I went to see Josh McDowell at Walnut Creek Community Church.  During his talk he mentioned that only 9% of evangelical youth, youth who have said, “I have personally trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. If I were to die today, I know I would go to heaven because He is my Savior and He has forgiven me of my sins,” believe in absolute truth.  Absolute or universal truth is, as defined by McDowell…

A truth that exists outside ourselves, one that is true for all people, for all times, for all places.

We have experienced an epistemological cultural shift.  So we have more than just a generational gap, but two different cultures with those who are 35 and up, and those who are 34 and younger.

It has taken awhile to get to this point, but now we see a clear difference in the source of truth which was once viewed as a personal Creator God, but now it is seen as created man.  This has led to some key distinctions within these two cultures (the first statement representing those who are 35 and older):

  • Truth Discovered vs. Truth Created
  • Cognitive Truth vs. Relational Truth
  • “If it is true it will work.” vs. “If it works it is true.”

So with young adults and youth most view truth as being internal.  We create it.  “I believe it therefore it is true” instead of “It is true therefore I believe it.”  The last statement has a subtle change – “if it works it is true.”  For instance we see this argument with the message of abstinence, “It’s not realistic.”

This is plainly seen with evangelical youth as well, for instance.

  • 39% disagree that the Bible is the Word of God.
  • 51% disagree that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was a historical event.
  • 63% disagree that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • 65% say there is now way to tell which religion is true.
  • 58% believe that all faiths teach equally valid truths.
  • Only 4% believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.

What’s the number one virtue now?  Tolerance.  Which basically means, today not how it’s historically been defined, “all beliefs, all values, all lifestyles, and all claims to truth are equally valid.” 

This is broadened out with multiculturalism which means “all cultural beliefs, all cultural values, all cultural lifestyles, and all cultural truth claims are equally valid.”

Do you see the problem with this?  This position can’t say anything is wrong.  So you are from a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon… that position is ok because we can’t make a value judgment since that is their lifestyle.  Cannibalism isn’t ok with me, but it is ok for them.

Pedophiles??? How else do you think the ACLU could defend NAMBLA (The North American Man/Boy Love Association), or the fact that this organization even exists!

I know those are extreme examples, but carry this out to its natural conclusion and this is what we see.  This is a factor in the gay marriage debate as well.  Thirty years ago we wouldn’t have had this conversation.  Now it is legal in Iowa (and Massachusetts and Connecticut).  Thirty years from now what will be tolerated?

Thoughts?

23 comments
  1. Josh has been speaking and writing for over 30 years.. did he have any thoughts on the cause of the shift?

    I think that the shift came as young folks observed the superficiality and hypocrisy in the church – men claiming Jesus as Lord and then divorcing their mothers.. leaders speaking hatefully towards gay people.. preachers railing against sin and then running off with their secretary.

    The problem isn't absolute truth but (IMO) truth that is lived well. We must, like Paul, display a life that is worth following.. one that say follow me as I follow Him.

  2. Great post and somewhat unsettling since 3 of my 5 kids are of youth-group age right at the moment! My husband had heard Josh McDowell speak on this on the radio and the stats were somewhat stunning to us. I think sometimes we get too comfortable and complacent thinking that we have grounded our kids in biblical truth when they were little and then quit worrying about it because “they know the truth”. We have always taken the approach that you can never talk to them TOO MUCH about right doctrine and the truth of the Word of God. They get so much false information from the world, we have to be super diligent to combat it and keep them on solid ground. Thanks for bringing this to people's attention, it's of great importance.

  3. You say that the attitude that all religions are equally valid leads inevitable to saying that things like cannibalistic cultures are ok. But this isn't a fair argument at all, since nobody is saying cannibalism is ok. Even when cannibalism existed in some cultures, those cultures themselves regarded it as wrong. For every tribe of cannibalistic Caribs there were peace-loving Arawaks.
    Think about it, all the major world religions all teach essentially the same things, reverence toward God and compassion toward other men. Being tolerant does imply that you have to say “it's all good” to cannibalism, rather that there is a baseline of goodness that all mainstream cultures cam agree on.

  4. Clarification: The ACLU defends free speech, not NAMBLA's goals. They've also defended religious free speech. It has something to do with the US Constitution, I'm told.

  5. My only comment would be that being under 34 and believing in absolute truth is kind of like being a foreigner everywhere you go. Nobody quite knows what to make of you.

  6. Oh this didn't happen over night… but several historical events:
    1. The Renaissance
    2. The Enlightenment
    3. Industrial Revolution
    4. Darwinism – and the liberal/fundamentalist split that pitted cognitive truth vs. relational truth

    You are right – basically he was calling on truth lived out in relationships.

    1 Thessalonians 2:8 – “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only the Gospel of God, but our own lives as well.”

  7. Be mindful that they look differently at this than you or I would, and make sure you are spending lots and lots of time with them living that truth out.

    Also, check your youth ministry's curriculum… are there “what does that mean to you?” type of questions? If so encourage your youth leader or youth pastor chuck it. Seriously what does it matter what it means to us. What does it mean to Jesus, and how does it apply to us is the better question.

  8. Yeah, sure they defend free speech for churches when it suits them, and that is very, very rare. They are usually attacking churches' free speech.

    The very fact NAMBLA exists is a symptom of this.

  9. That was a hypothetical example, and no if you take the argument to the natural conclusion if they are consistent that would be the case.

    Also you assume that those two tribes share geographical space that they also share the same culture. I would say not – one was cannibalistic, the other wasn't. That's a major cultural difference wouldn't you say? But like I said, it was just a hypothetical example.

    Strabo, people take tolerance to conclusions beyond the “baseline of goodness that all mainstream cultures can agree on.” I've seen that in personal conversations and comments here.

  10. I see your point and I agree with you. I am certainly not arguing for some sort of no-hold-barred cultural relativism, and just because a society condones a particular immoral act does not make it morally excusable. You're right there are people out there who under the guise of being tolerant are really being morally noncommittal. But I think tolerance doesn't mean moral spinelessness, as you say in your post it has historically been defined very differently.

    I don't see a problem with the idea that all faiths teach equally valid truths. Is the implication that ecumenism is incompatible with evangelism?

    Saying that all cultures are equally valid is not the same thing as saying anything goes.

    Incidentally, the Arawaks and the Caribs actually were part of the same culture and geographic regions, although they were different tribes. They had a fascinating interaction, according to wikipedia “the Caribs' raids resulted in so many female Arawak captives that it was not uncommon for the women to speak [Arawakan].”

  11. I was with Campus Crusade during the 80’s and I remember Josh Mcdowell talking about the huge shift in the culture. He was using the Watergate hearings as an example. One of the witnesses in the hearings (I think it was John Dean) was asked why he decided to stop doing evil and come forward. his answer was “Because of what it was doing to my family and I”. Mcdowell pointed out that this shift was huge because people only look at situations being right and wrong as to how it affects them and not moral truth.

    The “Statement of Faith” ratteled off by the youth even though it is not detailed is contradictory to a notion of thier being no absolute truth. If you rattle somthing off, it may reveal that your heart really has not changed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

    On the positive side, there has been a underground movement for a couple of years in the christian hip hop communities. (i.e. reachlife.org reachrecords.com crossmovementrecords.com) the artists such as Flame, Lecrae ect. have not only diligently studied the scripture, but they read, Piper, Mcaurthur, Johnathan Edwards, Owens, R.C. Sproul, Spergeoun (sp) Whitefield. I would encourage poeple to go the website
    readthisbeforeyoudie.com Also there is a great young church in Los Angeles called Passion for Christ Ministries at p4cm.com

  12. Something about those results doesn't add up. 63% disagree that Jesus is the Son of God, while only 51% disagree that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. So we have 49% that believe that Jesus rose from the dead but only 37% that believe he is the Son of God? Are they reading the same Bible? Perhaps they were interviewing Jehovah's Witnesses? Also, if someone disagrees with the statement that Jesus is the Son of God, can that person really be considered a Christian?

  13. I agree with you. These were kids who affirmed this statement: “I have personally trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. If I were to die today, I know I would go to heaven because He is my Savior and He has forgiven me of my sins.”

    And who attend evangelical churches. I don't remember what the sample size was, but he did say it surpassed the typical sample size of a scientific poll. I know he gives more info on the actual study itself in some of his books, and he has repeated it several times. The first study was what launched his book Right From Wrong.

    So perhaps we have fewer Christians in our youth groups, and instead have churched deists?

  14. Oh I think ecumenism can occur with certain things, projects, etc that are not spiritual in nature.

    I would say it is an issue with the nature of evangelism, and this is where those who hold to this new definition of tolerance get irritated. It is because you are saying that your belief, and in this case, the Gospel is superior to say a Buddhist's beliefs.

    Also, what about doctrine in different faiths that contradict. Christianity one God, Buddhists many… Christianity – Jesus is the Son of God, Islam – he is a prophet, but no more.

    “all cultures are equally valid” – Radical Islam where they execute people who convert to Christianity? Or execute for proselytizing?

    Regarding the cannibal tribes – ok, that was just an example off the top of my head. Like I said hypothetical. In history past there has been more than just one tribe that has done this in the Amazon and in other places as well.

  15. The ACLU also supported free speech rights of anti-abortion church groups. But the organization doesn't just concern itself with the first amendment. Other Constitutional issues are also their concern and that's where you might have some disagreement — The lines where free speech and religious liberties meet.

    The existence of NAMBLA may as well be considered a 'symptom' of the US Constitution as well. The Constitution doesn't support NAMBLA, it only permits its existence and protects speech by its members. Would you only permit free speech for organizations you find personally acceptable? Is that a Conservative postion?

  16. Did I say anything about making them illegal?

    The concern about NAMBLA is this – are their purposes really limited to speech? How many would be pedophiles have they empowered?

    It isn't so much what they're saying, it's the uncertainty of what they are saying could or has already led to. If they are aiding in pedophilia, then this isn't a free speech issue – it's a crime.

    The same could be said about other types of speech as well – like instructions on how to build bombs, etc.

    I guess a little common sense is in order.

    By the way, I believe there would be a lot that has been done in the name of “constitutional rights” would make the framers of it turn over in their grave.

  17. The ACLU doesn’t support NAMBLA's goals, but citizens are entitled to free speech as it is set forth in the US Constitution and codified by legal precedent. Yes, even unpopular speech that most others find completely atrocious.

    The framers of the Constitution knew full well the problems and hazards of speech restriction — Why do you think free speech is specifically addressed in the First amendment in the US Bill of Rights? They believed the ability to freely express ideas was fundamental to the Republic. They knew that these ideas would include the good and the bad, but they respected the autonomy of individuals to judge for themselves.

  18. I wish I had heard him. Thanks for the summary. It would all be too alarming if it weren't for the truth that God is still in charge and still more powerful than evil and the deception it brings.

  19. One problem I've found when discussing absolute truth with my younger generation is that they don't even understand the definition of absolute truth. So maybe this is part of the problem?

    But I really agree with you on this Shane. I think one lie our culture is telling us is that if we can't prove something with science or that if something offends someone then it can't be true. We need to be counter cultural and go against this sweeping tide of relativism.

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