I probably should have written this originally: I love Young Life. I’ve volunteered with YL, taken kids to YL camps, and I have regularly given money to YL. We attend fundraising events whenever invited and have many friends on staff. I come from a strong YL town (Edina, MN) and a strong YL church (Colonial Church of Edina). And I grew up in a church-based ministry that was heavily influenced by YL. Honestly, I probably have more of an affinity for YL than for any other traditional para-church ministry. I really do love YL and think they have been extraordinarily successful at communicating the gospel to teenagers.
There have been some comments calling for me to retract the “wallow” comment. I will, in part. Though the non-negotiables document makes it clear that Jesus Christ “is to be proclaimed in every message” and that kids are not meant to wallow in sin, the hyper-Reformed sequence of 1) awareness of sinfulness, 2) repentance and belief, is even out of step with John Calvin. Calvin’s doctrine of “evangelical repentance” is explicated by him thusly:
Although we have already in some measure shown how faith possesses Christ, and gives us the enjoyment of his benefits, the subject would still be obscure were we not to add an exposition of the effects resulting from it. The sum of the Gospel is, not without good reason, made to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins; and, therefore, where these two heads are omitted, any discussion concerning faith will be meager and defective, and indeed almost useless. Now, since Christ confers upon us, and we obtain by faith, both free reconciliation and newness of life, reason and order require that I should here begin to treat of both. The shortest transition, however, will be from faith to repentance; for repentance being properly understood it will better appear how a man is justified freely by faith alone, and yet that holiness of life, real holiness, as it is called, is inseparable from the free imputation of righteousness. That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy. For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance. Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds.
John Calvin, Institutes on Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 3, Section 1 (emphasis mine).
So, YL may say they don’t want kids to “wallow,” but this legalistic prescription of a linear mode of evangelism basically institutionalizes just such wallowing and is out of step with historic Calvinism.
But my bigger point is this: This kind of doctrinaire theologizing is the end game in all modern, institutional evangelicalism. Just as the mainline denominations have insitutionalized liberalism (with notable pockets of resistance), evangelicalism is now institutionalizing fundamentalism. That YL took on a more corporate, capitalist model does nothing to curb this (to see more on YL’s corporate structures, read this important post).
I’ve never met Denny Rydberg or Jeff McSwain. I’m sure they’re both great, Christ-centered guys. But this event is another example of how gifted ministers of the gospel get caught in the maws of modern, institutional Christianity. The wave on this kind of thing is just starting to crest…