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Can the outlooks of two generations coexist in one church? James Merritt, 59, serves as senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia. His son, Jonathan Merritt, 29, joined the church staff in 2008.

In many respects, they couldn't be more different. James represents the Boomer generation's approach to faith in Christ. Jonathan's Christian faith was forged in a postmodern context. When they start talking about theological or political issues, the sparks fly—so much so that James's wife (Jonathan's mother) has to leave the room and let them go at it.

But underneath their intense differences, there's a profound respect for each other. Each has a passionate drive to share the gospel and influence the world for Christ.

Leadership Journal's Matt Woodley met them in James's famous "Georgia Bull 'Dawgs' room," where he asked them about outreach, compassion, justice, and evangelism.

Jonathan, you recently wrote that Fred Rogers is a model Christian communicator for your generation. In your words, Mr. Rogers "was a devout Christian who almost never explicitly talked about his faith on the air, but the way his show infused society with beauty and grace was near biblical." James, how would you evaluate Mr. Rogers's ability to reach people for Christ?

James: On the one hand, I love Jonathan's spirit in that article, and I agree that our world is better because we've had positive cultural influences like Mr. Rogers. Television certainly needs more people like Fred Rogers. I also understand that the show wasn't supposed to be explicitly about Jesus.

On the other hand—and this is just an observation, not a criticism—much of what Mr. Rogers communicated in his program could have been communicated by an unbeliever who wanted to have a positive, moralistic, ethical impact on kids and on society in general.

This isn't a criticism of Fred Rogers because I have no idea how he talked about his faith in Christ. However, I will say this: every believer and every church has a sphere of influence. It's incumbent upon us to use whatever platform we have as a God-given opportunity to share Christ with other people.

Jonathan: I think the way we view the gospel will impact the way we see Mr. Rogers's influence. My generation tends to emphasize that the Bible isn't just a set of theological propositions. It's also a larger story about what God is doing in our world to bring the restoration of all things in Christ. Based on that story there's a cultural mandate to influence the world with a kingdom mindset.

By preventing a generation of children from growing up emotionally numb, Fred Rogers definitely lived out a kingdom mindset. So I would say that Mr. Rogers's show was a legitimate expression of his faith in Christ.

But I don't agree with the famous quote that says, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words." You can't preach the gospel without using words. Some people like my dad are reapers, but people like Mr. Rogers tended the soil. Many people ...

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From Issue:The Outreach Issue, Winter 2012 | Posted: March 5, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Justin

May 05, 2012  1:04pm

“Highlighting only one part of the discussion, I agree with James that abortion is murder and I am opposed to it. However, isn't it also murder to relegate someone to poor health or even death by denying them access to quality, affordable health care. Why are so many of James' generation opposed to quality, affordable health care for all?” They aren’t. What they are against is an expansion of government. They believe when properly regulated, the free market will make quality health care affordable for all. Don’t misjudge their arguments. “And why are they opposed to the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes?” Seeing as the wealthy already pay a significant portion, how much is a ’fair share’? Do you want to bleed them dry? The fact is, the wealthy are the job creators in this country, and taxing them to death slows job creation and prompts them to send work overseas to countries with lower taxes. “And why are they opposed to treating the "strangers in our midst" (immigrants, some of them illegal) with compassion? “ I’m all for treating them with compassion. But I also expect them to obey the laws of our land, and that includes the immigration laws. Does the immigration system need to be changed? Yes, it should be streamlined. Does that mean I don’t think illegals should be punished for breaking the law and living here and enjoying our nation without paying taxes? No. “And why are they so eager to send Americans to war with, and in, other nations, some of which have done the U.S. no direct harm?” This much I can agree with. “ I am of James' generation and I see the theology and evangelistic practices of my generation full of holes. (I also live very near to Duluth, Ga.) Bravo to Jonathan and his generation for helping to pull the scales from the eyes of my generation.” I’m not. I was born in the 90’s.

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Anonymous

March 12, 2012  5:10am

about justin's, christians, and ministries understands the meaning of charity better than the state.however nothing stops christians from sending their contributions on charity through the state,if need be.

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Justin

March 07, 2012  9:18am

Steve, To one of your points: What do you mean by "fair share" of taxes? My understanding is that the wealthy class pays the highest percentage of taxes, overall. BTW, I am not wealthy, nor am I aspiring to be so, financially. However, in theory, I don't think that we, as Christians, are called to give the state our money (through taxation) for the purpose of empowering them to choose who should receive charity and services. The dangers of this are myriad (Where does the $ go? Does it all make it to the intended recipient? Is our $ going towards organizations that are sinful? etc.). God calls us to be good stewards of our money and to be cheerful givers. As Christians, we should be zealous to guard our money (along with all our other resources, as well), so that we can use in the best way possible for "Kingdom" development. BTW, there are multiple health share and medical ministries around the nation. I think we, as Christians, would do better to support these types of ministries and causes, rather than entrust this work to the state. I just don't see the biblical warrant for handing this responsibility over to the state. And...We haven't even taken into account whether or not the state is even a good manager of these types of responsibilities. However, that is a different conversation for a different day. Grace be with you!

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Steve W.

March 06, 2012  3:13pm

Highlighting only one part of the discussion, I agree with James that abortion is murder and I am opposed to it. However, isn't it also murder to relegate someone to poor health or even death by denying them access to quality, affordable health care. Why are so many of James' generation opposed to quality, affordable health care for all? And why are they opposed to the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes? And why are they opposed to treating the "strangers in our midst" (immigrants, some of them illegal) with compassion? And why are they so eager to send Americans to war with, and in, other nations, some of which have done the U.S. no direct harm? I am of James' generation and I see the theology and evangelistic practices of my generation full of holes. (I also live very near to Duluth, Ga.) Bravo to Jonathan and his generation for helping to pull the scales from the eyes of my generation.

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Jason Van Bemmel

March 06, 2012  12:37pm

We need to be careful not to let the world and its influence shape our approach to ministry. This happens in two ways: First, the "old school" way is the react against the world's critiques and be louder, bolder and more militant. Second, the "emergent" way is to try to please the world and get them to like us by not talking explicitly about Jesus, being pluralistic, erasing hell, etc. BOTH appraches are unfaithful because they are shaped more by the world than by the Word. I agree wholeheartedly with the prescription: "Preach the Word!" If we do so (expositionally), we allow God's kingdom agenda to shape ours, as we seek to obey His voice and tune out the world's influence. We will hear Him say, "Be in the world but not of the world." We will be concerned more with loving our neighbors, including loving their souls by sharing Christ with them, than with "influencing culture," whatever that means. It is Christ and His Gospel that we need most to hear and to speak. It is HIM!

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