The gospel is looking more and more attractive to younger generations, says George Pitcher


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A couple of conversations over the Christmas break with what I’m now entitled to call “young people” have left me strangely encouraged, just a generation into a new millennium that started so gloomily for the future of our faith.

The first was with a house guest (just turned 30) at the supper table. She recalled from her philosophy modules how she liked to take the proposal that “God is love” literally (no problem there, of course). I think she didn’t want to think of God as an objective entity (I diverged here), but that love in its purest form is “capable of all we attribute to God”.

She continued: “Most of the counter arguments waged against the existence of a deity fall down for me when faced with this definition.” Yes, I mentioned the doctrine of the incarnation – when better than at Christmas? But I figured that can wait; she’s started on her road to Emmaus.

Her partner chipped in with some astrophysics, saying that the science of black holes pointed to the “singularity” beyond the “event horizon” being not a place in the universe, but a point in time – where space and time swap places. “It’s where physics meets theology,” he added, entirely relaxed with that union.

Joining the club

My next encounter was at the local pub. The barman (early 20s) paused at the beer pumps: “George, your religion’s Christianity, right?” I concurred. “So, tell me, does God punish you when you do something bad?”

I responded with something about how humans punish themselves when they turn away from the light, that God doesn’t get angry like humans do and that we can always turn back to the light and be welcomed – that’s how to understand forgiveness.

Two conversations do not make for a revival. But these interactions are still revealing

He looked thoughtful. I suspected something was bothering him. “Are you thinking of joining in?” I asked. “Yup,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. “I think you’ll enjoy it,” I said.

Now, two conversations indicating a faithful assent – and with a retired vicar, to boot – do not make for a revival. But these interactions with millennials, born just ahead of the high summer of New Atheism in the Noughties, precipitated significantly by a heralded clash of civilisations in the wake of 9/11, are still revealing for the way Christianity is being encountered by a young generation in 2024.

Hard pragmatism

The first thing to say is that these encounters may be pragmatic rather than revelatory. That is to say that millennials are growing up in a world that is much tougher than it was for their “boomer” parents. They are emerging into a world at war, facing a climate catastrophe not of their making, a tectonic shift in power from West to East and, with it, national economies that offer them threat rather than comfort.

This is not (only) the point that faith prospers in hardship rather than luxury. It points also to the pragmatism with which eternal verities triumph over temporal challenges. Admittedly, the ugly side of this might be a form of fundamentalism, weaponising Western ways.

When the British rapper Zuby (born 1986) recently declared on X that “the West is absolutely screwed if it loses Christianity”, he attracted the endorsement of Elon Musk (whether he wanted it or not). His chosen metaphors were defending a house without foundations from those who would knock it down, and Christians providing an “immune system”, which makes non-Christians sound like a disease. I’m not sure that’s a way forward for evangelism.

Similarly, when former Muslim and New Atheist heroine Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced her conversion to Christianity, she described it as a response to the threat from Putin, radical Islam and woke ideology. And the work of discipleship in the world? Not so clear.

Steps along the way

That said, these can all be seen as signs of a new spring. They are, if you will, baby steps along that road to Emmaus. It’s worth mentioning that the first disciples expected a messianic triumph over their territorial oppressors. What they got was very different.

“It’s where physics meets theology,” he added, entirely relaxed with that union

I think I want to conclude that these are all examples of the gospel meeting people where they are. And that’s almost invariably not where the Church wants them to be. Not, at any rate, the kind of Church that expects them to respond enthusiastically to ancient hymns and liturgies in medieval buildings, however much we might promote their timelessness.

In my case, it was about the gospel meeting someone in the pub or, as it were, in a black hole. If it meets others in a perceived threat to Western culture, then so be it, so long as the response is peaceful.

In an excellent piece in the Christmas edition of The Spectator, Ed West called these folk “the New Theists”. We may not always agree with them, but we should listen to what they’re saying.