CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Young American born-again believers are moving away from a biblically-centered worldview, with only one in three affirming that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, according to Steve Cable, senior vice president of Probe Ministries.
"We need to admit (that there's a problem)," Cable said on Friday at a session titled "What Do [Young] American Believers Really Believe and How Do We Save Them From Cultural Captivity?" at Southern Evangelical Seminary's 20th annual Christian Apologetics conference in Charlotte, N.C.
"Don't go around with your blinders thinking that everything is fine. We have a lot of people that aren't born again, so there's a lot of work to do. But then you look at the born-agains and see that we have even more work to do."
Cable, who recently published Cultural Captives: The Beliefs and Behavior of American Young Adults, focused the session on what he called "emerging adults," or young believers between 18-29 years old. He disputed arguments that evangelicals are well-positioned and that their numbers in America haven't changed much in the last 35 years, and brought up the work by sociologist Christian Smith, who is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame.
According to Cable, in books such as Souls in Transition and Lost in Transition, Smith identified five disturbing patterns found in emerging adults. The sociologist argued that most emerging adults are morally adrift – their morals are personal and subjective; they are captive to consumerism; they have little civic and political engagement; they believe that sex is not a moral issue, and they engage in intoxication, or fake feeling of happiness.
"We need to focus on the upcoming generations, saving the lost, saving the captive believers. Don't stop when they leave high school. Most people's brains are not fully formed until they are in their early 20s," Cable said.
Several studies in recent times have tried to analyze the questions young Christians are struggling with, and why many of them are leaving the church. Bestselling author Eric Metaxas shared in an article posted in The Christian Post in July what one student who has left the faith once said: "Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven't seen too much of that."
Metaxas noted that such remarks are "pretty sobering."
"This puts the ball in our court. Are we living lives that show our children that we actually believe what we say we believe?" he asked.
In his presentation on Friday, Cable analyzed a number of charts and graphs, including work done by Barna Research, Christian Smith, the General Social Survey, and the Baylor Religion Survey, which mostly came to the same conclusions about what young Americans and young American Christians believe.
The senior vice president of Probe Ministries said that the survey data showed that only 9 percent of Americans hold a Biblical view, and among emerging adults, that number is even smaller. In general, the statistics showed that in 1990, 11 percent of 18-30 year olds said they have no religion. That number increased to 31 percent in 2012.
"If it continues in that rate, it's not going to be too many years until we have over 50 percent of young adults in America who say they have no religion," he said.
Other notable stats showed that born-agains have decreased in number by 22 percent since 1976, while only one in three of emerging adults who said they have been born-again believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to get into heaven.
"This means that two thirds of them do not believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven," Cable said. "It's pretty hard to have a biblical belief in Jesus Christ and believe there are other ways to heaven."
Similarly, when asked basic questions relating to their faith, only one in three of born-again young evangelicals were found to hold a biblical worldview, and only one in five were actively engaged in practicing their faith.
"The evangelicals who are living out their lives as a witness to Jesus Christ, bringing these non-evangelicals to faith in the Lord – it's 1 out of 25," Cable added.
He offered, however, that those Christians who are going to church or identifying as born-agains but siding with what culture tells them instead of the Bible, called "cultural captives," can still be reached by truth.
"Interact with them, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel does not change," he advised.
"(They) need to be Christ servants. They need to learn to accept objective truth, and be aware of cultural traps."
As a possible solution, Cable offered a new in-depth 7-week church experience called "Once Captive," aimed at young adults, offering them ways to escape "cultural captivity" and embrace a biblical worldview.