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.

On June 15, host Rashawn Copeland interviewed Michael and Lauren McAfee on stage at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. They discussed their new book Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need.

By Josh Shepherd Published on September 6, 2019

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

Lauren Green McAfee

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.

Generation Gaps

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.

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.

Designed to Spark Discussion

This book is intended for those uncertain about the Bible, yet your ministry is in evangelical circles. How do you foresee it reaching beyond evangelicals?

Michael: The way it’s going to reach beyond is by Christians who want to reach their skeptical friends. We are grateful that Tim Keller wrote our foreword because, in a lot of ways, the way he wrote The Reason for God was our motivation and model.

As a college senior at OU, I went through Philosophy and Religious Studies which had all these postmodern criticisms of the Bible. Then I read The Reason for God which answered all the questions and stirrings I had.

I was a Christian, but I was reading his criticisms of non-Christian arguments being ministered to and now equipped to go use those in conversations.

Ultimately, Lauren and I wrote this book to the Bible-disengaged person. Then not only is it helpful for that person if they have a spark of curiosity about the Bible, but it could also be subconsciously helpful to the Christian that reads it.

They will better understand: this is a different way of coming at a skeptic. Not What You Think can also develop interest for people who claim to be Christian and interested in the Bible, but aren’t reading it. They may find there is something here worth exploring.

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.

Hypocritical Believers

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.

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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.

Learn more about Not What You Think in the video below. Explore The Stream’s complete books coverage and sign up to receive top stories every week.


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.

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