Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Young and Restless

"Now, the Internet, that's the one with email, right?" Hahaha! That joke will never get old. The world wide web is apparently here to stay, and it is changing everything. Hide your kids! (Not really.)

Consider this post an intermission in my written discernment of the Future of Religion. I began the last post with a survey of what salvation, and the reality of a Savior, looks like in other world religions, and will continue (hopefully soon) with a survey of the trends and happenings in the Christian Church in an effort to communicate and live the Gospel as the only truth that actually saves. This is a good preface to that I think.

I felt called to share an interesting collaboration of articles and resources I ran across pertaining to youth, college, and young adult ministry. Inevitably I added some commentary - I only write one of these posts a month, so they get kinda lengthy. If nothing else, just read the links! I hope they are an encouragement, challenge, and resource to you! To many that I hope are reading this, I don't have to tell you, but God is jealous to save and develop the 15 - 35 age bracket for His glory. What a blessing to be a part!

My synopsis: The hearts and souls of the young generation in our world is up for grabs right now. We are at a challenging time in history and we as Christians need to boldly proclaim and demonstrate, without compromise, the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Acts 15). In the midst of overemphasis on social justice, spiritual revival, church culture, good works, etc., which are all something less specific than the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for salvation, we are the ones who need to carry on the biblical message of grace. BUT, we have to be careful, because at the same time we must model the biblical nature of Christian community, or church, not as an addition to grace, but as the necessary context for it and expression of it.

If we can appropriately live and model the biblical balance of a gathered AND scattered church, and if we can effectively watch our lives and doctrine closely, as we are called to do (1 Timothy 4:16), then I think we can be an effective vessel for God, provoking jealousy among the stagnant "church" in America, and extending salvation to the nations and peoples who are far from him (Romans 11:11). Or said another way, if we get this thing right, others will want what we have. If we speak the Gospel truthfully and clearly, and live it in community authentically and biblically, God will use us significantly. People outside will be saved, and people inside who have neglected the true nature of grace, will see it, and God will be glorified in their ultimate salvation as well. This is especially important among young people, who are waiting to influence the culture for decades to come, based on the nature and values of their upbringing, which at the present might be pretty scary.

In other words, we should emphasize church attendance strongly to young people. Church attendance does not only mean presence in a building on Sunday morning. But it does mean that. It also means consistent presence in a community of believers. Not because this presence with other believers by itself has saving value, but because it is the place where biblical Christian community exists most completely, where the Gospel is spoken and portrayed most clearly, where leaders are developed most effectively, and where believers can utilize their gifts most joyfully, of all other contexts in the "real world". It is folly to say that someone can become a Christian and not become part of a church, or that it is ok for young people to be "spiritual" but not "religious". Spirituality alone and lack of religion is waiting to swallow up people into destruction. There is no spirituality alone in Scripture. The whole church in Acts 15, after clarifying that salvation was by grace alone, instructed the people to follow certain religious obligations for their own good, not as a means for salvation, but to demonstrate obedience, love, and ultimately the authenticity of salvation. I encourage the same.

In the midst of a lot of confusion about what church should look like in our culture today, and about what it means to be a Christian (see Are Mormons Christian? for example), we have the opportunity to make clear what the Bible makes clear, to the joy and growth of believers and to the glory of God. Participation in a God-centered church is not the means of getting saved, but it is the evidence of it, and without it, Christians will starve, and non-Christians will be confused. The alternative to it is an increasing trend of men, especially, who look to the culture instead of the church for direction in life, get really confused and frustrated, and in turn put off adulthood, and squander their God-given gifts and purpose in the kingdom, for (in some cases) decades. God forbid!


This will get us going. Did you read C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters growing up? If not, get right on that. Here is the premise: there was this demon, Screwtape, who was writing from down below to his nephew, Wormwood, who was on earth tormenting subjects away from Christ. The letters were "encouragement" and advice to him as to how to be more effective at devilry. So, the reader has to read into the "encouragement" as ways to be sensitive to and discern the devil's schemes and stay strong for the Lord. Very creative and helpful stuff. Anyway, a young pastor, Kevin DeYoung, has attempted the same concept, in the context of young people and church attendance. Check it out:

A Lost Letter to Wormwood

A Lost Letter to Wormwood (conclusion)

Some highlights: Your teenage subject has all the usual paradoxes of American youth we like to see down here: rebellious, yet disinterested; slothful, yet impetuous; disrespectful to parents, yet an irresponsible drain on their resources; tolerant of religions he knows nothing about, yet fiercely intolerant of the one he knows best. All in all, a splendid few years my injurious Wormwood. Bravo!

It is because your work has proven so trustworthy over the last few years, that I now feel obliged to speak with you quite candidly about a matter of grave importance. Your subject is now enrolled in what the earth world calls “college.” I do not need to remind you what splendid opportunities these places afford us. But there is one particular danger, and you must see to it that it is avoided at all costs. And that danger is church attendance.

Though your subject seems safe from the clutches of our Enemy Above, you will recall that he has spent the majority of his Sundays, thus far, in church. The habit may not be easy to break. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: “If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is meddle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.”

Church attendance is bad enough, nephew, but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. If your human persists in his church interest, you simply must devise some way to shuffle him around from congregation to congregation. See to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do....

....Listen closely. Groups of students meeting together for prayer and study is, it’s true, a pernicious influence, but gladly, the influence is often short-lived. Soon, your subject will graduate and he will find that the rest of the planet is not like his university. He will not be surrounded by peers all his age with his same interests. It is to our advantage that he be unable to relate to anyone above the age of 25. This not only makes for misery, but it makes church involvement, and therefore the Christian life, much less likely....

....One more thing, students today love the idea of community. Do everything in your power to keep them loving the idea of community rather than loving their community. As long as they love their vision of community instead of loving the actual fleshly people around them, they will never have real community and they will stay far away from church.


Perhaps Screwtape, in this example, is overconfident that such a thing is happening to young people, and is overemphasizing the "danger" of church attendance to their "cause". Perhaps. Interestingly, though, the evidence in even the secular world is pointing the other direction. The New York Times recently printed an article entitled, What is it About 20-Somethings? Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler offer two interesting commentaries on this article and this reality:

The World is Filled With Boys Who Can Shave

Sample: Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer. Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that's what Jesus, the real man, did.

Why Aren't Emerging Adults Emerging as Adults?

Sample: Every family and local congregation has its work cut out for it in facing this challenge. The church would demonstrate the power of the gospel in a whole new way by assisting young people into the successful and faithful transition to adulthood, celebrating this transition as a matter of spiritual maturity to the glory of Christ. These young adults are desperately needed for the cause of Christ, and many are indeed making their way into authentic adulthood with faithfulness, energy, conviction, and excitement. Let’s pray that their example is infectious.

All that to say, the church can help these confused and frustrated young people from wasting their lives, which left alone to the inconsistencies and complexity of our culture, is exactly what they will do.


If you needed further evidence that the culture (read pop music, celebrities, athletics, politics, secular education, etc.) is the wrong source of guidance for young people, consider Glenn Beck. Now, for the purpose of this post, I don't care about his politics, and I'm not concerned specifically with his challenge to the country to turn back to God (I obviously agree with that challenge). What I do care about and what I am concerned with is his confusing tone and articulation of Christian faith.

A week after describing the difference between what it means to be a Christian (articulated very well, using terminology like salvation by grace alone through faith alone) vs. the faith of Barack Obama, based on statements the President has made, he hosts a massive, mostly spiritual, rally in the nation's capital, in the aftermath of which he reveals that he is a Mormon. Really? I said the same thing about Barack Obama several months ago, and it seems to be creating exactly the confusion and damage I feared, and is fueling people like Glenn Beck to become more vocal, but less clear, about things of faith and specifically the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. "Watch your life and doctrine" means being clear about what you believe, and then demonstrating it accurately with how you live. To talk about spiritual revival in the general context of Christianity, shortly after criticizing the President for a confusing explanation of his faith, all the while believing and practicing the teachings of Mormonism, is maddeningly unhelpful. And its not watching life and doctrine very closely. The church needs to be careful here, and followers of Jesus should not budge and should be ready to clearly explain who their Lord and Savior is, and who He is not. The most devastating of consequences is at stake if we let Glenn Beck, for example, do it for us. No joke. And not entirely because of his Mormonism. Let me try to explain. Actually, let me let Russell Moore explain:

"It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

Leaders will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out the sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their movements.

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, Utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable."

Do you understand the problem? If we, in our churches, do not become the Christian leaders that our young people need, those outside the church (in politics, entertainment, celebrity culture, etc.) will fill that void and the result will be disaster. So we need to get them to church so they will be exposed to the leaders they need. Not the leaders who pose as Christians for political or cultural reasons but in reality practice "mammon worship" and are twice the sons of hell compared to the people they criticize; but the leaders who resolve to speak one thing - Christ, and Him crucified. The inevitable helpful application to the everyday lives of young people will pleasantly surprise all of us. The Bible is not stale.


If you don't believe this is a risk for young people today, please read this CNN article about a new book by Kenda Creasy Dean called, Almost Christian. Better yet, read the book. Her premise: parents and pastors are getting lazy and passing on a self-serving strain of Christianity that teenagers are embracing by the thousand because the promise and the hope is, at the core, raised self-esteem. She refers to it as "moralistic therapeutic deism" (a phrase used before), and cites it as one reason teenagers abandon churches. They practice this watered-down faith, they "earn" favor and therapeutic blessings from God, then something bad happens to them, and they bolt, angry that God would abandon his promises. Or they bolt, because they can find the same temporary promises of pleasure and happiness in college, or worse.

Matt Chandler has been warning us of this for years, and is now in the position to throw teenage misconceptions like this into the wind. He is more than 6 months into treatment for Stage 3 brain cancer and is not budging from the message "Jesus is enough! Jesus is better!" We would do well, and young people in our sphere of influence would do well, if we followed Chandler's lead in our churches and our families preaching and living a message of grace, centered on Christ, and centered on the Cross; more lasting than any trend or emotion, and strong enough to get us through any suffering, praising Christ throughout.

"Some adults don't expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex. Others practice a "gospel of niceness," where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

"If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says."

Increased emphasis on helping others is great! But it will not save. We have to be clear on this to young people, and witness service flowing from authentic salvation, as opposed to a means to merit it. Our leadership in healthy churches can prevent young people from putting their hope in anything other than salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, ALONE, and being disappointed or angry when life doesn't go their way, or their service doesn't make the difference that they selfishly seek.


I leave you with the hip-hop version of a call to get involved (for real) in a church. This may sound bold, but I think it is necessary. 1 Corinthians is very clear about Christians' call to "judge" those inside the church. Hence church discipline. It is not our business to judge those outside. It should be our business to get those outside, inside, and then hold them (and encourage them!) to the biblical call of followers of Christ. In the meantime, clearer definitions of what it means to be "inside" the church, or what it means to be a Christian according to Scripture, would certainly be helpful (these are the two questions I've been trying to address with this blog for a long time, so feel free to reference back if you can). We need the whole Bible to get at these clearer definitions. Not just the Gospels. Not just Acts. Not just the Epistles. Not just the Old Testament. All of it. If we look there, it will benefit everyone. Worst case scenario is we'll save both our self and our hearers.

Listen, this is written for long term visitors
non-committers who get the word, but never get to work
at least not in conjunction with a church
they stay away and say they afraid of getting hurt but
pain is never excuse for disobedience
church wasn't created to cater to your convenience
And God didn't give you gifts to be greedy with
mission without the church is missing a main ingredient

I know I rushed in without much of an introduction
but membership is what we're discussin'
committing to a community through a cov'nant
and doing the 'one another's of scripture with brethren
(membership!) it actually happens at salvation
but practically it happens in active participation
if 1 is a fact then 2 the demonstration
for the maturing Christian nothing should separate them
If 1 is the truth, then number 2 is the proof
if it's aloof, then number 1 is a lion without a tooth
If not the elect, who's inspecting your fruit?
Just a select group of heads from your crew? (that's not a test dude!)
It's more like a bad science experiment
with no control groups in the lab and bias experiences
It's foolish to laugh denyin' it's serious
when the only proof that you have is kinda mysterious

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

We live in the days of the consumer
shopping's a coveted skill and bloggers write reviews up
no one commits, people leave when they choose 'cause
ain't nobody tryin' to be tied down, with too much
labor only lasts as long their passions
cats dip sayin' they feel bad with no sadness
they want the good stuff without the attachments
like friends with benefits of the ecclesial fashion
playin the church like the girls that you date then
you criticize her like you're Seinfeld (or Satan!) (explain)
You sit in the back makin' your accusations
but you ain't willin' to aid in her sanctification?! (hypocrite.)
I know that I'm gettin' a little hype but
you gotta understand the church was purchased by Christ's blood
And if Levi got jealous for Dinah
of course the Levite's gon' be zealous for the Bride cuz
we see that Haggai and Zechariah
were willin' to work wit Israel, not just prophesy stuff
You can check for yourself in Ezra 5:1
then wrestle with verse 2 until you're ready to die (What!?)
(Yup) I didn't stutter, you heard me right bruh
dyin' is the price for being up in the cypha
It's all or nothin', cat's are puttin' their life up
but you be isolated like you don't even like us

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

Membership is not a check in a box
or an altar call response when the sermon is hot, it's
privileges bought with His blood on the cross
and it separates the flock from the world that is lost kid
membership is being a part of the body
but how can you be a body part when apart from the body?
(and furthermore) How could you possibly think it's godly
when God is 1, or even 3 in 1, but He's not 3?!
I know the reality's universal
but practically it has to be tangible to the world too
so how do we gather to spur the virtues
when our anatomy has been scattered throughout the Earth dude?
the local church has entered the picture
the form of the assembly most mentioned in scripture
this is who you were given spiritual gifts for
to Voltron with a squad and add your steez to the mixture
They're also the tools used to fix ya
iron sharpens iron, sparks flyin', it's sick stuff
but don't try to punk out when it gets rough
Satan's like a roaring lion tryin' to vic' ya
He's waitin' for you to faint when it gets tough
straggle at the back of the flock and you might be his lunch
Or maybe you'll prove you were never His bruh
1 John 2:19 homie, you with us?

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

- Music and Lyrics by Stephen the Levite