What is the Greatest Need for this New Generation?
What is the greatest need for this generation? Many studies have been done to reveal the beliefs and behavior of Generation Z. Common descriptions include that they are “screenagers,” diverse, individualistic, overwhelmed, and lonely. There is some truth in each of these.
But equally pressing, if not more pressing, is the fact that this generation lacks a biblical worldview. According to the recent Gen Z study by Barna, only four percent of young people today have a biblical worldview (this is 50% lower than for Millennials). Twice as many Gen Zers identify as atheists compared to adults.
As a result, most young people—both inside and outside the church—are not taking their cues from Scripture. Rather, they are following their feelings. For instance, a young woman, at a historic Christian college, described her journey to identifying as queer to NPR:
“When I realized that my faith wasn't necessarily about the [Christian Reformed] Church, and it wasn't even necessarily about the Bible but about my relationship with God and that God is all-encompassing and loving, I felt very free.”
In other words, in the eyes of this young girl, and so many in this generation, freedom comes not from orienting your life to Scripture, but from following your feelings. Freedom is living according to whatever feels right. Scripture can be bent to match your feelings.
Sadly, this girl has it exactly backwards. Yes, God is loving, as she suggests. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love.”
But in the very next chapter John says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
According to John, if we love God, we must keep his commands. And, these commandments are not “burdensome.” In other words, God’s commands are not meant to conscript us, but to set us free. That’s why King David rejoiced in the law of the Lord (Psalms 19). And that is why Moses said that God’s commandments are for our good (Deuteronomy 10).
True freedom comes not from following our feelings, or bending Scripture to match our desires, but from orienting our feelings to Scripture. This issue was at the heart of my recent discussion on the Bible and homosexuality with Matthew Vines. He believes my position brings harm to gays. I believe he twists Scripture. At the heart of our disagreement is the same question as above: Is the Bible our guide for what is good, true, and loving? Or is it something else?
Given my research on Gen Z, and my personal interaction with young people today, I am more convinced than ever that the greatest need of this generation (whether they realize it or not) is for three things:
1.Conviction that the Bible is true.
2. Belief that the Bible is both good and authoritative.
3. Training in how to interpret the Bible properly and to apply it to all of life.
Students needs evidence the Bible is true and reliable, conviction that it is authoritative for all of life, and the ability to properly interpret it and apply it to their lives and relationships today.
In my opinion, if we are not teaching students these three things, then we failing to address their greatest need.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.