In my prior post I suggested two main causes for students’ diminished participation in the church: ecclesiology, and caricatures from campus (the focus of this post).
On campus, the dominant portrayal of the church is that it’s guilty of being a historic oppressor and, in modern times, of excluding persons of alternative lifestyles.
My response is to propose a 90-10 rule. The rule says that 90% of church history is about obscure clergy and ordinary lay people simply loving God and neighbor. This has taken place in the mundane, hidden settings of local parishes dotting the globe for twenty centuries.
Unfortunately, the remaining 10% of Christians admittedly brought harm to others, often in the name of God. This is inexcusable. But when the 10% bad guys are identified by the campus as representative of the whole, the result is an incredibly convincing caricature that is 90% false.
(As a parallel example, note how the majority Muslim community has distanced itself from Islamic extremism. The campus has by and large accepted this distinction, partly by applying the label “Islamophobia” to those who would lump all Muslims together.)
From an apologetic perspective, churches need to make the 90-10 argument to their young people before, during, and after college.
First, we need to take responsibility for the sins of the church, past and present, without the protest of, “It wasn’t me. I wasn’t there for slavery (or whatever).”
“It wasn’t me” is part of the problem of ecclesiology mentioned in my prior post. We need more of the spirit of Daniel (ch 9) and Nehemiah (ch 1), who confessed not only their own sin but the sins of their ancestors. Now that’s a strong ecclesiology.
But we also need to tell the neglected story of the 90% — the story of good Christians in history who’ve engaged in quiet, humble service to God and community. Young believers should treasure this narrative and carry it with familial pride into their college experience.
Unfortunately, most Christian students have never heard the 90% story. Thus, when they matriculate four or more years through the system of higher education, they’re overwhelmed by the negative caricature of their faith based on the failed 10%.
Back to training young people. Included in the church’s 90% story shared with its students should be luminary examples of Christians “doing good” in society. These include the whole history of health care in the West, the founding of universities in America such as Harvard and Yale, and the countless Christian organizations such as World Vision and International Justice Mission who are conducting their ministries in the name of Christ.
See my Faith is Like Skydiving, ch 8, for much more on the positive contributions to society made by Christians.