This NY Times article tells the story of a young couple who wrote a book about the biblical mandate for natural family planning. They subsequently had four children, moved from Wisconsin to Nashville, repudiated their views on birth control, divorced, and now share custody of their children.
It’s a sad story when one considers their disappointment, disillusionment, hurt, frustration, and broken dreams. There are also four children growing up with divorced parents.
There’s much here to consider, but one aspect of the article caught my attention because of my context for work and ministry over the last 16 years. Since a year after graduating college, I’ve been involved in ministry among college students or have taught undergraduates.
In my view, one of the deleterious aspects of evangelical piety is the location of divine authority in an individual’s intuitions. This can become disastrous when it is combined with youthful energy, earnest devotion to God, the youthful tendency to absolutize isolated truths, and the division of church families along age-demographic lines.
This final factor has cut off young people from God’s appointed sources of wisdom—old people.
This disastrous combination, which appears quite often among college students, was a key component in this couple’s narrative. According to the article,
The couple left Wisconsin for Nashville in 2007, after Ms. Patchin had what she called an “intuition.” Every time the song “Tennessee” by Mindy Smith came on the radio, she started crying. “I said to Sam, ‘I think we need to move to Nashville.’ I wanted to be somewhere warm.”
I’ve seen this pattern for navigating life so often among college students.
About two years ago I sat down with a student who was considering a major move. He was 19, had just been married, was finishing his second year of college, and was going to drop out and join a church-planting effort in a major university town over 1,000 miles away. He told me that he felt that God was leading his wife and him to make this bold move.
After asking a number of questions, it became clear that the basis for this move was no more than an attachment to an ambitious and charismatic church-planter and an inner intuition that he should do it. Without exception, the sources of wisdom in his life warned him against it.
I was relieved about a year ago to see him on campus. He had eventually decided against the move.
But not everyone can be pulled back from the brink of folly. Equating the voice of God with one’s intuitions cuts one off from God’s appointed sources of wisdom—our friends and family, especially older people who have seen much and have learned valuable lessons. Their reservations can be interpreted as “the voice of doubt,” reinforcing one’s resolve to press ahead in “faith.”
I love college students and their energy and desire to swallow life whole. But I become very skeptical when I see the combination of the energy of youth and the intuitive spirituality of evangelical piety.