Evangelicalism's Youthful Romance

From junior-high camp gimmicks to sexperiments.

Back in my days as a youth pastor—this was the early 1970s—I was asked to speak at a Christian camp in Canada, and in the weeks leading up to my engagement, I grew a beard and left it as scruffy and untrimmed as I could. I arrived hours before I was to first speak and went around introducing myself to campers left and right. That evening, for my first talk, I shaved off my beard in front of God and everybody, and then talked about not judging others, especially based on their appearances.

Yes, I really did that. And I'm sorry to say that after three years at a prestigious theological seminary (and through no fault of Fuller's!), this was the best I could come up with to open a series of talks with junior-high kids. It was a silly gimmick to get the attention of juveniles.

Fast-forward to January 2012, when evangelical pastor Ed Young and his wife held a bed-in: They spent 24 hours in a bed on the roof of Young's church in Grapevine, Texas. He was trying to draw attention to his book and a sermon series called Sexperiment: 7 Days to Lasting Intimacy with Your Spouse. He thought a silly gimmick was just the thing to engage adults in his church and community.

I'm not going to take credit for Pastor Young's stunt, nor for the juvenilization of our church and culture. I will say that there are not many evangelicals who have not been shaped—and helped to shape—the situation we find ourselves in today: a church culture that, because of our fascination with youth culture, has enjoyed numeric church growth—and has hindered spiritual maturity.

Last year, in an article in The New York Times Book Review, writer Mohamad Bazzi discussed a book about the cultural revolution afoot in some sectors of Islam. He wrote ...

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