Wednesday, January 09, 2008

YL cont'd

The last year I was on student staff with YL and the last year I formally led (and was training freshman leaders with Shey) I was most involved with work with middle school students. I thoroughly enjoyed their energy, their questions, and their perspectives on faith issues. The other leaders on my team and I realized that the sort of formula of talks that we had been working with wasn't reaching kids in the way we hoped and the kids who had been with us for a while had heard similar talks for two years now, and more than that, the changes we saw in a lot of the kids wasn't lasting as long or going as deep as we liked. Now I'll be the first to say that we weren't a perfect team, or that the results were a direct result of YL formulas for talks or anything trite like that. I realize that life is never that black and white.

But in our third year of working with students we felt this overwhelming sense in our prayers and in our conversations as leaders and with some other leaders from other schools, and my conversations with the area director who I worked with at the time (who was going to seminary), that we may try to explore more of the story of God's over-arching narrative. That we would begin where the Bible begins and tell the story of God's activity and redemption, and creative reconciliation over the period of a year beginning with talks about God the Father and creation, then stories of sin, promises/covenants, brokenness, the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, the death and resurrection, the life of the church, the mystery of the Spirit...we were still all relatively conservative on most theological matters, but felt compelled to tell these other parts of the story.

The three of us who were leading did not come into a relationship with Christ through YL, though we all strongly identified with the mission, and the relational connections that YL espoused and lived, but we struggled with the club talks aspect and the formulaic approach to the talk schedule that didn't always fit in with where our kids were at, and in our thoughts didn't express the fullness of the story that we felt like beginning in the OT helped to accomplish.

We had some really positive results with the kids, but more than that, we felt like we were able to help kids to take a step back and look at more of the picture of how God has worked throughout the ages, especially in Christ, but also through the Spirit and in people. To expound on my first comment in the previous post on this stuff, I think the main crux of the issue is that McSwain wanted to present the gospel story in a different order: person of Christ, love of God, repentance (possibly here), cross, (repentance possibly here), resurrection (repentance possibly here), sin (repentance possibly here). YL is advocating: person of Christ (which may include love of God, but is different than what McSwain is arguing for in his understanding of covenental theology), man's need, sin, cross, resurrection, repentance. I may be a little out of order with man's need/sin, I can't remember which goes first for YL, but with McSwain, his issue seemed to be that the presentation of the gospel had to follow the YL outline when theologically it didn't mesh with his reformed and covenantal theology.

I have two issues with this situation mainly: first is the whole formulaic approach to the gospel presentation/non-negotiables. Where do you draw the line on the non-negotiables? If the non-negotiables are the essential matters of the faith, what does that do to the rest of the story of God in Scripture in terms of fitting in with the gospel presentation?

Second, is how the document is being used from the top-down as a litmus test of theological priorities for staff who are all over the board theologically. I am not trying to say YL is out to get people, I don't know Denny from anybody else, but it stinks that it has come to firing folks over disagreements over the methods of sharing the gospel in YL club talks.


Chris said...

The main issue was not the order in which the gospel was presented, but the thoughts Jeff had about sin & separation from God. In Jeff's writing, he does not acknowledge that separation (at least as far as I can tell), and that was the sticking point.

Josh said...

Chris, i think that part of the sticking point was how sin is understood, whether contractually or in a covenant type relationship, which i think you're right in pointing out, but i think those differences would and did lead to a different method of presentation, which is what also led to McSwain's firing.

Lauren said...

First off, thanks for blogging about this topic - like I said before, I had no idea that there was even an issue about this going on.

I do agree with your comment to the previous post that the five minute message at the end of club that is often communicated is about Jesus and not really God the Father or God the Holy Spirit - we don't touch on the Trinity often, if at all, within the club talks.

But I guess am missing the whole theological argument or disagreement that is going on here - I don't know how you present the Gospel without mentioning our need for a relationship with God and that sin creates that separation, because then the Gospel and the cross doesn't make any sense. I don't know how you understand God's love without ultimately knowing that?

But I also agree that you need to tailor the talks as much as you can to your audience - like you and your team did for your middle school kids, or like the lady did for her Capernaum kids (which by the way, I would be really interested to know how the message is presented to Capernaum kids at camp and if it follows the same format that other camp speakers use.) If you are in relationship with your kids, then you know them and how the talk should be presented and tailored to them.

For my own knowledge, would you mind explaining the difference between contractual and convenant relationship? I don't get the difference - both words on their own mean the same thing to me, so I know I'm missing something here :). Thanks Josh!

Josh said...


no problem blogging on this. it is important stuff, especially if it is getting picked up by some bigger magazines.

it seems like the difference between covenant and contractual might be understood this way (and this is an oversimplification, both of which are characteristic of more reformed traditions, i.e. usually calvinist, protestant traditions, which i'm no expert on, and don't often agree with...)

Contractual: that the action of Jesus on the cross made the contract between God and humanity for death and eternal punishment because of sin null and void. the "relationship" between God and people is one understood in terms of contracts, where God had a contract with humanity for life, love, and unity with God, humanity renegged on the conditions through Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree, so the punishment for breaking the contract was death. Jesus repaired the contract through his death on the cross, making the contractual relationship able to be right again.

Covenant: God has chosen and elected certain groups of people to be in relationship with since the beginning of time, and the gift of salvation comes through Jesus' death on the cross taking the punishment of sin providing the means of salvation, but without any of the contractual metaphors.

Sin in the contractual setting must be rectified first in order for any type of relationship to exist. In the covenantal setting God has chosen certain folks for all time to be in relationship with, and while Jesus' death on the cross provides the means for such a relationship, repentance can happen without a full awareness of sin. And in the covenantal relationship, Jesus' death provides the means for salvation, but God's promise to save is the starting point from the OT.

Big difference: sin in the contractual setting works like a logic problem, if humans do not want to be separated from God because of their actions, then there needs to be a solution, and Jesus is it. sin in covenantal setting separates those from God who are not of the covenant, but for those who are, the promise of God's salvation and hope for them could never have been in question.

That is a lot, and like i said, i'm no reformed theologian so, no promises on the all of that being exact. the Capernaum stuff is just hard for me. i've not been to the camps, so i don't know how they work there...but it would seem to pose some questions about the nature of the gospel: that is, is it a set of propositions to give mental assent to...and if so, what about those who may be unable to give mental assent to those propositions?

keep the good stuff coming Lauren! i'm no expert on this...just thought it was really interesting, and was wondering if anyone had heard of this. YL has usually stayed out of the fray in this stuff, but when some big Christian mags pick it up, i thought it might be interesting to talk about. no hatin' on this side, just some thoughts!