Before I get all “ranty” let’s consider the following:
What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and the pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sit” and “no ma’am,”and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached. [see note]
Now wait a minute Joel! You mean to tell me that if Satan was in control of a city, people would be nice to each other, and maybe even uphold good moral practices?
It’s completely possible Mr./Mrs. hypothetical blog reader! And how is this possible you might ask? Because “good behavior” can side track us away from the gospel or worse yet, make us indifferent to the gospel! Satan doesn’t experience defeat when people do “good” things in and of themselves. His defeat was accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus and is reconfirmed whenever that death and resurrection truth takes hold of a person’s heart leading to one putting their trust in Christ and not in their own good works. THAT’S GOOD NEWS!
Enter the Rant:
I am convinced that good behavior preaching and teaching is winning out in many of our American churches which includes the ministries many of our children are a part of. Our children’s and youth ministry programs often focus on turning out “nice Christian kids,” but fewer and fewer of them focus on clear proclamation of the gospel, or on equipping children and teens to understand how the gospel speaks to all facets of their life (vocation, family, education, etc.). Far too many of our young people are coming out of youth groups after years of church involvement biblically illiterate, and lacking what I will call “gospel fluency.” Moreover, as recent studies have concluded, the majority of kids exiting evangelical youth programs are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists (MTD hereafter). The MTD understanding of the Christian faith basically asserts that: 1) God wants me to be a good person. 2) God wants me to be happy. 3) God isn’t ever present in the daily affairs of people. He is conveniently distant.
What is lacking here (among other things) is any sense of the Christian faith being a call to die to self (Mt. 10:38-39) and be reborn in Jesus Christ (Jn 3:3; 2Cor 5:17). Furthermore, there is little understanding of a Christ who is imminent or all consumingly near us. And with a lackluster MTD faith, no wonder so many of our young people are compelled to simply drift away from a faith community once they set out on their own. Teaching kids to simply be good won’t keep them growing in their faith. The gospel, once planted in the heart of a child or teen, stands to bring them before God, to put their trust in Christ, and THEN through the sacrifice of a changed heart, live lives that demonstrate holy and sanctified living.
Does any of this MTD conversation resonate with you either as a parent or young person? What is the focus of the teaching and discipleship training your children receive? Are you worried that your kids or friends will walk away from the faith as they enter adulthood?
NOTE: Taken from Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 15.