Dissertation – Full (Currently Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2)

Last updated: Feb. 24 @ 9:20am


As the day breaks, morning dawns on another beautiful Saturday morning. It is the first week of September and everything about the day seems perfect. Around 7 a.m., youth athletes wearing uniforms, long socks, and shinguards begin pouring into the park from every direction. Parents carrying lawn chairs, coolers, water bottles, siblings, cell phones, and blankets follow behind the influx of players. Soon the quiet park is buzzing with people; players, parents, siblings, friends, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have all come to this park that now looks a bit like a festival. Slowly the park begins to look less like a festival and more like a soccer complex, as games begin and fans find their places on the sidelines. The young players are off and running and the fans are cheering loudly for every effort. However, this picture is incomplete. In this park, as in every other park across the country on this Saturday morning, parents, players, and coaches participant in American sport unaware that underneath the beautiful day in the park lurks a dark and dangerous intensity.

Although many of the players are enjoying “The Beautiful Game,” there are many more complications outside of the game itself. While it may still be fun, there are many other complications for these high school age athletes like scholarships, parental pressure, and an increasing pressure to win. This attitude is not relegated to soccer, but encompasses all American youth sports, from football to soccer to baseball to cheerleading. From a young age, sports become all consuming, often taking up more time than any other activity outside of school. Most serious athletes compete year-round, part of the year spent with a high school team and the rest of the year with one or more club teams. It is an all-consuming passion to compete in this way. Young athletes participate in weekly training sessions as well as sometimes weight room sessions to improve their strength and conditioning and video sessions to review their performance and upcoming opponents. To add to the intensity, many serious athletes are forced to specialize in a sport by age 12-14 because the competitive nature of high school and club sports requires a full commitment.

Aside from this enormous commitment and necessary dedication, the nature of American youth sports is devastatingly intense. Every season news channels report on a story about a coach or parent who abused, assaulted, or murdered a coach, parent, official, or even opposing player after a game. Are most of these parents or coaches individuals with gang violence in their background? While there is no way to make a precise statement about the background of all of the coaches or parents who have engaged in this behavior, many of these offenders are from suburban America, not from gangs in the inner city. This paints an interesting and not entirely positive picture of American suburban and supposedly primarily Christian culture. Some youth leagues have banned all parents from games, arguing that parents are the problem with youth sports.

However some research has shown that this is not the case. An example of this is seen in Stein, Raedeke, and Glenn’s work looking at parental involvement and child enjoyment. They found that children’s enjoyment was highest when their parents were moderately to highly involved in their sports experiences.[1] Clearly fixing youth sports is not a matter of kicking parents out, despite the prevailing media attention that often indicates this is the solution. Without parents, youth athletes would not enjoy their sports as much and would be left without much of the support they need while participating in sports. In order to take a better look at this undoubtedly complex issue, it is necessary to take a step back.

Perhaps the violence problem isn’t caused by the sports, but is really a sign of a deeper problem. Heinzmann indicates that “sports rage” by parents appears to be much overemphasized in today’s media.[2] Parents rage in many places including grocery stores, roads, and at shopping centers across the country on Black Friday. Interestingly, this occurs in a society where tolerance is considered to be the ideal for the vast majority of Americans.[3] So while many complain about the violent and intense nature of American youth sports, perhaps this should lead us to a much larger issue, a national, cultural, and philosophical issue rather than a sports issue. Perhaps the darkness underlying youth sports is not primarily due to the intensity with which it is pursued or its inherent violence but something much more sinister and pervasive. This “something” is the result of a worldview where to hold beliefs that are fundamentally opposed to each other is acceptable. Tolerance can be held as a primary virtue alongside an utter rejection of the rights of an opponent on the sports field. This dualism, birthed out of a fundamental belief in relativism that most Americans have accepted in one way or the other, is an acceptable part of American culture. Unfortunately many Christians involved in efforts to minister in youth sport have failed recognized the connection between culture and sport. American sport culture cannot be separated from the overarching American culture because the two are so inextricably intertwined that it is impossible to tell which one is driving the other. Because of this interwoven nature, any discussion about anything related to American sport must begin with a discussion about overriding American cultural ideals, beliefs, and themes.

The present overriding cultural philosophy of the Western world one of postmodernism, an overused and somewhat nebulous concept that has recently been used to define many different situations and ideas. As James Smith explains,

Postmodernism is an admittedly pluriform and variegated phenomenon. And postmodernism does not make a clean break from modernism. There are both continuities and discontinuities between modernity and postmodernity. The most significant continuity is that both deny grace: in other words, both modernity and postmodernity are characterized by an idolatrous notion of self-sufficiency and a deep naturalism.[4]

A thorough definition of postmodernism is quite beyond the scope of this work; however, one aspect of postmodernity that is particularly relevant is the prevailing thought embracing relativism. While postmodernity is undoubtedly much more complex than just an idea or two, the postmodern mind generally doubts two philosophical ideas: the existence of objective truth and the notion that there are global cultural narratives, also called meta-narratives, that appeal to universal reason. These two doubts form the basis for much postmodern thought. While many condemn postmodernism and the doubts professed, it is essential to remember that neither modernity nor postmodernity is a friend to Christianity. Modernity caused Christians to re-evaluate their faith, beliefs, and traditions in a way that parallels what is happening in current times with postmodernity. Human beings have an affinity towards reactionary extremism, swinging from one extreme to the other in a constant cycle of overcorrection. The modern church has embraced modernity and run with it, a phenomenon seen in modern apologetics, modern worship services, and modern church buildings. Was Jesus a modern thinker? History tells us definitively no, but was He postmodern? No, He was not that either. Accordingly, Christianity is neither a modern nor postmodern idea; it is quite outside any cultural constraints or understandings that human beings put on it. Rather than attacking postmodernism as a demonic thought pattern that must be destroyed by the modern church, this work will seek to look at some of the cultural patterns that have risen with the coming of postmodern thought.

The first to be addressed is the idea of relativity in regards to truth and salvation. Postmodernism has fostered the idea that everyone sees the world differently, creating interpretations of the world rather than objectivity. It is difficult for the modern mind to grapple with this question without feeling a sense of despondence over the loss of objectivity in the world. But the idea that everything one believes is an interpretation does not mean that all interpretations are equally true, though this idea is being pushed in popular culture. If one man’s interpretation of a woman’s body language is that he believes she wants him to ask her out on a date, but his friend’s interpretation is that the woman wants him to please never talk to her and to leave her alone, the truth behind the interpretation will not be equally valid for both men. Both men had interpretations of the situation, but only one man had a true interpretation because the woman cannot want the man to both ask her out on a date and leave her alone. However, popular culture has taken this postmodern idea to mean that all interpretations are equally valid.

This belief extends to religion in particular because all religions are believed to be true simply because they are all interpretations of the world. This is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of Jesus’ claim to be the one singular path to God.[5] Because of Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God, following His teaching must lead to truth or all of His claims should be avoided. Someone who professes to be a Christian cannot take the truth and morality taught by Jesus and the Bible as a relative idea because then he or she no longer believes in the Gospel. Despite the obvious incompatibility of the Gospel of Christ with this type of relativistic view of truth, many Christians have embraced the idea that all interpretations are equally true. This creates a dualism similar to the kind seen on the sports field with simultaneously professed tolerance and rejection of the rights of opponents. This dualism results from embracing postmodern relativism, in the sense that all interpretations are relatively true to each other, as a core belief. Once an individual has accepted relativism as a core belief, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with adding additional beliefs, congruent or incongruent.

This tragic system of incongruent beliefs has led to a dire situation in the American church and American Christianity. In several ways, the American church appears to be dying, stumbling on towards extinction due to several factors. Youth are leaving the church in large numbers, fleeing to many different religions or beliefs ranging from Islam to agnosticism to Buddhism to mysticism. Some believe that Christianity is not working when the rubber meets the road. Others believe that there are many options so restricting oneself to just one is incredibly foolish and simplistic. Many see Christianity as a collection of bigots, people full of hatred towards anyone unlike themselves, especially abortionists or homosexuals, who ascribe to with different beliefs or values. Christians have not done themselves any favors in this regard because many professing Christians who have not been washed under by the wave of relativism are part of the Christian sub-culture that is completely disconnected from the non-Christian world. They have no idea how they are viewed and are completely oblivious to the changing cultural values around them.[6] Because of this the church is experiencing a dichotomy with some members disengaged from Christian foundations and some members disengaged from American culture as a whole. These attitudes have created a situation in the church were many people are incredibly disconnected and the church body is much weaker as a result.

It is in this culture that American sport serves as a bastion for the majority of Americans. In 2010, over 106 million people watched the Super Bowl, making it the top-rated telecast in United States history.[7] This, along with the amount of money spent on sports in America reveals how much Americans love sport. The sports industry in the United States is estimated at being a 414 billion dollar industry, making sport a significant player in the American market.[8] Not only is this a huge market, but it is a significant cultural aspect of American life. In order to minister to this large sports population, numerous sports ministries have developed in the past century. Organizations like Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes in Action (AIA), and many others have been trying to reach out with the words of the Gospel to this population. There are many para-church organizations like these that are focused on sports ministry, but many have different methods. Some organizations have been very successful in identifying high profile Christian athletes and encouraging them to utilize their platform as an athlete to speak to other athletes. This is how AIA began as a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1966; the original focus was to create a basketball team that shared Christ at halftime. AIA still forms basketball teams who travel around the world with the purpose of witnessing to their opponents and fans. Other organizations have characteristically focused on sports camps, using these as opportunities to engage athletes spiritually and physically. Still other organizations engage students in small groups in high schools or colleges in an effort to impact them for Christ. One such organization is FCA. Their stated mission is, “To present to athletes and coaches and all whom they influence the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church.”[9] Within the Church itself, some churches and denominations have sports ministries to reach the athletic in their congregation. Often these include softball teams, flag football tournaments, or soccer and basketball teams for children.

The obvious question is that of their success: how successful have Christians in the United States been at reaching the athletic realm for Christ? As with any question, a proper answer to this involves a mutual understanding of the definition of the terms involved in the question. One sports ministry leader hinted that the sports ministry movement had been successful, quoted by Hubbard as saying, “The image of Christianity in America used to be that it was for a bunch of old ladies. Now athletes are being Christians. That is saying it’s cool to be a Christian.”[10] But is the “coolness” of Christianity a measure of the success of the sports ministry movement? Shouldn’t the real measure of success be something much more real and much less nebulous than “cool”? Shouldn’t the real measure of success be the degree to which sports culture looks more like God’s culture? Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (New American Standard Bible). The Church’s job is to know what has been bound or loosed in heaven in order to bind and loose those things on earth. Jesus’ instruction on prayer supports this view by revealing a desire for heaven to be reflected on earth. He taught, “Pray then, this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”[11] This is also seen in Jesus’ submission to the Father’s foreordained will in preparation for His death on the cross.[12] If this is Jesus’ intention for the Church, why would it be any different for sports ministry done in His name? Success from God’s viewpoint does not involve numbers or speeches. It does not involve the acceptability of Christianity within athletic circles. Success in Christian ministry of any kind involves the transformation of sinful individuals into Christ-followers who know God, understand the kingdom of God, and make earth look more like heaven through their lives. It is by that definition of success that any program, church, or individual must be judged. Anything short of that can never be called true success.

This paper will argue that by this definition of success, American sports ministry is failing, much like the American Church is failing. The Church can never make its goal to be cool or popular or accepted because this was never Jesus’ goal in his ministry. The Church in general and sports ministry in particular must follow Christ’s example in all things, including making disciples of all nations. Disciple-making has become an afterthought, almost a footnote in many sports ministry books. Twenty chapter books often dedicate one or two chapters to this task, even though it is the most important aspect of what Jesus did on earth. Research has shown that discipleship is not terribly high on greater body of Christians’ priority lists, with 31 percent saying that it was in their top two or three priorities.[13] The argument for evangelism over discipleship will always be made, especially in sports ministry: If there is nobody to disciple, what good is discipleship? Unfortunately in America today, the small numbers of youth who still consider themselves Christians are quickly disappearing because their faith has not been strengthened by discipleship. They are so spiritually weak and lacking in godly knowledge and wisdom that they are unable to stand against the philosophies of American culture. They do not understand why the fact that everyone has a different interpretation of the world does not mean that all interpretations are equally true nor why relative truth is incompatible with the Christian faith nor why the story found in the Bible should not qualify as a meta-narrative. As a result, they slide into American culture and either add to their faith or abandon their faith completely for another equally acceptable religion.

Christian athletes are no different, despite the vast numbers of sports ministries. For them, the lie is often even more subtle and devious than just American culture. Sports culture is its own sub-culture, with its own set of specific beliefs and values. For the Christian athlete, these beliefs and values must be attacked head on and destroyed, building a foundation on Christ alone. Many of these Christian youth athletes do not see American sports culture bringing them slowly into deception because, like their non-athletic counterparts, they have not been given a foundation through discipleship. As American culture becomes increasingly relativistic and postmodern in thinking, American sports culture in particular has become an atmosphere where to be Christian and be unchanged is an acceptable dualism. In order for American youth athletes to become and remain biblical Christians, sports ministries must begin reproducing disciples of Christ within the athletic community by providing: a foundation of love and trust, quality time, godly instruction, and examples of what Christianity looks like in a postmodern athletic world.

The first thing necessary to understand the type of discipleship needed for the American youth athlete is insight into American culture as a whole. No youth athlete operates in a vacuum, so to discern what is taking place, we must take a much broader look at the world surrounding them. From here we investigate the Church to find out what is happening within the body of Christ and examine if the Church is meeting the needs of these athletes. As we look in Chapter 3 at sports culture, the picture of what Christian youth athletes face becomes unmistakably clear. Sports ministry developed to address these issues specifically so Chapter 4 considers how sports ministries have influenced the sports world and to what degree they have been effective. Once we have a full view of the issues, needs, and struggles of a youth athlete, we explore discipleship in general from a biblical perspective and then its relevance specifically to American youth athletes in 2011. The final section of this work is the application of biblical discipleship in a real world setting. It includes a sample curriculum and an example of a youth athlete discipleship program. It is my hope that through this work Jesus Christ will be glorified through a greater knowledge by His people of the enemy’s schemes in American culture and a greater understanding of the weapons He has given to believers to fight and win the battle for the minds and souls of youth athletes.

Chapter 1 – Relativism

“Oh, excuse me! I’m so sorry,” I exclaim, nearly running headlong into a parent who is coming out the door as I am going in. “No problem,” she smiles in reply. As I step inside the door, I see several familiar faces and am surprised to see so many faces. Last week there were only about twelve teenagers and this week around twenty had showed up. It’s Tuesday night, 7:00 p.m. at a home in Colorado where a group of students in Fellowship of Christian Athletes regularly meet. This week the house smells wonderfully of lasagna. After twenty minutes of talking, laughing, and eating, the group settles into the living room for the more serious portion of the evening. “This week we are going to do something a little different,” says the leader. “This week we (the leader motions to himself, me, and the third leader) are going to ask you questions instead of you asking us questions.” The students nervously look around at the rest of the group, unsure as to the direction of these questions. “What kind of questions are they?” asks one high school junior. “All types,” the leader replies. “Some are serious, some not so serious. But you must answer whatever question you are asked. You cannot say ‘I don’t know’ and you cannot answer in a one word answer.” All the students look a little stressed but nod in assent. The twenty-seven questions written by the leaders can be placed into four general categories: life after death questions like “How do I know I am going to heaven,” factual questions like “What is circumcision,” theological questions like “Who is Jesus,” and worldview questions like “How do you know what is true.”

I am anxiously awaiting the first question about worldview, as this is the question that will reveal the true foundation of our students’ lives. What a person believes about truth has possibly more impact on the other areas of their life than any other singular belief. On the twenty-third question it arrives: “How do you know what is true?” The student thinks for a moment or two. “Truth what you believe to be true,” he explains. “It would be hard to define what truth is because people don’t agree on that. Truth is what you want to believe in. You have to know what truth is to you.” He elaborates a bit, struggling to articulate his ideas. At the end of his answer, we all clap for him as we do for everyone’s answer, thanking him for his honesty. The next person is asked a different question about the salvation of someone who commits suicide and the everyone in the group’s thoughts move on. Except me.

Although I continue to be engaged with the group, reading a question when it is my turn, my mind cannot move past the student’s statements about truth. The idea that truth is not solid and knowable certainly is not new. Jesus faced a similar statement when He was questioned by Pilate. Pilate asked Him if He was a king, to which Jesus replied, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” [14] To this Pilate replied, “What is truth?”[15] The word used for truth in this verse is ά[RZ1] λήθεια, “The content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened – ‘truth.’”[16] In this instance, Pilate voices a thought that many have had for thousands of years: What is truth? If what has actually happened historically can be questioned, how much more can something nebulous like morality be questioned? As Christians, there must be truth because there must be a Savior who must be the way to God who must have taught how to follow Him. So how is it possible that a student who has been meeting with us regularly for over a year when asked about truth not only defines truth as very subjective and vague but fails to mention the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything resembling the Gospel as truth? It is not only possible, but according to research from 1995 to 2009, it is probable.

According to survey results published by The Barna Group in 2009, less than 0.5 percent of adults age 18-23 have a biblical worldview.[17] For the purposes of this study, a biblical worldview was defined as belief in absolute moral truth, the accuracy of the Bible, the actual existence of Satan, the inability of a person to earn their way into heaven, Jesus Christ living a sinless life, and an all-knowing, all powerful creator God who still rules the universe. Of course, there are possibly individuals who may believe in absolute truth but reject one of the other beliefs defined as necessary for a biblical worldview. However, the survey also found that only 34 percent of all adults age 18 and older believe in absolute moral truth. Considering that over 11 percent of adults over the age of 23 were found to have a biblical worldview, compared with less than 0.5 percent of the younger group, certainly much less than 34 percent of the younger group believes in absolute moral truth.

Though this survey was of adults rather than teenagers, the situation looks much direr when looking at teenagers alone. Over 13 years earlier, George Barna found that 91 percent of teens agree with the following statement, “What is right for one person in a given situation may not be right for another person in a similar situation.” [18] This parallels another survey done in 1995 where only 7 percent of adults held a biblical worldview.[19] These results have changed very little since 1995, going from 7 percent to 10 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2009. While these statistics may seem startling, questioning the average Christian about their worldview probably would not return the same results. Most Christians assume that their worldview is based in biblical truth, with very little to support that belief. How can it be that so many Americans who call themselves Christians can hold views so contrary to biblical teaching? A cursory look at American culture may indicate the problem, but an in depth look would no doubt pinpoint the issues affecting the American people.

In Television

24. If there is a show where the hero is constantly changing between the hero and the villain, it would be 24. Keifer Sutherland stars as Jack Bauer, an agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) who is constantly working to save someone. Jack is also constantly on the wrong side of the law, being placed in situations where what is normally wrong is clearly Jack’s only option. Jack tortures criminals, sometimes killing them, runs from government agents, and will break the law whenever he deems that it is necessary. He is portrayed as being the best agent CTU has ever had, even though some who are currently in charge may not agree because of his storied history of doing whatever is necessary to save the day. Throughout the 192 episodes, Jack deals with evil of all kinds including biological, chemical, and nuclear threats, cyber attacks on CTU, presidential assassination attempts, corrupt government officials, and internal killers and spies. Jack is always short on time, with each series taking place during a 24-hour time span, and long on incredibly important decisions. He is repeatedly portrayed as someone who does not care what everyone else thinks of his actions because he knows that he did the best the he could in the moments he was given to make a decision. Almost without fail everyone learns in the end that Jack did what was necessary to achieve the ends that saved the most lives, or the most important lives in cases like saving the president.

In spite of the frequent gore and language, all eight series of 24 prove it to be an intriguing and addicting show. Viewers were always left on a cliff-hanger at the end of an episode, often with someone’s life hanging in the balance. However, for almost every episode, Jack faces a moral question along with an impossible task. Shows like this constantly place the hero in a moral dilemma to subtly imply that morality is very relative to the situation in which it is applied. 24 is particularly confusing because Jack is always found to be above reproach in his search for truth and justice.  Is it right to torture a criminal to obtain information that will save the lives of everyone in Los Angeles? Is it justified to defy your boss because you have a hunch that they are being deceived? These are just two of the thousands of ethical questions the viewer encounters while watching 24. Is it wrong to ask ethical questions? Definitely and emphatically the answer is no because grappling with such issues is necessary to find the truth, which it must be mentioned is usually Jack’s goal through his actions. However, is it true that the end justifies the means? This is clearly shown to be Jack’s ethical motto in almost every episode and it is not a biblical ideal. The truth is that most people will never be in a position where to kill one person saves one million, but they will use the same justification in other situations in their lives. Maybe Jack really is always doing the best thing, but maybe he isn’t. Maybe the undercurrent of utilitarianism that flows through 24 is carrying the viewer further away from the idea that there is truth and a constant morality and closer to the idea that truth and morality are more fluid concepts that really cannot be defined.

Dexter. Actress Julia Stiles explains Dexter has “a moral code, even if it is a different moral code.”[20] The man she is speaking about is the main character in the Showtime drama that bears his name. In this show, Michael C. Hall stars as Dexter, a Miami Metro Police Department blood spatter analyst who is also a serial killer.[21] Dexter’s late adoptive father, Harry, identified Dexter as a sociopath from an early age, a condition resulting from him witnessing his mother’s brutal murder as a child. Harry, a Miami cop, taught Dexter “The Code of Harry” to ensure that he only satisfies his murderous desires by killing people who are truly guilty and have escaped the justice system. Harry also taught Dexter how to interact with people on a somewhat normal level to avoid being caught. This “different moral code” provides much food for thought in regards to truth, lies, ethics, morals, and standards. Viewers are aware that right and wrong will be questioned immediately just by the nature of the show.

Fans have commented that they enjoy the show because they relate to his dark side and his struggle between right and wrong.[22] The question of right and wrong cannot help but come to the forefront of every episode because Dexter is constantly living a double life, murdering and dismembering people who by The Code of Harry are guilty. This double life reaches a climax when Dexter’s wife Rita is brutally murdered by a serial killer in the first episode of season five. Rita never knew about Dexter’s double life and Dexter feels guilt after her death about not being truthful with her.

Later in season five, Dexter finds and saves a woman named Lumen, played by Julia Stiles, from certain death at the hands of a group of serial killers. By the time he rescues her, she has already been raped and tortured and as a result, she eventually joins Dexter as his partner to eliminate the men who tortured her. By the end of season five, Dexter and Lumen have killed the fifth and final rapist. At this point Lumen no longer feels the need to kill and she decides that she can no longer stay with Dexter.

Although Dexter and Lumen kill only those who are guilty of rape, torture, and murder, the subtle message conveyed through the show is that morals and ethics are a fluid concept, subject to change with changing circumstances. Dexter is shown to have a moral code of his own, a moral code that if adopted by the populous, would lead to anarchy. This underlying message undergirds the entire show, indeed convincing viewers that sometimes truth is not truth, right is not right, and wrong is not wrong. The gore, sex, and other adult themes in the show are simply a veneer over the more important questions Dexter stirs inside viewers. The writers of Dexter cause the viewer to ask, what is truth? What is right and good and real? If one has dark desires to kill, should he or she adopt the moral code of Harry? Who are we to judge, the writers seem to be saying. We do not live in Dexter’s mind; we only see that he is doing his best with what he has been given. In spite of the truth of this statement, without an anchor of truth, Dexter will take the viewer on a long ride to the middle of relativism.

Many viewers have taken this ride with Dexter; the season five finale had over 2.9 million viewers and Dexter has had over 6.7 million “likes” on Facebook as of January 27, 2011.[23] That accounts for a significant number of fans, especially considering Dexter has a TV MA rating for adult content, graphic language, graphic violence, and brief nudity. However many shows are rated for mature audiences but do not tackle the issue of truth and morals so directly. Why is Dexter so popular? Aside for entertainment value alone, Dexter intrigues the postmodern mind by appealing to their sense that everyone’s view of the world is an interpretation. We cannot interpret the world the same way Dexter does and therefore have no way to judge him or say that his interpretation is wrong because it is different. The writers of many other shows encourage these thoughts as well, but in a much more subtle way, using comedy instead of crime drama.

Modern Family. This comedy involves significantly less blood than Dexter, but still provides many interesting insights on the nature of truth and morality. This show is based on the families of Jay Pritchett, his daughter Claire Dunphy, and his son Mitchell Pritchett. Jay has re-married to a much younger Columbian woman named Gloria and has a stepson named Manny. Claire is married to Phil and they have three children, Haley, Alex, and Luke. Mitchell has a male partner of five years named Cameron Tucker and they have an adopted Vietnamese daughter named Lily. The show is a mockumentary with the purpose of “exploring the many types of a modern family.”[24] While exploring the modern family, viewers are treated to some serious moments and more than a little comic relief. The show is quite funny but contains serious themes about truth and morality.

It is no longer wise to simply state, even to a Christian audience, that the acceptance of alternative lifestyle choices reveals a deeper statement about relative truth and morality. Many Christians believe that homosexuality and other sexual preferences are choices that must be allowed for and accepted within the Church and American culture. Because everything in the world is an interpretation, no judgments can be made about how others see their world or the choices they make as a result. This assumes that all interpretations are true, an idea that is continually stated throughout American culture. This belief alone is a symptom of the larger issue and will be addressed in the following paragraphs as part of the analysis of Modern Family.

By the very nature of the composition of the families showcased in Modern Family, the initial assumption is that any family is a good family, a theme that is repeated in another comedy television series that will be highlighted in a later section, 30 Rock. This basic premise flies in the face of a biblical description and the traditional Church’s view of marriage, but it is important to distinguish between the types of diversity highlighted in the show. While the interracial marriages shown on Modern Family have long been taboo by traditional and Christian communities, the Bible does not condemn this. It has been a great error for the Church act in ways that are racist and separatist and now these actions have come back to haunt the Church. The stigma on interracial marriages has thankfully been largely cast aside in American culture. However, the stigma on homosexual, bisexual, and open marriages has largely been cast aside as well. By operating outside Paul’s teaching to the churches in Colossae and Ephesus that all races and genders are equal in Christ, the Church has opened itself up to great error in the opposite direction.[25]

The issue of sexual orientation is a very sensitive one and one that has often been mishandled by the Church and evangelicals in general. Signs that declare “God hates fags” or “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” are not helpful to anyone. Christians who are faced with same-sex attractions but believe the Bible is clear on God’s view are often left with no one to help them who is willing to love them through it, though the Church has reached out to other examples of sexual immorality like pornography and heterosexual sex addicts. Phrases like “love the sinner, hate the sin” are difficult, if not impossible to live out in daily life. The Church has largely failed the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community by running from them rather than to them. These types of sexual issues are very complicated, intertwined with identity and actions, and everyone has their own story. Therefore, this section is not intended to be a full treatment of such a hotly debated and greatly argued topic, but rather a presentation of the Church’s traditional view.

Marriage, and therefore the family structure, is only defined one way biblically, between a man and a woman.[26] Alternative lifestyles are never condoned, though many pastors, academics, and lay-Christians reach a different conclusion. These issues are spoken about frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament. Considering only the New Testament, Jesus, James and the apostles, Paul, Peter, and Jude speak several times about sexual immorality of all kinds.[27] Many of these are excused by Christians who feel that lust alone is being addressed, not loving, one partner homosexual relationships, unions, or marriages. However, Paul speaks of homosexuality in several places, including this very specific reference in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

The word άρσενοκοίτης, [RZ2] translated “homosexual” that is used by Paul in this letter to the Corinthians is the Strong’s number 733, defined by Thayer’s Lexicon as “one who lies with a male as with a female.”[28] Thayer’s goes on to explain that this word is derived from two words, άρσην, “a male,” and κοίτη, “a bed”. Additionally, Louw and Nida mention that in a certain context, this word may refer to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse.[29] In case there is further doubt as to Paul’s meaning, he also uses the word μαλακός, translated “effeminate” in the NASB. This word indicates the passive male partner.[30] It is impossible not to note that many contemporary scholars who are more skilled in Greek have interpreted these words differently, but through the last 2000 years of church history, these definitions have been accepted as God’s truth to the Church.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul provides a much deeper understanding of unnatural sexual passions. He explains that all unrighteousness occurs because of the suppression of the truth about God. Instead of worshiping God, mankind has chosen to worship other things and this leads directly to the lusts of the heart and degrading passions:

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their persons the due penalty of their error. (Rom. 1:24-27)

This connection between truth and sexuality is critical in understanding the many ways that American culture has been misled into believing that sex of all kinds is part of the human identity. The problem with sex runs much deeper than it may appear on the surface, revealing an idolatry problem. The American people have placed created things in the position of the Creator God and as a result, have been given over to degrading passions and sexual obsession, both heterosexual and homosexual. Sex in America is not just a physical action but has become a god in and of itself, an identity. Almost everything is about sex, even things that have no real connection to sex have been turned into innuendos about sex. Sex will be revealed as a major theme throughout the rest of this chapter as we further dissect aspects of American culture.

For Modern Family, as most other television comedies, sex plays a major role in the plot for each episode. In one particular episode in season two, the three Dunphy children walk in on their parents having sex. All three children are teenagers or pre-teens and are shocked and horrified by what they saw. The rest of the episode centers on the parents trying to decide what to say to their children and their children’s reaction to the situation. The children leave the house for a little while because their parents have not yet come down to address the situation. While they are out, Luke tells his sisters that his friend Jacob’s parents are getting a divorce. Haley responds by telling him, “He [Jacob] will get used to it. Half of my friends’ parents are divorced.” [31] Alex echoes her sister’s statement adding, “Mine too.” Luke responds, “So it’s a good thing Mom and Dad still do sex.”

This dialogue shows the children’s acceptance of divorce as a cultural fact. Of course the children do not know why all their friends’ parents have gotten divorces but it is accepted as a fact of life. The children of divorced parents will get used to it just like they would get used to a new house or a new car. Spouses can be exchanged for new ones and everyone will “get used to it.” The lie in this dialogue is that divorce is common and therefore normal. Though about half of American marriages end in divorce, making it all too common, it is a mistake to consider it to be normal. Jesus taught in Matthew that though Moses allowed the Israelites to divorce, it was not intended to be that way. He went on to say, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”[32] Young people who hear dialogue like this assume that divorce is a normal occurrence, contrary to biblical teaching.

The parents finally decide to have a conversation with their children, explaining that sex is a normal and natural human function that they should not be embarrassed about. Claire tells the children, “As long as you are in a committed relationship with consenting adults, there is really nothing to be embarrassed about.” Scripture does not imply in any passage that sex is normal and natural outside of marriage. Paul speaks about this directly to the Corinthians when he teaches:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body… Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? …Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body but the immoral man sins against his own body. (1 Cor. 6:12-18)

Paul instructs the Corinthians that though they are free in Christ from the law and legalism, not everything is good for us. Sex outside of marriage is less than ideal because with every partner, the body is connected as one. When writing to the Ephesians, Paul also uses marriage and the concept of two becoming one flesh as a shadow of the covenant relationship between Christ and the Church.[33] This shadow reveals God’s heart behind marriage and sex and provides additional insight into what God considers sexual immorality. Sex that does not fit into the appropriate function of Christ and the Church must not be the way that God intended.

Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains, “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it better to marry than to burn with passion.”[34] He goes on to tell them, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”[35] Paul is teaching that marriage, one that is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, is good if you cannot restrain your sexual urges. It is much better to marry than to constantly struggle with celibacy. However, there is no indication that to be unmarried and sexually active is an option open to Christians, no matter what culture they are surrounded by. The issue is not that sex is bad or sinful or wrong, but rather that it, like everything else in the Bible and the world, was made to point to the glory of God. When anything is taken out of its rightful place and moved into the position of chief importance, God is no longer being glorified. The glorification of sex and America’s statement that sex is always good between consenting adults is contrary to God’s design of sex as a reflection of Himself.

30 Rock. What happens at a New York TV network located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza? According to 30 Rock, a lot of drama with many sexual connotations is what happens. In one episode in season five, the network executive Jack and his girlfriend Avery tell Jack’s mother Coleen that Avery is seven months pregnant. Coleen becomes very upset because they are not married, choosing to ignore the fact that Jack was born out of wedlock with a man named Milton. To combat her hostility towards him, Jack invites Milton to the Christmas dinner. Coleen does not know that Jack even knows about Milton so she is very surprised when he shows up at Christmas dinner. The entire Christmas dinner is a huge explosion of hurt feelings, jealousy, mean comments, and sexual innuendos. Milton, a hippy with 1960s ideals, is upset about Coleen’s objection to the pregnancy out of wedlock, saying, “There is no wrong way to make a family.”[36] As has been previously discussed, this is an idea far from biblical. A recent study found that children who do not have a father present have sex earlier than their counterparts who always had a father present.[37] Returning to the previous discussion about sexual promiscuity indicating departure from God’s original intent, it follows that a family made outside of God’s design would produce children who are inclined towards the same things.

The closing scene of the episode is a rendition of “O Holy Night,” played while showing scenes of the different characters. The star actor of the network is shown at a home for battered women who are watching his latest comedy film. They are laughing and enjoying themselves while watching three characters in an extended scene of the film vomiting at a Christmas dinner. Jack is shown in the hospital, smiling while inciting his parent to begin arguing with him. He is enjoying the moment because for a moment, he has a mother and a father who are doing what mothers and fathers normally do. Tracy, the best friend of the show’s protagonist Liz Lemon, is shown singing “O Holy Night” with her cross dressing ex-boyfriend Paul. Both Paul and Tracy are cross dressed, Paul as Natalie Portman from the movie Black Swan and Tracy as former Pittsburg Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swan. The juxtaposition of a song about the birth of Jesus Christ with vomiting, arguing parents, and a cross dressing is a creation intended to make the viewers laugh. But the lie underneath this scene is that for a moment, all is well in the world. Everyone is where they should be, enjoying this Christmas moment. Of course this is not true because an argument is never a place of happiness and gender confusion is another outworking of what happens when sexuality is placed as god. The situation is created in such a way that the viewer is happy that things have been resolved at the women’s shelter and between Jack and his parents and Tracy and Paul, happiness they then project onto the closing scene, mistaking vomiting, argument, and gender confusion for a happy resolution. The inclusion of “O Holy Night” adds to the moment, signifying Christ’s approval at the happy ending. Everyone walks away with good feelings about the show and its resolution, not realizing that their mind has accepted this lie as truth.

Glee. Although there are many other television comedies that focus on sex, one show that includes sex plus many other solid concepts turned fluid is Glee. A musical comedy-drama about a high school glee club called New Directions, Glee focuses on the lives of the students and teachers at William McKinley High School. As a musical, most issues are dealt with in musical fashion like “Chicago” and the show was meant to be lighter and more for escapism, rather than a serious drama like Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, Lie to Me, The Mentalist, 24, or Dexter.[38] Within this structure, the writers have much to say about relationships, sex, and society as a whole. Although there is a definite focus on sex of all types, as most every glee club member has had some type of sexual contact with the others by season two, Glee makes many other statements about American life outside of just sex. In fact, at least two main characters on the show will not have sex with their boyfriends, though they are not opposed to making out with them.

In episode nine of season two, Finn’s (ex)girlfriend Rachel finds out that he had sex with Santana, a girl in the glee club who joined in order to destroy it from the inside, while the two of them were broken up. Rachel is a very upset because she is still a virgin and Finn had lied to her by telling her that he was as well. In revenge, Rachel makes out with another glee club member, Puck. When Finn comes to apologize to Rachel again for his earlier mistake with Santana, he learns about Rachel’s revenge with Puck and breaks up with her. As he is walking away, Rachel cries, “You said you would never break up with me!” Finn replies, “I never thought you would make me feel this way.”[39] The message in this scene is that sometimes it does not matter what you say, if your feelings change, you can take it back.

However, the Bible does not allow for feelings to alter statements or promises made. The Lord commanded through Moses that a man “shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”[40] Jesus also addressed this during the Sermon on the Mount teaching that His followers should not make vows but should “let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”[41] Human beings are commanded in both the New and Old Testaments to keep their promises and be faithful to what they have said. Though some have said faithfulness and truthfulness are simply cultural ideals, the Bible explains that honesty and faithfulness are commanded for all people in all cultures because all people are created in God’s likeness.[42] In Exodus, God passes in front of Moses and proclaims, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth….”[43] The word translated as “truth” is defined by Strong’s as “stability; (figuratively) certainty, truth, trustworthiness.”[44] Faithfulness is part of God’s character and therefore should be reflected in human beings as His image bearers. Because He keeps His promises, He desires His children to do the same.

In regards to feelings being a way out of promises made, Proverbs has much to say, including that “there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” and that “he who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.”[45] Jeremiah takes this idea a step further by explaining, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”[46] No one can trust that their feelings will lead them in the right direction. Following feelings and the heart will ultimately lead to destruction because the heart is not innately good but wicked. In addition to a wicked heart, as Paul struggles to explain difficult concepts to the Christians in Rome he finally exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”[47] Even if our hearts were not wicked, we still would not be able to understand God and make decisions based on our understanding, feelings, or wisdom. We cannot understand God’s ways because we are finite and He is infinite; therefore, feelings are not a reason for making decisions, and certainly not for breaking promises.

In Music

Television is not the only avenue where relative truth is being portrayed as a fact of life. One of the easiest ways to convey this message of relativity is with statements about how every person is their own person, their own boss, their own king. Personal individuality and relativism in this fashion are both aspects of modernity which have grown with the coming of postmodernity. Though relativistic philosophically begins with the observation that diverse moralities exist in the world, the brand of relativism accepted by most non-philosophical Americans is inextricably intertwined with individuality.[48] Expressions of this individuality are very prominent in musical themes, as will be seen in the examples that follow.

It Gets Better. The Center for Disease Control reported that suicide is the third leading cause of death of youth, behind accidents and homicide. In response to a September 2010 reported spike in suicides among youth who identify themselves with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) community, Dan Savage began the “It Gets Better” campaign.[49] This campaign is largely a movement intended to encourage LGBT youth not to commit suicide and to stay the course. Life gets better after high school, if you are just alive to see it happen. Hundreds of people, including politicians, actors, actresses, sports stars, and average citizens have sent in videos to add to the project. Jay Kuo, Blair Shepard & Broadway also created a song in support of the project and The Trevor Project, a hotline for LGBT youth. Although suicide prevention is certainly necessary, “It Gets Better” is filled with statements that cause concern for anyone looking for truth outside of the individual human heart:

Just defend the part of you that’s true

Find yourself and you will find the way


It’s time you took the stage[50]

If the human heart is deceptive and wicked, is it possible to look within to find the truth? Finding yourself will never show you the way, according to Paul who, citing Old Testament prophets, insisted that “there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”[51] According to biblical truth, looking within can only lead to evil, not to good. Many other songs reflect this idea of looking within, looking to the truth inside who a person is to find the way. Individualism of this sort is rampant in the lyrics of many other popular songs as well.

Firework. Katy Perry, an artist who has soared to popularity with several recent hits, enjoys playing music that is honest and real. This honesty has produced a pop artist with a great following and not a few songs with mature themes. As mentioned earlier, mature themes are only a symptom of a larger problem. The idea that a person really is a functional god because they are unique is a far more devious lie than blatant praises of sexual misconduct or sexual preferences. An example of this is seen in Katy Perry’s “Firework”:

‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on show them what you’re worth
Make them go, “Oh, oh, oh”
As you shoot across the sky

You’re original
Cannot be replaced[52]

While it is true that people are originals, made in the image of God, the focus of this song is to encourage listeners to “show them what you’re worth.” God gives people value by making them in His image; however, songs like this set up the listener as god. People are not given value because they are gods, but because God is glorified in making them. Just as Americans have done with making sex a god, the individual has also been made a god. There is no mention of the purpose of being made an original or of being made with value.

In the same vein, many Christians love Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians when he speaks about how Christians have been blessed, chosen, predestined, adopted, given grace, redeemed, forgiven, given an inheritance, and sealed.[53] However, what is so often missed is that in those eleven verses Paul uses “He” or “Him” in reference to God or Jesus Christ no less than twenty times and the phrase “in Him” five times. Although the Christian has been given all of the things he or she is so encouraged by, the purpose of Paul’s statement is to speak about God’s glory, not the gifts given. He makes this clear when he includes phrases like, “… He chose us… that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” “…that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory,” and “…you were sealed in Him… to the praise of His glory.”[54] The purpose of the blessing is not the gift of blessing, but rather the glory of the Giver. This misguided purpose constantly proves to be a snare to idolatry in the guise of self-esteem or individualism.

What Faith Can Do. This individualistic mindset has permeated more than just secular music; it is also found all through popular Christian and even worship music. One popular Christian song that falls victim to this mentality is “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless:

You gotta find the strength to rise

But you’re stronger, stronger than you know

You gotta face the clouds to find the silver lining
It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard
Impossible is not a word
It’s just a reason for someone not to try

You will find your way if you keep believing

When the world say you can’t/ It will tell you that it can[55]

This song speaks of faith, the power of faith and the fact that faith makes impossible things possible. Of course it is true that faith is necessary and critical, but biblically speaking only faith in Jesus Christ is of any worth at all. David sings, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”[56] Faith and trust must be in the right thing to be of value. Faith alone will not save, if that faith is not in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name is never referenced in Kutless’ song; in fact, there is no reference to God at all. Someone can sing this song and never feel the need to trust in anything outside of him- or herself because only faith is needed. The band sings many songs beautifully written to bring glory to God but of all the songs on the worship album with “What Faith Can Do,” only that one made the WOW Hits 2011 album, the yearly “30 of Today’s Top Christian Artists and Hits.”[57] This song is not alone in the Christian music genre as a song promoting individualism.

Worship Songs. Many worship songs also speak of the individual more than of the God who is worthy of worship. Songs like “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman speak more about the individual than God. The purpose of this song is to return to worshiping God rather than just singing songs, but the point of the song is that the singer is singing to God. But as a worship song, shouldn’t the song be more about God than the singer? Another example is “Your Love Never Fails” sung by Jesus Culture. Despite the fact that the song tells of the unending love of God, the lyrics point to the singer being of great importance, somehow at the center of a song written about God. The bridge repeats, “You make all things work together for my good” (emphasis added).[58] This statement is scriptural, based on Romans 8:28 where Paul points out that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). But Paul makes this statement to exhort Christians who were being persecuted and tortured for their faith, which he makes clear a few verses later in 8:35 when he declares, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” The purpose of God’s love for His creation is to show His glory. In verses 16, 17, and 18, prior to his statement in verse 28, Paul explains, “… we are children of God… if indeed we suffer with Him [Christ] so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The glory to be revealed is the glory of God, not the glory of mankind. The idea is not that God works all things together for the Christian’s good as an end unto itself, but to reveal His glory. These things may seem trivial and inconsequential but in a world that is constantly proclaiming that the individual is the center of the universe, it is necessary to be clear about who and what deserves that title.

How Did We Get Here?

Observation of these themes through some of the most popular television shows and music begs the question of how we got here. How did American television go from Leave it to Beaver to Modern Family? Were artists like Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley similar to Katy Perry in their time? Has American culture always been this way undetected or is the relativism that is foundational for the younger generation something new? In Ecclesiastes, the wise man tells his readers, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”[59] If this is true, these ideas must have come from somewhere and must be a recycling of old beliefs into new packages.

In order to untangle the complicated web of ideas Americans are now faced with, it is necessary to return to history. Nothing exists without roots, complicated though they may be, and a reconstruction of the past will be helpful to understanding the present and the future. Though some have used Henry Ford’s statement that “history is more or less bunk” [60] to discount the use of history in understanding the present and future, others like C.S. Lewis have explained that “…nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”[61] It is this history which concerns us most, this history that will explain how American culture has spiraled far away from a biblical foundation, this history that will help to rediscover how we can return to a foundation with Christ as its cornerstone and the Bible as its revelation. Without this history, Americans are left in a trap of all things being equally true and their children, the youth of America, with no way to grasp anything with substance. It should be noted that the history of relativism in relation to Greek philosophy and the Renaissance and Reformation are immensely large topics, and it is far outside the scope of this work to provide a complete explanation of them. The following summary is merely the tip of the iceberg, a concise history of incredibly complex issues.

Greek Philosophy. Relativism and the idea of relative truth cannot be traced back to one source, especially because of the many types of relativists. However one of the founding fathers of relativism was Protagoras of Abdera, a Greek contemporary of Socrates in the fifth-century BC. Though others had made relativistic statements before his time, he is known as the first philosopher to speak about relativism definitively. He is most famous for his statement that “man… is the measure of all things, of the existence of things that are, and of the non-existence of things that are not….”[62] None of Protagoras’ work has survived, except fragments that were quoted in the works of others which did survive. The previous quotation is one such example, coming through Socratic dialogue recorded by Plato in Theaetetus. With the little context for this statement, one cannot know precisely what type of relativism is being defended; however it seems that Plato attributes to Protagoras the idea that truth “should be relativized to a framework or perspective,” a type of relativism known as alethic relativism.[63] Plato disputes this idea through the rest of the work, but one problem with relativism is that its goal is not to be proven.

The idea that relativism could be proven is quickly self-defeating because arguing for relativity means arguing that there is an absolute, that relativity is absolutely true. Because of this, “The best that a relativist could hope for – from within some reference frame – is to show that the absolutist program might be implausible, unlikely to succeed, issue hollow promises, or other such dissuasions.”[64] As a result, the relativistic argument has continued from the time of Socrates until today and will invariably continue until the end of time. Since its official introduction with Protagoras, relativism has gone through many philosophers who have refined, expounded, and defined more clearly its direction in postmodernity. In the late second and early third-centuries, skepticism which is defined as the “systematic doubt of all knowledge claims and justifications” also grew as a result of Greek thinking.[65] Skepticism during the time of the Greeks and Romans was often intertwined with relativism and though these have been clarified into separate philosophies, even today the thoughts of the average person blur these two ideas together.

Renaissance & Reformation. For several hundred years, thinking on relativism and skepticism was limited due to the rise and then dominance of the Church. But through the humanism that rose to prominence during the Renaissance, the West began to focus on man instead of God. This humanism brought mankind back into the center of the universe, the position Adam and Eve hoped to achieve in Genesis 3. It emphasized that men (women were not yet able to participate, though their time would come) were individuals, able to think independently and view things though their own eyes. The rebirth of classical literature, thoughts, and art brought with it several new avenues of thought. One of these was a renewed desire to read the Bible in its original language, a desire that led directly to Luther’s Reformation. The second was a revival of skepticism and relativism through the independence of human thought. By the late fifteenth and early sixteenth-century, the Church was ripe for such ideas.

Like every event, the Reformation did not spring from nowhere but rather had roots in many serious concerns about the Church. A complete explanation of the Reformation is outside the scope and purpose of this work, but a short survey is necessary in order to understand the roots of relativism within the Church. In the late fourteenth and early fifteen-century, men like John Wycliffe and John Hus, forerunners to Martin Luther and later John Calvin, raised concerns about the immorality of the clergy, the Church’s ownership of property, the glorification of the pope as head of the Church rather than Christ, and the view that the Church rather than the Bible was the sole authority for the Christian.[66] They saw the many ways the Church had strayed from biblical teaching and urged the Church to reform its practices in light of the Bible rather than tradition. In 1415 at the Council of Constance, about thirty years after his death by stroke, Wycliffe’s remains were exhumed, burned, and thrown into the river because of his heretical views. The council also ordered Hus to be burned at the stake for his refusal to recant. Though this Council and two others were held between 1409 and 1449, the Church failed to make significant reforms from within. In 1517 when Luther made his statement to the Catholic Church about the sale of indulgences through his 95 Theses, the Protestant movement officially began. Though Luther was not a humanist, it is undeniable that the renaissance of the time influenced his actions. He argued that “his only authority… would be neither the pope nor the church, but the Bible.”[67] Luther’s belief in sola scriptura, using the Bible as the only authority, was based in his understanding of the Bible as the inspired word of God, completely sufficient as such.

This summary is not intended to affirm or deny Luther’s statements or the Protestant Reformation, but rather to highlight the door that was opened to relativistic thought. Undoubtedly when Luther made his statement, the Church had left little option open to him because of the rampant corruption and desperate need for reform. However, Luther’s stand against the Church and on his interpretation of the Bible made it possible for many others to do the same, some with accurate interpretations and others with inaccurate interpretations. Notably, Luther was not the first to disagree with the established church leadership. The Great Schism of 1054 found two groups who disagreed so intensely that Christianity was divided into an Eastern and a Western branch. Out of these branches came the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. Although both parties have sought reconciliation in the last millennia, the two churches have never reunited on a level that could be considered a real union. And of course, before and after the Great Schism, many individuals and groups have risen who objected to the Church’s interpretation of various scriptures and doctrines, the vast majority of whom were condemned as heretics. However, Luther and others during his time like John Calvin and Huldreich Zwingli did something that had never occurred in church history on this large of a scale; they asserted that their interpretation of the scriptures was equally valid to that of recognized church authority and encouraged their followers to interpret them individually as well. After Luther, many Christians have formed new Protestant denominations because of their interpretation of the Bible. For a visual representation of these denominations and dates of their inceptions, see Figure 1 below.[RZ3]

Figure 1. Family Tree of Denominations

Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines (Torrance, CA: Rose, 2005), 179.

One thing that should be noted is that for the first 1024 years of the Church, it was undivided. Many heresies rose and were quenched during this time, but the Church as a whole stood united. The Great Schism occurred and it was another 500 years before another significant division took place. At that point, division became commonplace, with the above figure showing no less than 32 different denominations that exist today. Of course this is a very incomplete list, with the World Christian Encyclopedia counting over 33,800 denominations.[68] Clearly Luther’s statement in 1517 had significant reverberations through the Church, signaling to believers everywhere that individual interpretations are welcome.

2: The American Church

No one can grasp the American Church of 2011 through one book or even through one hundred books because of the vastly diverse opinions, viewpoints, belief systems, doctrines, denominations, leaders, books, blogs, and television shows. Despite this, it is absolutely necessary to understand the state of the Church within American culture to begin to understand the world in which young Christian athletes live. No subculture operates in a vacuum and although these athletes may need support, encouragement, information, and a reconstruction of values unique to American youth, American culture and the American Church have created the air in which they breathe, the thoughts they use to express themselves, the example for them to live out, and the very foundation that their lives are built upon.

It has been almost five hundred years since Luther’s 95 Theses; in some ways nothing has changed, but in many other ways everything has. Christians are still discussing predestination, grace versus works, and other questions that nobody will every answer completely until Christ returns and explains it to us. Outside these questions about doctrine and beliefs, something much bigger looms on the horizon. The world is changing, especially the Western world of Europe and the United States, and people no longer think the way that they did two hundred years ago. Modernism has begun giving way to postmodernism, argued by some to be the completion of modernism and argued by others to be a reaction against modernism. Either way, postmodernism takes modern though and expands it much further than any modern thinker conceived. The postmodern ideas of Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Michel Foucault have slowly crept into the modern mind, changing the way that many people think and relate to the world.

In spite of these new ideas, the Western world is far from united in this movement from modernity to postmodernity and it will doubtless take a couple more generations before the U.S. can be said to be solidly postmodern. One thing keeping the U.S. from fully embracing postmodernism is the larger American Church’s firm grip on modernity, white-knuckled and unwilling to move into another realm of thinking. As mentioned in the introduction, one must remember that modernity was and is no friend to Christianity. Modernity promotes the self and self-sufficiency as gods and encourages idolatry through naturalism, a trend that continues into postmodernity.[1] Modernity breaks everything down into scientific and well reasoned arguments, a trend that the postmodern mind rejects but the Church has embraced. In reality, the Church looks modern because it has sought to be relevant to modern people, giving up some aspects of pure Christian belief to achieve this relevancy. A similar thing is happening in the American Church with postmodernity with some Christians seeking to be relevant to postmodern culture, at the expense of other aspects of pure Christian belief.

Some Christians like Phyllis Tickle, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, or Brian McLaren would argue that the current struggle within the Western Church, of which the American Church is part, is simply a reflection of what happens every five hundred years or so in church history. Tickle references Gregory the Great’s institution of monasticism during his papacy in the late sixth and early seventh century as the first example of this, followed by the Great Schism in 1054, followed by what she has termed, “The Great Emergence” of the twenty-first century.[2] Other Christians like Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung explain that this “Great Emergence” and the Emerging Church movement which ascribes to this hypothesis, is really not an acceptable direction for the American Church to move.[3] The tension between Emerging Christians and those who are not emerging is twofold. The first area of tension is simply that the Emerging movement is different from mainstream Protestantism and as such, is misunderstood. This is understandable because everyone alive today has only ever experienced a modern church and though Christians want to relate to the world around them, it has historically been difficult for the greater church body to adapt to culture in a way that retains the true message of the Bible and engages people on their level of understanding and worldview. Invariably something is always lost and often what is lost is regained in the next swing of church trends. But this leads directly to the second major tension, the concern of the non-emerging that the emerging have made grievous errors in their attempts at relevancy, abandoning areas that are necessary for the biblical Gospel and therefore preaching a gospel that is no longer the Gospel.

“The Great Emergence” is most clearly seen in the younger generation, those around age thirty and younger. But even those must be separated into categories because many on the older side of this generation, those age twenty-five and older were not necessarily raised in a culture of postmodernism and much of their views come from an attitude of something resembling contempt for the modern American Church arising from their skepticism. The younger generation is filled with youth who have been surrounded with postmodern culture from birth and they are increasingly unchurched rather than skeptically churched. Since the focus of this work is on the younger generation of churched youth, older group of postmoderns and the unchurched younger group will not be discussed except in relation to our primary group of young churched athletes. While many youth are simply unchurched, increasingly large numbers of youth who have grown up in church are leaving Christianity or walking out lives completely inconsistent with the Gospel while still claiming Christianity. The problem the Church faces is how to rescue this generation in a way that is both consistent with the Gospel, relevant to American culture, and faithful to Christ.

The Traditional (Modern) Church

Perhaps one of the best ways to begin an explanation of the modern American Church is to use the words provided from God to encourage and correct seven churches of Asia in Revelation.[4] The revelation given to John begins with Jesus speaking to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. The statements made to the churches are generally accepted to be at least twofold, speaking to the specific seven churches of the day and also describing the seven conditions of the Church universally throughout time.[5] Other prophetic interpretations are put forth by scholars, but for the sake of this discussion, only these two interpretations will be used. In the following passages, Jesus makes it clear to the Church that He does not desire any church to be so closed that people cannot get in or so open that anyone can come in. Three of the churches focus primarily on correcting this type of extremism. Understanding these tendencies towards extremism that result in error in American Church in 2011 will lead our discussion on how to best reach the Christian youth athlete[RZ1] .

It is impossible and foolish to place a church body consisting of thousands of churches into one category without risking being guilty of an over-simplified blanket statement. The summary and evaluation that follows is a generalized view of the American Church as a whole, not a statement about individual churches, denominations, or areas of the country. Clearly there are churches, denominations, and areas that will not fit into this explanation, but a more broad view of the Church as observed culturally is absolutely necessary for understanding the times. As a general statement, the American Church of modern times would probably align best with Christ’s word to the church in Ephesus. Jesus exhorts the church in Ephesus,

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev. 2:2-6)

The Ephesian church was commended for several things, not the least of which was an intolerant view of sin, evil, and false witnesses. As Kinnaman and Lyons explain, this is often how American Christianity has been portrayed, not only to those outside the Church but those within. Kinnaman’s research found that 91 percent of Americans outside the Church and 80 percent of those inside the Church between ages 16 to 29 describe present-day Christianity as “antihomosexual,” with 87 and 52 percent, outside and inside the Church respectively, using the word “judgmental” in their description.[6] This view of present-day Christianity may seem too harsh and far from flattering. But considering Jesus’ indictment, this must have been similar to how the Ephesians were viewed by those outside the Church at that time. Truth without love creates an environment where Christians are better known for what they oppose than what they support, a condition all too prevalent in the modern Church.

To add to this already uncomfortable assessment, the third most frequently indicated phrase used to describe present-day Christianity by those ages 16 to 29 was “hypocritical,” 85 percent outside and 47 percent inside the Church agreeing with this depiction.[7] It seems that there are two interconnected reasons why this view is so prevalent with non-Christians. The first is that American Christians lives are strikingly similar to the lives of non-Christians. Another study conducted by Barna in 2007 revealed, “When asked to identify their activities over the last thirty days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them,… to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk…” and several other activities not condoned in the Bible.[8] The second reason for the view of Christians as hypocritical is that 37 percent of born-again Christians responded in Kinnaman’s studies that “lifestyle – doing the right thing, being good, not sinning” was the most popular in listing the top two or three priorities for a Christian.[9] Since Christians are claiming that their lifestyle is the most important part of Christianity while having remarkably similar lifestyles to those outside the Christian faith, it is unsurprising that the present-day Christian is considered to be a hypocrite. Both Christians inside the Church and non-Christians outside seem to be getting this message loud and clear; though Christians are more likely to be understanding of other Christians’ struggles with sin and therefore less likely to consider their brothers and sisters as hypocrites, still almost half of the young Christians surveyed agreed with the statement. Christians who feel their lifestyle is the most important priority would logically focus on the lifestyle of others, making them judgmental rather than loving and at the same time, showing them to be hypocritical because they do not actually live morally superior lives.

To the modern Church’s credit, it has largely rejected sins like sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, and adultery in the face of a culture that has accepted many of these things as normal and natural. This is reflected in Jesus commendation to the Ephesians for their rejection of the Nicolaitans. There are several thoughts about who the Nicolaitans were including the identification of them as followers Nicolas of Antioch or as a group who elevated the clergy over the laity. However, in context, neither of these views are supported by the text. Because of this, some scholars connect the Nicolaitans to the teaching of Balaam, explained in Revelation 2:14-15, and believe this group was guilty of teaching Christians to eat foods sacrificed to idols and participate in sexual immorality.[10] Jesus tells the church that He hates those things as well, commending them for their intolerance.

Present-day Christians struggle with studies like the ones quoted above that were conducted by Barna because they see their intolerance for sin as a badge of honor, something to be commended for like the Ephesians were. But the Church has failed to recognize that intolerance for sin coupled with a lost love for Christ is nothing to be commended for. Jesus commands the Church to repent of this sin and return to the things that she did in the beginning. Jesus does not tolerate a Church the does not love people yet claims to love God. The Apostle John explains, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”[11] Jesus was clear in His teaching that love is a necessary part of the life of a Christ follower. If repentance does not happen, Jesus indicates that He will remove the lampstand from its place, a serious reality that demands our attention.

The Relevant (Emerging) Church

In many ways, the development of the emerging church is a reaction against many of the perceptions of those outside the Church. Many within the Church recognize that the world is changing, that postmodern people view the world in a different way from their parents, and that the image of Christianity is not altogether a good one. The term “emerging” encompasses many different types of churches, leaders, and followers including people who would describe themselves as being emerging, missional, or emergent. Generally those who believe they are emerging focus on trying to reach postmodern people in a gospel-centered way that they often describe as including being missional. Many inside and outside the movement have noted that there are multiple “streams” within the concept of “emerging.”[12] Mark Driscoll, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle who considers his church emerging, was an early part of the emergent church movement but has distanced himself from the movement because their theological direction was not “a place he wanted to go.”[13] He explains that the group who initially started the emerging conversation has “morphed into three teams.”[14] He defines the first stream as the “relevance” stream which includes men like Dan Kimball and Donald Miller, men who truly believe in the Bible and the Gospel but are trying to use new ministry methods to reach a new different crowd.[15] The second stream he identifies as the “revisionist” stream or the emergent stream and the third, the “relevant reformed” stream.[16]

The Emergent Church

The second stream, best known as the emergent movement, is important in this discussion of present-day Christianity because although some believe movement hit its high water mark somewhere between 2000 and 2005, the ideas behind the movement will continue long after the labels have become defunct.[17] Pastor Driscoll argues that this movement follows the path that led to the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, a conversation that questions what God has said and results in the subtle manipulation of God’s word.[18] Within this movement are leaders like Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Leonard Sweet, to list a few of the more prominent writers, speakers, and bloggers. Just as the modern church is guilty of capitulating to culture to sell Jesus to the world, those in the emergent movement are often guilty of the same thing. In Revelation, after Jesus addresses the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna, He continues with a word to the church in Pergamum:

I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. (Rev. 2:13-16)

And then to the church in Thyatira:

I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality… But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them — I place no other burden on you. (Rev. 2:19-24)

Jesus commends both of these churches for their love, and faith, but He does not leave them simply with a commendation. Both churches were guilty of accepting teachings that God hates, a serious word of caution for every church after them. Pergamum was rebuked for the very thing Ephesus was commended for, the teachings of the Nicolaitans. They were guilty of allowing people to teach that it is acceptable to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. It is not enough to simply hold fast to the name of Jesus and love what He loves if the church does not simultaneously hate what He hates. These churches show us that doctrine is important and even though we must be careful not to hold too tightly to the modern way of organizing everything into neat and tidy boxes, we must not think that what we believe is less important than how we believe. The idea that it must be one and not the other is itself a modern idea; it is not what or how but what and how.

The idea that what Christians believe is no longer important emerges in emergent leaders blogs, books, and interviews. In A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, Spencer Burke speaks about grace as something that people opt-out of rather than something that is received through belief in Jesus. Burke defends universalism and explains, “Universalism says that a theology of grace implies salvation for all, because if grace could be granted only to some people and not to others, based on an arbitrary issue of culture, geography, and luck, it is in fact no grace at all. I concur with that idea, but I also believe that we must take the concept one step further and realize that grace is bigger than any religion.”[19] Burke makes a serious error in assuming that God is only gracious and that salvation is arbitrary. While arguing that grace should be universal and open, he simultaneously builds a wall around God confining Him to grace alone without considering that God is also perfectly just. Jesus says that no one can come to the Father except through Him, a statement that serves as a dagger for universalists.[20] Christians for 2000 years have joyfully died for the belief that grace is extended to only those who believe in Jesus Christ and that salvation is found in no other name. The early Christians were not persecuted for believing in universal grace but for being intolerant of other religions in the sense that they refused to concede that other gods were equal to Christ. A return to the beliefs of early Christians would invariably be more exclusive, not less.

Another example of holding loosely to Christian doctrine is found in Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, a book written by the movement’s most influential spokesperson that is essentially a second part to A New Kind of Christian which Rob and Kristen Bell refer to as their “lifeboat” in their search for meaningful Christianity.[21] McLaren speaks about the “Sex Question” and points to the failure of Christian’s current view of sex in light of sexual promiscuity in teenagers and high divorce rates, concluding, “A new kind of Christianity must move beyond this impasse and begin to construct not just a more humane sexual ethic in particular, but a more honest and robust Christian anthropology in general.”[22] As mentioned in chapter 1, human sexuality is notably very complex and far beyond the scope of this paper. However, it must be mentioned that McLaren flirts with the line between true to scripture and wishful thinking. In order to find a “more humane sexual ethic,” where does he intend on looking? Will he look to culture and science or to the wealth of scripture God has provided to the Christian? It is unclear throughout his book which of these sources will prove more weighty in his final conclusions. Christians must be very careful about using the Bible as a guide to culture rather than culture as a guide to the Bible.

The emergent church desires to recapture much of the mystery about Christianity that has been lost in the modern era. Those who are emerging in all three streams generally see that much of the love has been lost from the Church and that Christianity has been reduced to a list of rules about what Christians are against rather than what they are for. In addition to this, the modern church has reduced much of the Bible into a series of “blessings,” chopping up the Word into daily bites of happiness.[23] This causes the Bible to be fragmented and vastly misunderstood as a book God intended to convey uncomplicated hope and happiness to every person through the blessings of God. To combat this, many emerging Christians are promoting the Bible as a narrative, a story that cannot be broken up into statements but must be read as a whole to being to understand its meaning. On this point, the emerging Christians are quite right; the Bible was written as God’s story, a story about Jesus from beginning to end. All sixty-six books come together to show the world who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are as a result. The modern church has in some ways trivialized the Word by publishing devotionals that isolate verses without providing context and only using verses that support the publisher’s purpose (like the “blessing” devotionals). This causes much confusion because Christians no longer read their Bible in context and with an understanding that God had a larger purpose for inspiring each book.

But just as the churches in revelation receive praise and judgment for going from one extreme to the other, the emergent church takes the idea of the Bible as a narrative too far. The Bible as narrative cannot be separated from the Bible as authoritative and specific in its commands. Jesus was not confused about this point when He taught His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”[24] If the Bible can be distilled into one overarching narrative, why would Jesus instruct His disciples to keep His commands? Would He not have taught them instead to follow the story of God’s love? God wove the Scriptures together in a way far beyond human understanding, a fact that is attested to by the millions of Christians who have read the Scriptures and yet have not mastered them. It would be impossible for us to give more credit to God than is due to Him for His masterpiece. Why must we oversimplify the Bible into a brilliant story when it provides Christians with both God’s story and God’s instructions?

Beyond this oversimplification of the Word as narrative, the emergent Christians have too often moved the Bible out of the category of God’s writing and into the category of human writing. Phyllis Tickle explains the process by which the Bible has been moved from the inerrant Word of God to something else through the work of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Joseph Campbell.[25] The world has changed as a result of these men and she describes Campbell’s The Power of Myth as persuading “much of North American Christendom that exclusivity and particularity were a hard, if not impossible, sell.”[26] Since that time, Christianity has gone through a revamping and a re-understanding of what it is and should be. This line of thinking has developed into a view of the Bible as something much less than spiritual authority for a believer. Rob and Kristen Bell, leaders of the emergent movement, discovered “the Bible as a human product” and proclaim that “the Bible is still the center for us, but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery rather than conquer it.”[27] While the Bells are absolutely right in recognizing the mystery and depth of God expressed in the Bible, they go too far to believe in the Bible as a human product.  The Bible is a masterpiece given to the Church by God and to move God’s Word into a human category is to open the Church to grave error.

The churches in Revelation are judged for allowing teaching into their churches that is contrary to the teachings of Christ. The idea that Christians can view the Bible as a human creation rather than God’s inerrant word is not substantiated through Jesus’ teaching. Jesus quoted the Scriptures on several occasions and taught,

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-19)

Although the emergent leaders do not seem to have blatantly taught immorality to their followers, their inability to take a stand on what the Bible defines as truth and morality is a serious consideration for the authenticity of the movement as Jesus-centered. Issues like divorce, homosexuality, alcohol and drug use, and sex before marriage are all handled with the utmost of care and rarely addressed directly or biblically. Even if emergent leaders do still use the Bible as their primary means of understanding the world, if they do not teach their followers that the Bible is the primary way God has spoken to the Christian, what will stop the next generation from using the Bible and, for example, the Koran as their primary texts? In our efforts to reach American youth athletes, we must be careful to avoid the errors being made within the emergent movement.

The Missional Church

Although many youth may not have yet discovered the emergent church as an option, they will inevitably realize that their questions about faith and Christians require them to walk away from the Church or to find someone who is speaking a language they understand. Chapter 1 explained the cultural air American youth in 2011 breathe and the worldview that surrounds them. Thankfully the emergent church is not the only group of Christians striving to fight Christian stereotypes and to engage postmodern youth and adults. Both the “relevance” and “relevant reformed” streams of emerging theology are focused on providing biblical answers to today’s postmodern questions. One theme for both of these streams is the desire to be missional, defined by Scot McKnight as participating with God in His redemptive work, connecting with community, and “participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world,” which means acting like Jesus did during His ministry by treating bodies and souls.[28] A missional church recognizes the mistakes made by the traditional modern church of holding to the good but losing their first love and focuses on correcting that error. Driscoll and Breshears explain it this way, “Early leaders in the missional movement saw that many contemporary evangelical churches had slipped into an attritional ministry philosophy focused almost solely on bringing people into church buildings and events.”[29] A missional church seeks change the current view of Christianity as judgmental hypocrites by going out and doing community with those inside and outside of the Church. Keller provides the following five elements of a church living missionally: discourse without Christian jargon, the ability to tell a culture’s stories with the Gospel, providing theological training for Christians for their public life and vocation, real Christian community, and the practice of unity across denominations as much as possible on the local level.[30]

There are many churches across the United States who focus on having a missional attitude that emphasizes community and love rather than preaching and rules. One example of such a church is Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a church that in 2010 was listed by Outreach Magazine as the 30th fastest growing church and the 54th largest church in America.[31] As of February, 2011, Mars Hill has 9 campuses in 2 states, 8 in Washington and 1 in New Mexico. Though they have over 8,000 people who attend, the church is very committed to community. Pastor Driscoll constantly mentions the hundreds of community groups that exist around the city, emphasizing that they are an essential part of attending Mars Hill. He explains, “We intentionally connect the pulpit to our community groups so that after I preach, our people gather in homes to discuss the text or topic and share meals, friendship, prayer, accountability, love, support, and worship, not unlike house churches.”[32] This internal community focus also extends into the outside community and culture, an effort to counteract the Christian stereotype of “holy huddles.” Mars Hill attendees are encouraged to be biblical, repenting, students of culture, who contextualize the Gospel by using language the culture can understand, welcome the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, and live their lives counter-culturally by reflecting the love of Christ.

While missional churches are far from perfect, many of them are making an effort to connect with a culture that the traditional modern church has lost touch with. It is here where a discussion about reaching American youth begins, here where a bridge is being created between youth culture and Jesus, here where the Gospel is not marginalized but spoken without jargon or assumptions, here where the love of Christ can change lives, and here where youth can learn what Christianity is all about without stereotypes or confusion. In order to train Christian youth how to survive in a culture that does not understand nor desire to have anything to do with Christians, we must begin with an attitude that it is the Church’s responsibility to reach out, not to expect those who are confused, marginalized, or simply children of their culture to reach out to the Church.

[1] Gary L. Stein and Thomas D. Raedeke, “Children’s Perceptions of Parent Sport Involvement: It’s Not How Much, But to What Degree That’s Important,” Journal of Sports Behavior 22 (Dec 1999): 594 (591-602), in Academic Search Premier, http://teach.belmont.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=2574609&site=ehost-live (accessed November 27, 2010).

[2] Gregg S. Heinzmann, Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myths, and Videotape, (New Brunswick, NJ: Youth Sports Research Council, Rutgers University), under “Resources,” http://youthsports.rutgers.edu/resources/general-interest/parental-violence-in-youth-sports-facts-myths-and-videotape (accessed November 27, 2010).

[3] Kenneth Godwin, Carrie Ausbrooks, and Valerie Martinez, “Teaching Tolerance in Public and Private Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan 82 (Mar 2001): 543 (542-546), in Academic Search Premier, http://teach.belmont.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=4190367&site=ehost-live (accessed December 3, 2010).

[4] James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), Kindle edition, under “Apologetics and Witness in a Postmodern World” in Chapter 1.

[5] See John 14:6.

[6] See David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons , UnChristian (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007) for much more on how Christians are perceived in the United States by those who are not Christians versus how Christians perceive themselves.

[7] David Bauder, “Super Bowl 2010 Ratings: 106 Million Watch, Top-Rated Telecast Ever,” The Huffington Post, February 8, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/08/super-bowl-2010-ratings-m_n_453503.html (accessed January 31, 2011).

[8] Jack Plunkett. “Sports Industry Overview,” Sports Industry, http://www.plunkettresearchonline.com (accessed January 30, 2011).

[9] Fellowship of Christian Athletes, “About FCA,” http://www.fca.org/AboutFCA/ (accessed January 30, 2011).

[10] Steve Hubbard, Faith in Sports: Athletes and their religion on and off the field (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 5.

[11] Matt. 6:9-10.

[12] See Matthew 26:39.

[13] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 50.

[14] John 18:37.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domain (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:225.

[17] The Barna Group, “Barna survey examines changes in worldview among Christians over the past 13 years,” http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/21-transformation/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years (March 6, 2009) (accessed January 25, 2011).

[18] George Barna, Generation Next (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996), 31.

[19] The Barna Group, “Barna survey examines….”

[20] Showtime, “Reflecting on Season Five: Julia Stiles”, YouTube video, 05:20, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOJLjn0EGqA (accessed January 26, 2011).

[21] Showtime, “About the series,” http://www.sho.com/site/dexter/about.do (accessed January 26, 2011).

[22] Fan Forum, “Why is Dexter so popular,” http://www.fanforum.com/f295/why-dexter-so-popular-62930565/ (accessed January 26, 2011).

[23] Robert Seidman, “Dexter season five finale averages 2.5 million viewers,” TV by the Numbers, December 13, 2010, http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2010/12/13/dexter-season-five-finale-averages-2-5-million-viewers/75260 (accessed January 27, 2011).

[24] CBS Entertainment, “Modern Family on TV.com,” http://www.tv.com/modern-family/show/77270/summary.html?q=Modern%20Family&tag=search_results;title;1 (accessed January 27, 2011).

[25] See Col. 3:9-11 & Eph. 2:11-22.

[26] See Gen. 2:21-24, Mark 10:5-9, Eph. 5:22-33, & 1 Cor. 7:1-2.

[27] See Matt 15:19, Mark 7:21-23, Acts 15:28-29, Rom. 13:13-14, Col. 3:5, 2 Pet. 2:6-10, & Jude 7.

[28] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889). PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:733.

[29] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domain (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:733.

[30] Ibid, NT:3120

[31] Modern Family. Episode no. 37, first broadcast January 19, 2011 by ABC. Directed by Michael Spiller and written by Steven Levitan and Jeffrey Richman.

[32]Matt. 19:9.

[33]Eph. 5:31-32.

[34]1 Cor. 7:8-9.

[35]1 Cor. 7:25-26.

[36]30 Rock. Episode no. 90, first broadcast December 9, 2010 by NBC. Directed by John Riggi and written by Tracey Wigfield.

[37]Jane Mendle, et al, “Associations Between Father Absence and Age of First Sexual Intercourse,” Child Development 80 no. 5 (2009): 1471 (1463-1480), in Academic Search Premier, http://teach.belmont.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=44183273&site=ehost-live (accessed January 28, 2011).

[38] Michael Schneider, “Fox Greenlights ‘Glee’ Pilot,” Variety.com (July 23, 2008), http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117989408?refCatId=14 (accessed January 28, 2011).

[39] Glee. Episode no. 31, first broadcast November 30, 2010 by FOX. Director and writer unknown.

[40] Num. 30:2.

[41] Matt. 5:37.

[42] Gen. 1:26. See also 2 Pet. 3:9 and  2 Cor. 1:20 for more evidence of the faithfulness of God.

[43] Ex. 34:6.

[44] James Strong, Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary (Biblesoft, 2006), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), OT:571.

[45] Prov. 14:12 and Prov. 28:26.

[46] Jer. 17:9.

[47] Rom. 11:33.

[48] Steven Lukes, Moral Relativism (New York: Picador, 2008), 23.

[49] It Gets Better Project, “About,” http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/ (accessed January 26, 2011).

[50] Jay Kuo, Blair Shepard & Broadway, It Gets Better, from Broadway Sings for The Trevor Project album, Jay Kuo, 2010.

[51] Rom. 3:10-12.

[52] Katy Perry, Firework, from Teenage Dream album, Capitol Records, MP3 recording, 2010.

[53] Eph. 1:3-14.

[54] Eph. 1:4, 12, 13-14.

[55] Kutless, What Faith Can Do, from It is Well – Extended Edition album, Bec Recordings, MP3 recording, 2010.

[56] Ps. 20:7 (English Standard Version).

[57] WOW Hits 2011, WOW, 2010.

[58] Jesus Culture Band, Your Love Never Fails, from Your Love Never Fails album, Jesus Culture Music, 2008.

[59] Eccl. 1:9.

[60] Henry Ford, Chicago Tribune (1916).

[61] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behavior, and Beyond personality, ed. HarperCollins (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 49.

[62] Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Project Gutenberg, 2008), produced by Sue Asscher and David Widger, Kindle eBook from Project Gutenberg, locations 1596-99.

[63] Maria Baghramian, “A Brief History of Relativism,” in Relativism: a contemporary anthology, edited by Michael Krausz, 33. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

[64] Michael Krausz, “Mapping Relativisms,” in Relativism: a contemporary anthology, edited by Michael Krausz, 14. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

[65] Encyclopedia of Ethics, consulting ed. Susan Neiburg Terkel and ed. R. Shannon Duval (New York: Facts on File, 1999), s.v. “Skepticism.”

[66] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity through the Centuries: A history of the Christian Church, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 251-256.

[67] Ibid, 291.

[68] World Christian Encyclopedia: a comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world, 2nd ed., ed. David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). NEED TO FIND SECTION

[69] James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, under “Apologetics and Witness in a Postmodern World” in Chapter 1.

[70] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 19-31.

[71] Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Chicago: Moody, 2008).

[72] Rev. 1:10-11.

[73] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: ChariotVictor, 1992), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), under “The Seven Churches of Asia Minor.”

[74] Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 34.

[75] Ibid.

[76] The Barna Group, “American Lifestyles Mix Compassion and Self-Oriented Behavior,” http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/20-donorscause/110-american-lifestyles-mix-compassion-and-self-oriented-behavior (February 5, 2007) (accessed February 11, 2011).

[77] Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 50.

[78] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), under “Rev 2:15, Who Were the Nicolaitans?”

[79] 1 Jn 4:20-21.

[80] See Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” Christianity Today, January 19, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html (accessed February 15, 2011).

[81] Mark Driscoll, “Convergent Conference Session 3 – The Emerging Church,” The Resurgence, mp3 file, 13:20, http://theresurgence.com/2008/02/27/convergent-conference-session-3-the-emerging-church (accessed February 15, 2011), under “Media.”

[82] Ibid., 14:45.

[83] Ibid., 16:00-17:45.

[84] Ibid., 17:45 & 55:40-50

[85] Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), 134.

[86] Mark Driscoll, “Convergent Conference Session 3 – The Emerging Church,” 18:50-19:20.

[87] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 46-47.

[88] Jn. 14:15.

[89] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008).

[90] Ibid, 69.

[91] Rob and Kristen Bell in “The Emgergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, November 1, 2004, 2.

[RZ1]Wrong breathing mark

[RZ2]Wrong breathing marks… how important is this?

[RZ3]Make sure this says “next page” or “below” things change.

[RZ4]IN _____ chapter.

James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, under “Apologetics and Witness in a Postmodern World” in Chapter 1.

[2] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 19-31.

[3] Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Chicago: Moody, 2008).

[4] Rev. 1:10-11.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: ChariotVictor, 1992), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), under “The Seven Churches of Asia Minor.”

[6] Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 34.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The Barna Group, “American Lifestyles Mix Compassion and Self-Oriented Behavior,” http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/20-donorscause/110-american-lifestyles-mix-compassion-and-self-oriented-behavior (February 5, 2007) (accessed February 11, 2011).

[9] Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 50.

[10] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), under “Rev 2:15, Who Were the Nicolaitans?”

[11] 1 Jn 4:20-21.

[12] See Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” Christianity Today, January 19, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html (accessed February 15, 2011).

[13] Mark Driscoll, “Convergent Conference Session 3 – The Emerging Church,” The Resurgence, mp3 file, 13:20, http://theresurgence.com/2008/02/27/convergent-conference-session-3-the-emerging-church (accessed February 15, 2011), under “Media.”

[14] Ibid., 14:45.

[15] Ibid., 16:00-17:45.

[16] Ibid., 17:45 & 55:40-50

[17] Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), 134.

[18] Mark Driscoll, “Convergent Conference Session 3 – The Emerging Church,” 18:50-19:20.

[19] Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 198.

[20] John 14:6.

[21] Rob and Kristen Bell in “The Emgergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, November 1, 2004, 2.

[22] Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 190.

[23] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 46-47.

[24] Jn. 14:15.

[25] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008).

[26] Ibid, 69.

[27] Rob and Kristen Bell in “The Emgergent Mystique,” 2.

[28] Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” 4.

[29] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), Kindle edition, 217.

[30] Tim Keller, “The Missional Church,” June, 2001, http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional.pdf (accessed February 15, 2011).

[31] Outreach Magazine, The 2010 Outreach 100 Listings of America’s Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches, Lifeway Research, by subscription at http://www.outreachmagazine.com/magazine/recent-issues/3762-The-2010-Outreach-100.html (downloaded February 16, 2011).

[32] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods, 257.

[RZ1]IN _____ chapter.


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