on and continue to become a divisive issue among churches. It will also continue to strangle evangelical Christians. Anyone who follows the news must have heard about what happened to Chick-‐Fil-‐A not too long ago. The owner expressed his Christian belief in traditional marriage, and all gay activists across America lost no time to attack and condemn Chick-‐Fil-‐A. Similar incidents happen in other places in the United States. It is hard to deny the fact that there is a growing trend in this country where people are more and more pro homosexuals and anti evangelical Christians. In the eyes of a large group of the younger generation in America, evangelical Christians are “homophobic, anti-‐gay bigots.” For them, the evangelical understanding of homosexuality is “hateful, small-‐minded, backward, and extremist.”1
So how do we prepare our children to face up the issue of homosexuality? The easiest way to do is to give up our beliefs and to join the flow of the crowd; teach our children that practicing homosexuality is not against the Word of God. Have not more and more Christians chosen that road? But if we want to stick to our traditional belief, we must be ready to accept the fact that the “battle” is difficult. First of all, as parents, we need to be firm and deep in our biblical convictions of Christian marriage. We need to have strong knowledge of what the Bible says about marriage and about being man and woman as God created them to be. Furthermore, we must show our children what it means to build a biblically based family. We must set an example in front of our children of how to become a good Christian husband or wife and parents.
Secondly, parents need to have a clear biblical view of sexuality. Secular culture has made the issue of sex an open exhibition for everybody to see and talk about. Sex is now everywhere in our culture. Therefore, parents need to know how to talk and handle sexual topics with children. We must equip ourselves with a clear biblical view of sexuality. Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but humans have stripped it from its godly values and turned it into a mere worldly pleasure and lust.
Thirdly, parents must teach their children both God’s justice and God’s love. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that children need to be able to separate sins from sinners. We condemn homosexual acts as sinful, but we don’t teach our children to hate the person who practices homosexuality. Remember, we are sinners, too. The final goal of defending the biblical view of marriage is not to create a distance between us (evangelical Christians) and them (gays and their supporters), but to bring together all sinners to the forgiveness of sins in Christ.
The next issue is Islam. I’m not particularly referring to terrorist groups like Al-‐Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS or Boko Haram. They are of course a serious threat to Christianity. But I’m thinking of a more subtle but growing trend that has been going on in the United States since September 11, 2001 attack in New York City by members of Al-‐Qaeda. After the attack, colleges and universities in America are strangely more accommodating to Islam than they are to evangelical Christians. Ten years after the attack, in 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education conducted a survey and reported that “in the minds of American college and university professors, Muslims are a more peaceful and preferred people than evangelicals.” Another non-‐evangelical group asked 1,200 college and university professors if they had “unfavorable feelings” toward various religions. The result? More than half (53%) held unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians and only 22% held unfavorable feelings for Muslims. 2
Recently Duke University, a prominent Methodist university, agreed to broadcast Muslim call to prayer from the school’s chapel tower. Although in the end the university reversed its decision, this action, and many other similar to it, is a strong indication of a new trend in America. The new trend is the growing influence of Islam in the social and cultural contexts of education in America. Small wonder if in his book, The Younger Evangelicals, Robert Webber includes comparative studies between Christianity and Islam as a new growing interest in evangelical apologetics among the younger evangelicals. 3
What do then we have to do as parents to prepare our children to face up the issue of Islam in America? First of all, parents need to understand that like the issue of homosexuality, the issue of Islam in the United States is not independent. It is related to political correctness in American culture. Many people will consider us politically “mean,” “hateful” and even “racists” if we dare to express our critical opinions toward minority in public. Since Muslims are still minority in this country, they are “politically more protected.”
Therefore, when one day my son bombarded me with questions about God, church, mosque, Jesus, salvation and whatnot, after he learned that one of his classmates was a Muslim, I took it as a call for me to sit down and have a serious conversation with him about religion. I began with the importance of being respectful to other people, whatever they believe. I then tried to do my best to instill four important concepts in my son: First, we are all sinners seeking to be freed from sins; second, salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ; third, he must be proud of his identity as follower of Christ; fourth, we must always be ready and able to give answer to those who ask about our Christian beliefs.
In other words, I want parents to realize that doing apologetics and evangelism are no longer exclusively pastors’ and evangelists’ jobs. Parents need to have at least basic knowledge of how to give account for their Christian faith and be able to teach their children to do the same.
3. The Internet and Digital Information Technologies
The final issue is the cultural revolution brought by the internet or the rapid progress in digital information technologies. It is true that the progress in digital technologies has become a huge blessing for our world. But it is also true that technology carries with it quite significant social and cultural changes that affect how we behave spiritually. For example, Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain, argues that the internet is “weakening our comprehension and transforming us into shallow thinkers.” With so much information available on the internet, “We have become scanners rather than engagers, skimmers in place of readers.”4 We are concerned about speed and vast knowledge at the expense of “perseverance” and “profundity”—two important aspects for building our faith. Faith needs perseverance to grow. It takes time to read and study the Word of God and to apply it in our daily lives. Thus, Tim Challies points out that the internet has become “the ever-‐present distraction” in our lives. Topics like God, salvation, prayer and worship now sound archaic and useless, not because they are not important, but because we are now easily distracted by so many ‘cool things’ we can do with the internet and our modern gadgets. He writes that “we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living.”5
Studies also show that the internet and digital technology have caused significant changes in how we relate to other people, how we use time and how we look at ourselves. According to James White, “On any given day, 53 percent of all the young adults ages eighteen to twenty-‐nine go online for no particular reason except to have fun or pass the time.”6 Today, the world is always “on.” But the irony is that people now spend more time alone than ever before. As a result, “The heaviest media users were also more likely to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.”7 The popularity of the so-‐called “social media” has also posed another psychological (and spiritual) challenges. Some sociologists come up with the phrase “Facebook depression” to describe “the low self-‐esteem kids can experience from constant exposure to friends’ happy status updates and photos of someone else’s packed social calendar.”8
So how do we as Christian parents deal with “digital generation”? Some parents might choose to take extreme measures by totally cutting off their children from the digital world. The other extreme approach would be to let the children go online unsupervised and without restraint. Both approaches are wrong. Technology is a tool, and like all other tools, its usefulness depends on us. Therefore, first of all, parents need to teach their children how to take advantage of technology to serve a higher purpose. They can use it to build up their faith and to expand their worldview. Second, parents must be willing and ready to talk with their children about all kinds of information that they see, hear and learn from the internet, including about games, social media and other online stuff. Third, parents need to help children manage their time between their actual social lives (being physically present for others) and their virtual lives (being virtually present on social media). Going to church and getting socially involved cannot be replaced by online social media. Lastly, parents need to encourage their children to maintain daily interaction with the Word of God. Having time to read and discuss the Bible together with our children will help them get their priorities right.
These are, in my opinion, three persistent challenges Christians face in America, and what we can do as parents to prepare our children to become Christ’s faithful witnesses.
1 John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 52.
2 Ibid., 48-‐49.
3 See Robert E. Webber, The Younger Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 106.
4 Citation in James E. White, The Church in an Age of Crisis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), Loc. 2124 (Kindle version).
6 Ibid., Loc. 2140.
7 Ibid., Loc. 2152.
8 Ibid., Loc. 2194.