Inoculated to the Gospel?

Sorry I have been away so long. Life has been busy! But I am back…hopefully with more regular posts. But then again, Holy Week is next week. In any case, take a read on some thoughts about why the church is failing to retain her youth.

Why is it that the church of North America continues to lose her youth? Why do reports continue noting how the church is failing to retain her young people? It’s a significant issue that the church has to be willing to address. A video seminar posted by evangelical Skye Jethani at offers a fascinating and timely take. In short, sadly, he claims that many youth in North America have been “inoculated to the Gospel” by the church itself.

It is an utterly fascinating critique about the various movements and trends in North American Christianity. He unpacks what he considers the flawed thinking of the North American church in four basic postures that seek to control God, and therefore life: 1) Life under God—where people seek to control God by adhering to the right rituals or morality. 2) Life over God—where people essentially cut God out of the picture and try to gain control through science and technology, and where the Bible is simply used as a divine manual of principles for living. 3) Life from God—needs based consumerism and moralistic therapeutic deism, where God exists to satisfy your desires. And 4), which is the most recent and prevailing posture, Life for God—the Christian life is all about missions and service, where you strive to do more for God and therefore gain more significance for yourself.

In a crushing observation, Jethani reveals that many teens who have grown up in Christian homes centered on the Scriptures have, by-and-large, a fundamentally flawed understanding of the Scriptures and Jesus Christ. Why? Because most of them had been taught that the Christian life is one of service and activism and “being on mission for God.” Likewise, many have been taught that if they are struggling with any sin it impairs them from truly serving God until they get rid of that sin in their life. Consequently, they accomplish less “for God” and become “burned out” with the church. Thus, having failed to find significance in the church, they then exit the church. This is their understanding of the Gospel, and it has, he says, inoculated them to the Gospel.

So what’s the solution? (Lutherans pay attention.) Using the parable of the prodigal son, he explains that the most important element about the Gospel is not someone’s obedience (the older angry son), nor is it simply about fixing one’s disobedience (younger prodigal son), but that it is one’s life “with” God—the father of both sons, “all that I have is yours.” This posture of understanding the faith, says Jethani, differs from all the others because it does not attempt to “use God” to achieve an end. It simply receives what God desires to give.

In what I consider nothing short of absolute affirmation of historic Lutheran theology and practice, Jethani concludes with the following:

“The primary purpose of the church, before mission, before healing, before transforming the culture; the first purpose of the church is to give a ravishing vision of who Jesus Christ is and let him draw people to himself. But we are not presenting Jesus Christ, we are presenting mission, or we are presenting transformation, we’re presenting healthy marriage or healthy family. And so people come for reasons other than Jesus himself…Until we get the Gospel right, we shouldn’t be surprised that young people are walking away…Before we are called to something, before we are called to somewhere, we are called to someone.” (17:25 into the video).  

I cannot but give a hearty “Amen” to his critique. I realize Lutherans are not without our own issues in regard to our youth. Yet, I would venture to guess this critique strikes home for us as well. Nonetheless, this is why I continue to advocate we must return to healthy theological dialogue about the mission of the Holy Christian Church.

From traditional catechesis, to distinguishing law and Gospel, to the sacraments, to the Creed’s third article explanation—“I cannot by my own reason or strength believe…” to Augsburg Confession articles IV, V, and VII, Lutheran theology and the practice of it has so much to offer in the way of “getting the Gospel right.” It is what the Reformation was predicated on—that the Gospel might be proclaimed purely and rightly. It is what the Holy Christian Church is to be about.

Herman Sasse put it simply:“Kyrios Jesus Christos,’Jesus Christ is Lord.’ This is the original confession of the church. With it the Christian faith once entered world history. To understand the sense of this confession ever more deeply is the great, yes, basically the only, task of all Christian theology. To repeat this confession, to speak it in ever new forms, to translate it into the language of all times and peoples, to protect it against misunderstandings and reinterpretations, and to understand its meaning for all areas of life–that is the task of all confession building within Christendom.”  Herman Sasse, 1931 (We Confess Anthology, p.9)

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


One response to “Inoculated to the Gospel?

  1. Cheryl Rompelman

    I also believe that we have not taught our children that the bible is the truth of God, from the first word to the last. We have not armed our children with a way to defend creation. To many of us are pulled aside by science saying the earth took “millions of years” instead of 6 days.

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