Chapter OneA Crisis of Beliefs
As the three Christian leaders gathered before dawn in a place they
thought to be secret, their prayer time together was interrupted by
the sounds of crashing and shouting. The authorities had made repeated
efforts to persuade the believers to recant their loyalty to
Jesus Christ . and had failed. But this time there were no discussions.
In seconds, the Christians were surrounded by a cadre of Roman
soldiers, lifted to their feet, shackled, and led away to an
After several anxious hours of imprisonment, the Christians
were brought out before a raucous crowd in the arena of the Colosseum.
Their eyes scanned the stadium, blinking away disbelief at
the thousands of eager thrill seekers awaiting the spectacle of a
Still in chains, the group stood before the proconsul, who ordered
them to renounce their faith in Jesus, God's Son.
"Swear that Caesar is Lord," the proconsul demanded. "Renounce
your false beliefs, and I will release you." He added a warning.
"Fail to swear the oath, and you will face the lions."
One among the followers of Christ stepped forward. "I have committed
my life to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God," he said. "If
he wills that I die today, so be it. But I cannot renounce him."
"Nor can I," spoke the second man in a loud voice.
"I will serve only Christ," said the last.
The proconsul hesitated only a moment before lifting his hand
with a flourish. "Then you have made your choice," he said. He
nodded his head, and the soldiers opened the gates. The crowd
erupted in a bloodthirsty frenzy as the lions appeared in the arena
and focused their hungry gazes on their prey.
DANGERS IN A
The rolls of history are filled with the names and accounts of Christians
who, like the men described above, stood strong for their beliefs
in Jesus Christ-even in the face of torture and execution. They
chose death for what they believed rather than renounce their firm
faith in the one true God.
In many ways, our young people today must endure a twenty-first-century
Colosseum. They may not face literal lions, but they
quite possibly encounter more ethical and moral temptations,
greater spiritual battles and more intense emotional and relational
struggles than any other generation in history. I know that your
prayer-like mine-is that our kids will be strong in spirit and
character, able to resist the pressures of a godless culture so that no
matter what happens, they can live lives we can be proud of-lives
that are pleasing to God and others. We want them to become "mature
and full grown in the Lord," as the apostle Paul said, so that
they "will no longer be like children, forever changing [their]
minds about what [they] believe because someone has told [them]
something different or because someone has cleverly lied to [them]
and made the lie sound like the truth" (Ephesians 4:13-14).
But we worry that the values we are trying to instill within
our children will be countered somehow. What strikes fear in
our hearts is the possibility that our young people will fall prey
to the wrong crowd, succumb to the cultural pressures, and
make wrong choices that will bring pain and suffering to their
lives. We're concerned that all the warnings, cautions, and biblical
teachings we offer our children won't be enough to ground
them and keep them standing strong. And we have ample reason
WHY BELIEFS MATTER
I don't need to alarm you by quoting statistics that indicate what our
kids are doing. If you're a parent, pastor, youth worker, educator, or
anyone interested in today's young people, you see what's happening;
you sense the danger. Our children today face unprecedented
pressure. They are exposed to sexual temptation, school violence, alcohol,
illegal drugs, and a variety of influences that threaten to undo
all that we teach them. And while we need to
fear what our kids could be tempted to do, we
need to be more concerned with what our kids
are led to believe.
You see, the way our kids behave comesfrom something. Their attitudes and actions
spring from their value system, and their value
system is based on what they believe. In his
book Kingdom Education, my friend Dr. Glen
Schultz, a Christian educator, says, "At the foundation of a person's
life, we find his beliefs. These beliefs shape his values, and his values
drive his actions." Glen illustrates this through a pyramid that
graphically makes the point that our visible actions are a direct result
of our beliefs and values (see diagram).
Research shows, for example, that kids who believe that premarital
sex is morally right are far more likely to be sexually active.
Their beliefs shape their values, and their values lead them to exhibit
specific attitudes and actions.
This is precisely why, for example, many studies (among them
our own study of more than 3,700 kids who regularly attend church)
reveal that young people who lack a basic biblical belief system are
225 percent more likely to be angry with life
216 percent more likely to be resentful
210 percent more likely to lack purpose in life
200 percent more likely to be disappointed in life
Their beliefs create values that result not only in certain attitudes
but also in specific behaviors. That's why research has shown
that kids-otherwise good kids from good families-who don't
possess a biblical belief system are
36 percent more likely to lie to a friend
48 percent more likely to cheat on an exam
200 percent more likely to steal
200 percent more likely to physically hurt someone
300 percent more likely to use illegal drugs
600 percent more likely to attempt suicide
While this may be disturbing it should not surprise us, because
our actions flow out of our values, which arise from our beliefs. But
what may surprise you is that the majority of our young people
don't even hold to a biblical belief system. Our kids, even those
from solid Christian homes and churches, have distorted beliefs
about God and the Bible, beliefs that are having a devastating rippling
effect into every aspect of their lives.
OUR KIDS' DISTORTED BELIEFS
Now I realize that many parents and gatekeepers will tell me that
they have good kids and they're so impressed with the attitudes of
their young people. And, in part, research bears this out. Even after
the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the studies show our
kids have maintained an impressive set of personal priorities. Research
we commissioned from the Barna Research Group after the
2001 terrorist attacks reveals the following:
65 percent of today's young people want a close relationship
49 percent want to make a difference in the world.
79 percent consider having close personal friends as a high-priority
goal for their future.
Based on the research, if I had to summarize in one sentence
what I believe kids want, I would say they want a healthy, relationally
significant life on earth and a home in heaven. Today's young people
appear to be the most occupationally and educationally ambitious
generation ever, and they possess a high degree of spiritual interest.
The "Third Millennium Teens" study (also performed by the Barna
Research Group) reports that "4 out of 5 teens (80 percent) say that
their religious beliefs are very important in their life."
But because you and I care about the future of our young people,
we must look at what our kids are really believing in three areas-their
beliefs about God, truth, and reality. For it is what our
kids believe that will eventually define everything they come to be,
as well as determine the most important choices they make in life.
And what our kids currently believe is alarming.
1. Our Kids Are Adopting Distorted Beliefs about God
Gather a group of teenagers together-good Christian kids-and ask
them, "Who do you think God is?" "What do you think God is like?"
What kinds of answers do you suppose you'll get? They probably
won't differ much from those reported by Rob Rienow, a youth
minister at Wheaton Bible Church, Wheaton, Illinois, in aNewsweek cover story titled "What Teens Believe":
Their answers were as individual as the kids themselves. One
thought God was like his grandfather: "He's there, but I never see
him." Another took a harder view, describing "an evil being who
wants to punish me all the time." Two more opinions followed.
Finally, the last teen weighed in: "I think you're all right, because
that's what you really believe." In other words, as Rienow relates it, God is whatever works for you. On this, all of the youth agreed.
This generation may be open and vocal about their faith-even
to the point of wearing their Christian witness on T-shirts and
WWJD bracelets-but many of them are defining God in their own
ways. In the Barna "Third Millennium Teens" research we've already
quoted, 70 percent of the teenagers surveyed were active in
some church youth group, and 82 percent identified themselves as
Christians. We are talking about your youth and mine-good
Christian kids from good Christian homes and churches. The study
revealed these conclusions:
The vast majority of our teens (80 percent) believe that God
created the universe.
84 percent believe that God is personally involved in people's
Yet, in spite of these orthodox views,
63 percent also believe that Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and all other people pray to the same god, even though
they use different names for their god.
And what did these teens say they believe about Jesus?
87 percent of our kids believe Jesus was a real person who
came to earth, and 78 percent believe he was born to a virgin.
Yet nearly half (46 percent) believe he committed sins, and
over half (51 percent) say he died but did not rise from the
And in their minds is Christianity the only way to salvation?
48 percent of teenagers today believe that it doesn't matter
what religious faith you associate with because they all believe
the same principles and truth.
58 percent believe that all religious faiths teach equally valid
Your child or youth group may believe that Jesus really lived
and that he was actually born of a virgin. Your son or daughter may
even be among the minority who believe that Christ rose from the
dead. But the vast majority of our own kids (65 percent) either believes
or suspects that there is "no way to tell which religion is
true"! Their view of God is so distorted that they're not convinced
that the Jesus of the Bible is the way, the truth, and the life for "all
the children of the world."
It is not that our kids are rejecting Christianity as they know
it-they have simply been influenced to redefine it according to
their cultural setting. They are putting together their own religious
canon in a smorgasbord style. They are led to believe it is better to
pick and choose from various ideas, concepts of God, and religion
around them until they construct a tailor-made "faith," one that's
just right for them. They are being encouraged to piece their faith
together themselves; that way it will be theirs
personally, and it will offend no one.
As Newsweek reporter John Leland discovered,
"Even more than their baby-boomer
parents, teenagers often pick and choose what
works for them As they sample from various
faiths, students have become more accepting of each other's
beliefs, even when those beliefs are stringent. Clayton, a high-school
junior, says he is known among his classmates as 'the religious
guy,' but this does not make him the odd man out. Clayton,
17, an evangelical Christian, is one of a growing minority of teenagers
who are vowing to defer sex until marriage. 'There really is an
atmosphere of whatever you think is OK,' he says. 'Just don't tell
me what to think. I'll figure it out myself.'"
Clayton, like many of our Christian kids, may be taking a temporary
stand for some good things. But how they determine what is
true (and what is good) is alarming. Today's culture encourages
our young people to "figure it out" themselves, and what most are
"figuring out" is a little truth here and a little error there until they
end up with erroneous beliefs.
2. Our Kids Are Embracing Distorted Beliefs about Truth
Picture a youth-group Bible study. The adult group leader, who has
just finished reading a Scripture passage, turns to a student and
asks, "Alicia, what does this verse mean?"
Alicia, a professed Christian from a good Christian home,
pauses to reflect on the passage. "Well," she begins, after a few moments
of careful consideration, "what this verse means to me is ."
Chances are, most of us wouldn't even detect the subtle shift in
meaning reflected in Alicia's use of the words to me. But the importance
of those two tiny words must not be underestimated. They
are indicative of another dangerous condition that exists among
today's Christian young people: Most of them are not looking to
the biblical text for truth; they are actually looking within themselves.
The majority of today's youth (70 percent) say there is no
absolute moral truth.
For the most part, many church and parachurch youth workers
have become group facilitators rather than teachers of scriptural
truth. And it's not so much because group leaders are not
intending to share the meaning of scriptural truth-many are.
The problem is that young people simply hear truth through their
own "filter," which tells them that all truth is subjectively and personally
For example, listen to Amber, a typical sixteen-year-old Christian
from a solid youth group, respond to my questions.
"Is it wrong to engage in premarital sex?" I ask.
"Well, I believe it's wrong for me," she responds.
I probe further. "But do you believe the Bible teaches that premarital
sex is wrong for everyone?"
Amber's eyes shift back and forth as she weighs her answer.
"Well," she begins slowly, "I know it's wrong for me, and I have
chosen not to have sex until I'm married. But I don't think I can
judge other people on what they do."
You see, it's not that Amber doesn't believe the Bible provides "a
clear and totally accurate description of moral truth." She, like 61
percent of our kids, would say that's exactly what she believes.16 But
she's like the majority of our young people, who have been conditioned
to believe that truth is not true for them until they choose to believe