A Pepper Grinder Post


Perhaps you have heard how smallpox vaccine was developed.  For a time, some people had been protecting others from smallpox by actually infecting them with tissue from a person who had a mild case of the disease. They would do something like making a small cut in the arm of the healthy person, and putting a little of the infected tissue in the cut.  (In China, the same effect was achieved by blowing powdered smallpox scabs up the nose of a healthy person!)  This was safer than catching smallpox in the normal way, but there was still some danger involved— (a famous Puritan preacher and theologian) died from such a smallpox inoculation.

smallpoxThen, in 1798, Edward Jenner introduced a smallpox vaccine based on his observation that milkmaids (who sometimes got a disease called cowpox) did not generally get smallpox.  Cowpox was a much milder disease, closely related to smallpox which was hardly ever fatal.  Jenner started infecting people with cowpox to protect them from smallpox.

Even more sobering to me than the death rate in smallpox epidemics (which could be as high as 35%) are disturbing statistics I have heard about the world views of children of evangelical Christians.  For example, I just read an quoting Josh McDowell saying that 91% of evangelical young adults said there is no truth apart from their own views.   What is going on here, and how could this possibly have any relation to smallpox inoculation?

I don’t want to simplify a phenomenon which probably has a number of contributing factors, but I wonder if we have inoculated our children against Christianity.

But how could this happen?  It seems that we have more youth groups, more Sunday School classes for young people, and more Christian music geared to the young than ever before.  What are we doing wrong?

girl with tiger faceThis makes me think of two women I knew in college.  One I only knew slightly, but I was struck by how she spoke of her wonderful high school youth group (which was part of a well-known, international, evangelical youth ministry) and how much fun she had had in it.  She loved the fun songs they had sung and the special hand motions that accompanied each song.  She seemed to want to recreate this wonderful youth group in our campus Christian Fellowship.  When my wife and I heard about her years later, she did not appear to be following the Lord.

Another woman I came to know well was raised in the church as the daughter of an organist in a mainline denomination.  When she spoke of her Christian experience, she spoke most often of her awesome experiences attending a Christian camp for two weeks each summer.  And yet, as I got to know this woman better, I came to see that her “faith” had very little impact on how she lived her life and the choices she made.

Now, I am not trying to knock Christian camps (my wife came to know the Lord in a Christian horseback riding camp to which her Unitarian family inadvertently sent her) or fun songs.  What I worry is that in our desire to make Christ appealing to young people, we have gutted his teachings. 

We’re telling kids that the joy of the Lord is their strength, but do they understand that this is not the same as a happy feeling generated by singing a bouncy song?  We’re encouraging them to make a decision to follow Christ, but are we teaching them to have the perseverance they will need to follow through on that decision when it stops feeling fun?  Are we telling kids about some of the less “fun” promises of Jesus, such as “All men will hate you because of me,” (Matthew 10:22, NIV) and “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV)?  Are we presenting following Christ as something easy and fun to do, or as something that is HARD but infinitely worth it?

needleI am afraid that being exposed to watered-down Christianity is worse than not hearing the teachings of Christ at all.  Speaking personally, as someone who had never heard of real Christianity until I came to know the Lord at age 15, I can testify that when I learned about Jesus and started reading the Bible, it seemed like the most incredible adventure of my life.  Kids raised as Christians may not have the same jolt I got, but they can have a real and serious faith that is miles ahead of many adults.  But what of kids raised with nothing but fun, “lite” Christianity?  At some point in the future when they are exposed to the real teachings of the Bible, how will they react?  The danger is that they will think this is nothing but a rehash of the shallow teaching they received as children.  They have been inoculated with spiritual cowpox, which keeps them from getting the real disease.  If the true teaching of Christ is smallpox, then I want to see my children get a horrible case.  I want them to die of it.


*Information on and , and photo of child with smallpox taken from the Wikipedia articles on the subject. Girl with tiger face by , needle photo by .