The cover article of this week’s edition of Entertainment Weekly looks at the life of pop superstar Katy Perry. One comment in the article stood out to me as the singer discussed her relationship with God:
“My upbringing was so strict and sheltered and rigid, and now it’s a lot more loose. I believe in God [but] not as an older guy with a long beard sitting on a shiny throne, or heaven or hell as a destination. I believe you can have your own hell on earth from the actions you do. If you don’t have that accountability, then why don’t you just do everything selfishly or be a menace to society? I have a lot of spiritual, New Agey stuff that I’ve applied to my life now” (EW, 11/8/13 issue, p. 30).
Before you dismiss what she says, consider that both of Perry’s parents are in ministry and that she grew up in church. And, Perry is not alone in her beliefs. Many young adults who grow up in church wrestle with the same things Perry expressed above and has voiced in previous interviews: Some kind of moral compass or accountability seems wise, but the exclusive “Christianity-is-the-only-way” version of religion seems intolerant.
The Katy Perrys in Your Church
On any given Sunday, thousands of young people wrestle with whether or not they truly believe this whole Christianity thing. I am talking about all of those kids who have grown up in church, who were probably in the church nursery the week after they were born. It is what they grew up hearing, it is what their pastor and youth pastor believe, it is what their parents believe, but do they really believe it?
I pray for all the young women that I teach to have that specific question roaming around in their heads and to wrestle with their faith before they leave the youth group. I want their faith to be authentic and built upon a firm foundation so that when tough questions or situations come, their faith will not be shaken. I want them to have confidence in how to search the Bible for answers. I want them to come and ask me their tough questions so that when they get to college or out in the workplace and someone asks them why they believe in Christianity, their response isn’t, “It’s just how I grew up.”
In the book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith, David Kinnaman looks at why so many youth disconnect from church. Among the significant themes that emerged were that many young adults wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity and that the church appears to be unfriendly to those who doubt. Fifty percent of those surveyed for the book said they did not feel like they could ask their most pressing life questions in church (190). If not the church, then where?!
The Exclusivity of Christianity
Because our youth have grown up in a culture that idolizes tolerance and acceptance, it is no wonder that the exclusive nature of Christianity is a stumbling block for many. However, John 14:6 is clear that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. There are not many paths to God. Consider two very specific attacks on the exclusive nature of the Gospel message that are present in contemporary American culture:
- Pluralism is the idea that all religions are equally valid paths to God. Since tolerance is so valued in our postmodern culture, pluralism lets people off the hook. You believe what you want to believe, and I will believe what I want to believe. Pluralistic tendencies are a great hindrance to evangelism—if there are many paths to God, then why share about Christ?
- Syncretism is the idea that you combine or merge aspects of different religions into a new belief system. Many young adults like Katy Perry today approach religion or spirituality as some kind of cosmic salad bar with the ingredients of each religious worldview as options for the meal: a little bit of this and a little bit of that—religion your way. You don’t like hell? Leave it for someone else’s plate. You love forgiveness and turning the other cheek? Pile it on. However, you become your own god when you design “the salad” instead of God.
The Importance of Communicating the Truth
Knowing that there is an onslaught of error and lies bombarding our young people every day, it becomes ever more important to clearly proclaim and teach the truth. Churches need to equip members not entertain them. If your students who have grown up in church know more about how to play underground church or “Gun, Man, Gorilla” than they do about Christ or how to answer objections to Christianity, then you have a problem.
In fact, churches that communicate the truth are actually being more successful in reaching the younger unchurched. In his 2009 book Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them, Ed Stezer found that churches that were making a significant impact reaching young people are those that are delivering depth and content in their teachings and cultivating an environment where members feel safe asking tough questions or voicing doubts.
The Importance of How You Communicate the Truth
When you come across a Katy Perry in your church who is expressing doubts or wrestling with her faith, it is important how you communicate the truth. You can say the right thing in the wrong way. Unfortunately, I know from firsthand experience. There have been times when I loved winning arguments about my faith more than I loved the people with whom I was arguing. First Peter 3:15 is a great reminder about how we share truth, and in this verse Peter says we are always to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that we have, but we must do so with gentleness and respect.
So back to the opening question in the title, why should you care about Katy Perry’s approach to religion? You should care because she represents the approach many young people in our churches are taking to Christianity. And, if I can borrow the slogan from our College here at Southwestern, we must equip our students to know truth, share truth, and defend truth, especially since they live in a world that doesn’t realize that Jesus is the Truth.