One of the books I wanted to read as 2017 started was The Jesus Gap. I started reading it months ago, but somewhere along the way got off track. So, I decided to get back on track and set aside some time to really dig into it.
After reading it, I went back through the things I highlighted and marked. Once I typed it up, it filled almost four pages in a Word doc. Needless to say, there is a lot of useful information in the book.
Bradbury shares the motivation behind writing the book. She was taking a class on Christological foundations. The final project was to conduct a small research study on your own ministry to determine what teens believed about Jesus. She was surprised by the results from her group.
As she continued to study this topic, she decided to find out if what was true of the teens in her youth ministry was true of others teens. That brought about her survey and this book, The Jesus Gap.
For those who work with students, the question that will linger in your mind as you read this book is this: “Is this true of the teens in my church?” I asked that question a number of times as I read the results of her research.
While there is too much information in the book to boil down to one post, a couple of things kind of rose to the top in my thinking.
One is how students look at Jesus as both God and as being sinless.
According to Bradbury’s research, when students were asked the question, “Is Jesus God?” 44 percent of students answered “Yes,” 44 percent said “No,” and 12 percent confessed, “I don’t know.”
There are a number of conclusions a person could draw, but the numbers are a little startling. Consider that the teens from the survey had a church background, were active in their congregations, and yet under 50% of them agreed that Jesus is God.
When asked if Jesus was perfect (or sinless), 34 percent of teens affirmed Jesus was perfect. 57 percent said Jesus was not perfect. 9 percent said, “I don’t know if Jesus was perfect.”
So even a smaller percentage agreed that Jesus was perfect.
Along with sharing the statistics and results of interviews, Bradbury also shared some practical steps youth workers can take to strengthen the Christology of the teens in their churches.
One area where I think The Jesus Gap is helpful is that it removes the blinders from our eyes. We have to assume that what is true of Bradbury’s original research study in her group and then the following larger study she did, is also true on some level for the students in our sphere of influence. One of the take-a-ways I have from this book is to find out where our students are and what particular truths about Jesus we might need to address in the future.
Another interesting thing Bradbury brought out is why students question that Jesus was perfect. Early in the book she referenced some research done by Scott McKnight in Christianity Today where he concluded this: “We all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and extroverts think Jesus is extroverted. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”
Students seemed to carry this idea when they viewed Jesus. Here are a couple of quotes from students in Bradbury’s book talking about why Jesus wasn’t sinless:
“Jesus was God’s Son, after all He was human. It’s really hard to know. You’d think he would be perfect. But humans – it’s impossible to be perfect.”
“Jesus sinned because he was a human being like the rest of us.
Even the best people in the world sin.”
One challenge to students seeing Jesus as perfect is wrestling with His divine nature. If He was human like us, the conclusion many of them draw is that He sinned, because all people sin.
Bradbury also revealed a distrust for Scripture. She shared responses from students that shared the opinion that the Biblical writers left our Jesus’ sin intentionally, in an effort to make Him appear more godly.
After sharing results of her research, she offered this conclusion: Don’t assume teenagers view Scripture the same way you do. Perhaps we operate under the assumption that because we have talked about the Bible and have a certain set of beliefs, our students hold those as well. The Jesus Gap reveals that for a large number of teens, it’s not true.
The challenge is to not only read the results of Bradbury’s research, but then apply it to your particular context. This is a good read for those who work with students and could create some good discussion.