Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Having little kids has been a challenge this Christmas season. And the challenge has not been so much about trying to navigate the Santa vs. No Santa debate. The challenge came as I wrestled with how much cheese I was willing to serve up for my kids this Christmas in the form of Christmas stories, books, music and movies. Everything in me is repulsed by the cheese. In fact I used to think that it actually was offense to Jesus Christ himself. But as I watch the fruit of hipster parents who are too cool for cheese lived out in their children, the students in our ministry, I am starting to second guess my offense.

I Hate the Cheese! For me and maybe you we think certain things are hip, cool, cultured, and deep. And while these things may be true, this truth is completely lost on our kids. It seems every Christmas there is more and more effort to find ways to make the story of Christmas somehow new and relevant. But the more we do this, the less of the original, simple, and true story gets passed down from one generation to the next.

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Retelling a lost story

Retelling a lost story

Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

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A post-Christian Gospel

A post-Christian Gospel

It is overwhelmingly obvious that the landscape in which we do ministry has changed.  The values, morals, expectations, and biblical understanding have been completely turned on its head. If we continue to do ministry the same as we have always done it, with the same assumptions then over the long haul the Church is going to find herself in trouble. 

A while agoI wrote a little about how the gospel is really not good news at all this this current generation of students.  And while many of our students "play ball" for us while they are under our supervision or while they frequent our programs, who they are in the rest of their life has little to no reflection of traditional, Judeo-Christian, ethic, values, or understanding.  If this assumption is correct then the penal-subsitutionary atonement brand of Christianity with the discipleship bench marks of shutting down sexuality or not drinking have to change.

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What do you do now that the gospel is no longer Good News?

Most of us love speaking to students, sharing our wisdom, pontificating on spiritual realities and how Jesus wants to help them in their desperation.  But if we are quiet for just a second and allow space for students to share what they really think, what their true convictions are, what they really think of Christianity, I think we will all be a bit surprised. My encounter with students, my students, my friends' students, students from all over the country is that students' worldview, self view, and moral view is in stark difference from yours.  Students know how to play ball in the adult world, they know what to say and how to get ahead in the verity of social contexts they find themselves.  When they are with their parents, coaches, every different teacher, and in our student ministries, they put on different hats in order to survive / thrive in each context.


But what would happen if we took a step back and really listened, without our own agenda?  What would we find?  

  • Students' lives are not in total chaos and they are not depressed in dire need of salvation or hope. Their lives are just fine.  And if not, they don't know any different, so what you might see as awful and hopeless is simply the world they inhabit.
  • Students have absolutely zero understanding of sin.  Your morality is not their morality.  As long as they are open-minded and tolerant, and don't intentionally hurt someone else, then they are good people.  Live and let live.
  • If there is sin, then you are the one who is actually living in it.  You have judgmental and self-righteous attitudes and try to put your morality on others.
  • Sex and sexuality are of uttermost importance to them, and the church's traditional teaching on both have no place in worldview of our students.  "Hate the sin, love this sinner," sounds to our students like, "Separate, but equal."
  • Students have no need for organized religion and feel absolutely no guilt or shame for their lifestyle choices, for their past experiences, and especially for not coming regularly to youth group.
  • It is obvious that youth group provides some social need for students because they keep coming.  But it is also obvious that the actual religion we attempt to pass on rolls off their back like water on a duck.  When they no longer have a need for the youth group community, or when it becomes toxic for them, or they graduate, then they bounce.

We are idiots if we think that a growing youth group, or youth group attendance at all has anything to do with their acceptance of Christianity or their spiritual maturity.

All of this is to say, this is some bad news!   Substitutionary Atonement combined with an emphasis on purity and not drinking too much are totally foreign concepts that have zero meaning in our student population.  I would say that this is some bad news.  Thankfully, the gospel is good news!  And I think that the gospel still is good news.  But we are barking up the wrong tree!!

My next post I will wrestle through what how I think the gospel still is good news and a needed paradigm shift in our understanding and approach to discipleship.  FUN!

What do you think?  Am I a heretic?  Do you see similar trends? What are the felt needs of students?  How does the gospel speak into those? What are your solutions?  Game on peeps!  The world is changing.  Scratch that!  The world has changed and the church needs to do some hard work, intellectually and spiritually if we are going to have any sort of impact on this next generation.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 2: The Present

Don't forget to read part 1: the past. Justification for our rebellion used to work. There was a time in our not so distant past where the gospel of justification as the good news for our rebellion was a compelling and effective strategy in connecting people to Jesus. For the better part of 50 years this was the staple of evangelical christianity.

But as the children of the boomers grew up, many noticed that this gospel of defining sin as rebellion and missing the mark simply lead to a legalistic gospel of sin management. If we are rebels and Jesus now saves us from the consequences of our sin, then sanctification was getting on board with "Christian Culture," locking down those crazy behaviors and being nice. (I know this is a very simplistic assessment, but I will take my angsty straw-man and jump in line with my fellow Gen Xers who began to tell a subtly different, yet much more culturally relevant version of the gospel for this new generation.)

Many Gen Xers who saw the white washed lives and big box churches offering a simple gospel which appeared to simply offer fire insurance, were longing for a more transformational story that wasn't so binary in its approach. In or our, secular or sacred. There had to be a broader and more compelling story.

And sure enough, pioneers such as Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell (just to name a few of the superstars) began to paint a picture of the gospel that was truly good news for the Gen Xers and beyond.

Part 2) The Present Where the gospel used to be the good news of justification for our rebellion, there has now become a new crises that is in need of good news. For many Gen Xers, their story has been one of destruction. But it isn't the sort of destruction that is caused by rebellion, it is the kind of destruction that is the fruit of rebellion.

As a side note: This is not to say that all boomers were rebels or all Xers were wrecked. But it has become the common narrative of the generation.

For many Gen Xers, there is a genuine feeling of brokenness. There was once something that was good, and then through sin, death and destruction came to be. And since brokenness is the crisis, the good news is that through Jesus Christ we are healed and redeemed.

The death and destruction that has marred our lives and relationships does not have to be the end. Jesus comes and offers us transformation and healing to make the wrongs right.

I love the Gospel of healing and redemption! This narrative is so prevalent that it is like the air we breathe. We are all about the redemptive story. We love that God has made the world good, and sin entered the world through Adam and with sin came death and brokenness. Then God began his redemptive work through the Jewish people and ultimately through Jesus Christ. And in him our wounds our healed.

Instead of God simply annihilating the entire world because of their rebellion, many Xers see that God is redeeming creation and inviting he redeemed people to be part of the process. This is partly why social justice is such a significant part of our story. Christians are not passive people simply trying to get people from hell to heaven. We are a redeemed people participating in the ever expanding Kingdom of God.

This is my context, my peeps. I get that things used be good, and now they suck! And Jesus takes my brokenness and heals it, redeems it. This is the good news!

Yes the 4 Laws still work, but work differently: As you may have read from my other posts, here and here I am all about alter calls, all about presenting the gospel. But what has changed is the definition of sin when presenting the gospel. Now sin is our brokenness not our rebellion, and the gospel is healing and redemption instead of justification. No matter how we tweak the definitions, there is still a world in desperate need of Jesus and we are invited by faith to respond.

Sin used to be seen as missing the mark, rebellion, behaviors that deserve punishment. But in our current context this definition has transitioned to mean broken. We are sinful / broken and that brokenness severs our relationship with God.

It is Jesus who offers healing and redemption through Jesus Christ. It is a gospel, it is a gospel that requires a response. What has changed is our understanding of what the crisis it. For most "younger adults" we get that the crisis has transitioned from rebellion to brokenness.

I hope that this makes some sense and gives you a little more grace for the generation that has come before and understand the gospel in a different way that you do. And in the same way, can you even get your head around that our students have a different world view and a different crisis they are facing.

Can you get your head around that our students don't think they are broken? This version of the gospel is a home run for people in their 20's -40's. But I am noticing a challenging new trend. This new trend is that among our students there is now no more self reflection, no more brokenness.

As you interact with your students you are probably as horrified as I am that they have absolutely no understanding of sin. They live in an amoral culture and if there is no defined morality, how can they be rebells, how can they miss the mark. This trend has been happening for quite some time. But what has taken me back is that this current group of students don't even see themselves as broken.

Go to youtube and watch Lady GaGa's video, Born This Way. Now I get that she is weird and that many students would not admit to being inline with her. But as you talk with them and truly listen, you will see that this song is actually their world view.

Our students are beautiful and unique. Whatever we might classify as sin or brokenness they actually classify as badges of honor that simply make them more beautiful and unique. When they give their testimonies, have you noticed that the almost always talk about having no regrets and that all their experiences have simply shaped them into the person they are today.

While we might get that our students are rebellious and broken, I am trying to argue that our students don't see that. It is like arguing that a 19 year old college freshman boy is sleeping with everyone on his dorm because he is truly lonely, insecure, and trying to fill some God shaped hole with the wrong thing. While those may be deep inner longings, his felt need is that he is actually just horny. We know there is a sin problem, but unless we can tap into their felt crisis, there is little to no chance of the gospel truly being good news to this current generation. (wasn't that a colorful example)

I know you are probably disagreeing with me. But imagine trying to have the conversation with your parents or grandparents about the redemptive story we are called into. If they have any old skool, evangelical roots, they think we have gone soft because we are all about the journey and not getting people saved! This current generation has transitioned the gospel focus, why can't it transition again?

Where do we go from here? In part 3, I will simply share some of the thoughts I have been wrestling with regarding what the good news might be for these increasingly post-christian students. For us in the Bay Area, there is no more common story or ethic to aspire to, so justification for their rebellion is out. There is also little memory of the good that used to exist before the crap storm came so healing from brokenness is out. What is the felt need, the crisis that Jesus Christ can be good news to?

This solution is going to take much more than my little brain. Us youth workers are on the front lines of a whole new worldview and together we may tap into something revolutionary as we strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our students.

What are your thoughts?

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.