Review of Books on Evangelical Youth

Check out Naomi Schaeffer Riley's review of two books on the evangelical youth movement in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The books are Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sandler and Body Piercing Saved My Life by Andrew Beaujon. She pans the former but praises the latter.

True Love Hates (Romans 12.9)

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Love is the foundation of Christianity.  

Such love refers, first of all, to God’s love for us. According to Romans 5.8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But that public demonstration bears private fruit. According to Romans 5.5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So intense is God’s love for us that, according to Romans 8.39, there is nothing “in all creation, [that] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

Second, love refers to our love for one another. In Romans 12.9-16, Paul lists twelve character qualities that ought to guide Christians in their relationships with one another. In his commentary on Romans, John Stott lists these character qualities as sincerity, discernment, affection, honor, enthusiasm, patience, generosity, hospitality, good will, sympathy, harmony, and humility. Today, I want to look at only the first two: sincerity and discernment, for Paul talks about them in a way that might be confusing to some. 

Romans 12.9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” For most of us, love and hate are mutually exclusive. If you love, you do not hate. If you hate, you do not love. But Paul teaches that love and hatred are both character qualities of a Christian. How is this possible? Let me give you an example from marriage. 

Marriage is the purest demonstration of love a man and a woman can give one another. But there are many ways to pollute that love. For example, a husband could spend his best efforts at the office rather than at home. Or he could use online pornography. Or he could begin an extramarital affair. By the same token, a wife could give into bitterness about her husband’s freedom to work outside the home. Or she could resent his lack of involvement in chores and childrearing. Or she could indulge in gossip with friends about their respective husband’s failings. I admit that these examples are a bit traditional and stereotypical, but you get the point. Something pure becomes adulterated. 

You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “True love waits.” That’s correct. If you love someone, you’ll wait to engage in sexual activity with them until you’re married. But here’s an expression you’ve probably never heard: “True love hates.” It never hates another person, but it always hates the attitudes and activities that destroy a relationship. Show me a wife who doesn’t hate her husband’s adultery, and I’ll show you a wife who doesn’t love her husband. 

If love is sincere, it hates evil and embraces good. As expressions of love, then, whether in marriage or any other relationship, sincerity and discernment work together. If I love you, I will hate the things that push us apart and embrace the things that pull us together. After all, isn’t that how God expressed his sincere love for us on the Cross?

Don’t Call Me Pastor! (Romans 12.4-8)

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When I was born on Thursday, May 8, 1969, my parents named me George Paul Wood. Ever since, they have called me George. My sister calls me George. My wife calls me George. My extended family calls me George. My friends and colleagues call me George. And that’s the way I like. It is, after all, my name. But sometimes, people at church call me Pastor. Listen, if you’re my friend, please don’t call me Pastor. 

There are several reasons why I don’t like to be called Pastor. One, it makes me feel old. Two, it makes me feel like I ought to be wearing a clerical collar and uttering profound mysteries about God. But I hate wearing black, and while I like talking about God, very little that I say about him ever rises to the level of the profound or the mysterious. And three, I don’t call you by your spiritual gift, so why should you call me by mine? 

In order to explain that last reason, I need to quote Romans 12.4-8: 

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. 

With these words, Paul lays out a vision of church in which every member makes a valuable contribution to the life of the community. Keep two things in mind: First, each person’s contribution is different. Just as one body has many parts, so one church has many ministers. Some of the ministers have the spiritual gift of pastoring, but others of prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing generously, leading, and showing mercy. Second, each person’s contribution is equally valuable. Pastors may stand in the spotlight on Sundays, but behind the scenes and throughout the week, others are also doing the work of ministry. 

And that’s the basic reason I don’t like being called Pastor. The title, which is sincerely intended as a form of respect, ends up privileging one spiritual gift over others, mine over yours. I may be Pastor George, but you’re just as equally Prophet Peter or Serving Steve or Teaching Theresa or Encouraging Eve or Contributing Ken or Merciful Marianne. So if you’re going to give me a title, why can’t I give you one too?  

Through Christ, we’re all equal but differently gifted children in God’s family. Brothers and sisters call each other by their first names, the names their Heavenly Father gave them. Mine’s George. What’s yours?

Sober Judgment (Romans 12.3)

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Brad Paisley sings a funny sung about alcohol that begins with these words: 

I can make anybody pretty.
I can make you believe any lie.
I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size. 

Actually, now that I read those lyrics, they’re not so much funny as just plain sad. Drunkenness makes people believe and do really stupid things. 

Romans 12.3 doesn’t address the baleful consequences of alcohol consumption. In fact, it doesn’t mention alcohol at all. But it talks about “sober judgment,” and the easiest way to think about sober judgment is by contrast with “beer goggles.” 

Perhaps you’ve never heard of beer goggles. I hadn’t either until friends explained that they’re what you put on when you drink too much. To the young man with beer goggles, every girl looks pretty, no matter how homely; every idea sounds like a good one, no matter how stupid; and every course of action is doable, no matter how dangerous. Looking at the world through beer-goggled eyes is a fool’s errand, but lots of young men and women (not to mention some older ones) still do it. And boy, do they suffer the consequences. 

What Paul recommends—or, rather, commands—is sobriety. As he writes in Romans 12.3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” 

Sobriety is not the same thing as alcohol-free, although being free of alcohol is a good place to start. Some people wear beer goggles because they drink too much beer. But some people believe that anybody is pretty, any lie is true, and any fight can be won even when no alcohol has touched their lips. Sobriety, you see, is the spiritual and moral virtue of reality-centeredness long before it is a measurement of blood alcohol level. 

So, the first thing truly sober people do is take a realistic assessment of themselves. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” is the negative aspect of this assessment. When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he seduced them into disregarding this negative. “You will be like God,” he said in Genesis 3.5. Adam and Eve put their beer goggles on and we’ve been wandering around like drunken sinners ever since. Listen, there’s only one God, and you’re not him. Neither am I. Sobriety starts with this basic fact. 

But there’s a positive aspect to this assessment too. Paul writes about thinking of yourself “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” In verses 4-8, he lists a wide variety of spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on his people. You and I may not be God, but we’re not nobodies either. Rather, in Christ, we’re somebodies whom God values enough to save and use for his best purposes.

Jesus Camp

I just saw the trailer for the documentary, Jesus Camp. I haven't seen the movie itself, and I don't know whether I will. But after watching the trailer, I felt a tight knot in the pit of my stomach. Look, I'm all for Christian camps. I attended them as a kid. In high school, college, and graduate school, I served as a counselor. They serve many valuable purposes, both recreational and spiritual. I worry, however, about a camp that seems to get kids so riled up emotionally. What's worse is that I'm pretty sure the camp in the documentary comes out of thatPentecostal wing of Christianity, which is to say, my wing. Oy vey!

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