By Michael Dewey, Head of School
Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps the most notorious atheist and critic of Christian faith that the world has ever seen. Though he died in 1900, he is still very influential in our culture, especially when it comes to how our society thinks about right and wrong.
Nietzsche is most famous for coining the phrase, “God is dead…”
Why am I talking about Nietzsche in a blog written for Christian students and parents? The answer is simple: to underscore the importance of authenticity in faith.
In his writings, Nietzsche spoke with contempt for those aspects of society that he deemed decadent and unsophisticated, of which he counted the Christian faith and the church. In The Will to Power, arguably his most famous work, he wrote that Christians were uniformly hypocritical.
The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the "justification by faith" and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church's lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.
Nietzsche reminds us of the importance of authentic faith. When Nietzsche looked at Christians, he saw people talking the talk, but not walking the walk. It was his perception of hypocrisy in the church that turned him off to the Christian faith more than anything else.
Nietzsche represents a common view held by those outside the church. Is the view from inside any better?
A few years ago, I was attending a philosophy seminar at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky when the discussion turned to the issue of youth ministry. The younger participants were lamenting how this generation just doesn’t seem to care that much about spiritual things. It’s not that young people have stopped believing in God or reject the value and truth of Christianity; it’s simply something most of them don’t feel to be worth their time.
The current research tells us that every year one million young Christians walk away from the church, and the number one reason cited is apathy. There seems to be this growing sense of indifference, where Christianity is seen as just one of many options to find happiness and satisfaction in this life. In past generations, we combatted atheism and skepticism, but now it’s just . . . “We don’t care.”
A Wall Street Journal poll conducted in 2019 asked people what their top values were in life: 89% said hard work, 79% financial security, and 64% self-fulfillment. For those surveyed between the ages of 18-38, religion came in at 30%. Young people are not angry with God; they don’t hate Christianity; they just don’t see it as important.
Let me give you an example of how this is being manifested. The same year that poll came out, Marty Sampson, former Hillsong United worship leader, posted on Instagram that he was struggling with certain aspects of his faith in Christ. If you aren’t familiar with the name Marty Sampson, you probably know some of his songs. He wrote or co-wrote Better than Life, Take It All, and Came to My Rescue, to name just a few of my personal favorites. This is what he wrote:
I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy…All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.
Sampson put his finger on the pulse of what many in this generation believe – that there are lots of things out there that can change your life, not just belief in God, or one version of belief in God. A few months later, he posted that he no longer identified as a Christian.
Saint Augustine tells us in the opening prayer of his autobiographical Confessions, “. . . you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” We were made to worship God, and as Paul reminds us in Romans Chapter 1, rejecting God or being indifferent to him, simply means that we have turned our worship to other things. If society doesn’t seem to care about religion, it’s not because somehow humans have evolved past the need to worship. A society that is apathetic toward the worship of God is giving their worship to something else. The aforementioned WSJ poll gives us some idea of what those things might be.
So how do we as Christians confront this apathy toward Christian faith? More specifically, how do our future young people heading off to college not too long from now call this generation back to worshipping God?
I am convinced that authenticity of faith is the key.
Authenticity is powerful because it is, by definition, impossible to fake. The authentic Christian lives what they believe. Their actions match their words. Their faith is real to them.
Return for just a moment to the quote from Nietzsche that I began with: “The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them…” Let’s compare that with the quote from Marty Sampson: “Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.” Here is someone inside the church telling us that his faith doesn’t make a difference. Both men are pointing to the problem of inauthenticity.
We can learn all the most sophisticated arguments for why belief in God is rational, lay out historical details regarding the life and resurrection of Christ, go toe-to-toe with skeptics about the reliability and authority of the New Testament, but it will fail to have any impact if those we are speaking to see no difference between us and everyone else. They will either vehemently brand us as hypocrites, like Nietzsche, or shrug their shoulders like Sampson and say, “So what?”
Yes, Evergreen Christian School spends a great deal of time equipping students with the skills needed to intellectually articulate and defend the faith. We believe this is important. However, it means nothing if we do not prioritize cultivating an authentic faith in Christ for all of our students. Authentic faith occurs only when students come to terms with the Gospel message and the teaching of Scripture for themselves. It involves helping each student claim their family’s Christian heritage as their own, giving their hearts to Christ, and allowing him to transform them into men and women living out their faith on a daily basis.
Paul drives this point home most emphatically in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
In other words, if it doesn’t come from the heart, from a place of genuine faith and authentic love for Christ, then it rings hollow. We can talk about our faith all we want, proclaim the greatness of God, post scriptures on our Twitter feed all day long, but if our actions don’t convey that we are authentic in our message, it will not resonate!
Nietzsche and Sampson should remind us that the one thing this generation can spot quicker than anything else is inauthenticity. The goal of our instruction is not simply students who know what they believe and why they believe, it “is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Such authenticity is the foundation upon which Evergreen Christian School seeks to build.
If we want today’s young people to know that our message is categorically different than all the others, that having a personal relationship with Christ is the most important thing in life, then they need to see the difference it has made in our own lives. Only then will they stop saying, “So what?” and start saying, “So what now?”