April 10, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: May 3, 2015

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I’ve lived most of my life submerged in the world of churches, Christians, Biblical language, and the Christian worldview. As I’ve moved into the second half of life, I’ve become aware that I need to separate myself from the Christian culture that has dominated my life, and to look closely for where my own assumptions are deeply embedded with the concepts, presuppositions and categories of the spiritual/intellectual/social/religious environment that surrounds me.

As part of my journey to deconstruct this evangelicalism I’ve lived in, I have consciously attempted to appreciate the thinking and experience of those who do not share my Christian faith. This process has been difficult, because the “house” of my personal experience is completely furnished with the furniture of a Christian society, church language, Biblical presuppositions and the basic beliefs of the Christian community.

One of the incidents that began this journey was a simple observation by a student. “Steve” had been at our Christian school for several years, and had never made any outward steps of faith. He wasn’t very verbal about matters of faith, but it wasn’t hard to tell he had thoughts he chose to keep to himself. One day, in a class discussion about a recent chapel message, Steve spoke his mind. I can’t quote him, but it was something very much like this:

“Why do Christians always say that you can’t be happy unless you are a Christian? It’s insulting to a person who isn’t a Christian to be told that they will never be happy without Christ. I’m not a Christian, and I am happy most of the time. I am happy with my friends and they things I enjoy doing. I don’t want or need Christianity to be happy.”

To quote the hanky-waving lady in the local African-American church….”Well……” So should we argue this point? “Steve, you just don’t know what happiness is. Trust me. You have no idea how happy I am compared to you.”

I recently read an article in the London Times. Seems the Church of England is trying to find ways to tap into the spiritual interests of England’s church-abandoning younger generations. After extensive research, the conclusions were not at all the expected.

There was little interest in God at all. There was little interest in heaven, spiritual matters, or even life after death. What was meaningful to the young people interviewed was life, family, love, work, relationships and the enjoyment of this world. They were comfortably, happily attuned to this world. Spiritual tattoos aside, they had little thought of much beyond what their senses or experiences presented to them.

In other words, Augustine’s famous “God-shaped void” didn’t make its expected appearance in anything near the numbers expected. Those with interest in some aspect of non-Christian, alternative spiritualities were often simply engaging in the enjoyment and exploration of culture, social groups, symbolism, trends and/or their own this-worldly curiosity and preferences.

Several months ago, I told many of my friends that when I turned off the “Christian stream of consciousness” in my head and just listened to the young people I work with, it was quite obvious that most of them had no interest in God at all. I mean no interest in God at all apart from practical, pragmatic results in very “this worldly” matters. Of course, the problem is that I’m simply not taking this into account in much that I do. “Now turn in your Bibles to Obadiah, and let’s pick up where we left off last week in our series on “Major Moments In The Minor Prophets.”

I do hear about God. I get those Bible questions and the questions that go along with a Christian school full of kids made to go to church and forced to adopt the values of their families. Occasionally someone will ask me about an unbelieving relative who has passed away, but I have never seen anyone truly disturbed about their own relationship with God or worried about what God thought of them. Exactly like the young people in the Times article, there is almost no interest in spiritual things. The great majority of interest in “God” or “the Bible” or “religion” comes down to wanting to know how this might make life here and now more interesting, satisfying or pragmatically effective.

I don’t meet people concerned about sin, and my crowd hears about sin all the time. When I have question and answer sessions, I hear church kid questions and a bit of curiousity about this and that. I’ve begun to realize that when a Christian begins talking about a Biblical story or text, the vast majority of the people I know see these texts having absolutely no relevance to their lives at all. These are things Christians talk about. A Christian giving the meaning of a Bible passage is like a student of the red-winged woodpecker explaining its habitat and habits. If he/she weren’t making you think about it, you would never think about it.

We talk about hymns or choruses like God cares a lot about this. People who aren’t part of church culture know that God isn’t caught up with hymns or choruses. We talk about this church or that new teacher, and these things are very important to us. They fill up Christian television, radio and web sites. Our friends outside of the Christian aqaruium look at us swimming around and think we are funny, odd fish. So concerned with what we think is real, but which they consider meaningless or just a story to try and make you act like someone wants you to act.

B9316039431Z.1_20150130190133_000_GUU9QFCRJ.1-0The people I know are consumers, not seekers. They consume entertainment, movies, personal events, possessions, experiences and relationships. The idea that God has a claim on them is comprehensible, but virtually meaningless. What they want and what they need is in this world, and is not on the other side of a prayer. (I wonder if “Seeker-sensitive Churches” might consider “Consumer Friendly” as a better name.)

Of course, such people look at those of us who are Christians as very different from them. We tell them our story. We explain the Biblical message of salvation. We describe life with Christ. We talk about “knowing God” and “worshipping Jesus,” and they hear us. They may admire us. They may sometimes feel we have said something very valuable. (A recent sermon series on marriage created a lot of interest by our students because it talked about some things they care about.) But if we talk about “your need to accept Christ,” we might as well talk about “your need to wear elk horns and walk in circles.” They give us our meaningful rituals, but they don’t want to be told they need the ritual as well.

…Yes. Today’s young people are bored with God. They are not “seeking” God at all, but are living on the hardened surface of a fallen human experience, seeking to make sense of what is incomprehensible apart from Christ. We cannot “create” interest apart from the work of the Spirit. Our calling to be witnesses is not to approach the world like cattle to be herded, but as persons to be loved in the way God loves this fallen world through Jesus Christ. We live in a generation and time dead to God and alive to entertainment and a consumer mythology that promises and delivers meaning through stimulation and amusement.

Christ has become the servant and savior of such a world. We live in that world, fully human, fallen, redeemed, rescued, living and hoping in the new creation. How do we speak of these things? It’s a question we must keep answering fearlessly.

Comments

  1. Wow. It’s so refreshing to read an article that just tells the truth.

    So many really striking observations in this piece….I was nodding my head at “We live in a generation and time dead to God and alive to entertainment and a consumer mythology…”

    I wonder what God thinks about all this?

    I sure don’t know what to think.

    • Robert F says

      Of course, not all young people we encounter are as disinterested in God as Spencer says; increasingly, though, in our particular world, this profile is accurate. We can not impose our own interest in God on them; that is indeed the work of the Spirit. Neither can we flatter their perspective with an epistemological advantage over our or other perspectives that it does not possess.

      • turnsalso says

        I kind of see this as a good thing. We are being forced to address the fact that God is the only one that can give faith, and that we can’t scare, guilt, aggrieve, or bribe people into it. Maybe the seeker circus industry is finally starting to break down and we’ll see churches starting to come back around to discipleship of their own and trust in God to handle adding to their numbers.

  2. Robert F says

    Of course, Spencer is only talking about young people in affluent, “Western” societies, or in enclaves of “Western”-style affluence in other parts of the world. About these young people, Spencer is correct. These young people are neither representative, nor the measure, of young people everywhere, but they are the young people we, in our particular part of the world, encounter and deal with on a daily basis.

    • and even then, the kids he’s talking about are mainly white, middle-upper middle class kids.

      Not saying the post is bad or wrong (quite the opposite), but the demographics aren’t representative of young people in the US as a whole, let alone – as you said – elsewhere.

      • And… a lot of the white economically “advantaged” kids are not like the ones he describes, either.

        I dunno; I don’t feel comfortable dissing kids when I have known – and still know – some who are aware of others, do creative things (are engaged in the arts, or science, or love things about the natural world, or…), and are far kinder and more thoughtful than the typical image of the FB and Twitter-obsessed teenagers that are the subject of this piece and (ironically) many FB rants.

        Ah well, my inner curmudgeon is showing. ; )

        • Robert F says

          Yes, I’ve taken notice lately of how much kindness I encounter among a good number of very young people. For some reason, it always surprises me, maybe because I don’t remember my friends or myself being that kind when we were young.

  3. Robert F says

    ” We live in a generation and time dead to God and alive to entertainment and a consumer mythology that promises and delivers meaning through stimulation and amusement.”

    I would omit the words “meaning through” in that sentence. Meaning is not what’s promised, for the most part, and it certainly can’t be delivered. Stimulation and amusement can, however, be promised and delivered.

    Of course, this is not new. I”m 56 years old, grew up in a nominally Catholic Italian family of peasant stock, only a generation and a half in the US, that lived just this way. Oh, they would never deny that they believed in God, or formally leave the Catholic Church; but God was far away in another country, and they didn’t talk about him or consider him in the course of daily life; the Church was only important to them for baptisms, wedding, funerals, etc. Other than that, they had no use for the Church.

    Their lives were about consuming things and enjoying themselves. Family was important, and they would have claimed to enjoy family, too, but there was real dysfunction in my family that made familial relations a source of as much, or more, pain than pleasure. As a result of this, I grew up suspicious of those who relate to the world mostly in terms of what enjoyment it could give them, and who relate to people in the same way. People who have what Kierkegaard called an aesthetic orientation to reality only find other people useful to the degree that they meet the expectation to entertain and distract; if you don’t, for whatever reason, meet those expectations, you are ultimately dispensable.

    This is why, in seeking to discover my own intrinsic value, and the intrinsic value of others, I turned toward a religious orientation and path. I remain suspicious of people who relate to and value the world primarily as a field for harvesting pleasure and distraction. My own experience is that happiness is a byproduct, not a goal, of authentically human living.

    • You know, I distinctly remember the same kinds of things being said about our generation, back in the 60s and 70s. There was some truth to it, but mostly it was (imo) a lot of hot air and unwillingness to listen to what young people were actually trying to say.

      Adolescence and early adulthood are trying times for all concerned (young people and those who care for them – parents, teachers, etc.).

  4. Was this written last week?

    This is why Michael drew so much of my attention. I don’t know that I would call his posts timeless, but they are certainly prescient. Things seem to have gotten more like this since the original. As I watch the gay marriage debate play out in SCOTUS and watch the response by evangelical pundits and cultural critics I’m reminded of just how irrelevant the Bible seems to those living outside the Cloister of the Christian subculture. It’s not just two different languages or hermeneutical approaches, but almost as if two different worlds are trying to communicate with each other. Or not trying.

    I think what is most ironic about all this is the push I have heard all my adult life on “making the Bible relevant” and the speakers only descend further and further into irrelevance. Not that the Bible is irrelevant – most people, Christians included, haven’t read it, so they wouldn’t know – but Evangelical archetypes (a worthy discussion in its own right) so dominate that conversation that the Bible no longer speaks to us, only its interpreters and translators (or more accurately, transmogrifiers).

    The culture is already looking to the Bible for meaning – witness the spate of Biblical movies like Noah and Exodus – but Evangelicals don’t understand the language used to communicate and so they argue and posture about things that don’t matter (at least to the intended audience). It isn’t that Evangelicals don’t have the answer. It is that we don’t even know what the questions are.

    On Michael’s example from when this was originally posted, I have pretty much stopped consuming Christian kitsch. No more KLOVE or Focus on the Family updates, not even Radio U any more. I stopped listening to the Christian cacophony. I much prefer Wendell Berry to Adrian Rogers and Joel Salatin to Ravi Zacharias. And there are lots of reasons for this, but I’ve already gone on too long. Suffice to say, I have stopped telling other people what I think they need to hear and listening instead. As Michael intended, I’m sure.

    • I don’t think the recent Bible-inspired blockbuster movies are an example of looking to the Bible for meaning, I think they are a sign of it being treated like LotR – prewritten, epic fiction with a built in and rabid fan base.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think what is most ironic about all this is the push I have heard all my adult life on “making the Bible relevant” and the speakers only descend further and further into irrelevance.

      Because nothing goes stale faster than over-Relevance.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Not that the Bible is irrelevant – most people, Christians included, haven’t read it, so they wouldn’t know – but Evangelical archetypes (a worthy discussion in its own right) so dominate that conversation that the Bible no longer speaks to us, only its interpreters and translators (or more accurately, transmogrifiers).

      How to Speak Christianese:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvBlJYlGPBo

    • Rick Ro. says

      Agreed. This reads today as pertinent as when Michael wrote it. I like his struggle with “what do we as Christians do?” I mean, telling people “you’re sinner who needs to be saved” doesn’t seem to fly much anymore, but does that mean it shouldn’t still be presented? Could the world’s lack of wanting God, Jesus and the “sinner saved” message be more due the world’s hardheadedness (I think the prophets of Israel often ran up against the same thing) than the perceived irrelevance of the message?

      As he asked, “How do we speak of these things?” And his wonderfully open-ended answer: “It’s a question we must keep asking fearlessly.”

      There are no easy answers in trying to connect people who are uninterested in God and Christ to them.

  5. It’s not just two different languages or hermeneutical approaches, but almost as if two different worlds are trying to communicate with each other. Or not trying.

    Rick, I don’t think the “world” is trying to communicate with US, they just ignore us unless we step on their concerns. As for US trying to communicate with the “world”, I can only ruefully chuckle.

    but Evangelical archetypes (a worthy discussion in its own right) so dominate that conversation that the Bible no longer speaks to us, only its interpreters and translators (or more accurately, transmogrifiers).

    I, too, have stopped “consuming” Christian product, with the small exception of the occasional book dealing with some subject of interest. Devotionals? Never! Music? Never! Christian radio and talk? Never!

    Even as I write this I am struggling with trying to “prepare” today’s Sunday School lesson from the denomination’s suggested rehash of some portion of scripture. I WAS just teaching on the actual BOOKS of the bible, giving overviews, summaries and then in depth examinations, but the powers that be were uncomfortable with that, so…

    • Rick Ro. says

      Oscar, sorry for your Sunday school lesson struggle. The leadership push for you to teach what they want you to teach would be a big red flag for me. I’m in a wonderful spot right now, teaching straight Bible lessons filled with questions and a periodic answer, and church leadership has pretty much been hands-off. (Although a previous pastor would do an annual “Fall Theme” thing where he wanted everyone – ALL Sunday school classes whether kids or adults – to teach the same thing for 8 straight weeks. Ugh, it was maddening. Several of us teachers would do his thing for few weeks, then just kinda drift back to doing our own…LOL.)

      Hang tough. I assume you’ve spoken with the powers-that-be about your issue?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As for US trying to communicate with the “world”, I can only ruefully chuckle.

      Better place for this link — How to Speak Christianese:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvBlJYlGPBo

    • Christiane says

      ” . . . almost as if two different worlds are trying to communicate with each other. Or not trying . . . ”

      the more ‘exclusive’ the denomination, the more ‘not trying to communicate’ is going on, in my opinion . . . take a look at this:
      ” . . . Southern Baptists have resisted ecumenism while embracing Christian brotherhood and cooperation with other evangelicals . . . ” ( from a 1996 Resolution of the SBC)

      not entirely applicable to the concept of ‘two different worlds’, but enough of a look into how limited a scope of communication was approved in those days

      seems to me that the more exclusive the denomination, the greater can be the power of the ‘leadership’ to call the shots

  6. We just spent a week on the story of creation. How this world seems upside down to me. The water use to be on top. When I was young clothes didn’t matter till I became self conscience. All in all it was a process. All those rules and regs to bog me down. Still it was love that told me to look both ways before the street entrance of my grand self.
    There is something deeper at hand and still I reach for it.

    The sea of forgetfulness is almost full because of me. I have done so many things wrong. It had been 33 years since I first heard His voice inside me and knew I was saved which found my hanging on a rope. The rope broke and I cried out to Him again. I was just trying my best to be happy. Didn’t work so well for me at least. Does that mean that someone who grew up in the church and did hardly anything wrong is better than me? Go ahead and pout. I say that with love in my tapping because I thank God that you indirectly and directly have had a hand in my life. Not to say you are wrong or right but never the less.

    My son grabbed my hand that morning before the hunt and somewhere in the woods by himself he gave himself to Christ that day. He had seen what God did in my life. I don’t know what he said and if he said it all just “perfect”. I’ll wager God thought it was. My son is His now and I listen for Him inside of him now. He is still trying to be happy.

    The young man I use to pull quarters from his ears stuck in opioid addiction when I asked his father if I could talk to him asked Jesus into his life and it was the first time he had ever prayed. Wanted to go to rehab and his father called me later and asked what I said. I told him it wasn’t me his son had prayed all by himself although I asked if he wanted me to lead. After 2 years in prison he is still doing all right so far.

    I’ll keep posting as long as you let me. It is the spirit that moves. Do you really think your ritual of baptism saves a young child if they were to die so young. Do you think God can’t go beyond our own rituals?.When Jesus said do this in remembrance of me that this is the only communion. Why send a helper then? I have seen the look on the young men’s faces when I speak to them and the spirit flows through me. I know what they are feeling at those special times. The young men are on my heart. This world is a muddy place and we need the shoes with the cleats for a place to stand. A present from Him. The young people want the power and presence but not the made up kind they do know the difference. After all I’ve been through my hand is reaching back to the hand that might grab mine because mine Is in my best Friend’s hand. Until he comes or I go home I’ll stand in the power of Christ. I am in right standing with my Father. Praise God, let us keep going……….

    • Rick Ro. says

      Love this, w.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      ‘W’ is the kind of man I wish I could be, the high-testosterone guys’-guy who’s in love with Jesus and has a minimal tolerance for bullshit.

      Bullshit is the milieu in which we live and move and have our being these days. I am bracing myself for an electoral campaign between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, two identical sock puppets with identical agendas who will take the Great American Bullshit Circus into unknown heights. On top of this, I have to go car-shopping soon, so I am bracing for that bullshit onslaught as well.

      Somebody like ‘W’ doesn’t have to smell like mountain lilacs to smell good to young people. He only has to not smell like bullshit.

      • You make me smile, you are more like me than you know. I usually fake a sneeze and say I’m sorry I must be allergic to something around here when that smelly stuff I’m standing in get’s to high and I tire of being a bobble head.

      • Robert F says

        Burro/Mule,
        Are you saying that when young people see men and women acting out clearly defined, traditional gender roles they know that is no bullshit? Because if that’s what you’re saying, I say: That’s bullshit!

        Young people as a group today are very accepting of non-traditional gender roles, and very open to non-traditional sexual orientations; in these areas, they are about as far from traditional as you can get. They understand that rigid definitions of gender roles and sexual orientation are bullshit. If you believe otherwise, you are completely out of touch with young people.

        • Robert F says
        • Robert, Thank you for putting us all in our places as you usually do. I don’t think mule was trying to explain anything other than bullshit. You ought to try it sometime.

          • Robert F says

            David, If it’s okay for Mule to throw bullshit around, it’s okay for me or anyone else. And he wasn’t explaining anything, he was spreading his own. I have minimal tolerance for Mule’s bs.

            Maybe Mule can speak for himself.

            “high-testosterone guys’ guy”–Sheesh!

          • You know Robert you did forget the rest of the sentence who is in love with Jesus. Yes I am a big strong man but I have a gentleness about me that most people just don’t get. This is part of that test thing also. David didn’t have so many following him for nothing. I’m no David though. David played music sang was deeply in love with Jonathan who died standing next to his father in battle and wrote poetry among the many people he must of killed and sent his commander to his death so he could have his wife. You know for sure that the beauty in a man is different than that of a woman over all? No??? Mule was trying to pay me a compliment and you turned it around threw it back against the wall in it all and made me feel like shit…. Oh well…. so much for this for the day…..

          • Robert F says

            I did not make my comment with you in mind, w. What came across as merely a compliment to you was a backhanded insult to and slap at anybody who doesn’t fit his atavistic ideal of a “high testosterone guys’-guy”. And it made me feel like shit.

          • I’m sorry it made you feel that way Robert and you are very important to me here and have been. I do believe though that the test thing got aroused in you though by the commenting. I’m sorry I was trying to be humorous but still you have to admit you really go at it sometimes.

          • Robert F says

            w, Just for the record: There are many different kinds of beauty in both men and women. There are men I’ve known who had no great strength of body, as Mule thinks true men should, but who were beautiful for who they were in body and soul, and without regard to their strength of body, or lack thereof. There was no deficiency in them of beauty or anything else important.

          • Robert F says

            w, From what I know, you are indeed a beautiful and strong and creative and Jesus-loving man. But I want to honor that without dishonoring the qualities of men who may be quite different from yourself. In my experience of him from reading his comments, Mule is someone who only honors one by dishonoring another. Perhaps you think me harsh, but that’s what I see.

        • Ahhhhhh chew….excuse me Robert

          • Robert F says

            w, What I’m saying about to Mule has nothing to do with you. Mule is more than capable of speaking for himself.

          • I have seen what you are saying Robert. I don’t think being a man’s man ( quote) or a woman’s woman is dishonoring or offensive. I think that beauty isn’t contained in any special box. I am saying over all. For me, IMO women represent the beauty of God and are able to carry and nurture life. I see in men a different kind of beauty but it is different and just as beautiful and that carries a wide range in both cases. This mule amazes me in his mind and learning and thinking just as you do. Miguel is another, just simply brilliant. So many here. The ladies here are very gracious and kind and seemingly more gentle but strong at the same time. Like Christiane down below I have no idea what she means because she didn’t paraphase in her own words or testify how she is on such things. Doesn’t really matter all things given it certainly isn’t going to change God and what God does seems like it has to be all right with me. I don’t really have a choice there.

          • w, Mule’s views on gender roles aren’t nearly so benign as yours. Would that they were.

            However, I’m not even sure that any of us women have ever used that kind of terminology in reference to ourselves. It has always seemed to me that yhe whole “man’s man” idea comes from insecurity rather than any place of inner strength. if a person is secure in who they are, what need is there to prove anything about one’s maculinity, or femininity?

      • Mule, there is such a thing as Fight Church (really). Maybe you should visit.

        Or else go on with the biz about testosterone at your usual man cave-type sites.

        • i would tend to agree with you. A man’s man to me is Christ also unfortunately in the Hebrew son was use for both genders. A woman’s woman to me is one who takes care of things her own and well as others and is very strong. One that others look up to. Now as for men the narrow definition of physical strength and all just doesn’t get it. It is a man that honors and adores his wife or for that manner any women who holds her standing in confidence in the one who loves us. I guarantee you that I stand a little different when a woman of this caliber walks in. I wish so much that the young women could be taught this kind of stance and posture in the class and love of Christ. This demands attention. I’m a man and can’t teach it because I wouldn’t know how. Heck I not sure half the time what makes you all tick.

        • Burro [Mule] says

          Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.

          I think you overlooked key phrase in my post to ‘W’: He is the kind of man I wish I could be. Whatever he is, he is without a lot of intellectation and checking his posts to see if they toe the party line.

          That he happens to be a masculine man, in some sense a warrior, albeit of the spirit, merely increases my admiration for him. I never was a warrior, except at the keyboard, and I lament that. I am old, and grow increasingly tired of pretending that I believe that our present confusion concerning relationships between the sexes is some great leap forward for the human spirit. Maybe this is something we have to go through as a species, but I don’t think any sexual Utopia is at the end of it.

          At any rate, until Chaplain Mike or Mike Bell contact me and ask me to leave, I and my objectionable opinions are here.

    • Christiane says

      “Do you really think your ritual of baptism saves a young child if they were to die so young. Do you think God can’t go beyond our own rituals?”

      W, your words remind me of an important insight written by St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church and a Church Father who lived in the 4th Century, A.D.,
      this:

      “See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from His death.
      There is the whole mystery:
      He died for you. In Him you are redeemed, in Him you are saved “
      (St. Ambrose)

    • Patrick Kyle says

      “Do you really think your ritual of baptism saves a young child if they were to die so young.”

      Yes. It’s not MY ‘ritual’ anyway. Jesus commanded it. If Baptism does not save, then how are the young and infants saved? Magically, apart from the work of Christ, the Word and Spirit, before some mystical age of accountability nowhere mentioned in the Scriptures?

      Had my fill of ‘the Spirit. the Spirit, the Spirit!!’ in the Vineyard. Much heat and little light, but good at generating a lot of church activity.

      • Explain the man on the cross next to Him for me. You act like your ritual needs defending….does it? Who does the baptizing? Do you think God is limited by saying that being baptized which is for your benefit limits Him. God always starts to look smaller in the world. I happen to believe he isn’t that small or when he said he would reconcile all things to himself it wasn’t just lip service.

        I don’t know about your vineyard but I have been around some and for me it is a little tiring. Sorry I have to put my feet down where I am able to stand. Somewhere in the middle of it all I’m trying to walk and love. Anyways hey thanks for the testimony to where you are at.

      • While I’m at it do you think God let’s people be born into a world where he is not present with them. Oh my dear man God wasn’t limited to religion when He came here and He certainly isn’t now. He submitted as do I you really can’t think that sprinkling some water on a child does the work of God and who would that be for? No the young and innocent haven’t done anything wrong yet so therefore where would they need to die to self when they don’t even know what self is. He said unless you come like one of these you can’t enter the Kingdom/love. We could turn everything around and quote everything to defend our positions no thanks. I only asked. I’m grateful that you are looking.

        • Robert F says

          Yes.

        • Robert F says

          “No the young and innocent haven’t done anything wrong yet so therefore where would they need to die to self when they don’t even know what self is.

          Yes.

      • You accuse me of magical mysticism and I could look at what you say and say the same thing. So somewhere Jesus said thou shalt be baptized and this is the only way to Heaven. So now there has to be a mystical age of accountability mentioned in the Bible and where do you see Jesus baptizing and why did John baptize. I don’t want your world keep it and your limited God.

        • Patrick Kyle says

          Brother, I don’t know what religion you practice but it seems to have little to do with anything in the Bible. Read what Paul and David wrote about our sinfulness, and tell me again how we are not sinners from birth. If we are not born sinful we have no need of Christ until such time as we sin? Jesus is not the savior of infants, young children and the mentally infirm? Uhhh.. that’s a stretch. God is certainly not limited, but hey, He’s the one who commanded us to baptize, and His apostle’s are the ones who said that baptism saves and is the ‘burial into His death and raising to new life in Christ.’

        • Patrick Kyle says

          ‘ So somewhere Jesus said thou shalt be baptized and this is the only way to Heaven.’ Never said that, or that the thief on the Cross was not saved. God does as He wills, but that is not license for us to do likewise. He has commanded us to baptize and teach. We see Jesus and his disciples baptizing in the Gospels and we see the Apostles baptizing in Acts. Paul and Peter both write about baptism in the epistles.
          Your comments are typical of the age in dismissing and making of minimal importance those things the Lord Himself instituted.

          • Patrick, i don’t get that impression from w *at all.* but that he isn’t part of an LCMS – or even an ELCA – church, i have no doubt.

            For my part, i think that there’s a *little* bit of “magical thinking” in Lutheran ideas about baptism, but then, i would probably be better off in the CofE than in any flavor of Lutheranism. Though i do agree with Lutheran beliefs re. the eucharist and Sacramental Union, i have my misgivings about some other key points. Still, it’s my heritage, and they’re not gonna kick me out, I’m thinking.

          • You see here in is the problem I don’t practice religion or a system or see one to love. Also I don’t see Jesus baptizing his disciples did and always your worshiping a book misses the whole picture. Jesus is not the savior of young children, infants and the mentally infirm????? You only prove my point as you don’t answer the questions. You think that this custom of sprinkling infants is somewhere in the Bible. Maybe it is magical and mystical. You think that having Fathers is more than Christ himself. He said he would be all things. You think there is only one baptism when John spoke of two. I’m not saying someone doesn’t benefit from baptism or am I saying no one shouldn’t. Where did I say these things. I was baptized. You have me all wrong but I’m okay with that. Your rules don’t mean anything to me. I was set free and am in right standing and have valid points…..and by the way we were born into this sinful world but somewhere I don’t remember asking for that and that is why I do need a savior. Just what are you teaching….Love….perfect love or just all the stuff that sort of looks like religion.

            So here we go read your Bible…. No read it is what I say and here are my points brother I have lineage and was taught by so and so…. Cmon really…. Then just to add God does as He wills…..

          • Patrick Kyle says

            w,

            I do not worship a book.

            You were the one implying that children/infants were without sin. If what you imply is true, then children do not need Christ’s work on our behalf.

            I would rather follow the Scriptures a little too closely, and answer for it on that day, than be guilty of making it up as I go and/or assuming I know what God wants.

          • yeah right Patrick………… You got it all down… I have so many BROTHERS that talk this way. Mostly I just try to stay away from them. The Bible IS a whole not little pictures and verses we pick out and use what ever way we want. If I went to your service and was allowed I would do all the things you do or anyone elses for that matter. Really it doesn’t matter as much as you think. If you think eating certain foods isn’t good than I wouldn’t eat certain foods when I was with you. It isn’t my responsibility to tell you something isn’t true that you don’t believe. My council would be to ask the one who can and you still searching with all your heart believe it who am I to say.

            My wondering goes to how you fared in the vineyard and what you might have accomplished or if it just somehow manage to hurt you. Spent most of the night asking for forgiveness if I had done you wrong and for Him to help me see because for some odd reason none of this appeals to me…

          • You say we are born fallen. I see we were born into a fallen world and therefore conceived in sin. How could it be otherwise if the world is fallen. In Luke where He said don’t forbid the little children to come to Him because unless you enter like one of these …I’m not looking it up. It might be Luke 18. This is the only reason I need a savior. If I was born into a world that knew no sin why would I. On the other hand not having asked for being here and out of pure and divine love. Now someone that loves this deeply would never save a young infant would he who has no chance and is the most innocent of all things here. A sparrow falls and my Father sees it. How much we are loved yet the young and innocent who are dependant on people hurt and wounded by all the things of a fallen world are not look after by our Father in heaven because of the sprinkling of water. I would not think a God like this worthy of worship.

            You are the cause of my morning poem I’ll share…somewhere above it all in an upside down world is mercy and love before even yet knew him.

            In verse and word that makes a whole
            A foundation which has been laid
            In grand illusions playing a role
            With a price tag so dearly paid

            With religion that doesn’t guide
            For the most part seemingly dead
            Now come won’t you pick a side
            Look here it’s what You said

            Now, can I hold You to what I think
            Really, can I, if I believe really hard
            Instead of such a fulfilling drink
            To the crumble of the house of cards

            I was raised in churches pews
            Indoctrinated into a world I didn’t want
            Yet still I heard the greatest news
            Outside those walls upon my hunt

            I hunted because this I didn’t choose
            I was born into and it was conceived
            In a place where I could only loose
            Till in You my savior I first believed

            Who here has chosen this path
            Was it not that here we were brought
            Learning love that forgoes wrath
            In covenant blood by love been bought

            You prepare the table for me
            In the presence of my enemy I will surely eat
            You who has set this loving free
            Thank you for Your mercy may I take my seat

  7. Yet another reminder of how much I appreciated Michael Spenser’s writing and thoughts, and how much I miss them.

    At the same time, I think a lot of the marks of Christian culture he cites are really marks of American evangelicalism. And if that is the case, there may yet be ways that other (and I dare say better) expressions of Christianity may yet appeal to those outside the faith.

    For one thing, the young people I know who don’t toe the evangelical line do still understand the ethos and life of Jesus, and respect it. Also, their views on many social issues, compassion, ending poverty, and helping the weak and helpless, etc. tend to be pretty much in line with Jesus’ teaching (more so than some of the more conservative expressions of evangelicalism a lot of the time from what I see). And these things are spiritual things, whether people recognize it or not.

    So I don’t think all is lost, but I do think American evangelicalism is probably not going to be able to crack this nut, at least not unless it changes in a big way, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  8. Give me some time for the coffee to kick in and I may respond later…lol

  9. I have observed several generations go through the choice to embrace God or not, and I have seen it in more than one culture and country.

    Those who are young today (in the West) have such a plethora of things to entertain, amuse, and occupy them that spiritual questions…let alone any answers…simply do not surface.

    Until…..they find themselves at a time and place and state where the noise stops, or it is not enough any more, and the questions seem to have no answers. Then, and only then, can God get the attention of many who ignore Him.

    • Pattie, in MY generation (60’s) the question of spirituality seemed to surface somewhere in the late teens. I think that today young people have more social/media/peer bs to wade through before they reach critical mass, spiritually speaking, before the questions arise. Sometimes, even, as late as their thirties.

      Again though, Jesus DID say that the way was “straight” and “narrow”, and that “few there be that find it”…but they DO find it!

    • Exactly, Pattie (and Oscar). Young people — maybe all people — today have “such a plethora of things to entertain, amuse, and occupy them that spiritual questions…let alone any answers…simply do not surface.”

      The young people I know are basically great: helpful and courteous and kind. But church and religion simply don’t make it onto their radar screen, for the most part. As Michael Spencer said, “They may admire us (Christians). They may sometimes feel we have said something very valuable. But if we talk about “your need to accept Christ,” we might as well talk about “your need to wear elk horns and walk in circles.” They give us our meaningful rituals, but they don’t want to be told they need the ritual as well.”

      The plain fact is, to an average young Western person, no sermon or Sunday School lesson is going to be as entrancing as a smart phone.

  10. For all our fulminations on this matter, the truth is for 2000 years the Christian church seems to have been able to adapt itself to express the message in a way that makes sense to the world.

    Right now we seem to be losing ground in ‘the western world’, that is Europe and all its colonies, which includes North America. Not so in many other parts of the world.

    Maybe the broader picture is that the west is running out of steam.

    • Dana Ames says

      N.T. Wright tells about when, in his earlier years as a college professor, students would come to him and tell him that they didn’t believe in God. He asked them to describe the God they didn’t believe in. He would invariably tell them, truthfully, “I don’t believe in that god, either…”

      I see the disagreement upthread re the state of unbaptized infants/others etc. is an example of how we end up talking in circles on the basis of Protestant reaction to medieval Catholic theology pushed through the sieve of Rationalism. There’s another way of looking at things, and of thinking about God.

      Forgive me. My heart is tender toward Robert F, w and Mule, all three.

      Dana

  11. StuartB says

    I’m enjoying this lazy calm Sunday too much to dive into this too deeply, so I’ll pass on commenting, but I will say that this article and a lot of the comments seems to be a firm refutation of what we discussed positively on Friday. Slightly disappointing, but it is what it is.

  12. DennisB says

    Guys,

    Quite disappointed at the huge trajectory leading off topic on this one. From a non-regular, comments by w, mule, Robert, all got quite confusing.

    Anyway, I agree with Mike’s analysis of the youth of today. How does one generate interest in spirituality ? My guess is in trying to get in early in the primary school & high school years. I also think that having events that discuss issues that seem relevant in a form of “pre-evangelism”. Maybe things focussing on philosophy, such as demonstrating that most societies have a spiritual content, compared to the West. This could be followed by something similar to an “Alpha Course”. The setting for these events could be a BBQ or cafe / pub.

    • I agree with your assessment of the leading off topic..My first post was a testimony to how i look at young people and try to let them know about the one who loves them. I have many more. You see having events and bbq and such are meant to do what has been being done for a long time just with different twists. The young people might attend but the look in their eye is towards what do you want and where is my wallet. On the other hand we have many opportunities around us when we are in tune and it might be just one or two here and there but the greatest testimony is in the walk not the talk.

    • Just to add this whole comment section would be a good example of why we can’t get to younger people and has me wondering why I would want to go to Church. Sorry I’ll keep trying

      • I too can get pretty snarky on my less-than-great days, but IMO, I think the words of the AA Meeting Preamble are really helpful on this and any message site: “The welcome we give you may not show the love we have in our hearts for you. We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. We seek spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

        Tomorrow, maybe, I’ll be spiritually perfect. Today, just working on it.

  13. Christiane says

    the nice thing about trying and continuing to try is that it is an expression of ‘choose life’ . . . it’s when people stop trying and abandon efforts to understand that they turn away from that human struggle to go towards the light

    I think when we try, the worst that can happen is that we fall forward . . . a journey can’t happen in stasis, but only in struggle and effort and recovery from falling and out of that comes a resolve not to abandon reaching for the light . . . that it is a collective journey, being undertaken by people who are often wrong and in disagreement is even MORE reason to continue . . .

    something about falling and getting up again, and trying again . . . and again . . . so consistent with life itself . . . and with that necessary struggle that keeps us humbled in the knowledge that NOT ONLY are we but dust and ashes,
    BUT ALSO encouraged because we know, for us, was the world created.

    strange creatures, human folk . . .
    how did C.S. Lewis put it? ” “You do not have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”
    maybe that difference is why many of us refuse to abandon our difficult journey towards the very Source of our being

  14. DennisB says

    Further my comments above, I would suggest a regular pub event could be something like Notre Dame Uni’s, Theology on Tap. http://www.nd.edu.au/ministry/sydney/what-is-tot. Maybe a men’s shed or say have a youth group commit to helping out with homelessness, food drops or seniors, once a month. That is to say, demonstrating Christianity as discipleship in some way (Probably should be lived out in the Youth groups first – I can’ t remember doing any of this REGULARLY when I was in a Youth Group) .

    Actions before words, I believe leads to an incarnational demonstration of the Gospel. Paul said his preaching came in the demonstration of the Spirit & Power. Part of the Spirit’s gifts are “works of mercy”. If this became part of a Youth Group agenda, people could be invited to help out & in doing so, see the reality of God’s love.

    When we live out the “Cross of Christ”, this assertion becomes reality: “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me”.