Teens attracted to the truths of Christ through relationships, says Josh McDowell
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)--Most teenagers today who make professions of faith in Christ still do not believe that Christianity is the one true religion, according to an international Christian apologist and youth ministry expert.
"Seventy-five percent of all kids coming to Christ today are not coming to Jesus because he's the way, the truth and the life," said Josh McDowell. "They are coming to Christ because he is the best thing that's come along so far, that they've filtered through their experience. And as soon as something better to them comes along, they're gone."
Speaking during "Legacy 2000," an evangelism and church planting conference, Oct. 2-4, co-sponsored by the North American Mission Board and Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., McDowell said the greatest challenge facing the evangelical church in the 21st century is communicating the truth of the gospel in a culture where all truth claims are perceived as equal.
Citing a 1999 survey showing that 65 percent of evangelical teenagers believe there is no way to determine which religion is true, McDowell said the prevailing cultural mindset defines truth according to "personal perspective" and "personal experience."
McDowell assessed the challenges of student evangelism in the new millennium by describing a cultural chasm separating the church from today's teens as a worldview founded on the concept that "truth is not there to be discovered, truth is there to be created."
"They don't even understand your world," McDowell said addressing an audience where most in attendance were at least 30 years old and older. "They don't even understand your language."
For example, McDowell said, many evangelical teenagers today say the Bible is true and historically accurate because they believe it.
McDowell said, however, this belief system is faulty because it's based on one's personal opinion not the concept that there is an objective standard of truth outside of one's self.
The recognition of an objective standard of absolute truth, McDowell said, leads one to acknowledge the Bible is true regardless of his or her agreement or acceptance.
McDowell blamed the propagation of Darwinism in the public schools for society's rejection of absolute truth. "If there is no Creator God, then there is no external truth and all you have left is man," he said. "If there is no Creator God in which dwells truth apart from yourself, then all truth is created, all truth is personal."
Today's generation, McDowell said, has replaced John 3:16 -- the message of salvation -- as the most-quoted Bible verse with Matthew 7:1, "Judge not lest you be judged." A verse, he said, that actually teaches one to judge according to God's standard as evidenced by his character and nature.
A society void of the concept of absolute truth universally acknowledged for all people for all time, McDowell said, stands increasingly vulnerable to the barbaric displays like that of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in April 1999 at Columbine High School, Littleton, Col.
"What Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did in killing those kids and that teacher was morally right ... according to their own personal value system," McDowell said.
McDowell visited Columbine in the wake of the worst-ever school shooting which left 15 people dead and dozens injured. He said a 1999 survey which showed that 52 percent of "evangelical church kids say the only intellectual way to live is to make the best decisions you can based on your feelings at the moment," is exactly what Harris and Klebold did.
Dismissing the popular notion that "high-risk" teenagers are the results of broken homes shattered by divorce, McDowell cited a Columbia University study released five months after the massacre at Columbine. The study showed that even in two-parent homes children are 68 percent more likely to get involved with drugs and violence when there is a "fair-to-poor relationship" with the father. Harris and Klebold were raised in two-parent families, McDowell noted.
"It's not so much the structure but the relationship within the structure," McDowell said.
Consequently, McDowell said, the answer for reaching the teen culture with the truth of the gospel remains the same now as in the days of the New Testament when the concept of tolerance was propagated throughout Rome in an effort to keep peace.
"You will not reach this culture if you cannot impart your life," McDowell said.
At 61, McDowell said his ministry is living proof that teenagers respond to the truth of Jesus Christ where there is an "emotional attachment, loving bond and intimate connection."
"Today's culture will not care how much you know until they know how much you care," he said.
McDowell warned, however, that the gospel should not be compromised to make it attractive. "Compassion is not a substitute for truth," he said. "Compassion is an attraction to truth." ... "I believe a personal testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ alive in his or her life is one of the top attractions to consider truth as truth."
McDowell said "one of the greatest heresies today" being taught in some churches is the concept of salvation by faith without any mention of Christ. "If you could be saved by faith you wouldn't need Jesus, just build up your faith," he said. "Faith does not give credence to the object, the object gives credence to the faith."
Teenage audiences today have never been more receptive to his message that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven, McDowell said.
"All over the world, every culture I've been to, they want to hear a daddy's heart and they want it from a daddy who loves them," he said.