Christian Smith, the Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor and Associate Chair in the sociology department at the University of North Carolina recently conducted a survey on the religious beliefs of teenagers. Many surveys have been done on today’s teens but most were about how to sell products to them. Dr. Smith’s survey may have been the first to study what teens believed about God. They interviewed over 300 teens from across the country and carefully documented each interview. The results were remarkable and have been published by Dr. Smith in a recent book called Soul Searching.
After the data was compiled, Dr. Smith found that the religious beliefs of teens are remarkably similar. Most believe that God exists, that He was the creator and has ordered the universe, that we understand the world because it has been ordered by God. The purpose of life is to be nice, good, and pleasant. They believe that good people go to heaven and almost everyone is good. They see the goal of life as being personal happiness. They view God as a cosmic therapist and divine butler. They don’t go to God unless they are in trouble. When they do go to Him, He acts as their therapist or gets them the things they need. After that, He just quietly goes away and does not stay involved in their lives. The survey found these beliefs to be remarkably consistent across denominational lines. Even Muslim teens held pretty much the same beliefs. The teens had very little content to their faith. When Dr. Smith did a computer word search to find out how many times teens used the word grace in their responses, he found that most used it in referring to the TV show Will and Grace and hardly any used it in a theological way. You might wonder where teens got these heretical beliefs. Is there some conspiracy to lead teens away from the tenets of their faith? The survey showed that the teens primarily got their beliefs from their parents.
When thinking about this, I have to agree that those are the dominant beliefs of the people in our culture. Folks will talk about spirituality and even about God but few will talk about Jesus, because that is too particular. That would imply that Jesus is the way to God and other ways are wrong, and that isn’t nice. It is no wonder why few people share their faith. If the primarily goal of life is to be nice, sharing faith in Christ might be interpreted by many as not being very nice. To be a biblical Christian in today’s world, one of the first obstacles to overcome is the need to be nice. If the Apostle Paul were dropped down into today’s world, most would not think he was very nice. I don’t think even Jesus would pass the niceness test. According to the Bible, many nice people will end up in hell. If this bothers you, it may well be that your belief system is the same as that of today’s teens. We go to heaven when we admit ourselves to be sinners and trust that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sins. That is called God’s grace. That seems to be a very hard thing for today’s people to believe. It is still true.