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Weekend Reading: Already Gone

August 5, 2011

Older youth and young adults are leaving the church at an alarming rate. Virtually every study on the topic agrees with this conclusion. Theologians, strategists, church growth experts, and church leaders from every corner of evangelical Christianity have offered up their solution. Now it is Ken Ham’s turn. Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis, commissioned a study with Britt Beemer and his organization, America’s Research Group, to find out why young evangelicals are leaving the church and to try to find a way to stop them.

Every specialist in a field of Christianity tends to view all of scripture through the lens of their field. Missiologists see all of the Bible as a call to missions. Social justice advocates interpret all of scripture as pointing toward providing physical care to the less fortunate. Students of the end times tend to see signs of the second coming (depending on their particular eschatological view) on every page and in every event. Ken Ham is no different. His specialty is the creation account. He tends to examine all scripture in light of a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11. (Disclaimer: I personally agree the Bible teaches a literal six-day creation account and that the earth is thousands, not millions, of years old.)

Already Gone (2009, Master Books) is divided into two basic sections: the problem and proposed solutions. In describing the problem, Ham takes a look at the church in England and compares that to the church in North America. We are following close behind. It is in this section that Ham begins revealing the research. There is meaning in the title. We have observed that young people are leaving around the time of college. The author’s research shows this is not so. They are leaving much earlier. They may not be physically gone, but they have already “checked out”, many as early as early middle school. Ham asserts the church has made itself irrelevant. Perhaps not in terms of music and other methodology, but the teaching is irrelevant.

His proposed solution is to teach a strong and literal interpretation of the six-day creation account and great flood (Noah) with a strong apologetic emphasis. Ham posits that we send our kids to school to learn the important things in life that will make them intelligent and successful. This includes science taught from an evolutionary perspective. Then we bring them to church and teach them “Bible stories”, making the Bible (and church) irrelevant. Why would we expect them to stay?

He is right that we must authoritatively teach the scriptures. We must also be able to defend our faith. I am sure that the author’s solutions would work for many of those leaving the church. But this is a complex problem and complex problems rarely have single or simple answers.

Overall, this was a good book. I am sure I will find it helpful in ministry. This is a book that church leaders, teachers, and parents should read. I would include just two cautions:

  1. It is written through the lens of a literal six-day view of creation.

  2. It offers a single and somewhat simple solution to a complex problem.

This does not mean he is wrong; just be aware.

Thoughts?

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