If Johnny Jumped Off of a Cliff …

by on May 29th, 2008

A few days ago my wife Joy read an article which she thought should be mentioned in this week’s E-Letter and sent me the link. I opened up the WorldNetDaily article Apologetics: Cure for America’s social ills, and the first thing I noticed is that a friend (Anthony Horvath) authored it. Anthony, like so many others we have met over the years, became involved in apologetics and discernment out of a desire to reach the lost. His burden for the current state of affairs in the church is all too familiar:

No sooner do we put our attention on our apologetic and evangelism efforts do we come to some very hard truths about the state of Christian education. Indeed, when we compare the overall thrust of the youth and education programs of many churches with the nature of the challenge arrayed against us, there can be little doubt as to the extent of the problem. If we wanted godly young men and women who could carefully discern how various legislative endeavors threaten to hurt and harm millions of people – even as we speak, or in a generation hence – one cannot see how cutesy skits, movie nights and glorified Sunday School curricula will achieve that goal.

At the same time Anthony and others are raising this concern Brian McLaren is traveling the country and doing his Deep Shift: Everything Must Change Conference and the trailer “The Shift” film (not directly related to McLaren) came out. Watching the trailer and thinking about McLaren took me back to my child hood days when my mother would sometimes say to me, “If Johnny jumped off of the edge of a cliff, would you jump too?” It may not seem at first blush that all of this is related but let’s see.

Anthony Horvath’s frustration comes from the realization that in many ways after preparing to reach atheists, secularists & cultists with the gospel he finds that the Christian church is attempting to Christianize society or make it behave in Christian ways, through legislative endeavors. You may be successful at that and end up with better behaved sinners but still unredeemed sinners. Little attention is paid in many churches to teaching the essentials of the faith to the youth which leaves them unprepared for adulthood in an increasingly pagan society. On the other hand the pagan society is educating youth, theirs and ours at very young ages. I happened to notice a television commercial on one of my grandkids cartoon shows on Monday. It was a save the earth type commercial which ended with the line, “hug the earth, she is our friend.” Commercials like this and others, as well as television shows and print media have given birth to and spurred on a generation toward earth worship. The new film “The Shift” is a documentary celebration of this movement. It is a movement which Brian McLaren and others within the church have signed on to as well. In an effort to reach culture without educating the saints the church has embraced and become culture and McLaren is the poster boy. Where the culture goes we find the church following close behind.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

It is often the case that we become more like the groups we associate with than for the group to become like us. This is particularly true when it comes to evil. We see this repeatedly in the history of the Nation of Israel. The desire to be like the surrounding cultures led to them behaving like the surrounding cultures. Instead of being a light in a dark place they joined the darkness in their worship. This is also true in the current state of the church. Dr. Norman Geisler in his excellent talk “A Defense for Defending the Faith” which he delivered at our 1999 Defend the Faith Conference (it is available on our resource page) pointed out that “…the Christian faith is under attack,” and he went on to say that it is under attack from the outside by:

- Atheists
- Secularists (who claims the Bible is a dangerous book and is responsible for the wars, persecutions and outrages on humankind)
- Cultists

He then pointed out that it is under attack from the inside by:

- Biblical Critics
- Relativists
- Anti-supernaturalists who would deny the Christian faith.

That was eleven years ago and apologetics and Christian education remains a largely fringe movement on the borders of the church. The result? Atheism is experiencing resurgence in the public square, as is secularism and along with it the claim that the church is responsible for the wars, persecutions, raping of the environment and are only concerned for wealth and large memberships. We are also watching the growth of cults and particularly the occult through mystical Hindu and Buddhist meditation as advocated by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities.

The attacks inside the church have followed the same course. Hinduism and Buddhism are embraced under the guise of “Contemplative Prayer.” Mystical experience has replaced discipleship and servanthood as true spirituality. Discernment and Christian education has given way to embracing other world religions as fellow travelers in a conversation to bring about world peace, solve world hunger and build the kingdom on earth “in the way of Jesus.” The church, according to this new “paradigm” (I have to admit, I am tiring of that word) is viewed as the source of all evil. It promotes or at least allows the raping of the environment, building empires at the expense of the poor in other nations, it is a war machine that is out to conquer, pillage and steal from the all peaceful, one with the earth non-Christians. Brian McLaren leads the way in this shift as he follows liberal scholars and environmentalists. He too is part of the “Movement” “The Shift” describes.

Now that I think about it my mother’s question of, “If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?” is not strong enough. Jesus parable in Luke 6:39 may be more to the point:

A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?

Some good sound teaching could go a long way to prevent blindness in the church youth and even church adults.

3 responses to “If Johnny Jumped Off of a Cliff … ”

  1. Barb says:

    I agree that Biblical Christian education and learning how to defend our faith when attacked/challenged needs to become a priority for youth and adults alike. If we really want to reach youth, we’ll include reaching their parents.
    The thing I see going on in the youth ministry movement is this idea that today’s youth are somehow struggling more than any generation that has gone before. This is incredulous to me because even though a war is going on, there is no draft and you see almost nothing of the war on the nightly news, so it’s easy to put it in the back of one’s mind. Youth today have more leisure time, more toys and gadgets, more attention due to smaller family sizes, fewer chores, more money, nicer schools, etc. than any previous generation. (I rarely see kids out shoveling snow or mowing lawns anymore. I do see lots of Dads with snowblowers and on riding lawnmowers!)
    Women young and old have rights and opportunities that previous generations only dreamed about, and our quality of life in general has never been more affluent or made easy through technology. The poor in this country would be considered middle class in other countries.
    Yes, drugs, alcohol and broken families are, sadly, still around, just like in all previous generations. But it’s not new or unique to this generation, as some would have you think. More prevalent, perhaps, but not new. (and only more reason for solid Christian education and not fluff).
    The main difference between youth today and youth of previous generations is the level of self-centeredness and sense of entitlement. When you listen to the voices in the youth ministry industry today, those voices want to pander to, treat with kid gloves, and lay down the un-offending red carpet for young people in order to “engage” them. The Truth is softened or not brought up at all, unconditional love means no expectations or accountability, and Christianity becomes a case of building self-esteem vs. confidence (gaining confidence requires actually accomplishing something whereas esteem relies on people and outside forces liking, catering to and never disagreeing with you). In its attempts to never step on the precious toes of young people, youth ministry is in danger of creating groupies to a hip youth pastor and ministry.
    If I were a young person, I would find this completely condescending and offensive! You know, when Jack Nicholson says “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”….I think our kids WANT the truth and they want to be treated like they can handle the truth.
    My son, when he was 11, fell in love with the Gideon’s Bible that he read when we stayed in a hotel. He could no longer read his “cool” youth Bible when we returned from our trip. Shortly after this, I was at a coffee shop that sold used books, and found the exact same Gideon’s Bible that was in our hotel room. This is what my son reads. He likes the traditional wording, (no “awesome” sidebars or graphics) plain red cover and all. We underestimate kids because we think they’ve become so tenderized by the current world they live in and are nothing but culture-driven. But kids are perfect candidates for the refining fire of God! They will rise to the Gospel when it is presented confidently, lovingly, honestly and truthfully ever time. For youth ministry to water the teaching down or leave it out completely is to cause the youth to stumble, as mentioned in Matthew 18:6.
    The only thing that must change is this notion that youth, and adults, aren’t interested in and can’t handle the Truth.
    Great blog!! Thanks!

  2. Great article, Don, and that was a great article by Anthony also. Barb, I couldn’t have said it better myself; I am tired of that old refrain that today’s youth have it soooooo much harder. Balderdash! Our youth ministries are often part of the problem, especially when our youth pastors are not much older than the youth they are pastoring; they want to be buddies rather than mentors. Let’s start changing things there and maybe our next generation will be more discerning.

  3. Mike says:

    Don,
    I really appreciate your articles and those you find concerning the theme of the place of apologetics in Christianity.

    I had some thoughts.

    I don’t agree that the church is the place to teach apologetics.

    The current pastors and staff are unable and unequipped to do this. (Apologetics is a side bar for seminary training.)

    But this could be done on the level of simply help people to know their bible and where the verses or chapters are that teach this or that. (Again, that the church could accomplish this without outside help is questionable.)

    Confronting the culture war is simply beyond the scope of the church.

    Bringing in groups like yours with workshops is the way to do this.

    Some things that struck me about evangelism in today’s postmodern world was the following:

    I think that the days have passed when you would get such direct confrontation concerning expressing your faith. This seems a rare experience these days.

    The reason, I believe, is because it has been assumed that we are all just “telling our story”. Our insistence that it is somehow unique or that others need to know and believe is due to (in the world’s view) our ignorance, naivete, parochialism.

    Like a sincere school boy, we are handled gently and pandered to concerning our world view.

    We are not rebuked but seen as children. We are seen as sincere, but misguided and probably a product of brain washing.

    We may even be seen as still young at heart. We carry an attitude that hopes in the idea that people still care about what you believe in and that our beliefs have some relevance on life and the future.

    These circumstances in the postmodern culture mean that evangelism is not something that will produce the urge to seek out the facts about Christianity among our ranks.

    IOW, I think the article is correct when it says that apologetics is about more than evangelizing others. These days apologetics is more about keeping the one’s we have.

    Blessings,
    Mike Ferrando
    Washington, DC

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