by Dr. Matthew Slippy
Associate Pastor of Youth Ministries
Calvary Baptist Church (IA)
In November 2008, the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics published the results of their 2008 national survey of American teenagers with nearly 30,000 U.S. high school students surveyed. Thirty percent admitted to stealing from a store in the past year. Twenty-three percent admitted to stealing from a parent. Twenty percent admitted to stealing from a friend. Forty-two percent admitted they had lied to save money. Eighty-three percent admitted they had lied to a parent about something significant. Twenty-six percent admitted that they had lied on at least one question on the survey.
The results did not get better on the subject of cheating. Sixty-four percent admitted they had cheated on a test in the past year and thirty-eight percent cheated two or more times. Over a third of the students surveyed admitted they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.
With such a high level of dishonesty, one would think the students surveyed would see how dishonest they are in their choices and actions. Yet, ninety-three percent were satisfied with their personal ethics and character. The students surveyed had such a high self-image that seventy-seven percent believed when it came to doing right, they were better than most people they know.
The Josephson Institute study highlights the moral confusion that exists in the minds of today’s young people. If young people believe they can think and do whatever they want by redefining morality to fit their situation, then personal sin becomes a non-issue. If there is no personal sin, there is no need for a personal Savior to rescue them from the power and penalty of sin. Therefore there is no perceived need for the Gospel.
Youth ministry “experts” have sought to provide answers to help youth pastors navigate today’s turbulent postmodern youth culture. Unfortunately, youth ministry resources continue to be published that downplay the need for biblical doctrine by redefining the Gospel.
Mark Yaconelli suggests ministry to young people should focus on the youth worker being present with young people in order to help them feel valued, feel respected, feel loved, and feel cared for. This, he says, “is the good news Jesus calls us to share.” Is this the Gospel Jesus calls youth pastors to proclaim? When the expectations and pressures in youth ministry cause the Gospel to be reduced to ‘helping teens feel loved,’ those who promote and practice this “gospel” are guilty of malpractice. This straying from the biblical Gospel is not simply a matter of moving from one option to another, but moving away from what the apostle Paul called a matter “of first importance.” (1 Cor 15:3) The Gospel should not be optional but central to everything a youth pastor does.
Consider the following excerpt from a recent new resource that some youth ministry “experts” herald as “the single most important youth ministry book in a generation.”
But maybe a more honest theological understanding of the incarnation is to assert that God entered our foreign world not to convince or save it but to love it even to the point of death – and therefore this is what it means to be saved: To be taken up into relational love of God. God so loved the world and those in it that God chose to bear its deepest, darkest suffering so that God might be fully with and for us. In this perspective salvation is not being convinced of a certain perspective but coming to recognize that we have been deeply loved and so are given the power to live as children of God, children of love. This is salvation!
This emphasis on living a life of love is good and necessary. However, without the doctrinal truths of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, and the substitutionary death of Jesus, this emphasis on love alone waters down the Gospel and with it the doctrinal truths that make the Gospel the Good News. Without sound doctrinal truth, a watered down Gospel leads to heretical beliefs and unholy living. The Apostle Paul commanded Timothy to watch and persevere in both his lifestyle and his doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). To have a loving lifestyle or the right doctrine without the other negates them both. The relative view of truth that has influenced American culture and the church says a person can have a loving lifestyle while denying the necessity of sound doctrine.
This incorrect view of the Gospel is nothing new to the church. This was the observation of J.C. Ryle in 19th century England:
A scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds and every kind of bounds in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be. Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ…all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these great verities, and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned and a theological fossil!
The faithful youth pastor is one who understands the biblical Gospel and seeks to see the Gospel embraced and lived out in the lives of those entrusted to their care. The Apostle Paul summed up his desire as a shepherd when he said, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28-29) Youth pastors have been given the task of proclaiming and living the Gospel as they seek to minister to young people.
Youth pastors are being told they must “stop looking for some objective Truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible … we probably need to widen our parentheses of scriptural orthodoxy.” Doctrine seems to be a secondary issue and anyone who seeks to promote sound doctrine is considered narrow, critical, and judgmental. This loss and rejection of sound doctrine comes with consequences.
With the loss of sound doctrine, the church and youth pastors are at risk of losing their ability to discern between truth and error. Why cultivate discernment when doctrine changes with each new setting and generation or is decided by each person or group? Discernment becomes discerning the subjective voice of the Holy Spirit instead of discerning between right and wrong doctrine as revealed in the Bible. Youth pastors are being told to “move away from anxious concern with … doctrinally sound instruction and toward a peaceful and prayerful attention to God’s presence in the lives of young persons.” When discernment dwindles, the church begins to tolerate false teachers, false youth pastors. Once false teachers are tolerated, the church will gather teachers who will preach what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).
With the loss of sound doctrine, the lines between sin and righteousness become blurred. The standard for morality becomes arbitrary. People become the focus instead of Jesus. Sin no longer becomes an offence against God, but an offence against self. Youth pastors are being taught that “The Christian tradition has long referred to our fallen condition in terms of “sin,” pointing to the ways we separate ourselves from God and our brothers and sisters. Perhaps the greatest sin, however, is the sin of self-rejection.”
With the loss of sound doctrine, the focus of the church and youth pastors turns to what is practiced, disregarding what is believed. Orthodoxy gets redefined where orthodoxy “is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world.” This says it does not matter what you believe; what matters is how you live. Sound biblical theology is replaced with religious works and experiences.
With the loss of sound doctrine, Jesus becomes a nice addition to faith. Jesus is viewed as a therapeutic pacifier who is supportive, who gives the blessing to a young person’s life. Jesus is stripped of His power and authority and is no longer worshiped as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus becomes a moral example to follow, not an atoning Savior to be worshiped and obeyed.
With the loss of sound doctrine, the Gospel simply becomes news instead of the Good News. This postmodern generation has rejected absolute truth in favor of a relative view of truth where truth changes with each person and situation. In a culture that says truth is not absolute, the Gospel becomes relative to what each person wishes it to be. When the church and youth pastors adopt this doctrinal truth-is-relative view of the Gospel, they put themselves and young people at risk of being kidnapped by the culture’s man-centered philosophies.
The faithful youth pastor must be aware of anything that is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:10). He must command men not to teach false doctrines (1 Tim 1:3). He must watch his life and doctrine closely (1 Tim 4:16). The godly youth pastor must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Paul said that anyone who teaches false doctrines and does not hold on to sound teaching engages in sin and has been robbed of the truth (1 Tim 6:3-5).
The concept of sound doctrine has always been foundational to the Gospel, foundational to living the Christian life, and foundational to ministry. Understanding what the Bible teaches concerning sound doctrine is essential to being a faithful youth pastor. Sound doctrine must be taught and defended. Youth pastors must admit the vital importance of sound doctrine, and gain a renewed passion for properly handling the Word of God.
 The results were released on November 30, 2008. They can be found at: http://charactercounts.org/programs/reportcard/index.html
 Mark Yaconelli, Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 121.
 Quoted from endorsements on cover of Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root.
 Andrew Root, Relationships Unfiltered (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 41.
 J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1985), 10.
 Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 201.
 Mark Yaconelli, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 79.
 Ibid., 78.
 Yaconelli, Growing Souls, 69.
 Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak of God (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2006), 3.