One of the books that I’ve been reading lately is Cultural Captives: The Beliefs and Behaviour of American Young Adults by Stephen Cable of Probe Ministries. The book is “a sobering look at the challenges facing evangelical leaders.” The book is an in-depth examination of multiple surveys on the attitudes, actions, and views of the next generation.
There’s a quote from Josh McDowell on the back:
…if you want to know what today’s emerging adults are thinking and how we may be able to influence them with a biblical worldview, I recommend you take the time to read this new offering from Probe.
One section of the book really jumped out to me, entitled Moral Viewpoint – A Floating Standard, from chapter 8 Troubling Aspects of Emerging Adult Beliefs. This section is as follows (bold emphasis are mine.)
What is morality in the first place? Morality is defined as “a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct.” For Christians, this system is set out for us in the Bible; particularly in the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, and the New Testament epistles. The Bible makes it clear that God is the source of true morality. It is our responsibility to learn and apply His moral precepts. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the M0unt, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify Your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) Or as Paul instructed in 1st Thessalonians, “examine everything carefully; hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess 5:21-22) Paul is saying hold fast to the morality taught by Christ.
In a Christian nation, how can there be any confusion about morality? Well, sixty percent of emerging adults say that “morality is a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision. Moral rights and wrongs are essentially matters of individual opinion, in their view.” And where do these opinions come from? One emerging adult put it this way, “Like just kinda things that I thought up, that I decided was right for me. So I don’t know. I honestly don’t. It just kinda came out of thin air.” So we can either look to the Bible as the source of our morality or we can just create it out of thin air.
When faced with a moral choice, almost half said they would do what made them feel happy or would help them get ahead. Less than one out of five said they would “do what God or the scripture” says is right. Many of them said they would not really know if their choice was right or wrong until after it was done and they could evaluate how they felt about it.
Not only do they not look to the Bible or society for their moral compass, they believe that it is morally wrong to assume there is a common morality that applies to all. Because we must be tolerant and accept other’s views as right for them, we must not apply our moral precepts to their actions. As Christian Smith put it, “Giving voice to one’s own moral views is itself nearly immoral.” What they fail to realize is that complete moral relativism and tolerance actually dishonor the beliefs of others. With this view, they cannot accept new views which are superior to their own or act to correct views which are inferior. What someone else thinks about morality is immaterial to them.
This type of thinking will ultimately lead to disaster for the people embracing it. As Chuck Colson said, “So often, the great disasters (of the past) were caused by people disregarding God’s standard of right and wrong and doing what was right in their own eyes…We’ve stopped moral teaching in our country and we are seeing the inevitable consequence of failing to teach moral values to a culture. We are seeing chaos.”
The whole topic of morality is not something most of them give much thought to. One third of them could not think of any moral dilemnas that they had faced in their lives. While another third of them offered examples that were not actually moral dilemnas. For example, one of them stated, “I guess renting the apartment thing, where or not I would be able to afford it.” That is a dilemna but not a moral dilemna. So through their education from their parents and schools, the vast majority of emerging adults really have not gained a good working knowledge of the concept of morality much less its importance to society. Yet in 1 Peter, Peter makes it clear that our moral actions are one of the most important ways a Christian can share the good news of Jesus Christ. As he said,
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:12-15)
As Paul points out, the principle life of conformance to Christ’s commands is not going to align with the popular wisdom of pop behavioral standards. It is a morality based on an eternal, external standard of right behavior which all people will see to be true in the end.
“The principle life of conformance to Christ’s commands is not going to align with the popular wisdom of pop behavioral standards” This is true today, and it was true in the early years of Christianity. When you read the nonbiblical accounts of Christians and of Jesus from the first and second century, it’s clear that the early Christians held high moral standards. From historical sources, we can show this, and two examples come to mind.
Pliny the Younger (61-113AD), who was a Roman lawyer, author, and magistrate, wrote this (emphasis mine):
“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
The early Christians held themselves to such a high moral standard that they stood out, even to the critics of Christianity. Towards the end of his life, Pliny wrote about Christians that “whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.”
Lenny Esposito, of Come Reason Ministries, have a great article along this topic entitled How Did the Early Christians Influence Their Culture? In his article, Lenny quotes Galen of Pergamon (129-200AD), a Roman physician, surgeon, and philosopher (emphasis mine):
Most people are unable to follow any demonstrative argument consecutively; hence they need parables, and benefit from them just as we now see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables and miracles, and yet sometimes acting in the same way as those who practice philosophy. For their contempt of death and of its sequel is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women refrain from cohabitating all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosopher
“The principle life of conformance to Christ’s commands is not going to align with the popular wisdom of pop behavioral standards” It was such a misalignment with the pop culture of the 2nd century that it was patent to others every day. Our lives should stand out as high moral standards, not conforming to the ways of the world. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (NLT)