Walt Mueller in Youthworker Journal: "Why I Am Rich"

Walt Mueller’s article in the November/December Youthworker Journal has served as a good reminder for me in ministry. The article brings up a number of good points, but what hit me was the following phrase from the last section about how we can plan mission trips that bring about lasting change:

“cut the entitlement-feeding stuff from our programming (expensive winter ski trips, etc.) and funnel our youth ministry time into radical giving.”

The phrase “entitlement-feeding” was what really caught my eye. When planning events, I do try to not go overboard and have really expensive events and trips that simply are a lot of fun and nothing more. However, before today, I had never really thought about asking the following question when it comes to event planning: Is this event reinforcing a sense of entitlement in our culture? I usually plug and advertise all events, whether it’s a “block party” event designed for students to bring their friends, a service project, or World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine in the following way: “It will be a lot of fun! You should come!” As I thought about it, I don’t usually say something like, “This event will help you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus!” Why? Because I buy into the idea that students need to think they’ll get something out of an event in order to come. That’s reinforcing their sense of entitlement.

Parents and Their Teens’ Music Choices

I recently got an email from a parent asking for some advice on how to help her teenager think through music that she likes to listen to that the parent does not think is appropriate for her or edifying for her relationship with God. I am always glad when parents think through how to set healthy boundaries for their kids. The fact that this parent wants to think through how to set good limits for her daughter is a great thing in itself. Here was my response:

[Parent Name]:

Discussing culture in general and music specifically is certainly on my “rotation” of things to teach on. We will likely discuss it specifically sometime in 2010, but we do regularly talk about (as an application) the music, movies, and television shows that we choose to listen to and watch.

My goal when it comes to music is to help students think through the messages of the music they listen to. For instance, when traveling with students in a van on a mission trip or in a car to a retreat, I allow students to plug their iPods in (it used to be CDs!) and play any music they like as long as I get to press pause any time I want and ask questions about the music and make comments. I find that this equips them to help make decisions about what they choose to expose themselves to in our media-saturated culture. It doesn’t mean that I condone every song that is played (I once gave an impassioned 20-minute lecture to some students on the way home from a retreat on the intrinsic value of females as children of God after we listened to the first 60 seconds of a song that demeaned women in an awful way). However, it does open the door for great conversation.

I’m not familiar with the band she likes to listen to, so I can’t speak to their music. However, if [daughter’s name] is willing to listen to some songs with you, it might be good (and even fun!) to have a conversation with her about specific aspects of the band’s songs. Ask her questions about why she likes the music, what the message of particular songs are, whether those messages line up with or are contrary to God’s Truth as found in the Bible, and whether or not the music builds her up in her walk with Jesus. And please feel free to speak frankly to her about concerns you have with the band’s music and message.

Ultimately, they choice is yours in terms of what concerts [daughter’s name] attends and what music she can have on her iPod. I’m encouraged that you are willing to set limits for her, and I hope you continue to set safe boundaries for her as her mom. She may not come to a point where she understands why you set those boundaries, but I guarantee that it will help her to set boundaries for herself in the future.

A resource that’s been a huge help to me when it comes to music and other media is www.cpyu.org. Walt Mueller, who started the site, has put a lot of time into helping parents understand the culture that their teenagers live in.

Thanks for the note, and I’ll continue to be in prayer with you as a parent. You are certainly not the first parent to have these concerns!

Yours in Christ,
Benjer

Ultimately, I try to take an equipping approach to this. Of course, this does not mean that I’ll play a song during a lesson that is obscene or has explicit lyrics (I may bleep a few things out) just to have students discuss it–just as I don’t need to show pornography to teach a lesson on it. However, if students are already listening to something, then it can often be good to engage in a conversation with them and try to shed God’s truth on what they are exposing themselves to.

Washington Heights on the Radio

A quick prayer request: tomorrow (Thursday morning the 30th), two of our pastors, Roy Gruber and Jimi Pitts, will be on a local radio show entitled “Radio From Hell.” Each week, they bring in someone for an “Ask a…” segment (last week it was “Ask a probation officer”), and listeners can call in and ask just about any question they would like. This will be a great opportunity to share Christ’s love with our community. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would lead Roy and Jimi as they answer lots of questions, and pray that God would plant seeds among any who will be tuning in. If you’d like to listen, you can tune into 96.3 FM in Ogden, or listen online at www.x96.com. The segment they’ll be on is from 8am to 9am Mountain Time. You’ll be able to download a podcast of the segment online after the show as well.

Is God Big Enough For Our Questions?

This morning, I taught a lesson to high school students at our church about the trustworthiness of the Bible. Where did it come from? How can we know it’s inspired by God? I was a little nervous about it, because it was basically a large amount of information in almost a lecture style format. Still, I thought it was information that they needed to hear, even if for some it would be lots of boring dates, archaeological evidence, and the transmission of manuscripts through the centuries. It ended up being a really fun lesson, and I was surprised at the level of interest.

During the session, I pushed students to give me good reasons for why we can trust that the Bible really is the Word of God. I said that we need to ask these questions, because God is the God of truth, and he’s not afraid of our questions. They seemed to enjoy discussing different sorts of evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, archaeological evidence that matches up with relevant passages in the Old Testament, and arguments that support Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. What really encouraged me is that some students seemed almost relieved that they were allowed to ask questions. One student who was at an event at a park afterwards said that he appreciated my openness to honest questions about the Christian faith, and that there have been times when he’s been made to feel faithless for questioning the assertions of orthodox Christianity. Somewhere along the way, we (the Church) have communicated that expressing doubt decreases our faith.

I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

If God really is the God of truth, and if the Bible really is the inspired word of God, then questioning those two premises does not weaken them. Rather, honest questioning and honest searching will in the long run bring us and students closer to the God of the Bible. Where those of us who love youth come in is by serving as guides on the journey, to offer advice and insight from time to time. Let us encourage others to express with words the doubts of their minds and hearts and to wrestle with the difficult questions. Because God is bigger than our questions. Sometimes, he leads us to find the answers, but he wants us to find more than just answers; he wants us to find him.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:13

NPR Programs on Religion and Science

NPR’s “Fresh Air” this week is airing interviews with atheist Richard Dawkins and scientist/evangelical Christian Francis Collins on the issue of religion, science and how they interact and overlap. The interviews are airing Wednesday and Thursday, and are also available via podcast at http://www.npr.org/podcasts/. I found the Dawkins interview very interesting. He discounted methodological naturalism (the premise that there might be a God, but science could never tell us, so we shouldn’t investigate it–thereby giving naturalism a win without a fight), which I think is very noble of him. I am a believer that if God exists (a conclusion I affirm), he can be detected via science. I’m looking forward to the Collins interview tomorrow.

10 Questions

I saw this video on another blog (the link is to the website that produced it): http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/10questions.htm

It’s worth watching. I was told at the beginning at this video that I am assumed to be a thinking person. Well, I am a thinking person, and I have noted several logical fallacies in this video. The most prevalent fallacy that is the fallacy of the straw man argument, a method of argument that unfairly misrepresents an opponent’s position–real or otherwise–and proceeds to shoot down that position. Here is my response to the first three questions (feel free to continue on the last seven):

Logical Fallacies in This Video:
Question 1:
Non sequitur: Premise 1: God responds to prayer and can perform miracles; premise 2: God ignores amputees because we know that God does not perform the miracles they ask for. Conclusion: premises 1 and 2 are contradictory. Wrong. The correct conclusion is that God does not always perform a miracle when we ask for it. Furthermore, premise 2 is not founded. Do we know that God ignores amputees?

Ad Hominem: “You stop thinking about it because you’re uncomfortable with it.” This is an attack on a person who might act this way, not a logical argument.

Question 2:
Fallacy of the false dichotomy (also called bifurcation): Ultimately, the choices we are given in this argument are that 1) God does not exist; or that 2) God does not care. There are other options that are not given, such as building an argument that God allows the least amount of suffering and produces the greatest amount of good. It’s a tough argument to make, to be sure, but it is a viable possibility. The video does present a third option, but it is a rediculous option that not many thoughtful people will adopt, and the video presents it as the only choice besides the first two listed above. This is logically irresponsible.

Question 3:
Fallacy of the complex question: “Why would a loving God want us to murder our fellow human beings over such trivial matters?” This is akin to asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

I pray fervently that whoever visits this site would recognize these fallacies. There are lots of respectable arguments for atheism and other objections to evangelical Christian theology. One very intelligent atheist is Austin Dacey, and he has debated many of the top Christian scholars in our nation. I am not against debate. I believe that there are good reasons for believing in God, and I welcome and respect challenges to those reasons. I do not respect this video, because it puts forth its views without supporting them. To be fair, I realize Christians do this as well, and I believe this too is irresponsible and even a sin when it is done knowingly or because a Christian does not want to work hard to study the issues. May God forgive me when I do this myself.

Happy Feet

This weekend, we (our church’s youth ministry) headed to the dollar (well, actually the three-dollar-fifty) movies for a dinner and a movie out. Out of a lack of good choices of movies that would be entertaining as well as appropriate for grades 6-12, I chose Happy Feet for our group to watch. It certainly was a fun movie (my wife and I would like to adopt a dancing baby penguin now). However, I have a professor–Dr. Doug Groothuis at Denver Seminary–who has almost ruined movies for me, especially children’s movies. The reason? I now test just about every movie for its underlying worldview. (Not all movies, however. Sometimes a movie is just a movie.) I would have to see the movie again and take notes to really get its worldview down, but two beliefs of the worldview stuck out: belief in something greater than ourselves is juxtaposed to using our mind, and the opinions of elders should be distrusted because they’re stuck in their old-fossil like ways, which ultimately harms the greater society.

Now, you might find yourself saying, “C’mon, Benjer, it’s just a movie!” Maybe so. But all forms of communication communicate something, and I didn’t like what this movie was communicating. I believe that their are sensible reasons for believing in a higher power, namely the trinitarian God of the universe that has revealed himself–among other ways–in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A also happen to believe that people who are significantly older than me might have a bit to say about our world that I need to listen to. By the time the youth I was with graduate from high school, I hope that they’ll have learned that every movie does indeed present a worldview and to wonder if the worldview presented correlates to truth. But I also hope I don’t ruin all movies for them.

What are you?

Internet quizzes. I avoid them at all costs and happily delete forward emails from well-meaning friends urging me to take them. However, I was sucked into one on Theological Worldview. Before I discuss it, here are my results:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

86%

Neo orthodox

61%

Emergent/Postmodern

61%

Reformed Evangelical

54%

Roman Catholic

54%

Classical Liberal

46%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

43%

Fundamentalist

36%

Modern Liberal

14%

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

At the risk of making too much of a silly little exercise, allow me to tell you that this innocent quiz annoyed me. Why? Many of the statements made presented false dichotomies (the participant must rate each statement on a five-step scale ranging from “disagree” to “agree”. Note that each time the quiz is pulled up, the questions are in a different order, making it impossible to reference specific questions by number). The first question I encountered was “Social action is important, but not as important as saving lost souls.” I believe a well-informed follower of Jesus will believe that both social action (i.e. defending the cause of the oppressed, see James 1:27) and “saving souls” (leading others into a saving relationship with Jesus) are both very important parts of being a Christian, and that neither should suffer at the expense of the other. Another statement reads, “There is little or no human element in the Bible, it is a divine book.” This statement rules out the possibility of believing that the Bible is both divinely inspired and bears human characteristics, a view to which I and many Christians who hold. The statement presents a false dichotomy. Choosing the middle option between “agree” and “disagree” is not a satisfying response for me, because I take my view to be a view distinct from the two choices given, not some sort of happy medium or an instance of practicing the via media.

Again, at the risk of taking this quiz too seriously, I can’t help but wonder if this little quiz isn’t a small indicator that we really are articulating evangelical beliefs well. After all, aren’t these false dichotomies picked up somewhere? Perhaps the author of the quiz has never met a Christian who is committed to both defending the oppressed and telling others about Christ. If this is the case, evangelicals (and other Christians who believe that telling others about Jesus and defending the oppressed should go hand in hand) have no one to blame but ourselves.