...are the ones that make the biggest difference

9.23.2004

I saw this through a link on The Revealer yesterday, and was simultaneously disgusted by this person's arrogance and intrigued by my sympathy for his position on some things. Read the article and you'll see what I mean - I've talked to too many people trying to play-up the Bible's more difficult passages as some kind of pretext for dismissing Christianity and/or God, to give his points on "Bible porn" much weight. It was the other half of his beliefs that intrigued me.

Because I didn't really want anybody to have a conversion experience, I went to be a counselor at [the youth conference] to save the children from being saved.

I certainly share his dim view of mere intellectual or emotion driven converstion experiences. I became a Christian at a Younglife camp in California, and years later, I came to understand how I had been psychologically manipulated into that decision. For me, and I'm sure for a great many others, these decisions were real and lives changed because of them. But I'm equally sure that these "decisions" aren't real for a significant segment of kids that go to such camps or conferences and this alienates them from faith. It seems clear that the author falls firmly into the latter and we can see how this has poisoned his view of Christ and Christianity. In my current position as a youth pastor, I really try go a different way in teaching kids about Christ, and not just because it could create people like this.

From Kierkegaard I knew that "Truth is Subjectivity," from Nietzsche that Christians were pop-Platonists, and from Rene Girard that the New Testament revealed the scapegoat mechanism secretly present in all other myths. I knew Christianity, like life, was something far more complex and messy and hard and weird than you could explain to teens in a week. And I knew that it was condescending and wrong to make teens feel dysfunctional if they did not have a Jesus experience in just the way [the youth conference] had pre-ordained for them.

While I agree with the latter half of this statement, it is ironic (and hypocritical) to malign the conference for "condescension" towards kids who do not fit the conference's mold, and yet turn around and display that exact same attitude towards the kids that do. As for his philosophical musings, I can only point out that if you need someone to "reveal" Christ being offered in our place in a "scapegoat mechanism" in the NT, you probably shouldn't be trying to write articles on religion, much less counsel highschoolers.

I still considered myself a Christian, but I had no statement of belief. I wasn't even sure if belief itself was very Christlike.

I'm still dumbfounded by this. If you have no statement of belief, I'm not sure you are actually able to describe yourself with a label that is defined by a statement of belief. And that last sentence - well, I'm almost speechless. I suppose one could argue that Christ, being God, *knew* about Himself and as such, did not require any belief, but I don't think this is what the author is trying to say.

My logic, as I explained it to Dale, was that not every kid at [the youth conference] was going to connect with the rah-rah, happy shiny form of evangelicalism. I felt that it was my role to reach out to these kids. And if it took a few shenanigans to win them for Jesus, I thought it was worth it. I don't really know if I believed any of this.

Right up until that last sentence, I was with him. Like it or not, "church" is a dirty word to some people and their perception of God is mediated by their animosity towards shiny, happy Christians and our stainless steel church. Unless we can break down those (I can't really say misconceptions because there is an unfortunate degree of accuracy in their views) barriers, the love of Christ will ever be hidden behind our peppy songs, coffee carts in the lobby and catchy sermon titles. And I really do believe that.

I was nervous about desanctifying this, the most sacred point of...many young people's lives. But [my teenagers] were mock-sobbing, loudly blowing their noses, hardly able to keep from busting out laughing.

Ahhh, the value of derision and arrogance to achieve existential bliss. The thing that really bothers me is that these kids were assigned to him - they were not necessarily the disillusioned, disaffected youth that he believes would not connect with the message of the youth conference. These kids could have been me! They could have been someoen whose life was forever changed by a momentary experience that would not let them go, by the haunting memory of joy and the pursuit of love, and this guy destroyed that opportunity. And for what? So he could make a point? So he could make himself feel better about his own bad experiences by forcing them on someone else? I sincerely hope that I never fall victim to this kind of mentality, and I'm not saying that in a "thank God I'm not like that sinner" way. I have been like that at times in my past - thought I knew more, was too cool, or whatever, to listen to what others are saying and dismissed them without a second thought - I hope I never fall back into that place again.

I asked my kids what they thought of the altar call. No one had been paying enough attention to even know what was being said. Disgusted, I went to explain the whole program: just how and why [the youth conference] had been trying to save them, and how I had been trying to save them from that.  What I had been trying to teach them that week was that salvation isn't enough. You aren't altogether without merit before you accept Jesus and you certainly aren't altogether good once you do accept him. You can't judge others based on whether or not they call themselves Christian or if they've had some special experience where Jesus entered their life. I don't know what happens after you die, I told them, but if Jesus is up there separating the sheep from the goats based on whether or not they get all weepy when Amy Grant songs are played soft, I don't want anything to do with it.

Salvation isn't enough. This idea has been rolling around in my head since I read this article. If he means merely getting saved isn't enough, that knowing (or just thinking) "I've got a ticket into heaven" but that doesn't translate into any real change in ourselves or in our lives, then yeah, salvation isn't enough, because quite frankly, that ain't salvation. And this, I think, is the central deficiency of Protestant salvation theology. It is granular, happening at a single point of time, which renders verses like Philippians 2:12 utterly meaningless. How can you "work out your salvation" if it happened in a split second? I think the irony in this whole article is that it is the minimalist understanding of faith, salvation & theology that permeates evangelical thought, and its willing cooperation with pop culture in the name of Christ, that produced this author and influenced his actions. Would he have had the same struggles in a fuller tradition? Would he have regarded Christianity as facile & unthinking had he faced the weight of Patristic thought? For the sake of the kids entrusted to me, what can I learn from this?

2 comments:

alana said...

Ten years ago, my husband's parents and one of his sisters were killed in a car wreck. And then we went to church, and for a few weeks people were understanding of his grief. But soon enough, he was expected to tow the line, clap and smile and sing such drivel as "I'm so HAPPY today, yes I'm so HAPPY today..." etc. The "shiny happy Christians" almost killed him, spiritually, because it was all so seemingly fake and unreal. To deny the suffering in life, to deny the reality of pain and of grief, and even the reality of the need for a real ascetic struggle in the face of deeply rooted sinfulness is to replace an honest understanding of the human condition with something like "Ozzie and Harriet". And this is sinister, if you stop to think about it. When my jaded little mind thinks of evangelical protestantism, in all of its various forms, I tend to think of shopping malls, well fed, manicured and coiffed ladies leading Bible studies for us prosperous Americans, and it clashes with my memories of Haiti, and of other places and times and cultures, where the word's of Jesus: "Blessed are the poor" ring out with hope for those who are poor materially, and for those of us who recognize that we are poor in spirit.

And to me, that was the weakest link, that sent me running: I needed a place where my poverty would be acknowleged, and faced, and dealt with ina sober and rational way, rather than swept under the rug and denied or only allowed to exist on an occasional emotional level around a campfire somewhere.

Well, enough of my rambling....

xfevv said...

As a fellow youth pastor myself I am very disturbed by the thoughts expressed by this "youth worker". I would have to say that he does have a few good points about creating an emotional atmosphere in the hopes that people will give their lives to Christ. I have seen all too often the mass conversions from youth at camps, confrences, concerts only to see the mass exodus of those same young people two weeks later. I would also agree that we as Christians more often than not put on the "life is so great" face and the world cannot relate to it. We use the Christian "f-word" (fine) so often that it happens almost without thinking. I will be the first one to say that sometimes life sucks. There are times when everything is not going fine. When I get caught in my sin and am constantly reminded at how much I am in need of Christ. The saving grace is that we have one thing that the world does not have, the creator of the universe on our side. We can have joy in the midst of trials because we know that ultimatly He is in controll. The unfortunate part is that we do not do a good job of communicating this. There are however a number of things that disturb me about what he said aside form this. I can only pray that he will have a true experience with the living God and that through this he will be used to have a mighty impact on the lives of the young people he works with.