God’s Not Dead and the Myth of the Militant College Professor

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Let me qualify everything I’m about to say by first saying that I have not seen the movie God’s Not Dead yet. This is not a movie review nor is it meant to discourage anyone from going to see it. From talking to some friends who have seen it, I understand there are some redeeming things about the movie and the story it presents. Amongst them is the fact that the main character is willing to stand up for what he believes in and takes the time to research and find answers to difficult questions posed by the antagonistic philosophy professor. I find it interesting that Focus on the Family’s movie review website, Plugged In, had this to say as the negative elements of the movie “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” As much as that bothers me and could be topic in and of itself or a blog—the portrayal of non-Christians in Christian movies—that is not the issue I have with this movie.

Surely there are professors that are antagonistic towards Christianity and organized religion in general. Many of them have published works that provide their explanations of why they think faith in a deity is intellectual suicide. I don’t doubt that many of them don’t shy away from sharing their antagonistic attitude in class. That being said, they are still professional. In any philosophy class you are not tested and assessed the same way you are in a math or even a science class. The field of philosophy does not require that you subscribe to the worldview of your professor. It does however require you give a rational support and or explanation of the worldview you’ve chosen. Thus the premise presented in the movie of a professor demanding that students deny God or gods completely at the outset of the semester is extremely far-fetched. Still that is not what bothers me the most.

For a number of years we’ve been warned that philosophy and professors of the sciences pose a major threat to Christian college students. We’ve been told that these cunning men and women are the main ones responsible for the often quoted statistic of somewhere between sixty to seventy percent of young Christians leave the church by their second year of college, a third of which never return. Yet in all my years of doing youth ministry—as a student, volunteer, and a pastor—I’ve yet to know of anyone who walked away from following Jesus Christ because of what they learned in a college philosophy or science course. On the other hand, I know a multitude of persons who have walked away from Christianity, all of whom walked away for one of three reasons.

The first is that they went away to college and eventually the guilt and shame from having premarital sex and or getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse became too overwhelming and thus it was easier to abandon faith than deal with their junk. Many of them feared being left out of all the fun everyone else was having and wanted to belong with their peers. They had been handed a faith that was primarily about behavioral modification and proved to be shallow and without roots. Some quite simply can be described by John 3:19 in that they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

The second reason is that they encountered some sort of tragedy or crisis, often the divorce of their parents or death of a loved one, and became either disillusioned with by God’s seeming disregard for their troubles or angry with him. It became easier to walk away than wrestle with what the Bible says about the present age and the age to come, namely the paradoxical reign of Christ on earth (the paradox of Jesus reigning on earth while there is still evil and suffering in the world) while yearning for the overflowing reign of Christ on earth where pain and suffering will be no more, and death will be defeated. Often times they’ve been handed a faith that says you suffer because you’ve been bad and God is punishing you. Ironically enough, this is where some adopt the Anosticism which says, “if there is a God who created the earth he or she is now totally uninvolved in the affairs of the earth”.

My point in bringing this to the table is this… Let’s stop blaming liberal college professors for the failures of the church, youth ministries, and parents. Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity summarizes the problem quite well, “it remains true that most churches are strong on teaching about conversion, but weak on teaching about how to live after conversion.” If anything college, or more to the point independence, is the testing ground of faith and the gospel message young people have been taught to believe. A gospel that primarily teaches you to modify your behavior is usually heavy on guilt and light on grace. A gospel that primarily teaches you that Jesus came to make your life better is light on hope for a world that is perishing and the cost of discipleship. A youth ministry primarily focused on having fun is going to yield young adults in search of more fun and entertainment. Sermons on how you’re blessed or claiming your blessing are light on telling the story of how God set out to bless the entire world and why it needed to be blessed in the first place. Parenting driven by fear of what could go wrong is light on talking about how the world went wrong and what God does about it in the past present and future.

We need to present our young people with a robust gospel that fosters disciples instead of converts and well-behaved kids. We need to own our failures instead of blaming them on people and institutions that weren’t around for the formational period of young adults lives. Otherwise, God’s Not Dead will be wholly accurate in their depiction of a young adult who has to go search for answers to tough questions in isolation, instead of in loving community, or abandon their faith all together.

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

The One Question Every Student Asks

A few years ago I was at a small graduation ceremony for a handful of students who were homeschooled. I didn’t know many people there , and thus ended up sitting next to a complete stranger.

Most of you who know me know me as an extroverted and engaging person. While I can be very loud and gregarious, I can also be very chill and in a quiet mode. I can be the life of the party but I definitely don’t need to be and will defer to others. All that to say I wasn’t in a chatty mood this particular afternoon. The stranger sitting to next to me on the other hand was all for striking up a conversation.

Upon finding out that I knew the graduate through church because I was one of her youth pastors he became very intrigued. Admittedly most people become intrigued when they find out you’re a youth pastor for various reasons usually to do with your mental health. This individual was intrigued because he was currently in seminary. His plan was to get a job as a Youth Pastor that would hopefully launch him into eventually landing a position as a Senior Pastor. The seminary he was attending specialized in apologetics, so in some ways the question he asked me should have come as no surprise.

“So what do you think is the biggest question that students are asking these days; How can a loving God allow evil in the world, creation versus evolution debate, faith versus reason debate, how can a loving God send people to Hell? In your experience which question is the question students are asking the most?”

I didn’t even have to think about the answer, but I took a second just to look at him in the eyes and pause before I gave him my answer… the answer. I wanted to make sure that when I said it I had his full attention. I also looked into his eyes hoping that in all of his training he hadn’t missed the point entirely. Not that I had something against apologetics, far from it. Something about the way the whole conversation had gone to that point conveyed an arrogance on his part and I felt the need to bring him back down to earth.

“None of my students ask any of those questions”, I said calmly. “There is only one question they ask, and all of them ask it. The question they all ask is, ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Will you see me and accept me for who I am; the good the bad the ugly and all the in between?’” How you answer that question will determine whether or not they listen to a word you have to say about all those other questions. If you can’t answer that question to their satisfaction then they won’t care what you have to say about anything.”

Truth be told they have hundreds of questions, but one matters more than the rest. Whether you’re a parent, youth worker volunteer or pastor, be in the habit of answering the one question your student(s) ask in the affirmative. They don’t care how cool or hip you are, they just want to be loved and accepted without pretense, without condition, without having to earn it. 

 

A Good Friday Reflection: Where You Fail, Jesus Succeeds

Everywhere Israel failed Jesus succeeded.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil, right after he was baptized and publicly confirmed as being the Son of God. There is an intentionality in Jesus’ actions that demonstrates he was going to re-enact the journey of some of Israel’s greatest failures in the wilderness, except he would succeed where they failed.

Israel had been declared God’s firstborn son during their rescue from Egypt (Exodus 4.22). Throughout their journey from Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised land they were tested and failed to trust God. Finally Israel sent spies into the Promised Land to spy it out which took 40 days. Ten of the twelve spies gave a bad report, which led to the rebellion and refusal to enter the promised land. Their failure resulted in 40 years in the wilderness until each person of that generation had died never entering the promised land.

Jesus on the other hand succeeded. Where Israel complained of hunger and even complained about the miraculous provision of manna Jesus declined Satan’s taunt to turn stone into bread to quench his hunger. Where Israel tested the Lord despite his presence amongst them in a pillar of smoke and fire in the tabernacle Jesus declined Satan’s taunt to test God by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Where Israel bowed down and worshipped the golden calf Jesus declined to worship Satan for all the kingdoms of the world. Where Israel failed Jesus succeeded.

Good Friday is a solemn day for the believer. Not only do we commemorate Jesus’ selfless sacrificial atoning death we also remember our failures, shortcomings, and sins that hung him there. And there in lies the beauty of the cross and salvation. Where I have failed Jesus succeeded. Where you have failed Jesus succeeded.

During his ministry Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” So many of my failures come down to the fact that I don’t deny myself. So many of my failures come down to the fact that I don’t take up my cross and follow Jesus. However, I would like to remind you of what I am reminded of this Good Friday… Where I have failed and where you have failed, Jesus Succeeded.

Wherever you have failed, are failing, and will fail Jesus has succeeded. Just like Jesus knew the disciples would fail to follow him on Good Friday Jesus knows you will fail many a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, etc. Just like the disciples we must allow for the miracle and inheritance we have in Easter to be the catalyst to move us beyond our failures, our shortcomings, and our sins, to deny ourselves and follow Christ because he succeeded exactly where we fail.

Does This Generation of Teens Have it Harder Than Predecessors?: A Different Take

It has frequently been said that this generation of young American teenage Christians has it tougher than any other generation before them. Between technology redefining what is considered the public arena, thus shrinking what is truly private, the pressure to perform in school, liberal media with more graphic content on TV, music and movies, there are many who have expressed deep concern of what will become of the present generation of teenage Christians. Earlier and earlier teenagers are being exposed and have access to the morally bankrupt aspects, pornography and drugs to name a few, of our culture and society than ever before.

Those of you who follow my blog know by now that I’m not into stirring the pot of fear (I don’t think it accomplishes much of anything productive or constructive). Allow me to offer you a slightly different take on what all the societal and cultural changes in America means for Christian teenagers.

Many of the same factors that make for culture being difficult for current generation also means that this generation has the greatest potential for creating and cultivating good things.

In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch describes how Christian cultural engagement in the United States has typically been relegated to one of four responses; condemn culture, critique culture, copy culture, or consume culture. The main point of his book is to encourage Christians to understand our cultural mandate from God to create and cultivate. The first two tasks that God gives Adam prior to the Fall, is to name the animals (create), and to work and keep the garden (cultivate). The focal point of the glimpse we get of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation is of a city filled with “the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21.26). After which it says that nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. Unfortunately a disproportionate amount of teaching and guidance to churched teens is to avoid the unclean, detestable and false over and above aspiring to create and cultivate the glory and honor of the nations.

The advancements in technology in the last twenty years alone have yielded a tremendous amount of creative power into most households in America. If you have a smartphone you have more computing power in the palm of your hand than all of NASA had in 1969 when they launched a man to the moon and back. Just a few days ago I saw a news feature on a 13-year-old girl who attempted to send a Hello Kitty doll into space and back using a high-altitude balloon.

Teenagers can now create and conduct their own music and songs using programs like Garageband. They can create and publish short films and movies on Vimeo and YouTube. There are numerous programs for graphic design. They can take and edit professional quality photographs. They can write and publish poetry, prose, and books. Teenagers have greater access to the rest of the world and it’s problems, and they are being given more opportunities to be a part of the solution. And they still have all of the traditional age-old opportunities to create and cultivate, like drawing, painting, building, and gardening.

It would be a shame if a whole generation of Christian teenagers ended up being behind the curve of everyone else because this generation of parents and youth workers were too busy trying to keep them safe instead of encouraging them to create. Imagine all the good and beautiful things they could produce if we spent more time encouraging and participating in their creative endeavors? We should be encouraging them to create and cultivate things that will one day be considered amongst the glory and honor of the nations. The dangers and pitfalls our culture offers to teenagers are not to be overlooked. However, neither is the plethora of creative opportunities it offers them, the likes of which no generation before them has ever seen.

This is Your Brain on Porn: What Parents Need to Know and Do

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For anyone around during the late 80s you will remember the big anti-narcotics campaign launched by the Partnership for a Drug Free America in 1987, in no small part due to their very visual illustration. For those of you too young to remember those public service announcements let me just say that I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I were to say that they were a very effective piece of advertising. Partnership for a Drug Free America had as two of their central goals to educate people to the harmful consequences of drug use and to get parents talking to their kids about the dangers of drugs.

I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be a Partnership for a Porn Free America anytime soon. The pornography industry is too big, and too many other industries have their hands in the pocket of what has grown into a multi-million dollar industry annually. However, the message needs to start getting out. Porn is bad for your brain. This message needs to start getting out because the folks behind the wheel are busy trying to build their customer base by making pornography seem “fun” and “normal”, and unfortunately they’re really good at what they do.

Over the summer at Challenge, the Christian youth conference we attend, one of the speakers on the main stage was Craig Gross of XXX-Church, a ministry that specializes in porn awareness, prevention, and addiction recovery. If I were to summarize what he said, I would show you the clip of the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA. Later on in the week, during our large group meetings, many of our students mustered up the courage to confess to the group that they had become addicted to pornography. Read MANY, as in lots of them confessed which mean many more who were struggling with porn said nothing, at least not in the large group setting of one hundred of us. Read STUDENTS, as in it wasn’t just the boys who confessed to being addicted to pornography it was some of our girls as well. These students weren’t just confessing so they could get it off their chest they were asking for help, and as many of them felt powerless to break from it. Yet it was clearly wearing on them. For the most part it was just our younger Junior High age students who spoke up, even though we know many of our High School teens struggle with it they were largely silent in the large group setting.

Convicted or not of their usage, pornography is a morally bankrupt and perverted fantasy world educating and shaping what sexual intimacy and sexual relations is and looks like for billions of people, and this is of no concern for the people making money from it. Admittedly we probably haven’t done enough as a youth ministry to truly help our students who are struggling, and thus why I am posting this article. I believe that one step in the right direction is to more intentionally bring parents into the loop, to educate and equip parents to engage this issue. I don’t like being an alarmist and hate to use fear as a way to motivate people to do something. One of the things that I appreciated about Craig Gross in his talk is that he didn’t use either one of those tactics (as I’ve seen others do) and yet was very straightforward and real about how troubling pornography addiction is. So here we go. What as parents of teenagers do you need to know and do to come alongside your children in the area of pornography?

1. Awareness: The reason why I used the illustration of the 80s anti-drug PSA is because studies have shown that pornography has the exact same affect on the brain as does narcotic drugs, and thus why porn is so addictive. It would not be a stretch to classify pornography as a drug as it induces the exact same chemical activity in the brain. When watching pornography the human brain is flooded with dopamine, which causes the brain cells to produce a feeling of excitement or well-being, often referred to as the reward signal. Because of the sensation in the brain it creates, it helps guide human behavior. Quite literally it creates and strengthens connections in the brain associated with behaviors and activities that make a person feel good.

Many of you have probably taken the preliminary step of setting up firewalls and parental settings on any computers in the house, which is a good thing, but it is not enough. I guarantee you your kids know how to get around it. Some restrictions and firewalls are better than none at all, but none of them are perfect, and you’re kidding yourself if you think that your kid won’t figure out a way around it, and cover their tracks (delete the history or browse privately), if they have their mind set on it. However, the home computer is not the only place where porn is accessible, and no I’m not referring to their friend’s house where the parents aren’t keeping an eye on things.

2. Accessibility: I’m guessing most parents probably don’t realize what the main devices are that people accessing porn on that have the weakest prevention settings. Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and any smart phone. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are not simply a video game system, they are entertainment systems with which you can stream Netflix, Hulu, and browse the Internet. iPods, iPhones, and iPads, use Safari as their web browser which has a “private browsing” setting where you can surf the web without any of your activity being tracked in the history.

3. Prevention: There is no perfect way to prevent pornography from coming into your home. However, the online software provided by www.xxxchurch.com is the best that I know about. The software they’ve created is more of a watchdog that tracks the online activity on a computer or wi-fi enabled devices like smartphones. Designed to be a accountability software it sends a weekly email to a selected recipient of a list of all the porn sites visited on that device. This list even includes any sites that are considered questionable and includes the day and the time of when it was visited.

Conclusion

Pornography isn’t going away. Many signs are showing that it is becoming more and more socially acceptable. While I don’t think it is fruitless to try to do whatever you can to keep pornography out of reach of your children, I believe there is something else parents must do which is far more important. Talk to your children about the dangers and trappings of pornography the same way you would talk to them about drugs. You can’t simply ignore it and assume it won’t be an issue like in previous generations because it is far more accessible than when the only place you could get it was over a counter and pay-per-view television. Today you can watch hundreds of movies without dropping a dime on any device that can access the Internet. Ultimately here are the two questions you should ask yourself….

  1. Should my child begin to dabble in or become addicted to pornography do they have a safe place to come clean and get help?
  2. Have I established the kind of relationship with my child that they know that home is a safe place to confess and seek help?

Where Are All the Christian Artists? (My Response to Seeing Les Miserables for the First Time)

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Over the weekend I saw Les Miserables. I had never seen the musical, read the book, or seen the previous movie adaptation starring Liam Nesson. What a great movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Everything about the movie was great; acting, cinematography, directing, music, singing (Yes Russell Crowe by far had the weakest voice, but you’d be hard pressed to find an actor who could better capture the presence of the relentless Javert).

More than simply enjoying the movie, I was left with a desire and hunger for more. I don’t know much about Victor Hugo other than that he wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame as well. I don’t know what his religious affiliation was, but it is quite clear he had been influenced by a biblical worldview and its understanding of law, grace, atonement, justice, sin, depravity, and wove those themes into his work. There is so much depth to that story that I don’t even know where to begin if we were to discuss what all makes it so great other than to say it is a beautiful piece of art.

Les Miserables is the kind of work that Christian writers, artists and musicians of today should aspire to make. Les Miserables puts Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and other “Christian” movies to shame. I know that’s a really strong statement to make but allow me to explain what I mean.

There was a time, not that long ago, that we didn’t have this divide between the sacred and secular. You may think that this divide is a good thing but it’s not. All it has done is spawned a separate Christian sub-culture where Christians make art for other Christians to enjoy. In other words Christian art is for Christians only, not the masses.  Christians or at least people who thought Christianly because they had been influenced by a biblical worldview were at the forefront of music, the arts, architecture, etc. Christians were making beautiful things that were accessible to everyone and available for all to enjoy, and not just those who frequented the Christian bookstore or the Christian music section. The work they produced was done with the kind of excellence, creativity, and originality that I feel is often times missing from the work we produced in the CCM world. The last thing we need is another generation of musicians who will make the latest version of “Amazing Grace” or “Better is One Day”, perform for and are promoted exclusively to Christian audiences.

For the next generation of artists, writers, storytellers, thespians, and musicians being in the world but not of it needs to become more than just taking familiar cultural forms and throwing John 3.16 onto it and calling it Christian. For them being in the world but not of it needs to become producing rich, thought provoking, and beautiful pieces of work that engages and is for the enjoyment of the masses, and not just the Christian masses.