You Can’t Pass On Faith You Don’t Have

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Here is a challenging word in First Things from Charles Chaput:

As I look back on the last sixty years, one of the Scripture passages that stays with me most vividly is Judges 2:6-15. It’s the story of what happens after the Exodus and after Joshua wins the Promised Land for God’s people. Verse 10 says that Joshua “and all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel.”

It’s worth reading. So is the research Christian Smith has done on the religious beliefs of American teens and young adults. Every generation leaves a legacy of achievement and failure. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of knowing many good men and women of my generation—Christians, Jews, and people with no religious faith at all; people who have made the world better by the gift of their lives and their joy in service to others. But the biggest failure, the biggest sadness, of so many people of my ­generation, including parents, educators, and leaders in the Church, is our failure to pass along our faith in a compelling way to the generation now taking our place.

We can blame this on the confusion of the times. We can blame it on our own mistakes in pedagogy. But the real reason faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young adults and teens is that—too often—it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it.

I know there are tens of thousands of exceptions to this, but it is still true. A man can’t give what he doesn’t have. If we want to change the culture of a nation, we need to begin by taking a hard look at the thing we call our own faith. If we don’t radiate the love of God with passion and courage in the example of our daily lives, nobody else will—least of all the young people who see us most clearly and know us most intimately. The theme of this essay is “strangers in a strange land.” But the real problem in America today isn’t that we believers are foreigners. It’s that our children and grandchildren aren’t.

– Charles Chaput

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