Monday, August 24, 2009

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard

Britt Beemer’s America’s Research Group was commissioned by Ken Ham to survey 1,000 former attendees of conservative Christian churches, who are now in their twenties, to discover why they left. Already Gone is a summary of the survey results, and a challenge to the church to heed the warning and make the radical changes required to remain relevant – not only to the younger generations, but to everyone.

Do you believe in the authority of Scripture? Does your life demonstrate it? Ken Ham poses these questions to young adult Christians both in and out of mainstream churches, to pastors, Christian teachers, to parents, churches, and educational institutions. The subject of Already Gone is the generation of Christians my age (20’s), many of whom have left the church. Of those who have left, there are two main groups: one whose worldview is mostly secular and skeptical of the Bible, and one that believes the Bible is true and applicable but has found the church irrelevant. How is the church failing to deliver a biblical worldview to the children and youth who faithfully attend Sunday school, church, and youth group? Of the twenty-something’s who remain in the church, are they submitted to the authority of Scripture, or is their search for a worship experience prevailing over God’s teachings about the Body of Christ?

What about the parents, pastors, youth pastors, and Sunday school teachers who make up the older generation, the church establishment? Have they sold out God’s teachings on the church for their beloved traditions? How much of what we think of when we hear “church” is actually biblical? Why is the most common accusation against the church that it is hypocritical? The church in America is losing members so drastically that we need to radically reevaluate our practices and teachings. Compromise cannot be tolerated.

As founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham must touch on his favorite subject: the foundational importance of Genesis, and how compromise on the historical and scientific truth of Genesis undermines all of Scripture, faith in God, and even the gospel. He calls the church back to teaching “earthly things,” the correspondence between the Bible and reality. Christians need to be equipped for apologetics from an early age, to guard against doubts and to answer inquiries from a godless culture. This, more than music or games or attractive activities, is the only way to be relevant to people living in the real world and desperate for answers.

Already Gone is a fair, factual, and interesting treatment of the systemic problems in the church today. Lest we become like post-Christian Europe, where church is a marginal pastime for a few elderly people clinging to vestiges of tradition in empty cathedrals, we must take action now. Several reactions to the problem are presented, with their disadvantages and perks, but ever a challenge to study for yourself what God says about church and training up children.

As a member of the generation under the microscope, on the edge of the traditional church and ready to flee, I was impressed by the willingness to take us seriously. Some of us are leaving because we see the problems and want a church that does what a church should, and loyalty isn’t strong enough to keep us from looking outside our experience. Ken Ham acknowledges, with some surprise, people in my situation. I appreciated this book. Even though I’m pushing for the more extreme reactions mentioned (abandoning Sunday school and traditional trappings: buildings, sermons, and orders of worship), I have a lot of respect for the way Already Gone ties the whole malady to the failure of Christians to teach and obey the authority of the Word of God. If a person is faithful to study and submit to that, he will be led to the mode of meeting and discipleship God intends, strongly equipped for the Christian call to evangelize our world.

Already Gone

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Sunday, August 23, 2009


My brother told me a story about his life the last month. Several times he has walked somewhere, or stopped at a stoplight, gone to unlock the door to his condo, and heard a single chirp from a cricket. Just once, that familiar echo of nature, but only once, cut short by the move to the next thing, next time, next place.

Outside my living room window is the sunset of the hottest day of the summer in Denver this year. My gray long-hair kitty is sitting at my shoulder, and I am on my couch at an odd angle that has my back tucked into the corner. This morning for church I put on my navy blue linen dress that is so cute, and a white crochet jacket with three-quarter sleeves. Sunday school was out on the grass, half in the shade, and I kicked off my little white sandal-heels to cross my legs beneath me. Clouds have gathered and opened back up today, taunting me with the prospect of a storm I know won't come. All afternoon my eyes have wanted to close on themselves, but between this and that phone call or vacuuming or chopping ice in the kitchen, real sleep has been beyond me.

My grandpa is in the hospital again, and facing once again the possibility of moving away from his home, the most peaceful little retreat I've ever known, in a small Kansas town dominated by wind and the hum of grain elevators just a block from the old city park. Mourning doves coo at dawn there, and cicadas chant the dusk on its way to night. My grandparents have a clock that chimes the quarter hour, and so you know that time is passing even as you know just as surely that it doesn't matter, because that place outside of everywhere is eternal. Except I know that someday it won't be there, not for me. Not the old house with the dull tile and the bugs and endless shelves of pack-rat treasures or the bright garden now boasting a mere crop of weeds. I can visit the park, and walk the streets, even drop in to the post office, but someday, closer every hospital visit, the summer spot, the holiday feasting hall of my grandparents' stained-glass and curio decorated living room will be locked, sold, inhabited by others. History really lives there, in Bird City, Kansas, in a way that it cannot in the suburbs that have been my lifelong residence.

And a friend's aunt died, losing her battle with cancer. It's a passing day, nothing happening in it but the slow observation of the changes you dared not believe would come. Maybe it's a hoping day, for as the birds fly across the rays of sun outside my window, the scarce breeze ensuring each glance is just a touch different than the last, I know that all these old things under the sun are endlessly changing. Some other August day I will sit again and wonder at the life that laps about me, tides ebbing and flowing, forever eroding the shoreline into shapes that have never been.

My daddy, who had gone to be with his dad and mom, is back now, the deliberate slide of our van up the slope of the driveway into the garage, with the elegant steadiness of practice and weary routine. He meows at the cat, now stalking in the kitchen, retrieving suitcase. Soon he'll pick up the television remote. I know, because somethings are the same.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wind, Faith, and Born Again

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus. Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel. A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16. In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation. I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke. Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable… (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!)

You know the other thing that really gets me? When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it. I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t. Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke. How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit?

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth. And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs. A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary. Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage. For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”?

So we began to study. I looked at the context. Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea. First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12. But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter. John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’” Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think. How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God?

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit. It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic. Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective. Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted. Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign. John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine. But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.” Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment. People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions. John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’” His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate. All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.”

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response. The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings. Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority. Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it. Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker.

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life. This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category. This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category. Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out? Or that passage or prophecy? They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God. Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it. I admit I’m tempted to do the same. Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases. But one Bible study help proved immensely useful. A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of.

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” - Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down. We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3. Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making. Scholars call this an intertextualization. By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point. Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way). What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5. If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint.

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit. You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit. You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do.

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life). But you can watch them happen. You can even predict them when you see the signs. If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful. When harvest comes you will reap nothing.

Back to John 3. Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things. First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event. Knowledge isn’t enough. Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge. He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works. The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Verse 8. Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind. Be born of the Spirit.

Then the crux. If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God. You are not born again of the Spirit. Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see. Faith is essential. Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten* Son, has eternal life.

Get up from your wind-watching. Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know. (Ecc. 11:6) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

To God be all glory.

Unveiled Hope by Scotty Smith and Michael Card

Unveiled Hope: Eternal Encouragement from the Book of Revelation by Scotty Smith and Michael Card

Written primarily by Pastor Scotty Smith with interludes by Michael Card essaying the inspiration behind each song in his album, Unveiled Hope is a different approach to Revelation. Although it deals with controversial interpretation points (in controversial ways), the focus is on encouraging Christians through the hope offered by the unveiling of our Savior as Creator, Redeemer, Warrior, King, and God. The Church, as Christ’s waiting Bride, is strengthened throughout the centuries by God’s work in the past, present, and future. We are warned to worship God alone, who is revealed as all-worthy of our praise. Praise and singing are themes of Revelation, along with suffering, sovereignty, and holiness. All of these are addressed both directly through the instructions commissioned to the seven churches and in the imaginative (but true!) narratives that follow. While I am disappointed in the everyday-will-be-like-today interpretations of the judgments in Revelation, which seem to leave off the supernatural nature of the things described. One thing for which I appreciate Unveiled Hope is the way it demonstrated the relevance of what is taught in Revelation, as well as what is believed about it.

To God be all glory.

Monday, August 17, 2009


One, two, three-and, one, two, three-and, one… Right, left, rock-step, right, left, rock-step, right… Some things, especially repetitive things requiring concentration, get stuck in my head. When I learned chess, I started to count knight-moves on every grid I saw, including the patchwork quilt on my bed. Now I’m thinking the rhythm and steps of swing dancing, actually trying to get the pattern so ingrained in my mind that it becomes subconscious, so that there is hope of doing any but the most basic steps.

I learned swing dancing from a patient and delighted friend yesterday, but I’m still not very good. Not learning something after one lesson is difficult for me. My usual motto is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s: “If I had ever learnt, I should be a true proficient.” Experience has taught me that I learn quickly, and can often self-teach (and if there’s a field in which I don’t excel, I “avoid those weaknesses which expose a good understanding to ridicule.”). But though I have seen others taught to swing, and even snuck some Youtube tutorial video viewings in, I failed to teach myself and so applied to my friend, who was equally amazed that I did not just catch on.

My sense of rhythm is horribly out of practice. I think I used to do rather well, and be good at following music. Lately, I can’t even clap to songs lest I land on the off-beat. And in swing, apparently rhythm is essential. First you have to be able to start on the beat, then keep your feet moving – no room for tripping or forgetting a step! – all to the big band beat. Basic swing is probably a mere step above waltzing. The box-step of a waltz, on even beats, is quite simple, leaving only the question of direction and (for a woman) following lead. All the same, my unpracticed feet are quite lost.

I’d say I went through all the stages and asked almost every question a person could – except I do k now my right from my left. When we say “right step”, for example, no one expects you to step right; steps aren’t so much, then, about any horizontal motion as about vertical, and the noise made by tapping or stomping. All this when I thought dancing had to do with smooth, graceful, whole-body lines. It looks much more fun that way.

For my entire childhood my favorite movies were the old musicals, not so much ballroom classical Fred Astaire as soft-shoe numbers by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. I’d run about the room imitating the dancers, after carefully studying their feet for the moves. (I should have known feet were the most important and sometimes the only part of dancing.) Never mind matching the music the same way they did; I’d follow the melody my own way. Sometimes I would even choreograph my own dances, scribbling out on notebook paper the steps with arrows and abbreviations, full of imaginative innovations all my own. So I’ve thought about dancing, what goes into it. I’m as close to being self-taught as possible.

It was interesting, then, to be both self-teacher and thoroughly taught by another. I did a bit of self-diagnosing yesterday, identifying areas of confusion and weakness and difficulty to which my obliging teacher applied herself. There was quite a bit of watching my feet, watching hers, and of pressing my hands to my cheeks in embarrassed failure. I don’t know that I stepped on any toes, but I caused my friend to step on mine! When swing dancing, it is important to let knees and even elbows bend. Otherwise, as my instructor was so flattering to point out, one moves like a slow penguin.

Just when I was doing well without music, we tried it to a tune from Chocolat – the best swing my friend had, but a little fast for a beginner. We each learned: she about teaching, and me about remembering which foot comes next. It took several tries, but I got the hang of the beat, and improved in covering up my mistakes. Even if I forgot to step with my left foot – which often happened since it never goes anywhere – I remembered where my right one went next, and generally kept up with the music. If you can’t fake it when you forget a step, you’re doomed to start over. There’s no getting back into synchronization without a restart. Only once did we keep going when I lost the beat, and I ended up coming down half a step between hers. Oops!

I remember watching figure skating on ice when I was little, and as spectacular as were the triple axel jumps and amazing spins, the performances that moved me, ones I still remember, were beautifully artistic. No rigid technicality there, the great skaters were so skilled in the difficult moves that they could add grace, training their arms to bend in just the right curve, and the jump to explode into the air just as the music would crescendo. In competition, this beautiful side of the sport was balanced, in scoring, against the impressive. As a dreaming girl I had imagined slipping on a pair of skates and gliding serenely across the ice – a dream that crashed with my derriere the first time I actually attempted to balance on that thin metal blade.

Swing dancing is something like that – so much more romantic in imagination. Also like ice-skating, there is a lot to be said for being sufficiently confident in the art that one can breathe and move and remember that it is an art, and not a mathematical equation. “We’ve got to work on the stiffness,” my friend said with a small smile. And she had warned me earlier in our lessons that eventually I’d have to look at my partner’s face instead of their feet – which I suppose is much more the point of dancing. The stiffness is still an issue, but maybe I’ll come up with new words to say to the count, words like: point, bend, curtsy, elbows, bend, swing-tap, right, left, rock-step, right… I made sufficient progress in the hallway of my friend’s house that she didn’t press me.

So my eager and confident teacher decided to drag me into the next level of swing dancing. Not only must I know the direction of the steps, be able to keep myself up on sore legs unused to such exercise, keep the rhythm, and match the music – I had to learn a special step or two. Arms pull out, drawing the dancers closer, but askew, begging the step to come across. I’m so technical. From which step do we move into a special move? Which foot comes forward in a cross step, and wait! – to which side does it go? Does it then go back, or straight into the other side of the X formation? With much additional thought and practice, including some stepping back and thinking it through with my own feet, deciding I rather needed to tie the left foot to the floor, I correctly danced that step a couple times, too. But I wouldn’t risk being surprised into a move just yet. I need to know the schedule, or I’ll be kicking partners, a prospect I find rather embarrassing.

And partners – real ones, not instructors – are really the most frightening things about the whole business. Aside from the emotional impact of physical contact and eye-gazing, he’s going to have to be forgiving. The men are also supposed to lead, and they won’t necessarily tell me a schedule of how many steps before a fancy one, or which fancy one. Am I too afraid to follow, or too desperate to follow, preferring to be carried?

Wow. All these childhood experiences are coming back to illustrate. When I was five or six, I was taking swimming lessons. Being rather independent, I decided holding my breath was much easier than turning my ear to the side to breathe. Over short distances my little lungs could handle it until I stood in the shallow end or grabbed the side of the pool. But during lessons, we in the class were required to swim out into the deep end, around an instructor, and back to the wall. And the path was too long for me to hold my breath. I got to the teacher standing in the “deep end” and clung desperately to his shoulders, hoping not to drown and gasping for air. Happily, now I am much better at breathing as I go, but I remember that helplessly immobile feeling of just needing to survive. Forget form, forget everything, and just hold on to something or someone you can trust!

On the few occasions when my friend tried to teach me something new, I flew into that same mode, gripping her hand and falling back into walking or just standing, unable to keep with the dance, trying only to survive until craziness stopped happening and the routine step settled back in. I’ve already mentioned this is a doomed tactic. But there are ways to survive, a lot like the regular turn of the head to catch a breath while I swim.

Earlier this year life was like a brand new, confusing, and even painful dance move. I was cast into it with plenty of warning, and even with direction, but felt my emotions and mind wavering on the edge of peace and self-control. In a world whirling around me, each word and decision critical, I walked exercises in sanity by doing things routine, or even by naming everything that caught my eye. “Door. Fence. Bird. Sidewalk. Shoe.” You may think that in itself is crazy, but I was reminding myself of reality, that some things were stable and unchanging.

In swing dancing, there is a stable reality to which I can cling. That original pattern of steps never changes. I may place my right foot in a different direction, be swung up and over heads and spun across the floor, but while all of it is happening, I can think to the beat: right, left, rock-step, right. And even if I have to wait a bit to get my footing, I can hold onto the dance and come in as soon as possible. Or at least my friend can. She demonstrated. That’s survival in swing dancing.

I’ve got the concept wrapped into my brain. Now it’s just a matter of rote practice. “Count with me. Don’t try to move your feet. Just get the feel of the count.”

To God be all glory.

Shadow over Kiriath by Karen Hancock

Shadow over Kiriath opens with a conversation between Hazmul and a lesser demon, plotting to ruin Abramm and defame his God, beginning on the day of the grand coronation. The demons have been spiritually attacking Abramm in the months since his victory over the Morwhol, also attacking his friends so that they will be unable or unwilling to help strengthen the king against the shadow-attack awaiting him.

I was interested to notice how it affected me to know what the bad guys plotted. I sat on the edge of my seat, fearing when things went the way the demons wanted. Then the coronation happened, and when everything looked to be going over to the Shadow, the bad guys were thwarted by the grace and might of God alone, whose ways are unpredictable. As the story progressed I learned to judge things not by who was getting their way, but by whether decisions were made out of love and faith and based on the truth of God. Even if a character was having the worst day spiritually, in a single moment of humble request, God would come shining through, proving again that we are much less dependent upon our own performance than we would like to think.

Strange for a book about suffering to so emphasize the grace and sovereignty of God.

For Shadow over Kiriath is about suffering, asking of its readers the questions Abramm had to struggle with: Does God restore what we sacrifice for Him? Is suffering easy when we do it for the right reasons? What does it mean when we read that all those who follow God will share in His sufferings? If we lost everything, would we still trust God?

From the coronation, the entrancing story flows into a dark attack from Beltha-adi, Abramm’s wrenching courtship and romance, attempts to relight the ancient guardstars in fortresses around Kiriath, and the seditious plot of the Mataians to take back the kingdom. I found myself very involved in this book, relating to the questions asked of God and the huge difficulty of self-denial to do what is right – and desperate for everything to turn out ok for the characters, especially the unconventional Princess Maddie: royalty, detective, and friend.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sword of the Spirit

At camp a few weeks ago our whole group learned the armor of God verses from Ephesians 6. As a counselor, I was working with the junior high girls to learn and understand their verses. (Praise for teamwork; other people were on the job, too, including the 'Bible hour' teacher and some of the other staff and counselors.) The language of the Bible is sometimes more grammatically complex than everyday usage, so breaking the verses down phrase by phrase and discussing the meaning can help the kids keep the verses in their heads and hearts, as well as legitimizing their inflection. So I was helping one of the girls with verse 17: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:" and started explaining the sword of the spirit part. I don't even remember what I told her, but I know that since that day I have been trying to figure out what it means.

A few questions:
How significant is the comma after "salvation"? Since "take" is not repeated, are we to equate the term "helmet of salvation" with the term "sword of the spirit"? Or is there any way to "take" one without the other?

Does the sword belong to the spirit, depend on the spirit, or consist of the spirit? Cross references usually lead to Hebrews 4:12, whose subject is also the word of God, which seems to cut things, including soul from spirit. But the Greek for "word" is different in Ephesians from Hebrews.

Back from camp, catching up with a friend, she reported that her small group is going through Ephesians, and that one of the teachers was excited to get to the armor of God and the sword Jesus uses to kill the wicked. (See Revelation 19:15, 21) Is that the image here? Earlier in Revelation the sword seemed to be more of a tool for discipline, discerning the spirits of the churches. The Revelation sword proceeds from the mouth of Jesus.

Is spirit supposed to be capitalized? Are we talking about the Holy Spirit, my spirit, or things spiritual? Or should the sword be used against the spirit?

When Paul says, "which is the word of God," is the antecedent the sword or the spirit?

I looked up the Greek for this verse. My use for Greek extends to definitions, but I'm helpless when I come to grammar and tenses. But I did notice that the Greek for "word" is an utterance, not something written (in the Greek, rhema). Usually I hear teachers explaining the sword of the spirit and (ignoring that little phrase, 'of the spirit') holding a Bible above their heads telling their students that they have to know the word of God, and to study it, to use it like Jesus did when he was tempted in the wilderness. Except the next thing teachers say is that the sword is the offensive weapon in the armor list (some add prayer, from verse 18). I don't see how resisting temptation is an offensive act in the spiritual war we're fighting.

So what is "word of God"? Are we talking about words God has spoken, or words God is speaking? Ephesians 6:19 includes Paul's prayer request that words (different Greek than verse 17: here it is logos) be given him. Given him? By whom? Whose words are they if they were given? What did Paul want to do with words? This is one of the first times in this whole article where the biblical context answers the question, because Paul says he wants to use the words to preach the gospel boldly (which seems rather offensive).

Finally, verse 18, about prayer, rather than being a new sentence, is presented as a continuation of the thought in verse 17. But what does prayer have to do with the "word of God" or "sword of the spirit"?

How exactly ought we to apply this verse, then?

To God be all glory.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

When Young People Leave the 'Church'

So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity. We must do something. Something different than what we have been doing. Because the church is failing this generation.

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students. Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes. Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough. Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents.

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people. Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview. These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue. They’re hungry for answers. And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students.

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath. When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings. So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity. Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now.

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding. But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation. Smaller churches have no college ministry. Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date. Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples. There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed. But listen to what we’re saying. Those are the kids. What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness? Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them. Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave. An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization. I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back. Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life!

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man.

To God be all glory.