Last summer at children's camp I had a near-death experience. The camp pastor had done his opening juggling act. He had the kids hooked. He told some funny jokes, then introduced the Bible story. Then he did it. He asked a rhetorical question about whether it was possible to earning your way into heaven through church attendance or good deeds. He was meet with a significant number of audible yeses.
I often times think of the brilliant and prophetic essay by the late Michael Spencer about the coming evangelical collapse. One of the places that such a collapse might be rooted is in a lack of knowledge that most Christians have about what they believe.
Spencer felt that the main culprit of this is the church. Oftentimes Sunday is a glorified self-help session with some singing thrown in. Why? I wonder if the reason for this proliferation of empty teaching is because some feel Biblical truth would be too controversial (not "seeker sensitive"?) or too dense for some. But whatever the cause, far too many believers have no consistent well-reasoned doctrine that they can lean on, or explain to those who might disagree with them.
I mean, isn't the most basic thing you should teach a child that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ? Isn't that more important than learning VeggieTales (which I will admit are catchy and fun), not to life, or even a specific Bible story?
It is very easy to criticize, but it is much harder to get it right.
Back to camp. I sat outside in the warm and sticky summer air with a young man who had responded to the camp pastor's invitation. I had been with this kid all week long. I asked him what has prompted him to respond. He said that there were problems at home and he gets angry a lot. He started to cry a little and I asked him why did he thought he needed Jesus. The little boy responded that he just wanted to be happy more.
I stammered and told him that I knew things were tough, but a relationship with Christ does not mean everything is roses. Things continue to be tough, but with Christ you have someone to help you through the tough times. I prayed for him, and he went back inside to the juggling pastor with rhetorical questions that the kids answered incorrectly. I stayed sitting in the grass, completely dejected, wondering where I failed to communicate the basics of the Gospel.
I never figured out where I got it wrong. Now K and I are back in Haiti. I find myself spending my morning praying for my students and wondering how I can communicate to them the truth of the Gospel, and not pervert it into a works-based, moralistic, God-is-a-genie-in-a-bottle reduction. I have no new answers.
Matt Chandler, a pastor in Dallas, has a video that I have streamed on YouTube a dozen times. He says he constantly preaches the Gospel to his congregation- a largely North Dallas church-raised that knows Christ. I want to have this approach with my students.
I am not a professional evangelist. But I want to make known, time and time again: God desires us, wants to have a relationship with us, and apart from that relationship your life is ultimately unfulfilled. I want them to know and experience that truth just as much as I want them to understand the US Constitution, what the Renaissance was, and when the 13 colonies were founded. I want them to know that they cannot earn God's love, have done nothing to deserve it, and can do nothing to lose it.
I want the next kid I sit with at camp or elsewhere to know exactly what (s)he is, and is not, going to get by following the Jewish rabbi (heck, I want the kid to even know Jesus WAS a Jewish rabbi). I think the only way I can do this is to talk about it time and time again.