November 2nd, 2010 by Bethany French

Author’s note:  This is the second article of a mini-series reviewing Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the first few chapters of this book.  To read the first article in the series, click here.

Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian covers five major findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion that may perhaps bring about a major change in the way many mainstream churches and/or parents  approach youth ministry or parenting:

1.  Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought.

2.  Most U.S. teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith.

3. Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world.

4.  A minority of American teenagers–but a significant minority–say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives.  These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers.

5.  Many teenagers enact/espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religions–an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Some of my conclusions from reading these first few chapters in conjunction with my own personal experience are as follows:  The problems that exist now are direct results of a culture of self-indulgence; a culture that equates physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort as something to be avoided at all costs.  Christian vocabulary has been perverted:  the word “Love” does not mean anything more than an exalted version of “Warm fuzzies all around,” “salvation” means that “all generally nice people go to heaven,” and the biggest “sin” is to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause discomfort any way, for any reason. A version of the larger American culture, which holds all of these views, has been adopted by many parents and churches (consciously or not).

Dean clearly highlights the source of the problem as a breakdown of the parents’ and congregations intentionally modeling radical faith in God and demonstration of the gospel to their children, and the failure to recognize that the goal of the gospel is beyond the individual.

We ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith…we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready’ (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra).  We simply have not given teenagers the soul-strength to recognize, wrestle, and resist the symbiotes in our midst, probably because we lack [it] ourselves… Exposing adolescents to faith, as it turns out, is no substitute for teaching it to them…

By and large, Smith and Denton concluded, parents ‘get what they are’ religiously…Parents matter most when it comes to the religious formation of their children.

Although the child is still responsible for his/her own response to the gospel, and even in the cases where the parents are truly living radical lives and teaching their children to do the same may choose to diverge to the path of least resistance, families and communities that adopt an intentional way of living and teaching spiritual precepts will raise children who are much more able to talk articulately about what their faith means to them in their daily lives.  It may be that many parents in their own lives, as well as the lives of their children, have bought into one of the central precepts of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is that the main goal in life is to avoid interpersonal friction.  And, as Dean writes,

Spiritually sensitive youth often cause trouble in their communities (religious or secular) because of their alertness to the sacred.  It is hard to imagine researchers, interviewing Jesus after he turned over the tables in the temple, ascribing the act to religious maturity–but in Christian theology it is a story of righteousness and divine purgation.”

Which of the prophets, including Jesus as the Son of God, was not hated and persecuted, even killed for following the Spirit of God, laying down their lives as their sacrifice of love and obedience to God, and out of desperate concern and passionate desire for the restoration of those who were opposing the will of God?  How often did God send His prophets not to the ‘pagan’ nations, but to His own people, who were following Him with their lips, and not with their hearts?  How is that different than today, where so many in our churches say, “I am a Christian,” and yet they do not have the transforming love of God gripping their hearts to lay down their lives in obedience to Christ?  As Dean says,

It is in following Jesus that we learn to love Him; it is in participating in the mission of God that God decisively changes us into disciples.”

Let us awaken our hearts to experience the living God, as in Dr. Michael Brown’s Rhyme of the Modern Parishioner:

Pour your life out for broken lives –
Let God your heart break too.
Take up the cross, deny yourself;
Just live His will to do!

Wake up, be brave, be honest;
Today — oh hear His voice!
Be ruthless with your schedule;
Seek GOD. Make that your choice.

Posted in Culture, News Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

February 14th, 2010 by Eric Gilmour

Seeing Jesus

Luke 19.1-10

Zach knew that Jesus was there. But he couldn’t see Him. There were too many obstructions in the way. But his desire to see Jesus pushed him beyond his natural state of inability to see Jesus. It pushed him to a tree. He climbed the tree and saw Him. In seeing Jesus he was brought into His presence and he was moved not only to repentance, but to restitution. Salvation had come to his house.

Brother, wherever you are in your life, if you are having a hard time seeing Jesus; where He is, what He would have you do…or even if you are in a state of stagnation, I say to you, “climb the tree.” Make the decision that your natural inability to see Him is not satisfying. Make a change in your heart to climb higher. Set your heart to see Him. Determine that these obstructions in the way will no longer hold their distracting power. Set them all aside, put away the non-essentials and go after God. Seek Him and make yourself find him.  What do I mean?  Settle for nothing less than seeing Jesus, alive, today. His mercy and grace has placed a tree in your reach, no matter how blocked your vision of Jesus is. He has set it in front of you. Only those who choose to let their frustration of their current situation move them out of complacency and into an all out initiative to see Him, climb this tree.

It seems God has set up a principle to finding Him and this is the tree that He has set in your reach for you to climb into a fresh revelation Jesus. The principle will bring you into a seeing of what you could only feel before. It will bring you into His sight and He will call to you in your hunger and declare/manifest His saving power in your house. That principle to which I am referring, that tree set in your reach to climb is this, “in that day when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me (Jeremiah 29.13).”

Whatever your obstruction, be it sin, tribulations, bondage, pride, fear, unbelief, religion or any other thing that has eclipsed God in your life, just stop, look around and right within your reach is a tree. I promise, it is there, for He has divinely given it to you, I have found it many times myself; The ability to lay your life down at His feet. I believe that most, if not all issues in life can be pined on to a lack of surrender to Christ and His gospel.  “The secret of an unsatisfied life lies too often in an unsurrendered will” (Hudson Taylor). Even in weakness and despair, you can choose to lay it all down at His feet. He will take you into His presence and bring deliverance with all its effects! Praise God for such a love. Christianity is not a change of life, but an exchange of life. You lay all the pieces of your heart down and then He will pick them all up with limitless power and strength to conquer through you.

Beloved reader…lay it all down. Resurrection life follows death alone.

Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: , , , , ,