Sex, Evolution, and Evangelical Angst

parenting (700x394)

Every week I teach Christian teens about all kinds of issues: the gospel, the Bible, theology, poverty, death, love, parents, suicide, abuse, and more. In other words, we talk about some of the most critical issues around. Despite that, I can count how many times a parent has asked me about the content of any of those lessons. And as a theologian, I can’t count very high.

For the most part, I’m okay with that. I choose to interpret it as trust rather than ambivalence.

parenting (700x394)Whenever I teach on one of two topics, though, the rules change entirely: sex and evolution. I now know not to touch either of those topics without letting parents know exactly how we’ll be approaching those topics. I’m going to get asked detailed questions about precisely what I’m exposing their teens to anyway, so I might as well deal with it up front.

Isn’t that interesting? I can talk to your kids about the gospel with no questions asked, but as soon as I mention sex you want a detailed outline in triplicate? What is it about these two topics that generates so much angst? Why are we so much more concerned about what our teens hear on these topics than we are on things like the gospel, justice, or even how to have good relationships with your parents. (You’d think parents would be particularly interested in that last one!)

I could be wrong, but I think the angst on these two issues comes from some combination of the following mistakes.

1. We think these issues are more critical today.

Some might argue that this is because these issues are so important in the “culture war” that still rages in many circles. Sex and evolution are front-line issues in that struggle, so we need to be particularly concerned about what students hear about those issues at church.

Setting aside for the moment whether we should really talk about being at “war” with the people around us, is it really the case that sex and evolution are more critical than other topics? Even if they’re not aware of it, students face a constant barrage of messages from our culture offering alternate gospels, different perspectives on “the divine” and what it means to be human, contrasting definitions of love, justice, mercy, and more. Shouldn’t these cultural messages cause just as much angst, just as much concern for right teaching in the church?

2. We distinguish between “home” and “church” topics.

This one applies more to sex than evolution, but I occasionally hear from parents that talking to kids about sex is something that parents should do at home. It’s not really an appropriate topic for church.

Three things in response. First, does this really need to be an either/or? If these topics are so important, wouldn’t it be good for students to hear from multiple Christian voices on the subject? Second, have you read the Bible? Last time I checked, there’s a fair bit of sex in it. Are we just supposed to skip those parts? Third, this whole way of thinking contributes to the dangerous tendency to bifurcate life into sacred and secular spheres. When convey to students (intentionally or otherwise) that the church doesn’t have anything to do with their sexuality, we contribute to an already strong tendency to divined life into religious stuff (Sunday morning and maybe youth group) and the non-religious stuff, which covers most of life.

Let’s be careful here, though. The other tendency prevalent in churches today is for parents just to hand over to the church all responsibility for teaching their kids. That would create the opposite problem, suggesting that some topics shouldn’t be talked about at home. Instead, let’s model the reality that God is interested in whole persons. We don’t need to leave bits of ourselves outside whether we’re at home or at church.

3. We assume teachers know the “easy” stuff.

I’m sure a fair bit of this comes from the fact that many people just assume that most of the people teaching Christian teenagers can handle the basics. You know, the gospel, the Bible, theology–the easy stuff. So they only need to ask questions when teachers get to more challenging stuff like evolution and sex.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this. If we really think that teaching the gospel is easier than teaching about evolution, we probably need to do some more thinking.

Why the Angst?

As of about a month ago, I am now the parent of a Christian teenager myself. So I’m coming to appreciate first-hand the kinds of challenges and anxieties that accompany this new stage of life. But let’s ask ourselves some questions about that angst. Why are we get so concerned when we hear that someone is going to talk to our kids about these two issues? What are we afraid of? Are we really that concerned that our kids might hear something different from what we believe? That happens all the time. What makes this situation so different?

From a different angle, why don’t we have similar concerns about other fundamentally important topics? Where is our angst about whether our teens are receiving good teaching about Jesus, the Trinity, the Spirit, the gospel, salvation, the mission of the church, and more. Is it that we’re so confident that all of our teachers have a firm grasp of these issues? Or is it possible that deep down we really believe that a student’s view of sex or evolution will shape their lives more fundamentally than their view of God?

Or do you think I’ve missed something? Are there other reasons why these two issues generate more angst for Christian parents than other issues? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Does Theology Have to Be Practical?

young boy stressed with work

young boy stressed with workTeach theology long enough and you’ll face countless forms of the same basic question: What does this have to do with real life? Will it affect the way we do ministry, how we share the gospel, or what we do every day? How is it relevant to the problems and challenges the average person faces? You know, is it practical?

And the deep suspicion lying behind such questions is that most theology is rather impractical. Theologians spend all their time wrestling with things like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and whether we should say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father alone. Unless we can explain why these things matter for the everyday lives of regular people, we should stop wasting our time and get on with more important issues.

I’ll admit that part of me resonates with such concerns. If we can’t explain why theology matters, we have a problem. And it should matter for everyday life. After all, that’s where we do all our living. So there’s a sense in which I want to say a hearty “Yes!” to the question of whether theology should be practical, but only if we carefully redefine what that means.

4 Reasons for Thinking that Theology Is “Practical”

[This is the beginning of my newest post over at Head over there to check it out, and let me know what you think.]

Imitate Me

Kopf 2 26h

I occasionally joke about wanting some groupies, or maybe a few minions. People who think I’m so cool that they follow me around all day and try to be just like me. But the real upside, of course, is their willingness to run errands and facilitate my various plots to take over the world.

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In more serious moments, though, I realize how arrogant that sounds. We’re all deeply flawed people. Who in their right mind would be so self-aggrandizing as to think that others should strive to be just like them? Even thinking that probably demonstrates that you’re not worth following, doesn’t it?

Imitate me. The height of arrogance.

Yet that’s exactly what Paul says multiple times in his various letters (e.g. 1 Cor 4:16; Eph. 5:1). Where does he get off trying to make us into his little groupies? If we’re going to understand what Paul means when he says “Imitate me,” we need to keep the following things in mind.

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The Rise of “Emerging Adulthood”

Adorable Kids in Over Sized Suits

Emerging adulthood is now viewed by many as a distinct stage of life in America, one that covers the period between high school and “real” adulthood. And according to Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, it’s a stage of life that is powerfully shaping the way people in their 20s view the world, how they understand the church, and how they approach their own formation.

Adorable Kids in Over Sized Suits

At a faculty workshop at Wheaton College earlier this semester, Smith gave a fascinating summary of recent research on emerging adulthood and its significance for understanding and ministering to young adults today. Here are some of the highlights. (Keep in mind that these are all sweeping generalizations. Smith was quite clear that none of this will apply across the board to any particular young adult or even to distinct sub-groups of young adults. But these are pretty clear characteristics of the life stage as a whole.)

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Breaking the Silence: When Christian Leaders Speak Openly about Depression

There is still a stigma around depression that silences many Christian voices and prevents them from letting anyone know about their painful, personal struggles. A stigma that destroys people by making them suffer alone.

In his presidential speech at Wheaton College’s convocation ceremony this year, Dr. Phil Ryken pushed back. And he did so by sharing honestly and transparently about his own struggles with depression last spring, struggles serious enough that he said at one point that he thought he was “losing the will to live.

He focused most of the talk on sharing some of the things that helped him through the struggle, which I’ll mention below. But there wasn’t anything ground-breaking. He relied on friends, family, church, everyday routines, and of course, God. The power of his talk wasn’t in anything radical that he said, it was in the radical fact that he spoke at all.

I hear more and more Christian leaders talking about depression, which is a good thing. When they do so, however, it’s usually about depression as an abstract concept (people often get depressed), the struggles of some other Christian (Luther was depressed), or at best some personal struggle with depression in their own distant past (I was depressed a long time ago). But it’s rare in my experience for a Christian leader to bare themselves openly about a current or very recent bout with depression. And that’s precisely what Dr. Ryken did, modeling for us the kind of humble and honest dependence that should characterize the body of Christ as a whole.

You should watch the entire talk, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” But I’ve highlighted some of the main points below.

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