When might we tell young people that they can be a Christian and not believe the Bible to be 100% literal truth?

and other such questions.

If we have established a faith community for and with young people in our churches, then surely, if this is a safe space, and an open space, then within this there is scope for young people to be given the tools to explore critical questions, rather than wait until they leave the safe space of church – go to university for example- and have doubts and confusion about Biblical inerrancy (for example) in a setting that is away from the faith community of their founding story, and no wonder they might not cope.

After all, its not as if young people arent being exposed to philosophy & ethics in High school- so why not exegesis and (philosophical) hermeneutics in church? – has ‘telling’ young people to read the bible and then hearing a 10 minute homily by an adult sold thinking, creative young people short.

Can the church actively tell young people that the Bible isnt 100% historical truth? whats the risk?

something would be amiss if the faith community was so reliant on historicity and inerrancy that to challenge this would shake the entire walls of faith.

Is it better to allow young people to explore the grey areas of doubt in a safe environment, and help them to understand the complexities of life and faith, and challenge a black/white mindset, or at least the black/white mindset that seem to shape my own teenage years in an evangelical cultural church. Young people are thinking people, we notice this from the 12 year olds on the street, they want to explore and ask, not be told and quietened, so be it young people in churches, who are often more quietened and less able to critically reflect, but give them Shakespeare or Plato on Monday at school, they have the tools, just need to have the environment to use them.

There’s never been a better time to have the tools to explore these depths and complexities with young people- after all, there’s never been more theologically trained youthworkers employed by churches. So lets put hermeneutics and philosophy back into youth ministry. (theres an assumption it was ever in there) and see if it has more success in keeping young people curious, questioning and seeking, than a supposed youth ministry that seeks to generally entertain, infanticide and keep active, usually by those regenerating what was done to them, with them, and they turned out ok. (countless others didnt)

My impression from young people is that those that are high achievers in school, like to think, ask questions, and explore – and this on one hand means that the often closed box of theology in church (with its answers) is too simplified. for example – the discussions usually come after the ‘set talks’ in alpha/other equivalents – they dont tend to originate from the discussion. The answers are already set. High flying, thinking young people do not have their questions validated, because having questions isnt a valid response in church. School is giving young people faculties to critically reflect, in literature, philosophy, history, film studies – yet these go misunderstood and unused in church- and often in church based work dedicated to them.

As a contrast, the young people who struggle to engage academically with school, and who possibly struggle to maintain attendance at school, also struggle with collective church/ youth ministry not because of its lack of academia, but the cliquiness of the groups, their own behaviour ( which is usually intolerated) . The church in effect rejects them behaviourally. This isnt the point of this article though. Ive written about this before.

So, if schools are producing thinking young people – cant churches, with their theologically trained vicars/ministers/youthworkers give young people opportunities to perform exegesis, and to read the bible from a range of perspectives, and to think about the complexities of philosophy & hermeneutics. If youth ministry is so ill defined anyway, cant i suggest that we scrap the movie clips and silly games, and give young people tools for critical reflection of their faith, the text, a platform for discovering the positions of interpreting the bible- that could be from outside of one particular denomination.  Maybe this happens already in a few places, but i dont see a ‘teaching young people from a variety of hermeneutic positions ‘ready to use’ resource in Youthwork magazine’  very often, or a how to help young people critically & theologically reflect on the role of women in the church (as an example).

I know itd be a really boring youth group without the games and movies. But maybe some things have got to grow up a bit. And we need to learn from what school is giving the church in terms of young peoples critical tools, and also acknowledge that faith and discovery takes a responsibility of learning, exploring and asking. To find a God who is complex, who is less understood, and that makes God more relevant to a young person than the often created simple one found in the proof texted epilogue or metaphorical game.

So, when might we tell young people that its ok not to believe every word of every sentence in every book of the Bible, and for them to still believe in the God of the Bible, regardless of this. The risk is that some young people might become more learned, more knowledgeable, more open to debate that some adults in churches, and that cant be a bad thing.

Lets give young people heroes of the faith that arent the latest music artist who is selling them a culture, or a main speaker at a weekend away – lets make CS Lewis, AW Tozer, Bonhoffer, Volf, Moltman and Vanhoozer heroes of faith to young people and see what happens, after all we want young people to believe – how do they believe? and how is belief cultivated in youth ministry?




  1. Great post. I can’t say I know much about youth work (failed attempt to run a group when still a youth aside!) but I would just like to say I would have loved a bit more openness about uncertainty, questioning, hermeneutics, differing perspectives and general tolerance of different ideas (even if only within the range of orthodoxy) to have been present in the youthwork and suchlike that I experienced as a teen. I only really got into that more thanks to the internet! (I sometimes wonder how instrumental that has been to my faith…)

    Thinking about this a little since (I am in my late twenties and deconstructing a number of ideas I once held dear) I suppose it’s obvious that often, those church folk willing and eager to invest and volunteer in discipling/leading/working with young people are the ones who are most sure in their faith and may therefore be more ‘black and white’ in how they portray that faith. That being said, they can’t all be, and I would have loved to see more of that in the moderately evangelical C of E church that I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong; they loved me, and that mattered so much, but it could have been more.

    As a fairly high academic achiever as well (although probably because I actually paid attention and was obedient as much as anything – something I learnt at church, probably!), it is also a good point you make about recognising and affirming that in people. I can’t count the number of same-age friends and people I know who frankly found (and find?) their churches/youth groups etc. boring, unengaging and sometimes patronisingly unintellectual, both now and in their teens. This is not OK. And we wonder why they’ve stopped being involved in church stuff. Sure, it’s not all their fault, but it doesn’t help.

    Hope that makes sense/is as encouraging as is meant! Keep up the good thinking.


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