Not What You Think: Millennial Couple Answers Prodigal Peers on the Bible — And Christian Hypocrisy
Millennial authors Michael and Lauren McAfee reveal why emerging generations mistrust the Bible — and how to reach them.
It’s been a busy summer for Michael and Lauren McAfee, a millennial couple living in Oklahoma City.
They released their first book Not What You Think in June, with national coverage from Fox & Friends, Christianity Today, and Publisher’s Weekly. They also began to prepare their home for an adopted daughter soon coming into their lives.
Then former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee invited the McAfees on his prime-time weekend TV show to discuss the hang-ups younger generations have about faith.
“There’s a unique challenge here,” said Lauren Green McAfee in a new interview. “Our generation doesn’t necessarily know much about the Bible. But they have prejudged it in many cases, especially those hostile to it.”
Speaking before a book launch event in Washington, D.C, the McAfees shared why the Bible remains relevant, how they seek to love those with opposing views, and their response to Christian hypocrisy.
Wrestling with Doubts
At what points in your journey did you struggle with truth claims of the Bible?
Lauren Green McAfee: In wrestling with our own views about the Bible, we were grateful to have individuals we could go to.
Parents and friends have listened in conversations as we expressed concerns and doubts. People mentored us, helping us wrestle through questions.
Michael McAfee: We both intentionally went to secular university contexts because we wanted to be challenged in our faith. We wanted to hear the best arguments against the Bible — and we did. That period of wrestling extended beyond college, and to this day.
When we started working at Museum of the Bible, we heard other textual criticism arguments. Even now, part of the Christian walk is you’re constantly grappling with doubt, questions, and skepticism.
How are Generation X and millennials different in how they view and respond to the Bible?
Lauren: For millennials and Gen Z, our generations are immense. It makes us feel powerful — like we think we can accomplish something together. We have this sense of justice and wanting to make a difference in the world. That’s affected how we approach the Bible.
For our generation and the next, there’s not a lot of Bible engagement. About 20 percent of millennials engage in the Bible, and 20 percent view the Bible negatively or hostile. Then there’s a large percentage in the middle who are ambivalent.
The reports about Gen Z are still coming out — they’re mostly teenagers right now, all the way down to seven-year-olds, depending on the study you’re looking at. They seem to be even less Bible-engaged.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) March 10, 2019
Michael: The internet rose to prominence in our generation, connecting us to information all over the world. Being digital natives makes millennials and Gen Z unique from Gen X and Baby Boomers.
A globalized culture has shaped the way we think. Social media has exposed us instantly to perspectives that are anti-biblical. Growing up in the Bible Belt, you would have been insulated from a lot of these arguments that today you can see online without even looking for them.
Rediscovering the Why
What does your book Not What You Think have to say to these trends?
Michael: We believe the Bible is holy, inerrant, inspired — and that it needs a rebrand.
According to statistics from Barna, Pew, and others, the people engaging with the Bible view it primarily as a way of growing closer to God. That’s why they’re reading the Bible. The people who don’t engage with the Bible view it as a book of morality. That’s the disconnect.
Lauren: A lot of people in culture today view the Bible as a book of morals or a rule book. We share that the Bible is a narrative that makes sense of lives and invites us into a larger story.
We hope to present: Maybe there’s something you haven’t recognized about what the Bible actually says. Read it for yourself. No one likes to be prejudged, so don’t prejudge the Bible. Be willing to approach it.
Agnostics point to high-profile examples of Christians who are unethical or immoral. Does the book grapple with hypocrisy?
Michael: People are right to be skeptical about Christians who are hypocritical. You don’t have to watch the news long to see Christians in the news who have had terrible moral failures. Rather than running from that or minimizing that, we want to own that.
The distinctiveness of Christians is not that we are morally upright when contrasted to our counterparts. We should live lives of moral purity and seek to live out the Gospel in a transformational way, but our distinctiveness is repentance.
We repent of the bad things we’ve done, and the good things we’ve left undone, or the good things we’ve done with false motives. Praise God that he forgives us in Christ — that is what defines us, not our moral perfection.
Lauren: We’re all level at the foot of the Cross. We’re all broken people. Out of love for others, I want them to know the same hope that I’ve found in Christ — a relationship of forgiveness.
Loving the Antagonists
How does this reflect a different approach to skeptics, especially millennials?
Michael: We want to help break down the walls of a skeptic reading this to show: we’re not waiting to judge you for your moral lifestyle. The Bible is not a list of rules to live righteously, and we recognize our own moral imperfections.
When people don’t come to the same conclusions we do, still we value and respect them.
Lauren: Even if we have completely opposing views, they’re made in the image of God. They have the human dignity that every human has.
Though you live a completely different lifestyle or you’re hostile towards me because of my views, I still believe that you have value. I regard you with love and dignity, regardless of where you are in terms of your beliefs.
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Stream and The Federalist. Find him on Twitter.