September 6, 2012

The Godless and the Faithful. Really?

This video was in The Australian newspaper online today.  Bernard Salt, an Australian demographer, explores the changing face of faith in our country, with an old face and a young face; Grandfather John Fogarty (hey, loved your work in CCR  John! – Ed) and his grandson Tom.

Now Tom is described as an atheist and John as a Christian. Salt converses for a while about the changing nature of faith in Australia, the dwindling, though still surprisingly strong, believe in god of some description.  It then crosses over to the Tom and John show to see the difference between the War generation John and the Gen Y Tom.  It purports to show a “faithful” John and a godless Tom.

John makes no reference at all to Jesus or the gospel, although he is labelled “Christian”  There’s a lot about community and being in everything together. Right at the end he talks about death (he is 85 after all.) He pooh-poohs the idea about heaven and hell and says it’s probably more like “rebirth”.    Now that got me interested.  If we’re talking about “faithful” the question has to be “OK, John, faithful to what?”  His views are not historical, traditional Christianity, and he seems to have dumped an orthodox – and vitally central understanding – about death, sin and the afterlife.

2. Tom doesn’t even have death on his radar.  Not at all.  Not surprising for a 20 year old.  Despite the fact that 20 year olds are the most expensive to insure on the roads!  Tom also went to a church school, which, surprise surprise, confirmed to him that the Christian faith and God were boring topics that were not relevant to his life.


1. I would be interested to know what the generation in between John and Tom thinks. If John’s rather airy faith is any indication, and if sociology is anything to go by, the generation after John would have retained some of the moral flavour, along with some of the religious flavour, of John (hence the Christian school for Tom), without any of the theological centre of traditional Christianity.  Good, solid, middle class, secularists who figures that going to a good school would make Tom a good man.  After all, look what it did for John! The next generation, Tom’s, dumps the pretence altogether.  I’ve seen it happen countless times.

2. John’s faithfulness is actually faithlessness. There seems to be no core commitment to anything Christian, and if anything his view on the afterlife would sit more comfortably in an Eastern philosophical framework. This shows how much the label “Christian” has been stretched out and made flabby in the Western context, enervated by uncertainty perhaps.

3. Tom is right that the “here and now” matters as well.  What he has never been presented with, presumably, is a robust “here and now” gospel that has something strong to say about this world and is not simply locked away in a school chapel. He’s not going to get that from John, and presumably not from the generation in between. What he doesn’t realise is that the “there and then” informs the “here and now”.  To not even think about death doesn’t show optimism, it shows a blindness  that humans possess.  Quite possibly his next opportunity to think about death will be at John’s funeral, where, if my gut instincts are right, John’s viewpoints about what happens to you when you die will be reinforced.

Over to you

(P.S – next post is “Church Planting With Generation Xhausted Part 2)

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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