Tuesday, January 08, 2008

non-negotiables and Young Life

Well, there are some interesting articles coming out about Young Life and The Non-Negotiables of Young Life's Gospel Presentation. As I graduated college and was coming off a stint of student staff with YL, I honestly was wondering when this type of document would come out and try to establish from the top down, certain criteria by which the gospel was to be shared and told within the organization. The Non-Negotiables act as a sort of litmus test for staff members, though YL has said they will not make all staff members sign the document yet YL has already fired an area director and accepted the resignation or has fired 9 others related to the area director in North Carolina.

I come from a pretty strong YL background and have a lot of friends in those circles, many of which have or do read this blog. I'd be interested to hear your reactions to the articles one in Christianity Today and another in Christian Century, or even the Non-Negotiables. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I have had some problems with the formulaic approach of club talks and what it means to "share the gospel" for some time now, and that the non-negotiables worry me a bit. Specifically the often emotional manipulation that can come in focusing on sin first rather than the love of God, resulting in students wanting to be saved from hell rather than being motivated by love or the story of God's action in the world and our invitation to join God. Also here are some blogs talking about stuff:

Tony Jones- Something is Wrong at Young Life
Rick Lawrence- Heartbreak and Controversy
Mark Van Steenwyk- The Gospel According to Young Life

This isn't a specific critique of YL in our area because it has been some time since I've been involved in the actual work of YL in our area, and I'm not trying to say that they are all bad people at the top of the organization or anything. But I do have some serious questions, and am a bit disappointed in the top-down approach of forcing staff to work under a document, besides the point that theological training is not a necessity from the organization's standpoint. So how can staff who've not necessarily had the theological training to know whether or not such a form is helpful or detrimental deal with some of the nuances of the argument? That is not to say that theological training is necessary, but certainly would be helpful in this discussion.

I've said this to others before, but I think that YL and Crusade, etc. and other organizations that focus on a certain aspect of the Christian life, i.e. evangelism, and are not linked to specific churches or denominations, have a lot to reckon with in light of post-modernism. The critique of the enlightenment and its inherent epistemological presuppositions and the claim of the Bible being the authority without acknowledging the various interpretations and methods of interpretations will pose problems in the future for organizations the are sort of battering down the hatches and creating non-negotiables.

I was pleasantly surprised in the non-negotiables document to see a plurality of viewpoints being expressed about soteriological issues, while the Scripture piece seemed to say that the OT pretty much existed only to point to the NT and Jesus, as though the OT is not good in and of itself and important in the story of God's salvific work in the world.

That's enough for now, I look forward to hearing what some of you might think about this recent activity in YL...peace!


Tom said...

Scott McKnight had an interesting discussion on a podcast from Emergent Village recently discussing a more holistic view of the Gospel that takes into account the meta narrative of the Bible rather than a view of "Cross-only" gospel.

It seems that when we pretend the Gospel is only Jesus' death on the cross and fails to recognize the resurrection than we take away the hope for a Gospel that changes people now and lives now. It is like we're afraid of the work of the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of people today. We're afraid of the Kingdom message because we'll have to abandon the worldview we hold so tight to. We'll have to be born again. Do you think declaring one's doctrine participates in hendering the hope of participating in the work of the Spirit? No wonder so many leave the church.

Lauren said...

Thanks for this post Josh - I had no idea that such a controversy was going on in the YL realm.

I read the YL document, as well as all the articles and the blog posts that you linked to. And after reading everything, I still don't quite understand what the differences are that have caused such an uproar.

From what I can gather, the issue is with the fact that God's salvation has already occurred for humankind, but some people think that the YL doc says that you have to repent, and profess faith in Jesus, in order to be saved. In reading the text closely though, I didn't see where that was in the document. In fact, I believe that it says in there that our repentance has nothing to do with our salvation, but comes as a response to the salvation that Christ accomplished on the cross.

In regards to the "formulaic" talks: This goes both ways for me. On one hand, I think that they can become too generic and boring for kids, presenting the Gospel in the same way, semester after semester. On the other, as a working professional and volunteer leader who has to sometimes give the talks, it is extremely helpful to have a guideline for the semester already planned out. Planning the talks are always extremely difficult for me, but having a format that works is helpful because then all I have to do is come up with the content.

Also in thinking about the Catholic Church and the liturgical calendar year, YL's formula doesn't really differ much from them. When the liturgical year enters "Ordinary Time" you find that priests give homilies on the "Person of Christ". When we enter "Lent" and "Palm Sunday", you usually find homilies on our sinfulness and the story of the crucifixion. And then Easter, of course, is all about the resurrection.

I think that in YL's person of Christ talks, we often emphasize Jesus's love for others and how He reaches out to everybody. The sin/cross talks allow us to explain to the kids why Jesus needed to die in the first place. I do think that we need to emphasize the victory of the resurrection more than we currently do. In fact, this summer at camp, the speaker, who had been pretty great all week, didn't talk about the resurrection!! It was kind of mind-blowing and sad that that even happened.

I can understand where YL is coming from - when you are such a disjointed mass organization with ministries all around the world and in the US, you need to have a mission statement and core values to help ensure that your essential mission is being accomplished. From a business standpoint, no business would tolerate or even function on such a level with the lack of conformity that exists within YL. In my own company, with only 4 office locations, it is a constant daily struggle to get the operations of each office to function the same. So I can understand wanting a document that clearly states what the organization is about.

It would be really interesting to know what J. Grif's take is on all this, since he works in the national YL office.

blogging??? who came up with this said...

J,thanks for posting on this subject. My heart hurts for YL and decisions being made, but my hope and prayer is that God is glorified in it somehow. Presenting the gospel and loving humanity gets really tricky when you start to make it about rules, that's the scary part to me in all this. I think it's about God's time, which is a mystery, but our hearts are being contiuoulsy called to be in connection with the Holy Spirit. and I think that's what a lot of this boils down to, things that can't really be measured, other then by rules. I know that in my own relationship with God, it's taken time, grace and A LOT of different experiences and peoples perspectives to help me see truth, to know what sound, and looks and seems like heaven on earth. I think YL be careful of what they could be creating. I had thought that with the idea of regional directors being in relationships with the area directors being in relationships with team leaders and team leaders with volunteers, all being in relationships with one another that it kept ppl accountable to where their hearts were and what was going on in that area. There's a lot I don't know, and there's a lot about what I have written that may not make sense, as well as a lot I am still pondering. But I do know that this summer, in taking kids to camp, the concept of sin, and the cross were talked about, but tragically ( in my mind) the speaker never mentioned that Jesus rose from the dead. The idea of Christ is empty to my without the fact that he did indeed rise up, but to have someone on YL staff present the gospel at camp and leave Jesus dead, in the ground, makes me wonder. It hurts, and while no one is perfect, he was telling kids about Jesus, come on. *These are just some jumbled thoughts of mine concerning the whole topic*

P.S. if we could flash back to 2003's top 10 albums of the year, Cat Power's We are Free, would be on it. And since I just discovered it last year, I think it should be added in its own somewhat unrelevant catagory:)

Josh said...

I write this response (and the post yesterday) feeling pretty sick, so i hope some of this makes sense. and to my YL friends, i'm out of the loop on a lot of this stuff in terms of actual practices, and this isn't necessarily a critique of stuff happening in our area, b/c i don't really know all the stuff going on in our area, but there are some things from my time on student staff and years of work with YL that i have some questions about...


that podcast with McKnight is great stuff, i enjoyed that too. i think a holistic sense of the gospel rooted in narrative is one critique of what is happening in this situation...

i think the issue with McSwain was the order in which the gospel presentation must be made. he thought that it would be quite appropriate to talk about the love of God and the redemption of God for the world prior to sin and the cross, so that the love of God receives the priority in understanding the relationship over and against the priority of sinfulness first and God's love second. I think McSwain may even acknowledge that people within YL may have different viewpoints on this issue, but that his emphasis and practice of love first with sin second is what got him fired at least as it seems in the articles.

i hear you on the liturgical stuff, there are some similarities about the club talks and church calendar in terms of the practice of having direction and flow and a story of what is hoped to be said. what would make them dramatically different is the scope and story told. the Catholic liturgy over the period of three years would read almost the entirety of the story of God in Scripture in the public worship gathering...whereas in YL, the NT is going to be the main focus and the OT is going to be used to supplement NT stories. YL is clear that is not it's aim...it's about winning students to Jesus, which is great, but is different than the scope of a whole year's of talks through the Old and New Testaments.

but like a good corporation or organization i think you are right they are shoring up on their defining principles...whether being like a corporation is a good or bad thing is a totally different discussion...but i hear what you're saying, in the midst of different theological viewpoints, YL is saying that they stand on the principles outlined in the document...which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but how the document is being used is troublesome to me a bit...

these are just some thoughts though, keep the comments coming!

no worries about having all your thoughts lined up, just interested to hear what is going on and to hear if ya'll knew about this stuff. i hadn't heard the rumblings until now...keep the thoughts coming! i hadn't had as much experience with the no resurrection talk, but had a lot of experience with no God the Father talk or Holy Spirit talk, and that was a little hard for me, as i thought that i wasn't giving kids a whole picture of what is going on sometimes. that being said, YL would probably say that campaigners is the place those discussions should take place. my dad had a saying though: "how you convert them is what you convert them to." if only part of the story of God is mentioned (which i don't think is the intention of YL) in club talks, the challenge will be to back track and help students appropriate the other parts of the story and Trinity...(mainly i'd imagine, this would involve looking at the OT and talking more about the Holy Spirit)...

and thanks for the music note...i downloaded the Juno soundtrack which had some Cat Power on it, and i really liked it, so i'll have to check her out!

Auburnproud7 said...

"From what I can gather, the issue is with the fact that God's salvation has already occurred for humankind, but some people think that the YL doc says that you have to repent, and profess faith in Jesus, in order to be saved...I believe that it says in there that our repentance has nothing to do with our salvation, but comes as a response to the salvation that Christ accomplished on the cross."

I am not sure what Lauren is thinking, but YL does believe that Repentance and Salvation go hand-in-hand. How can you not repent and be Saved. God HAS NOT already SAVED ALL MANKIND. God has given the opportunity and paid the price for sin, but we have to accept it. Read Romans.

I do not see any problem with how we present the Gospel - some say 'talk about the love of God first' - we do. That is why we have 5 'Person of Jesus' talks BEFORE the Sin Talk.

Weed out leaders who are doing a disservice to the cause of Christ - fine with me.

Josh said...

hey auburn7,

not sure who you are, as your profile went to a nonexistent page, but i think you misunderstood what Lauren was articulating, and more than that your comment to "read Romans" is a bit bold as though it bolsters everything you say and is self-explanatory. if you are going to be snarky don't hide!

while i get your point about repentance and salvation going hand in hand (and Romans here may not support you very easily here) in that repentance is the "accepting of the gift" (as all the YL talks i ever heard talked about)...Lauren's point was that in her reading of the non-negotiables, salvation is not by human consent (repentance) but solely the gift of God...which i think you'd probably buy into as well.

unfortunately, this poses some problems, and has been a problem for quite sometime now (like all of church history), your comment supposes a certain understanding of the nature of salvation, in that repentance is part of the equation to accept grace.

Lauren said that in her reading of the non-negotiables, it seemed like repentance, while important, may not necessarily be essential for salvation because salvation is already gifted by God. I don't know but would guess this is probably not Lauren's opinion, but I won't speak for her.

in terms of having problems with the gospel presentation, if you'd like to start that discussion, i'd welcome it...i'd certainly raise some questions about whether or not five talks about the person of Christ, a talk about the need of humankind, sin, cross, resurrection, tells the full story of God, and thus also the whole gospel story.

i'm not so glad that you feel competent to affirm the loss of jobs and the disunity of the body of Christ with such a "fine by me" attitude. i have issues with YL, but that kind of attitude doesn't seem very helpful.