The Plague of Emotivism
In 1957, the social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the stress that results from holding two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.
According to Festinger, people will attempt to alleviate the stress by either changing their minds about one of the ideas or, more commonly, convincing themselves the ideas really aren’t contradictory. The latter usually results in an incoherent mess, something a recent Barna report amply demonstrates.
The report, entitled “Reviving Evangelism,” found that virtually every practicing American Christian believes that “part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus.” Similarly, virtually all of them agree that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus.”
This sounds like a solid foundation for “reviving evangelism,” doesn’t it? Yet, the same study found that “nearly half (47 percent) of practicing Christian millennials—churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives—believe that evangelism is wrong.”
Specifically, they believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes they will one day share the same faith.”
If you’re wondering how one can simultaneously believe that knowing Jesus is the best thing that could happen to a person and that telling that same person about Jesus is somehow wrong, you understand what cognitive dissonance means.
Making matters even more, well, dissonant, is that the same group “is more likely than any other generation to say they are gifted at sharing their faith.” Nearly three quarters of them describe themselves that way.
At this point, it’s tempting to talk about how participation trophies and self-affirmation statements have ruined the millennials. But the problem isn’t our misguided strategies of boosting this generation’s self-esteem. The problem is theological anemia.