Many Millennials are skeptical of the Bible, viewing it as an outdated, intolerant book. Yet fellow Millennials Michael and Lauren McAfee, authors of Not What You Think, are up for the challenge. They make the case for their generation and for Gen Zers that the Bible is a must-read, life-changing book. In this podcast, Sean and Scott interview them about how they invite their generation to reconsider the Bible.

More About Our Guest

Portrait of Lauren & Michael McAfee

The McAfees are a husband and wife team who are both working on their PhDs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lauren works at the Hobby Lobby corporate offices and Michael is the Director of Community Initiatives for the Museum of the Bible, and is a teaching pastor in Oklahoma City. They are both sought-after speakers for conferences, schools, and other events.

Episode Transcript

Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot school of theology, Biola University.

Scott Rae: And I'm your co-host, Scott Rae, Dean of the faculty and professor of Christian Ethics, also at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.

Sean McDowell: Today we're here with a husband/wife team, millennials who've written a really interesting book to everyone but in particular kind of Millennials and Gen Z-ers, trying to get them to reconsider the message and the truth of the scripture.

Lauren is a communicator. She also loves coffee, earned her graduate degrees in pastoral counseling and theology, and has worked with her father Steve Green as he founded the Museum of the Bible, and she's working on her PhD at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We're also here with Michael who also has gotten some theological training and works as the director of Community Initiatives for Museum of the Bible and is also a doctoral student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Well, thanks to both of you for carving out the time to come on.

Lauren McAfee: Thanks for having us.

Sean McDowell: Yeah, I've been looking forward to this awhile because I found your book so interesting on a number of levels. But let me ask you this. How has working at the Museum of the Bible shaped this book? Because I visited the museum around the time it came out with my son and I saw so many of the aspects at the museum coming through in this book. So maybe talk about what's at the Museum of the Bible today and how that shaped your interaction and love for the scriptures and ultimately this book as well.

Lauren McAfee: Absolutely. So I got to work for Museum of the Bible for six years right out of college, when I finished my undergraduate degree, and it was so much fun because it was kind of at the very beginning of this vision for setting a museum in Washington DC. And we, at the beginning stages, didn't even know it would be in DC. We were kind of looking at a couple different cities.

So getting to work alongside the team of scholars that we brought on to work through kind of planning the exhibits and working with the artifacts did shape my faith in a way that brought challenges to the way that I viewed the Bible as well as opportunity for me to kind of wrestle through, okay, this is not what I've kind of always had as my assumption about how to approach the Bible or how to even consider the Bible historically.

And so it was great because it provided opportunity for me to wrestle with questions and we share that in our book, Not What you Think when we talk about our own wrestling with how to view the Bible but it also gave the opportunity to be around so many great resources of people who had thought a lot about the Bible.

And in Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, we talk about three different things. We cover the history of the Bible. It's kind of how did we get the book today that we hold when we're holding the Bible in our hands? What is the history of that from translation, transmission, how that came through time. So that has a lot of artifacts and is laid out chronologically on one floor and it's just really incredible to get to see firsthand some of these manuscripts and items. So that's the history floor.

Then we also talk about the narrative of the Bible. So what is the story, kind of the overarching story, Old Testament and New Testament or Hebrew Bible and new Testament of what is being told throughout the Bible. And so if you are not familiar with the Bible, Museum of the Bible is a great place to go and kind of get a big picture overview of the story of the Bible.

And then the third aspect of Museum of the Bible and kind of the main exhibit floors of what it covers is the impact of the Bible. So I learned so much about how the Bible has impacted nearly every area of culture and society, not only in America, but around the world. And that gave me a richer and deeper appreciation for the Bible today and its modern application and influence from this ancient text that is still influencing our world today.

So we hope that people will enjoy getting to learn that from Museum the Bible. And it's definitely been significant and influential for me.

Sean McDowell: By the way, Lauren, I loved all about the Museum of the Bible but that floor on the impact was fascinating and so interesting. That is worth going to the museum just to see that floor.

Lauren McAfee: Absolutely. It's one of my favorites. They're all my favorite.

Scott Rae: Now, Michael and Lauren, you describe yourselves as millennials and you make it clear that you are writing a book about the Bible for Millennials and Gen Z folks. So a couple of things that related to that. What do you bring to this as millennials writing for millennials that somebody else who's not in your particular age bracket might not be able to bring?

Michael McAfee: We wanted to add to the conversation a peer voice. And so there are many more qualified and better scholars of the Bible and defenders of the faith that we hope people in our generation that are asking questions would turn to, to learn from. The reality is that we recognize as well that Millennials, one of the things that has defined us is social media and in social media everyone sort of is an expert. And so a lot of times Millennials make decisions on where they're going to go to dinner, what product they're going to buy, based not on what experts say but based what on peers say.

And so we wanted to have a conversational approach to encourage Millennials, to encourage our peers, that we come from the same generation you do. We've had similar cultural experiences. We've wrestled with some of the questions about the Bible and yet we have found the Bible and really biblical faith to be something that many people, many of our own peers are longing for without realizing that that's what they long for. And so some of those things.

We love that our generation values diversity. We think that's really an amazing thing and you're not going to find a more diverse book than the Bible. It's used by people on literally every continent of every socioeconomic demographic of every age bracket. And people that would ascribe to biblical faith come from all different walks of life all around the world today. And so for us to value diversity or to say that the Bible that we've sort of advanced past it as some would want to argue is hubris. When you look at how regulative it is to read the Bible and engage with it by people all over the world today, not to mention throughout history.

So we wanted to add our voice as peers saying, "Yes, we've grown up in modern America and the 21st century just like you, wrestled with the same questions, but here's what we found that maybe is different from what you think right now.

Scott Rae: Okay, so let me take this one step further. Again, a big picture view of this. What did you find? How do Millennials think about the Bible and how is this different than what previous generations have thought about the Bible?

Michael McAfee: Yeah. One of the things that has defined our generation has been the rise of the internet. And so Millennials are connected to, not only ideas that are global ideas, they have access to an infinite amount of information that a few generations ago people did not but also were connected to people around the world.

Where my grandfather grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt here in Oklahoma City and for the most part only interacted with other people in the buckle of the Bible belt in Oklahoma City that thought like him, that had a lot of echo chamber type effects that in some ways affected him positively and in other ways I'm sure limited him.

Well, my generation is very different. You may have grown up in a small town but growing up with the internet, you're exposed to arguments from all over the world all the time. And so that creates new opportunities to share the gospel with people over the world. But it also creates new opportunities for faith to be challenged. And so that is one of the things, one of the reasons that we see that Millennials and Gen Z are the most biblically-skeptical, most biblically- hostile generations in the history of our country is because they have been inundated with objections to the Bible, objections to Christianity that previous generations when they were at our stage of life, had not been exposed to at least as many people had been exposed to us and have in our generation.

Sean McDowell: So let me play the skeptic with you a little bit. You described Millennials as a digital generation that sees the world through screens, and yet you write an old school book to try to engage them in the Bible. Now, of course, I'm being somewhat facetious here, but talk about millennials. You've done your research and their willingness to read this book, let alone the Bible just because of how they consume information.

Lauren McAfee: Yeah. So in our book we do talk about how Millennials are consuming information so much digitally, so the news they consume is generally on internet or social media. But we also do have a chapter where we just talk about the value of reading books and we actually were surprised that in our research we found millennials are actually reading books even more than some generations older than us.

And so we are so accustomed to consuming information, I think because of our access to so much information growing up, whether that was through the internet or social media as well as just the availability of printed media. And so we're grateful that millennials haven't pushed aside books, especially as authors. We are especially grateful.

But, as Michael mentioned, there is a lot of information out there that our generation has been inundated with since we were young. And so that gives us more that is being input into us, that shapes our worldview and shapes our views of other pieces that we consume. And so that has affected our approach to a book like the Bible. So we talk about that and how that affects us and then we also encourage millennials to continue to read and, in that, to approach reading the Bible with a mindset that this is a book. You walk alongside it as a friend that you can learn from that is a mentor to you and that we have something to learn from this ancient text that is still influencing our world today.

Scott Rae: Quick question for both of you just in how you went about structuring the book and how it's conceptually ordered. I noticed that you have a chapter on truth or truth in general and truth claims before you start addressing the Bible.

My question is why do you address the subject of truth generally before addressing the Bible? And then the followup on that. How do you think we best convince Millennials or can engage with Millennials on the subject of truth that is knowable, that it's important and, and that it's not just some irrelevant subject that we don't have any interest in.

Sean McDowell: Yeah, great question. So we wanted to begin with the problem with truth because Millennials are skeptical of truth and that's all truth, not just specifically the Bible or specifically Christianity. We reject almost all authority structures, not just the church. And so in some ways the obstacles that Millennials have to faith and to Christianity today are not personal to Christianity or exclusive to Christianity.

And so we wanted to start with truth and our problem with truth because... If you are not willing to accept the Bible or anything as a form of truth and sort of everyone has their own truth and you're able to set what you believe to be true to define your world, not only is that a massive problem to understanding the Bible's message and to not taking the Bible on it's own terms, but simply kind of taking it as a buffet where you pick and choose the verses that you like that sort of fit in accordance with your worldview. But the Bible doesn't leave space for that. The Bible doesn't leave space as a writing for someone to take a portion of it and not take the whole thing.

And so we try to be very clear throughout the book about different ways that the Bible itself puts expectations on the reader and how we are to understand it and try to encourage the reader that if you are going to evaluate the Bible, you have to evaluate it on its own terms.

I think one of the examples we use in there is Harry Potter and Lauren loves the Harry Potter films. We have those going it seems like pretty regularly, just like almost in the background like Friends episodes or something for some people that are hanging out at our house constantly. And in Harry Potter it would be ridiculous for me to criticize it by starting to make judgments on whether or not Harry is acting morally or immorally or whether or not... And then also attacking him, whether or not it's possible to even have magic spells come out of a wand or whatever is happening. People can't fly on broomsticks. Well, the reality is if I'm going to judge Harry, I have to enter into the story which isn't wizards and wands and broomsticks or a part of the narrative.

And, in the same way, we have to come to the Bible and say, "Okay, if this book is what it claims to be, that I need to judge it based on its own terms. I need to enter into the story sort of from the inside and understand this story about Jesus who claims to be the way, the truth, and the life, and then kind of make my evaluation on whether or not it's true after I've understood it on its own terms rather than criticizing it before I truly understand the story in the first place."

That would be kind of the answer to that second question, how I would encourage anyone that has a Millennial friend like us that you're engaging in conversation, to try to help kind of begin the conversation that way and to show there already are ways that we believe in truth. We believe in injustice, right? So the reason why, in some ways, that we believe in justice is at some level there is a basis for truth on something that is right or wrong and where does that come from? You can use natural law theory to deduce and at least get to some kind of a standard of truth that has been set in place by a creator that we're all held accountable to.

That is such a charitable charge to people to read the Bible on its own terms and it seems like anybody when it's processed that way would think that's reasonable. That's what I should do. And also how Christians should read Holy books of other faiths as well. So I think that's such a good reminder.

I love this chapter on truth because as a Gen X-er, I still speak to a lot of Millennials and Gen Z-ers and a lot of the ways you do in the chapter Truth is Knowable. It's important, it matters.

And yet what I found interesting is also in the book you share the story about Bart Ehrman who is a well-known agnostic/atheist who's written a lot of books critiquing the reliability and truthfulness of the scriptures. You had the chapter called Our Problem with Truth and I thought next you're going to say, "here's how we know the Bible's true."

But you jumped into the Bible's message. I'm curious why you didn't include a direct apologetic for the truth of scripture within the book itself. Is it because of how Millennials think because of space? What will be the reason maybe in not including that and responding to some of Bart Ehrman's claims, especially since you said it's been so influential with your generation?

Lauren McAfee: Yeah, we wanted to be intentional with what we were trying to accomplish in this book and so we're not presenting so much the apologetic arguments but almost a pre-apologetic approach to trying to engage our generation and invite them into the story and engaging with the story of the Bible. With our generation, there are so many who are disengaged with the Bible or if we are engaged, it hasn't been with some of the full context or growing up knowing these stories and what they're pointing to.

And so there's almost a step before some the apologetics that we were hoping to accomplish with this, which is some of what shaped that. We think that, as we understand the context of the Bible, what the Bible is all pointing to, that being the life of Jesus Christ and what the message of his life is, then that I think helps give perspective for how we read both Old Testament and New Testament. So that's some of how we were wanting to approach the book and why we went from kind of that chapter that you mentioned, Our Problem with Truth, right into What is the Bible's Message.

I remember wrestling with, in my own millennial generation, how should we be approaching the concepts of truth because I have statements that I believe are true, but friends will have opposite things that they say are true for them. And how do we navigate that? And I remember as a 16 year-old being in a car accident and it wasn't my fault but my car was totaled and praise God, I walked away with just some minor scrapes and bruises. But you could have told me that seatbelt were good in that time, but whenever that seatbelt literally saved my life, that was not just something that was like, Oh, you think seat belts are nice. That's nice for you. That's not for me though. That's not my truth.

I experienced that in a way that was like, okay, this is a truth. Wearing your seatbelt is good. And in that day it saved my life. And so we kind of try and frame things of making some points about truth that not everything is relative and that's something that our generation has wrestled with, is just kind of this world view of everything being relative and my truth is good and you've got your own truth and showing some of the flaws within that logic. And so bringing up those questions hopefully to kind of soften the view of approaching the Bible and then we hope to lead them into, here is what the message of the Bible is and it's one big story about the life of Jesus and we are invited to be a part of that story because of what Christ has done that affects us in our lives. And so hopefully approaching that way will just be a different perspective that invites Millennials in, in a different way.

Sean McDowell: Well, I think you've accomplished that. The title of book again is Not What you Think and the sub-title, Why the Bible Might be Nothing we Expected yet Everything we Need. And yet really what you're doing is not pushing people just to the Bible but to the God behind the Bible, distinctly the person of Jesus, trusting that if people just get into it, they'll see the power of scripture and the person of Jesus himself. So I really like the approach that you're taking here.

Scott Rae: And, Michael and Lauren, let me move on to another question if I might. I found it really interesting that your claim that most of the confusions you find among your Millennial peers is not about the truthfulness of the Bible, but specifically with regard to its message. What are some of the most common confusions about the message of the Bible that you find?

Michael McAfee: Yeah, there's several that we talk about in Not What you Think broadly. The kind of two categories that we have found that keep Millennials or just keep modern people from engaging in the scriptures, fall into a people-objections and perception-objections, misperceptions. So the misperceptions sort of get to the question of what is the Bible. So if you look at some of the data of people that regularly engage with the Bible, why do they read the Bible? Overwhelming number one answer is to grow closer to God.

Well, then by contrast, look at people that don't regularly read the Bible. What is their perception about what the Bible is? Number one, overwhelming answer is a book of rules, book of morality. Well, there you see a breakdown fundamentally about what the Bible is that if the Bible is primarily an ethics textbook, even as a couple of ethics PhD students, we understand that's not something that is drawing people in where they want to learn all the rules because it's just going to make them feel bad about themselves or someone that they love.

And so rather, instead, when we show the Bible is not primarily a book about what we're supposed to do, but it's primarily a book telling us what Christ has done for us on the cross. And that in light of that reality, yes, there are commands that we're to live in order to live a flourishing life, walking with God. But that comes as a result of the relationship that's offered.

And so that also then kind of gets into that first category, which is the overwhelming biggest obstacle, which is the people problem that most Millennials, most people, when you ask them what's your problem with the Bible, they'll start talking about someone that has hurt them that claim to love the Bible, or they'll talk about the disconnect between people who say they love the Bible or quote Bible verses, and yet they do things that are hurtful or harmful for others.

And so there that takes just a lot of humility and grace to own the mistakes of people, even people that we may not identify with, to empathize and to have a second conversation after the person that we are talking to has understood that we value them as a person to say, "But you do realize that your problem isn't actually with the words that are on the pages. Your problem is with this person who has done horrible things."

Sean McDowell: That is so helpful as I read this, and amazingly, probably a lot of people don't understand their objections, whether they're truth objections, perception, or people objections, which is hurt. So categorize in this way I think is going to help the reader and gives a lot of encouragement to us to say, "Wait a minute, we can't put people in a box. These kinds of objections can run deep and personal. Let's understand what they are first before we have assumptions." So that's great.

Now, what I said earlier about one of my favorite floors at the Museum of the Bible was the Impact of the Bible. I was stunned when you see how it's affected music and dress and sports and literature. I just couldn't believe and I should have because I've grown up like you guys do, exposed to the scriptures. But maybe talk about just one or two things in the chapter that you point out that you want your generation to know about the impact of the Bible that maybe they're not aware of.

Michael McAfee: Yeah. I think one of them for me was the way that the Bible has given rise to the Human Rights Movement. And I think honestly in part because so much of the emphasis for human rights today has moved to a place where there are groups that are claiming that people who love the Bible or are holding the biblical truth are actually an opposition to human rights. And yet when you look at the root of where did human rights come from, it came from the doctrine of the Imago Dei that all people, regardless of race and gender, have equal value and worth before a Holy God.

Even in my coursework for one of Ken Magnuson's class actually, we were looking at human sexuality and just looking at how during the first few centuries of the church, first few centuries of this millennia, that if you were a woman, and particularly if you were not married to a Roman citizen man, that you just had no value in society. And yet here comes the church, the Christian Church and institution that gave women an equal place of authority and leadership and value in the early church and gave them dignity in the church family in a way that completely blew up the paradigm through which the Roman world was used to understanding the role of women in society.

And so seeing some of those roots of giving women, dignity, and value, and people of all ethnicities human rights was fascinating to me because the Bible has had such an enormously positive impact on our culture that today it's hard to see it sometimes unless you look in the rear view mirror

Lauren McAfee: As well, we talk about the impact of the Bible and this country and religious freedom and how the Bible is not saying we must impose this religion. No, this is a personal religion and the Bible is not threatened by being in a place of freedom of access to other information.

We believe, Michael and I do, that the Bible stands on its own. We have found that. We studied religious studies as part of our undergraduate degree and did explore kind of what the other religions taught and came to have even greater strength in our belief about the Bible and so the idea of religious freedom also has had an impact in our country and has brought about good.

Sean McDowell: You close the book with a challenge. What is your challenge for those in your generation, millennials and also for this younger generation, Gen Z?

Michael McAfee: Yeah, so we broke that challenge into three parts. The bok, we kind of break it into three categories. There are people who are Bible readers, there's people who are open to the Bible and aren't currently reading it as much, and then there's people who are closed.

So for the Bible closed, those who are not open, we just want to challenge them to be open. I mean we hope, kind of as Lauren mentioned, that this is a pre- apologetic that it will begin to at least convince them that, although they may have some legitimate questions that we want to enter into, that their questions are worth pursuing. And hopefully we at least made them doubt their own doubts a little bit.

And then second to the Bible open. We want to encourage them that the only way for them to get into the word for themselves is to give the Bible a chance. We say if you got your view of the Bible from Dr. Richard Dawkins renowned atheist or Dr. Billy Graham, that we would want either person to engage with the Bible for themselves.

And so that is a challenge that not only transcends those who are open about reading the Bible, but those who are regularly reading it to not only be reading it, but to be engaging with others and talking about the Bible and sharing about its message and things that they have found life-giving to help us sort of rebrand the Bible, which is what in some ways we were hoping to do in this book.

The Bible is perfect. It's a perfect product but we're trying to give it a new brand, a new look, a different perspective for our generation to say... We understand that, in this constant pursuit of the new, that Millennials are always looking for the newest iPhone, the newest version of whatever game they're playing or anything like that, which is great. But in our constant pursuit of the new, we want to make sure that they didn't leave behind something that is timeless and the Word of God that has transcended cultures and time and look at it afresh that we hope to help them sort of take off their bias to look at the Bible for themselves.

Sean McDowell: Well, strategically, what you're doing just makes a ton of sense and there's a lot of wisdom behind it. You're not even arguing the Bible is true. You're just appealing to your generation saying, "Hey, this book is unique. It's special. It's changed lives. It's transformative. Don't miss out on at least exploring the message of the scriptures."

So as two guys who work at Biola, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, I was just thrilled to see this book written by anybody, but in particular husband/wife team, Millennials, having the boldness and yet just the clarity in your book to take a stand in your generation. Say, "You know what? Let's not forget this book of wisdom that's changed the world in the past. We believe it can change lives today."

So thanks for writing the book and thanks for coming on.

Michael McAfee: Thanks for having us.

Sean McDowell: Absolutely. You guys did fantastic.

This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guests, Michael and Lauren McAfee, and to find more episodes, go to

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