Are you or were you Already Gone?

I just read the book: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, (Master Books, Green Forest, AK: 2009). In it, Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham and marketing researcher Britt Beemer seek to understand the plight  of American Christianity as we see more and more young people leaving the church, and in most cases, never returning. They do some exhaustive surveying of those who have left the church and discover some startling statistics. Of the 20-somethings raised in a Bible-based church interviewed who no longer attend church regularly, 95% attended through middle school, 55% attended through high school, and only 11% attended through college: i.e., 90% were Already Gone by the time of college. From their findings, much of this loss is due to doubts these students have about the Bible. In addition, about two-thirds of the youth leave the church by the time they are a young adult.  Their exhortation is for the church to wake up and be the church (body) it was intended to be, faithfully adhering to and teaching from the authoritative Scriptures in a way that is relevant (defensible) to culture and history.

There is much that I think is very true and that I agree with:

  • The dismal state of the church in America and how it is losing it’s youth
  • How the authority of the Word has disintegrated in the church today
  • The church really can’t change culture (105)
  • Music is a minor element to the church at best – truth is relevant and needs to be the emphasis (110). In fact, much of the emphasis and approach for music in the church has no Biblical basis at all (127).
  • Hypocrisy and the institutionalizing of church is a major reason why young people leave (110ff)
  • The need for more interactive ways of teaching the truths of Scripture and apologetics, e.g., small group settings (125ff), similar to the early church
  • Focus on youth and young adults (135) — in fact a major priority should be to equip and let them lead and reach out to their own generations (160-161)
  • The need for revolution (141)
  • The opportunity to win some of those back who have left the church

I applaud the authors for their uncompromising view of Scripture as authoritative and the need to quit being lame in the way it is presented or glossed over in favor of “worship”.  I also appreciate their candor and critique of the way we do church. Not only the worship service but also Sunday school — which is not getting the job done. The emphasis on Bible stories and entertainment as opposed to the Bible as real and historical undoubtedly plays into the doubts raised in the minds of teenagers and young adults who encounter the sophisticated arguments of the kosmos. In addition the reliance on Sunday school to be the source of Bible teaching as opposed to the home.

 

However, I do disagree with the Young Earth view advocated by the authors and a missing element to their view of reaching the younger generation.

First, their emphasis on a Young Earth apologetic overshadows much of the good things they have to say [1]. Undoubtedly they would probably counter that I am compromised and fail to uphold the historical truth of a six 24 hr day creation and have allowed “millions of years of evolution” to creep into my view of Scripture which results in the decline of Scriptural authority and relevance and eventual milk-toast Christianity.  However, I do not believe that Scripture mandates the Young Earth view at all. There are plenty of good arguments for the days of creation not referring to 24 hour periods [2].  It may be true that the advent of naturalism and evolution may have influenced some of the old-earth interpretations of Genesis 1. However, that does not mean that they are merely compromises. The fact is that Genesis 1 is a single chapter with few details compared to the enormity of what happened during creation (the few details in Genesis 1 about creation do compare relatively well with what little is known from science). The emphasis in Genesis is the creation and fall of humanity and how God did and will deal with it. I agree with the need for effective teaching and training in handling the truth accurately, knowing the arguments of the kosmos and the apologetics to counter those arguments which includes the historical reliability, inspiration and veracity of Scripture. My experience is that Genesis 1 is not the biggest stumbling block as the authors make out. Yes it is thrown out there but there are very reasonable answers and one typically finds other issues at the heart of people’s antagonism towards Scripture, God, and/or the church which are just as if not more important to defend as well. Some of this was addressed  in Chapter 6 of their book, but I think it needs a much bigger stage.  I’m curious if the age of the universe is something we could “agree to disagree” on. I could, but the Young-Earth apologetic appears to be so intricately tied to everything else in their view, I’m just not sure. 

Second, I feel the book is missing or underemphasizing a significant reason for the loss of young people to the kosmos which is that the church is not just here to teach and emphasize truth, but it is here for a purpose: the ministry of reconciliation to the world. We are God’s ambassadors we have purpose – when young people realize this things become much more relevant. The book lacks an outward focus to reach the lost. Speaking the truth in love is the combination that must be balanced and emphasized. The lost need to see and experience the love of God which lives in the church and which touches them as people share the gospel with them in a life-giving way and not just for the purpose of “winning converts”.  The authors touch on this at the end with the application that students can be equipped to reach out to their own generation, but it is really much more than that. They need to experience and be active parts of the living Body Of Christ in which Scripture is wielded (which is stifled by the institutionalizing, worship service-oriented practices of most modern churches). When those truthing-in-love relationships are seen by the world people are drawn to Christ and that age group can turn from  a declining population to one of vibrant growth.  It seems to me that is the hope for this generation. It’s also why I am so thankful to be part of  a fellowship where students are a vibrant part of the church and not only sticking around but leading their peers to Christ.

 

1. When trying to show how far things have gone astray, their examples overly emphasize the decay of a Young Earth view of the world with those who have left the church. For example, when listing the negative beliefs of those who attended Sunday school and now have left the church, six of the sixteen characteristics  (more than a third) dealt directly with a view contrary to the Young Earth position (39). 

2. The account of Genesis 2 where man is created followed bya the population of the garden with foliage, with animals, the naming of the animals, followed by the formation of woman out of man took longer than 24 hours of Day 6 in Genesis 1:24ff. Some claim that Eve was within Adam on the 6th Day (positionally or metaphorically) and was brought out later (on the Eighth day?), but this seems as much of a “reading into the text” as saying that the days of Genesis 1 could be very long periods of time. See Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction for different views of the interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1.

You are richer than you think. Or are you?

What if you found out you are one of the richest persons in the world? Would that change your outlook on what you have and what you do with it?

Maybe you don’t feel that rich, I know I don’t most of the time.

If you are that rich and you don’t feel that rich, perhaps something is wrong with your perspective. I would even go so far to say that if we are off here, we are missing out on something “revolutionary” and “disestablishing”.

Since Thanksgiving break I’ve been watching Frontline video on the credit card crisis while exercising (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/), reading Ecclesiastes, listening and watching Bruxy Cavey’s teachings on our narcissistic culture (http://www.themeetinghouse.ca/) and analyzing our church and my personal finances.  I highly recommend all of these activities.

Bruxy’s teachings and the Frontline episode are really quite revealing about our culture and our personal outlook on what I need and desire. In many ways we are trapped, deceived, and bombarded with messages saying “I need this… now” or even worse “I deserve this now”.  Given the pervasive credit available, whether credit cards, home equity, student loans, etc…, and the desire of the money lending industry to trap you into always having debt we then go and get what we “need/deserve”. The final result being that we are enslaved to our debt — when we already have more than most people in the world (see below). Solomon would have one word for this sort of life –> meaningless.

I think the real tragedy here is that we miss out on the joy of being able to give. We get life sucked right out of us.

Jesus said “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This of course doesn’t just pertain to financial giving only, but it certainly includes it. In addition there is tremendous blessing and joy that comes from giving of your self to others (Jn 13:17). To give what we have, or rather what we’ve been given, is merely a response towards the love poured out by Jesus for us:

    But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.  2 Cor. 8:7-9

In fact, if we’ve been given more of something (like we have), it’s so that God can use us to support building His kingdom and to give it to those who are in need:

    at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 2 Cor. 8:14

So, where are we at with respect to the rest of the world? Pretty well off! Here are some statistics:

  • From several different measures, the household wealth of Canada and the US makes up about 30% of the total wealth in the world — but our combined population is about 5% of the total population of the world http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth
  • Based on UN reports from 1999, 3 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. With global population expanding 80 million per year, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn cautions that, unless we address “the challenge of inclusion,” 30 years hence we will have 5 billion people living on less than $2 per day. http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/wealth_distribution1999.html
    • The combined wealth of the 1% richest people in the world is equal to the combined wealth of the poorest 2.5 billion people in the world
  • From the study: The World Distribution of Household Wealth. James B. Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff. 5 December 2006. (World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University)
    • The richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.  (they define wealth in the classic sense of assets minus debts).
    • The top 69.8% of Americans are part of the top 10% wealthiest people in the world
    • For reference, the median income of US households is about $50K in 2008. If your household income is over about $30K, you are in the top 69.8% of the US and in the top 10% of the world http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-236.pdf (though this is a different statistic than wealth, it should get us in the ballpark)

2008 census us income

So, where does that leave you? The average charitable giving in the US is about 2.1% of GDP http://www.un.org/partnerships/YStatisticsUSCharitableGiving.htm. That’s actually pretty good, the US being one of the most giving countries based on quantity and percentage http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/International%20%20Giving%20highlights.pdf. But is a couple percent or even ten percent that much when you consider that we are some of the wealthiest people in the world? On top of that we either feel like or we actually are just barely making it because of our debt load.

I think Bruxy is right. One of the most revolutionary things we could do is to forsake the ethic of this kosmos, which is to get what we don’t need, and instead give. Jesus certainly took this approach and when we use what we have to serve others in the context of building His kingdom it becomes very powerful and disestablishing.  That is real freedom.  What will the rich credit lenders going to do if people decide “I don’t need you”? How far can we reach people with the gospel if we invest in building God’s kingdom rather than a new iPod? How cool it is to be able to help out those who are less fortunate than you! Give the Lord a shot. He only needs a few fish from us to meet the needs of many. When we do that sort of thing we reap true riches.

    Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  2 Cor. 9:6

Loosening Your Ties to the World

I am so thankful for our Body of Christ and the fact that we have this “radical” aspect…

  • A priority on love relationships, not performance, rituals, or even corporate worship… Our ability to relate starts with Jesus. I am so blessed by Him and filled with love from Him that enables me to love others and experience the relational “image of God” we were uniquely created to have.
  • A priority on the Word as the preeminent objective source for God’s revelation and discernment –> fuels and objectifies love; a document – preserved for centuries, having been tested time and time again only to stand stronger than ever through the gristmill of history – that is living and active, able to speak as clear as ever into the here and now
  • A focus on serving others –> most important outcome of love, our ability, calling, privilege to emulate our Lord, to reach out to those who don’t know Christ and serve those in need.. and experience what it means by “it is better to give than to receive”

But there is one area of “service” that will undermine all these aspects that make us a vibrant BOC and my life meaningful …

Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

How true it is that I can easily get caught up in the demands for “services” on me by the world. What an opportunity I have to invest in the world. That’s what it seems to be all about. I may be able to shrewdly make lots of money (or at least dream or always try to). I get paid … I can then gain some control, some fun, some comfort… But what does that really get me? How can I free myself from serving the pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of building the Kingdom of God?

Let’s go back to Luke 16 and see if there are any keys to be had…

Luke 16:1-13 Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. [2] “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ [3] “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. [4] ‘I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ [5] “And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ [7] “Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ [8] “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. [9] “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

[10] “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. [11] “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? [12] “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? [13] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The elements of the parable:

  • – A manager who’s messing up
  • – A rich owner who’s pissed at the manager
  • – The manager freaks out and decides to bail by settling the owners debtors in a very favorable way for them
  • – The owner praises the manager for his shrewdness in setting himself up for the future

Christ’s applications:

  • sons of this generation are shrewder than sons of light – a slam on Christ-followers … we’re too naïve and enamored with the bright lights of wealth to realize what we are really dealing with
  • make friends with money for eternity – money is a means to an end, but it is only that … it always leads to something, what will that something be?
  •  faithfulness with the insignificant money demonstrates trustworthiness if given more significant things – isn’t that what we ultimately want, something or at least to be part of or involved in something, or someone, that is really significant?
  • you don’t really own anything – this is a shocker… what do you mean it’s not my money?
  • you can’t really serve both God and money – this is a stunner … who do you serve?

These are the things that we need to take stock in. It seems to me that the bottom line here is one of a reality check. If what Christ is saying is really true… is that working itself out in my life? Or, am I blind to my allegiance? It’s not very hard to figure that out. What are you spending your money on? How big of a priority is it to “make friends for eternity” with your money? Is money an insignificant thing or not so insignificant thing? Are those my possessions?

Christ is saying, if you want to follow Me, you have to release your ties to the world’s values. Christians just don’t seem to get it (do we really look that different than others in the world who do not know Christ in the area of our finances?). Yet, we are in such a position to really score for the Kingdom with the unrighteous mammon we have. It’s really quite an opportunity. As Paul says:

1 Tim. 6:17-19 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [18] Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

We can invest our silly money in building our fellowship by supporting those who minister, are burdened, are effective at following God’s lead, teach, and establish a vibrant ministry.

Just as important are the greater ramifications of the Great Commission, to reach all the people groups of the world for Christ. The opportunities to support missionaries in this endeavor are many. This is only becoming a bigger issue. As our American $ drops like a rock, it costs more to minister overseas.

Related to this, but perhaps even more significant is that the same amounts of money we spend on cable TV, CDs, candy, fast food, cigarettes, etc… could go a long way with the brothers and sisters working in the less developed if not impoverished parts of the world where Christianity has wide open doors and people are under severe hardship. I’m not saying just throw your money somewhere to make yourself feel better. One needs to look into how ministries are making a difference and is it just social relief or is the Kingdom of God being built.

But in this ever shrinking world, we have a responsibility to share with those brothers and sisters less fortunate than us (2 Cor 8:13-14) … and why not, I got to believe it will go to building the Kingdom of God way more than what I would have spent it on.

Related to this is the fact that the pressure on the poor countries of the world is only increasing. The price of staple foods (rice, corn, wheat, etc…) has recently skyrocketed 50%. Countries that were already spending over 50% of their income are going to be devastated.
We spend less than 10% of our income on food, on average. It’s going up for us to, but the thing is, we for the most part buy processed foods, like Corn Flakes. I heard on an NPR article that the cost of the corn that goes into a bowl of delicious Corn Flakes has gone up from about 10 cents to 20 cents, a fraction of the total cost since most of the cost is in the processing (which has not increased in price too much). However, poor people do not buy Corn Flakes, they buy corn or rice… which has gone up 50%… if it was costing them at least ½ of their income to buy food, now it will cost them at least 75% of their income. This is very disheartening.

    We are a culture with all it’s energy focused on “making it”. And we have for the most part. From an article in 2001 (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2001/12/wade.htm) referring to data from the United Nations which dates back to 1989, the 20% richest people in the world possessed nearly 83% of the wealth of the world. I couldn’t find how much it’s changed since then, but I can’t imagine it’s changed that much in the opposite direction.

    We’re in that 20%. The reality is that the rich clip_image001get richer at the expense of the poor; that just ain’t right. Why are we so fortunate? Why is the child born in Rwanda who has nearly a 20% chance of not making it to his or her 5th birthday because of very treatable diseases caused in large part by malnutrition born there? I don’t know why, but it certainly is not because I deserve to be born here. If I really look at things the way they are, I sure as hell shouldn’t take it for granted.

    But the fact is we have an amazing opportunity. Since we have wealth, one thing we know is we have a ministry of sharing it!