180° Symposium
March 25-27, 2024
Andrews University
Hybrid (In-person and virtual)
Created and Hosted by CYE
Sponsored by NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries


General Information


Subtitle: Ministry to (and with) Young People in a Secular World

Western societies have moved from a Christian orientation, gravitating toward a secular orientation. Previously seen in Western Europe, this has followed a similar pathway in North America. In contrast to an anti-religion perspective, the loss of interest to even engage in discussion or spend time participating in religious activities demonstrates itself in life that has moved religion to the periphery or private sphere for those who still hold to what secular people now view as childish thinking.

In the “town square” the debates and dialogue about God, such as “God is dead!” or “Where is God?” has departed. Discussions now accept the superiority of authority to physical sciences and behavioral sciences rather than theology or long-term absolutes. For example, “(Neo)-Darwinism is now the overwhelming explanation of origins” and “Sexual fluidity should be honored as self-discovery and self-expression.” Theories of atonement no longer need to be considered since sin no longer exists. Tolerance rises to a high value, except when it comes to being tolerant of God-talk. Religion has become pejorative and spirituality has become an individual journey and experience while eschewing community beliefs, practices, accountability, and support.

Churches still exist and people still believe, but such beliefs and actions are ignored or treated as immaturely unrealistic. “Keep it to yourself,” goes completely contrary to the Gospel commission of taking the good news of Jesus to the world. When Paul described “the unknown god” to the intellectuals on Mars Hill, they were at least polytheists and willing to discuss the topic.

While youth and young adults for generations have “left the church” in large numbers and then returned as adults, recent waves of Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z don’t show much of a return. While the age of marriage has been extended, many don’t bother to marry, or if they do, it rarely will take place in a church. The solemn wedding service has been dwarfed by the party celebration in terms of time, cost, and interest.

North American pluralism, the prioritizing of materialism in a capitalistic economy, freedom of religion, and immigrants with various world religions outside of Christianity contribute to today’s secularization. The value of life and individual freedom over causes or community have minimized the church’s voice and influence in public issues like abortion, mental health, the economy, and the marginalized. Social issues have become political rather than religious, with Christianity caricatured as narrow, ignorant, outdated, and intolerant.

Books to be considered in this discussion include Tony Campolo’s 1987 book A Reasonable Faith which provided an apologetic for secularization. In 2017, he co-authored with his son Why I Left/Why I Stayed following his son’s announcement he no longer believed in God. In the early 2000s, Christian Smith’s longitudinal study and books reporting the NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) yielded the broad term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as the national religion of American young people, with little or no Biblical literacy, and individual autonomy and authority. Pew Research has documented this move toward secularization, giving the label “Nones” for those who self-identify as such on surveys, eschewing even terms like “atheist” and “agnostic” as caring too much about religion—much to the chagrin of Christians. Evangelical pastor and author James Emery White has addressed this in The Rise of the Nones (2014), Meet Generation Z (2017) and Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians (2019). Let’s not forget “postmodernism” including Tony Jones’ Postmodern Youth Ministry (2001). More recently, Andrew Root’s trilogy: Faith in a Secular Age (2017), The Pastor in a Secular Age (2019), and The Congregation in a Secular Age (2021) has been followed up with Churches and the Crisis of Decline (2022), and The Church After Innovation (2022). Other authors to consider include Diana Butler Bass Christianity After Religion (2013), Brian McLaren Faith After Doubt (2022) and Do I Stay Christian? (2022), and Gushee and Verner’s After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity (2020). David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock’s Faith for Exiles (2018) stands in contrast to Katherine Ozment’s Grace Without God (2017). Fuller Youth Institute has sought to remedy this with research and creation of resources for “Sticky Faith” and “Growing Young.” The SDA Church has continued its practice of Pathfinders and Adventist education and some Sabbath afternoon programming to shape young people to become faithful and active Seventh-day Adventists.

Potential sub-topics and questions to address:

  • What is secularization?
  • Faith formation in a secular society
  • Mainstream or counter-cultural?
  • Secularization inside the church
  • Finding Jesus in North America Today
  • Being Jesus in North America Today
  • What does discipleship look like in a secular society?
  • Has the separation of church and state in Adventism made SDAs more secular?
  • How to not outgrow your faith
  • Secular drift and the gradual movement away from God
  • Renewal
  • Technology’s impact on secularization and faith
  • Natural and supernatural
  • Pluralism, individualism, independence, and tolerance
  • The role of the church in a secular environment
  • The pendulum swing between secularism and Christianity
  • Flexible faith
  • Resilient faith
  • Faith for a lifetime
  • A critique of secularism
  • From personal experience to public testimony
  • Entry points for God
  • The faith of a child in a secular world
  • A little child shall lead them
  • International or immigrant youth ministry’s clash with secularism
  • Does Christianity lead to secular humanism?
  • Missionaries to America
  • How to deal with doubt
  • Spiritual disciplines in a secular world
  • Seeking community without God
  • Questions young people have about God
  • Questions young people have about secularism
  • Other

As of 3-30-23

For information, contact Steve Case.

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