08 January 2013

Stake Their Lives On It

by Frank Turk

So last week, I did some house-cleaning and said that I could only post once a week in 2013, and now this week I have found myself with almost 10 pages on the subject at hand and have given Dan the week off. Go Figure.

To avoid any unpleasantry today (that comes tomorrow), I'm only going to speak hypothetically -- I'm not going to speak about anyone in particular, but about someone you probably know. I'm imagining a young person either in college or college-aged, and this person spent last week in the Georgia Dome with about 60,000 other young people his or her age. Now, when you mentally conjure this person up, I suspect you think of someone who looks like Rupert Grint, or Matt Chandler, or Angus Jones, or Elle Fanning, or Jennifer Lawrence, or Emma Stone. Not a lot of you imagining single mothers, or young adults with learning disabilities, or lower-middle-class kids who had to take a week off from work to come. Which, let's face it: that's how we want to imagine the church to be. We want the church to be full of people who are the aspirational versions of ourselves, and in some sense that is actually a good thing. It means we haven't stopped believing that the church, somehow, is supposed to be better than real life.

But this kid I'm hypothetically speaking of: he's like 90% of the guys his age on the inside regardless of what's on the outside. He's mostly-empty. I mean: if the average life expectancy of a person in America is roughly 80 years, he's only finished about 25% of the game -- and all of that under the right-minded protection and benefit of his parents. He probably doesn't understand what it means to have some skin in the game (namely: his own).  Or else she's like 90% of the girls her age -- who look like they are women, but they simply have no idea what it means to be a woman. She may have been convinced by somebody someplace that what it means to be a woman is that you have to make sure that you don't think there are any men who can do something you can't do -- even if she is self-aware enough to know that there are certainly things that women can do that men can't do.

So this hypothetical person is in a peer group which decided to go to Passion last week.  Somehow s/he came up with the $219 plus another $200 for rooms plus another $200 for food and whatever it cost in transportation to get there. I mean: John Piper was going to be there. Francis Chan was going to be there. Christy Nockels was going to be there -- I'd go to Georgia to hear Christy Nickels sing. Lecrae and Crowder were going to be there. And this is how it was billed:
At the heart of it all, Passion exists to see a generation stake their lives on what matters most. For us, that's the fame of the One who rescues and restores, and the privilege we have to fully leverage our lives by amplifying His name in everything we do.

Last year, our US gathering drew more than 40,000 students and leaders from around the world to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. We were blown away by God's presence. Shattered and rebuilt by His Word. Challenged to the core. Repaired. Wrapped in love. Awakened to raise our voices for those who have no voice.

In January 2013, we are returning to The Dome. Honestly, we want to see the place filled. Not for the sake of numbers, but as a symbol of a new generation...a new wave of Jesus followers who are trading in small dreams for a place in the story God is writing around the globe.
And for a kid like the one I described, above, that sounds like a really great place to go to try to see what it is that could happen to me if I "trade in small dreams for a place in the story God is writing".  It's a pretty serious thing to "stake their lives on what matters most."

So this kid goes to Passion, and stays for a week, and receives a lot of encouragement and emotional enhancement which, if he's honest, he doesn't get at his local church. And he's with other kids who are getting the same thing -- that's what they all say, and there's no reason to doubt them. Some of them even Tweet stuff like this:

Yeah, OK, maybe not as much on that last one, but you see my point: there's a very positive buzz about the things which mean a lot to this demographic -- and, if we are honest, to ourselves as well. We want whatever it is we are doing for Jesus' fame and Jesus' name to make us, if I may be so bold as to say it, feel something -- and not like we have the flu, either.

So this hypothetical young person goes to Passion, and gets a very real sense of his or her feeling that Jesus filled the Georgia Dome, and that Jesus is amazing when John Piper or Judah Smith talks about Him, and he or she comes home sincerely believing they had an experience which ought to change them.

This young person feels like what Jefferson Bethke tweeted the first night of the event:

Now look: I like Jeff Bethke. I like any clean-cut kid, but especially one who is sort of famous for being clean-cut in spite of hardships. And we all know how Jeff got famous, right?

No? Wow, the internet has a short memory.

See: Jeff got famous because he was trying to make a right-minded point about the distinction between "religion" and "Jesus" (or perhaps: right faith in Jesus) -- even if he had to walk some of the ill-considered stuff back in the two weeks after this video went thru the roof. And he was there, at Passion, with Lecrae and Piper and Crowder and Chan and 59,999 other people, and he made a tweet which, when the hypothetical kid I am talking about read it, caused a feeling of good tidings and great joy, if we can borrow the phrase.

So for this hypothetical young person, he or she came away from Passion with a rather broad feeling of being part of something larger than themselves. And to this feeling, they have attached a lot of words -- either because of the talks they heard, or because of the conversations afterward: "worship," "faith," "spirit," "movement," "unity," etc.

Now look: fair enough. I am willing to say that to some extent, something happened at the Georgia Dome that felt amazing to those present. It felt amazing for the week in which it happened.

But when I read Jeff's tweet back on New Year's Day, here's what I tweeted:

And I ask it for only one reason: Jeff is famous because he wanted to draw the thick black line between Jesus and Religion -- and I find myself in full agreement with that objective. I find myself fighting that fight in my own life on a daily basis.

It is a completely fair question -- and I think the answers are useful to all kinds of people, and not just the young person who found himself or herself filled with something which looks and feels pretty good.

So how would we know?  We'll talk about that tomorrow.


Mark Lussier said...

I'm thinking about Joshua as he was preparing himself and his people to possess the promised land. Toward the end of chapter 5 of the book that bears his name, he encounters the Commander of the Lord's army.

Frank Rue said...

I am very pumped to hear your thoughts on this. You've already started with a great premise: are we staking our lives on a truth claim from an historical event that started Christianity? Or are we staking our lives on an experience and a gathering where we had a great feeling towards an ambiguous, nebulous concept we call "Jesus"?

DJP said...

Man! It's like only getting to watch one episode of 24! Only without Kim Bauer!


Kathy said...

If they are there for Jesus, they will come home broken by their sin and ready to serve the local church in humility, rather than puffed up with their exclusive knowledge about how to worship. Otherwise, they just had a religious experience. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your thoughts on this topic.

Frank Turk said...

Kathy: the local church?

Are you reading your Bible or something?

Nash Equilibrium said...

How can we tell they're not there just because it's a big, exciting event with lots of entertainment, and not for either religion or Jesus?

Frank Turk said...


I'm glad you asked.

I think there's nothing wrong with entertainment. Entertainment as Art can be edifying and instructive and enjoyable. It can also be respectful of God - reverent, holy.

I think there is something wrong with calling something that is "entertainment" "worship," and calling something that is merely "enjoyable" "sanctifying" or "life-changing."

We will get there.

SamWise said...

Existentialists surely had a un-repeatable experience (until 2014) :)

Modern passionate pine-cone throwers made their personal commitments still with no power to keep them.

Numerology (60,000) was temporarily elevated to new heights only to only be dashed by a BCS (80,000 of which half were Marian leprechauns).

Spiritual hang-overs will create disgruntleness with their poor local church's sound system.

The Gospel and the Sacraments will look so quaint now!

R.C. said...

Excellent questions, graciously expressed. I'm about as excited about reading the rest as 60,000 teenagers at an expensive lock-in.

Kathy said...

Why, yes, I have been reading my Bible. I've also been around some non-hypothetical people who are really excited about those sorts of gatherings but who find it difficult to commit to a church.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there's nothing wrong with entertainment, but there is everything wrong with advertising what is essentially a weekend of fun, as something life-changing.

Can something life-changing happen there? No question.

Should a youth pastor plan on something like that as a means to change his kids?
Not if he's serious about discipling them I think. Or at least, not unless he's doing simply it so the kids can have fun, and it's only intended to be a small part of what he's really trying to do.

Many kids can see through the hype, end just have a good time. Many more (like me at that age) can't. And they really hope it changes them. When it doesn't, it becomes a burden on them.
What did I do wrong that I wasn't changed? And all that kind of thing.

At least I did.

Dave said...

Frank: Oooh, you're swatting at a BIG hornet's nest with this one. And rightly so, i think.

Daryl: Bingo. When the high wears off, there will be two reactions: guilt at losing the "fire," or a desperation to regain the feeling of transcendence.

Brett R said...

A clean cut, talented young man who would be right in the wheel house of this kind of festival event decided he wanted to do something BIG, BIG, BIG!!! for God. He decided that he would go on a frontline short term missions trip to the ends of the earth. He asked me to support him and help him raise support. So after talking to him about some specifics, I asked him what his biggest fear was. I was thinking about the cultural extremes, homesickness, having to live on peoples giving and the responsibilities that come with that. His response: having to get an ordinary job here in this one-horse town of ours.

Because there is no "exciting" ministry to be had in an ordinary place, with ordinary people, doing ordinary work, coming under the authority of ordinary... and so it goes.

The short term missions trip? He was sent home early. And he works under a friend who is the picture of ordinary: a rock solid man of God who eats and sleeps to serve the local church.

So, there was a happy ending if you need it.

DJP said...

Dave: bingo.

David Regier said...

As one curmudgeon said:

Gaither Homecoming Training Camp

Frank Turk said...

You know: the only reason I hate comments at this blog is that you guys (and ladies) always get ahead of my posts and make them anti-climatic.

Of course, when you don't comment at all, I am trouble that God doesn't give me a loyal blogging audience. I blame my religion.

Scott Welch (formerly Scooter) said...

Your loyal audience is still here, it's just that some of us (me) have nothing to add. My cup of coffee and I await the rest of the week.

Jill Miller said...

I really appreciate what you've said so far, Frank, and look forward to the rest.

Mountaintop experiences in the Bible are rare, and rarely mean what the observer thinks it means (Peter: hey, can I build y'all tents while we camp here? #ThinkBeforeYouSpeak). I worry for the yoots who think this kind of experience IS worship, IS sanctification, IS walking with Christ...and who come home, face the inevitable descent back into the mundane, and waste the next 6 months of what really is worship, sanctification, and walking with Christ by longing for the next Big Experience instead.

Kevin Zuber said...

This is gonna be good!

Anonymous said...

If they were there for Jesus they wouldn't be there.

Michael Coughlin said...

Ooh, fun! Happy New Year's everyone!

JG said...

I'm trying really hard not to jump ahead in the conversation with my comment, so I'll hold off on the personal reflection part for now. In the meantime, very interested to see where you're headed.

JG said...

Although I do have to ask, is there such a thing as a generation that is "not lost"? How are we any different from our fathers?

Tom Chantry said...

Of course, when you don't comment at all, I am trouble that God doesn't give me a loyal blogging audience. I blame my religion.

OK, now I have to ask, is the Commentariat® here for Jesus, or for religion? Or for entertainment?

Eric said...



Rachael Starke said...

Here's another anticipatory comment - Frank will do his usual stellar job of letting some of you (us) do that professional older brother thing really, really professionally before he lowers the boom on all of us.

Popcorn popping. :)

Rachael Starke said...

And what Eric said. Really. Tom's comment could, as usual, be an entire blog post in itself.

Bill said...

Q: How do we know they are there for Jesus and not religion? A: How can we know any man's heart? We can't. But we do know them by their fruits. An immediate answer is most likely not forcoming but over the long term, you'll know.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Frank - I've been away in meetings, but thank you for your reply; which by the way, I agree with.

Saved By Faith Alone said...

If Piper was present then God's Word was very likely present.

If God's Word was present then the Sword of the Spirit was also. [Eph 6:17.] This Sword is used selectively -- both "by His will alone" and "In His time" alone.

If God the Holy Spirit can be effective in any crisis, and on a thief's cross, then He can certainly penetrate the gloss of "the Dome".

Should He choose to do so... John 6:66.

Even those drawn to the event for unholy reasons are not immune to the power of the Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

Morris Brooks said...

I think the main question that I have for events like this is "Did it make you more like Christ?

I think all of us would admit that there are times that we need a spiritual shot in the arm. But for it to be a true spiritual shot in the arm it must move us on down the road of Christ likeness. For then it is truly life-changing.

Merrilee Stevenson said...


I accidentally dropped my smart phone in the toilet. (Does that ever happen on purpose...?) So my ability to stay up on what's happening in the internets has been greatly hindered, and my online presence is diminished. But I'm going out of my way to comment, just because I think I'm an enabler. At least I hope so, in this case. :0)

Not only am I looking forward to reading the coming posts, I let others know (linked to it on facebook) --which could make things "interesting" in my local church... so yeah. Thanks.

Frank Turk said...

There's a part here which I'm surprised nobody has asked about yet: "What's the difference between Passion2013 and T4G"?

I'd say: "The scope of work."

You read in the post what Passion represents itself as. Here's how T4G represents itself:

"Together for the Gospel began as a friendship between four pastors. These friends differed on issues such as baptism and the charismatic gifts. But they were committed to standing together for the main thing—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So they began a biennial conference in 2006 to serve one main purpose: to encourage other pastors to stand together for the same gospel. As the conference has grown, more and more Church leaders discovered they shared their ambition.

T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented and marginalized in many churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ. Therefore, the goal of these friendships and conferences is to reaffirm the central doctrine of the Christian faith and to encourage local churches to do the same."

It's no contest. T4G represents itself as a conference and not as a soul-shattering outpouring of God's presence.

Frank Turk said...


A truly-smart phone would have known which was the floor and which was the toilet.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Frank, you are absolutely right! That is hilarious. From now on, I will no longer refer to my (re-activated) old clam shell phone as my "dumb phone." After all, it never thought to dive into the water. Plus, it fits much better in my FRONT pocket.

Carl C. said...

Dave hit it between the eyes: When the high wears off, there will be two reactions: guilt at losing the "fire," or a desperation to regain the feeling of transcendence. As a former Pentecostal, this manifested in several ways. In adolescence, I lived from one summer camp high to another, coupled with the uncertainty of my level of experience with others'. Later on, it was 'revival meetings'. The emotional downer that soon followed these experiences often led to such dissatisfaction with the same old, boring weekly church routine. I praise God for flip-flopping my desires through salvation, and eventually coming to cherish the few churches and ministers to be found that value faithful, consistent adherence to the Word and NT-style church life.

On a related note, the irony is not lost on me that my current emotional cliffhanger is waiting anxiously for Frank's follow-up post.

Frank Turk said...


It sounds like a works-based religion to me.

Just Sayin'.

Eric said...

"I accidentally dropped my smart phone in the toilet. (Does that ever happen on purpose...?)"

If I had one it would.

Carl C. said...


You know, there's more truth to that than I would've ever been able to admit before I was saved. Noone in that denomination would ever admit it of course, but works-based and legalism were the de facto order of the day. I have a horrible memory, but the things that stick out are the experiential emphases, never a focus on faith (except for healing), grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I can't attest to what went down at Passion - nor do I assume it's like my own experience - but I would hope that the real Christ and real gospel were proclaimed.

Sean Scott said...

Saved by faith said "If Piper was present then God's Word was very likely present."

Don't be so sure, sounds like you are putting stock in a man. I remember my parents saying this about Billy Graham who I admit never was very solid but when you say the pope is the best evangelist you ever met (or something to that affect) you are losing it.

@Frank, Man you have a way of making these things like that aweful to be continued between seasons of a good tv show. At least I don't have to wait that long.

Also 60k people??? whats up with that? I thought the 800-1k coming to see Washer was a lot.

SamWise said...

What Carl described as "fire" is Decisionalism (Charismatic or Not)/Perfectionism/Holiness/Arminianism which are Synergistic and believe there is an “Inherent Capacity of the Natural Man” (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/whatismonergism2.html)

The opposite is "Monergism simply means that it is God who gives ears to hear and eyes to see. It is God alone who gives illumination and understanding of His word that we might believe; It is God who raises us from the dead, who circumcises the heart; unplugs our ears; It is God alone who can give us a new sense that we may, at last, have the moral capacity to behold His beauty and unsurpassed excellency." (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/monergism_simple.html).

Mike Westfall said...

Theere were 60,000 young people there!

Surely it was a move of the Holy Spirit.

I mean, the work of the Holy Spirit is to make everyone feel good about themselves for swearing off human trafficking, right?

rfb said...

When did

"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent...Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."

and preachers saying things like:

"their foot shall slip in due time"

become insufficient?

Jim Crigler said...

I’m looking forward to the posts and (most of) the discussion.

My perspective here may be a little different from many of the commenters:

1. 3 of my kids were at this event. (No hotel in the expense — it’s local for us).

2. I rarely disagree with Frank.

The attitude and humility of most commenters here so far has been exemplary. One or two have been funny (and I was glad of it!).

Query: Frank, will you be addressing the specific content of the conference as well as the context and personalities?

ad nauseum said...

I'm a 20 yr old, so about the same age as all the quasi-hipsters at Passion2013. You got it exactly right and I cant wait for your next post.

Ive been to things like this before, when I was a less discerning youngster, just walking around and mingling, its clear that these types of venues accomplish nothing besides mass distraction and hysteria.

Watching the sessions, which were 2 parts musical performances to 1 parts chit-chat, where were the kids' Bibles? Watching the camera pan over swaths of kids, I saw like 2 Bibles, none of which were being read, No one was reading to see if what was being said was jiving with the supposedly relevant texts.

The messages given by Judah Smith and Giglio that I watched were so ambiguous, so entertainment based that they were most unhelpful to those kids. Sometimes its not what you say that hurts people, its what you don't say. And in a venue of 60,000 kids, many who are probably only Christian nominally, THAT was the time to bring out the big guns, blast Law and Gospel full power, and actually explain this guy who we're supposed to make famous.

In the end Passion was just that...passion. zeal without much knowledge, emotion without a clear understanding of what should make one emotional. Social justice focused..

This is my generation, and watching Passion I was sitting there stomping my feet, pulling out my hair, my heart breaking for these kids, so many of them are clueless. God be merciful.

Of course this wasn't the case for all of the kids at that event, Im sure there were some really solid Christian kids at the event, and like Frank said, I bet they saw through the lazer show and the tears, and they need to reflect on that experience, and talk with their friends who are still on a high from the whole thing.
Was it profitable? What did you learn?

Vamping up peoples emotions is easy enough, show some pictures of sad puppies, and blast some Sarah McLaughlin, if you do it long enough and with enough force it might even make an impact on them that lasts for a week or two.

This event could have been used to equip a theologically fragile generation to serve God, and proclaim the life giving and timeless truth of the Gospel, but that didn't materialize. God be merciful..

Great post Frank, however it was missing the word "frankly", whenever I read that word posted by a guy named Frank my mind does much the same thing it would do if exposed to the cold vacuum of space.

Frank Turk said...


I'm going to run out of room before I can review the specific content. I'm going to assume, more or less, that all of it was doctrinally sound for one reason only: the case I am making here gets 100x worse if the content is vacuous or harmful.

If you are looking for helpful reviews of the content, Chris Rosebrough has gone through the low-lights on Pirate Christian Radio. You can download that for free.