Pragmatism – Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.
“First, we have stratified the body of Christ into generational segments, moving children and young people out of the ecclesial center of worship into effectively “parachurch” spaces, even if they’re still officially in the church building. By doing so, we have tacitly denied the unity and catholicity of the body, worshipping in ways that run counter to Paul’s remarkable proclamation that ‘there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph. 4:4-6). More significantly, given our concerns about formation and the rehabituation of our loves, this segmentation of the body of Christ into generational castes eliminates one of the most powerful modes of habit-formation: imitation. If young people are always and only gathered with and by themselves, how will they learn from exemplars, those model saints in the local congregation who have lived a lifetime with Jesus?
Second, we have turned youth ministry into an almost entirely expressivist affair, surmising that what will ‘keep’ young people in church is a series of opportunities for them to sincerely exhibit their faith. Instead of embodied worship that is formative, we have settled for a dichotomy: an emotive experience as a prelude to the dispensation of information, thirty minutes of stirring music followed by a thirty minute ‘message.’ While you might not immediately guess it, such dominant paradigms in youth ministry are actually held captive to thinking-thingism: the anti-intellectual fixation on entertainment is really just a lack of confidence in formation. While we might assume that the emotionalism of contemporary youth ministry is anti-intellectual, in fact it is tethered to a deeply intellectualist paradigm of discipleship: the whole point of keeping young people happy and stirred and emotionally engaged is so that we can still have an opportunity to deposit a ‘message’ into their intellectual receptacles.
But we need to face a sobering reality: keeping young people entertained in our church buildings is not at all synonymous with forming them as dynamic members of the body of Christ. What passes as youth ministry is often not serious modes of Christian formation but instead pragmatic, last-ditch efforts to keep young people as card-carrying members of our evangelical club. We have confused keeping young people in the building with keeping them ‘in Christ.’
In many cases we have already ceded their formation to secular liturgies precisely by importing those liturgies into the church under the banner of perceived relevance. So while young people might be present in our youth ministry events, in fact what they are participating in is something that is surreptitiously indexed to rival visions of the good life. The very form of the entertainment practices that are central to these events reinforces a deep narcissism and egoism that are the antithesis of learning to deny yourself and pick up the cross (Mark 8:34-36). While we might have many young people who are eager participants in all the entertaining events we stage for them, such participation is not actually forming their hearts and aiming their desires toward God and his kingdom as long as the default liturgies of such events are built on consumerist rituals and the rites of self-concern. Indeed, in our eagerness to keep young people entertained, we might only be swelling the ranks of those who cry, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we attend every lock-in and campout and beach volleyball event in your name?’ (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). In other words, we shouldn’t be fooled by those who stick around merely to be entertained. Effective Christian formation of young people might look like failure for a time.”
You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith
Easter morning in the Thistleton house always includes listening to this rendition of this song, originally performed on national TV at the CMA show:
We live in a post-Enlightenment age. What that means is that everything is colored, to one degree or another, by the over-rationalizing tendency of the Enlightenment. As James K.A. Smith would say, we have de-chanted the world … removed all sense of enchantment from life. Life is just one big math equation. Of course, we’re now in the midst of a post-modernism that rejects much of this, not in favor of biblical truth, but rather a hyper-individualism that has no fixed roots at all.
This is a short discussion that gets at this over-rationalization as it relates to worldview. The term ‘worldview’ and what it describes can be a glorious, biblical truth. And yet, it often has been used to describe an over-intellectualizing of the Christian faith … a faith that is only and all propositional truth … if we can just get it right in our heads, we’ll be OK.
On this Easter morning, the words of this ancient hymn praising Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are most appropriate.
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
by Aurelius C. Prudentius, 413, cento
Translated by John. M. Neale, 1818-1866
and Henry W. Baker, 1821-1977
1. Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.
A couple years ago, my wife and I were talking to our 5th and 6th children about how much the world had changed since our 1st and 2nd children graduated from MHA. Most of the change we discussed focused on the introduction of the smart phone and the ubiquitous social media that it fostered. Most of us think we use our phones … we are the masters and the phones are the tools. I would guess, though, that in many ways, the phones are the masters and we are the subjects being changed.
I haven’t read this book yet (just ordered it) but it looks very good and probably ought to be read by everyone reading this blog. Just as importantly, we need to help our children be able to think about things like this because there will only be more of this for them to deal with as they grow. If we don’t think harder about these kind of things, we will continue to be changed without ever knowing it’s taking place. And trust me, most, if not all, this change is not helping us cultivate a Christian mind or life.
You might be familiar with this quote attributed to Martin Luther
“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
This is actually not a quote from Luther but from a novel but it is generally believed to be something that he could’ve said. The article linked below reminded me of this quote. We need to use a good bit of discernment in the modern world as we don’t live in the direct world that Martin Luther lived in and thus, it takes care and wisdom to see the kind of things Toby Sumpter points out in this article. It’s difficult to swim against the tide, especially when that tide consists of those who are on your “team,” but we need to be willing to stand for the truth, even if others don’t see it.
There’s lots more that could be said here, especially about the biblical model of courtship which was much more family-centric than any kind of modern approach to dating … but this is very good. It’s also written by a Cincinnati native.
J.I. Packer on the importance of catechesis: