I first heard of Wade Bradshaw, the outreach pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, when I was researching a book on why people leave church. Living barely a few miles from the University of Virginia, his specialty is on why the young are disenchanted with organized religion.
“The questions [people are asking] have changed quite significantly in the past 30 years,” he told me. “It used to be, ‘Is there a God?’ and now it’s ‘What I know about God I don’t like.’ Their biggest complaint is that God acts in morally inferior ways compared to us.”
Not only that, but the God who appears in the Bible is especially offensive.
Desiring to come up with a response for the college crowd, Mr. Bradshaw has come out with “Searching for a Better God,” a book that delves into the nature of the Almighty with chapter titles such as “Is God a Bully?”
Using examples from movies such as “Brainwave” and part one of “The Matrix,” he illustrates how pop culture points to invisible realities.
Those realities — such as “heaven” and “God” used to comfort past generations, he writes, but not the current 20-something who may believe God exists but is not worthy of his or her worship or devotion, much less obedience.
The God who gets communicated to the young sounds vengeful and angry and over-anxious to consign people to hell, plus he gets all wrought up about divorce, homosexuality and whether people sleep together before marriage — which are non-issues to them.
Plus, the typical Gospel presentation of God becoming a human and dying for the sins of the world does not reach these students. No court of law would punish an innocent person for the sins of the guilty, they reason. Why kill off an innocent man for the trespasses of a world that didn’t ask to be saved in the first place?
And if God were good, why doesn’t he show himself instead of allowing the thousands of years of human suffering to go on and on and on? God, they conclude, is morally inferior to them.
Being that college classes are starting up, I talked with him again last week about collegiate reaction to the book.
“People were unnerved by how friendly I am toward adversarial people,” he says. “But we need to answer their questions in a respectful way. The church — and the Bible — knows about these things and has the answers.”
And unless the church tackles these questions, “We’re only one generation away from some dismal church attendance statistics. I wish the American church would welcome awkward questions from people rather than avoiding them like planes swerve around a thunderhead.”
Many questions are about undeserved suffering.
“Either suffering drives us into a greater sense of God’s goodness or the opposite way,” he says. “We create a culture that expects a certain amount of flourishing so when we hit suffering, Americans go atheist. But people used to suffering, like Africans, understand we live in a world cursed by God and do not expect everything to work out.”
The millennial generation puts the Judeo-Christian God in the dock and finds him guilty. What Mr. Bradshaw says is there’s been a mistrial and that accurate evidence in favor of God has been suppressed.
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.