Blurred Critique

In the world... Not OF it.

In the world… Not OF it.

Back in 2011, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, published a book called You Lost Me.  The book is a study on why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking faith.  I just read again some of the criticisms that young Christians have against the church…one of them: “Christians are afraid of pop culture, especially its movies and music.”

“Many young Christians complain that they have been conditioned to fear ‘the world.’  The problem is that, as they explore ‘the world,’ they come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that the world is not nearly as hopeless or awful as they’ve been told.  They discover movies, music, and other art and media that sometimes describe the reality of human experience much better than the church does.” (You Lost Me, page 97)

No doubt, he’s right.  We Christians condition our children to fear the world and rethink our faith every time we see a new television show or a group has a new single on the radio.  Our tendency – at least at the level of the Kinnaman study – is to shut that whole area of the world off completely.  I think that’s missing what Jesus means when he says, “You are in the world, not of it.”  I try to read the Wall Street Journal each morning.  I get electronic subscriptions to Fast Company, MacWorld, and Cigar Aficionado.  I listen to AC/DC and Metallica… and KSHE (Saint Louis Real Rock Radio) is on my speed dial.  Our pastor opens up Bible study each Sunday morning by saying, “Anything you want to ask or talk about from the news or current events?”  I’m convinced that is the way to go.   Parents should be asking and talking to their children about current events and songs they hear on the radio.  It’s okay to watch a show together and to ask questions about your kids Facebook newsfeeds.

What really struck me about David’s statement is the as they explore the world they find it not so horrible thing.  Painting all of pop culture as horrible for our young people like a broad brush paints us into a corner.  It’s the act of engaging our young people with the culture that teaches them about the reason Christians are in the world.  Satan would have us run only in our own circles and never bump into another non-Christian so that when our children and young people do, they leave and never come back.  Let’s call a spade a spade and a club a club… but get out with our kids and talk.

Our kids are going to listen to music with their friends.  They are going to be at a mall at some point in their life.  The kids sitting with them at the football game may have “potty” mouths.  Instead of trying to paint our young people into a silo of Christian solitude, let’s help prepare them to have a defense for the hope the Holy Spirit has placed in their hearts.  Our kids have some serious and great questions.  They are very curious about the world around them.  They want to explore and try new things and they want the thrill of life.  The church (which includes parents and church workers and fellow pew sitters and Sunday School teachers) is there to guide them, teach them what the world is and why their in it.  We’re there to teach them why and then how.

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Defensive Evangelism

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who reveal your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. -1 Peter 3:13-17

The National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR) was completed a few years back by a team led by a gentleman named Christian Smith.  Most striking to me of all the preliminary data that was collected is concerning our youth’s response when they are challenged in their faith.  Smith et al found that most American religious teenagers did not have a sufficient faith vocabulary to engage in a theological/faith conversation when confronted by their peers or by strangers.  In other words, when a teenager is questioned about their faith, most often they can’t answer and retreat.  How many times must a teen, a child, a young adult, or for that matter any Christian, be caught dumb founded when asked questions about Jesus and their faith?  How many times must Satan insert doubt and despair in the life of a Christian because there is no defense for anyone that asks about the hope that is there?

I labeled this post “Defensive Evangelism” to bring out the other definition of the word, “defensive,” which is to explain, be prepared, to have the fact base to engage in a learned discussion about a certain topic.  We sometimes call this apologetics.  Saint Peter wants us to be able to talk about our faith.  He wants us to have the tools to engage the world when the world comes to us with questions or when the world attacks us for our faith.  The apostle wants you to be able to talk and defend your faith – not with swords and guns, but with the very Word of God that has been planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, your heart!  We have a problem with our hearts.  They only breed sin and division, lacking love and faith.  We need someone from outside of us to redeem us… we need the Holy Spirit to clean house (“Create in me a clean heart, O God! Psalm 51:10), remove our troublesome heart and give us a Jesus heart.  And that is what the Holy Spirit has done.  When I say, “Jesus heart,” I mean a heart of faith that has its foundation and its life in Jesus and his cross.  And so, the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts and keeps us in the true faith by those good gifts.

Too often, under the banner of Gospel freedom (more on Gospel freedom in a later post), we decide that we don’t need to read our Bibles, sing our hymns, or study the faith.  Martin Luther was no stranger to this problem.  To make the faith something that could be taught to little children and old men alike, he wrote his catechism.  To put the words, the vocabulary, of the faith back into our hearts and upon our lips, he wrote the Small Catechism for the fathers to teach it to their FAMILY at home.  He didn’t write it to be looked through in the 8th grade and then set aside, but rather to be a life long companion of the Christian.

The devil is aware that your heart doesn’t want to keep these words and that your old Adam wants to ditch them and run… He knows this and he attacks in the subtle, behinds the scenes ways that he hopes we won’t notice.  Your persecution isn’t with violence (just yet), it is with doubt.  The devil always slips his age old question into each Christian’s heart, “Did God really say??”  The answer is yes.  Yes, God did say that you were his own by the blood of Christ; that all of your sins, no matter how big or bad or horrible, are covered by Jesus death on the cross!  Yes, Jesus has washed you in your baptism – combining his death to you and giving you his life in the resurrection.

God wants no doubt.  He wants you to know his will and his truth.  He calls us again by his Holy Spirit… back to the altar, back to the Word of God, back to the church.

Back to those teenagers in the NSYR… what about their faith vocabulary?  Where do they get it?  They get it from the Bible and the catechism and the hymnal, they get it from weekly and regular Divine Service… but most importantly, they get it from other Christians.  They get a faith vocabulary as we teach them the faith.  We as the body of Christ are to build up one another in the faith and that means talking to our youth and young adults about the hard questions.  It means if we don’t know the answers, finding someone who does and not shrugging it all off.  It means engaging in the Living Word of God.  Let us build one another up in faith and good works.  Let’s encourage our youth and bring the Word of God into their midst.