Archives For December 2015

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Torch-squareBy Lisa Sergent | When did we become the enemy?

In just a handful of years, we have come to understand what it means to be in the minority and to have our rights challenged. The Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states may serve as the line in the sand. Crossing that line happened quickly—not that Christians have moved, but the culture moved sharply to the left, putting followers of Christ on the defensive. Over half of all Americans approved of same-sex marriage, and the divide is even greater among younger people.

And so it was that in 2015 religious liberty really became an issue. Same-sex marriage may have been the flashpoint, but now the First Amendment rights of believers, pastors, and churches are on everyone’s minds. As never before, churches are asking legal, constitutional questions: Are we still protected? If so, how long will it last?

The growing divide between Christians and majority public opinion has led to increased concerns about religious freedom. In 2012, Barna Research found 33% of Americans believed “religious freedom in the U.S. has grown worse in the past 10 years.” In just three years that number grew to 41%. Among evangelicals that number is 77%, up from 60% in 2012.

Complicated response: A 17th-century Baptist stance that the government should stay out of all religious issues is a more tenable position in the 21st century than the “God and country” approach of the Moral Majority years, when evangelicals’ morals were in the majority. Today, Baptist leaders are having to advocate from a different posture.

When Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis was arrested in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, not all Christians agreed with her refusal based on her faith.

Fellow Kentuckian Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, framed the larger issue: “What this story reveals beyond the headlines is that the moral revolution on marriage and human sexuality will leave nothing as it was before… A legion of Christians struggle to be faithful in their own situations, responsibilities, and callings, and our churches will struggle to find a new relationship with an increasingly hostile government and society.”

Higher resolution

Lisa Misner —  December 31, 2015

Higher resolutionWe have a new TV at our house. It was probably overdue, because our previous TV was 15 years old, square, and only showed about two-thirds of the information that now seems to scroll continuously along the bottom of the screen.

But that outdated, misshapen, low resolution, antiquated TV simply would not die on its own, though I would occasionally toss the dog a ball in its direction, hoping something would happen. The old TV was still functional, and so year after year, we kept settling for that increasingly dated picture of our world.

As we now enter a new year, I feel the need for higher resolution in my spiritual life as well. Perhaps you do too. I don’t want to keep settling for an old picture of how things are, or how they should be, while the rest of the world is so quickly changing around me. I want my life and my church to have a sharp, accurate new picture of our purpose and mission in the world.

What does that mean? Well first, I think I need a new, higher-resolution picture of lost people. I need to stop seeing those around me who don’t know Christ as satisfied, self-sufficient neighbors who deserve their privacy. I need to see them clearly as hollow souls, spiritually dead on the inside, who are living life with quiet, inward desperation until someone finds a way to break through with the good news about Jesus.

I also need a higher resolution picture of what it actually takes for me and my church to deliver this good news. I can’t keep seeing the routine weekly schedule of my church as an adequate witness in my community. I need to see clearly what behaviors and changes are needed to actually share the gospel with people, and welcome them into the family of disciples that we call church.

I wrote recently about five actions that, statistically speaking, most often result in people coming to faith in Christ. They are an evangelistic prayer strategy, Vacation Bible School, witness training, outreach events, and starting intentional new groups. If my church and I don’t at least embrace those proven actions, we’re probably not seeing clearly at all.

Finally, I also need a higher resolution on what people, organizations, and partners are actually advancing the gospel, and most deserving of my time and resources. A couple of years ago, my wife and I updated our estate plan, and it made us think carefully about where we want the resources of our life to go. Sadly, in just a short time, some of those organizations or people have changed or drifted enough that we feel a need to rethink our plan. We want to generously give our best, but with a clear, current picture of where our investment brings the greatest Kingdom return. I’m happy to say that our cooperative missions work here in Illinois is still on the top of that list.

You should see our new TV. It’s not only larger than the old one, the picture is incredibly sharp, it’s relatively lightweight, and because it’s a “smart” TV, we can now access all kinds of new features through the Internet. It’s amazing. Yet it cost less than half of what we paid for its antique predecessor 15 years ago.

I can see things so much more clearly now. It makes me wonder why I waited so long to get a better picture. I don’t want to wait any longer to get a clearer picture of what it takes to reach people with the gospel either. I think that higher resolution will also give me higher resolutions for this new year.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at This column appears in the 1/4/16 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Gender-squareBy Lisa Sergent | The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June declaring same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right in all 50 states seemed to open a floodgate.

Olympic hero Bruce Jenner was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine after he reimagined himself as “Caitlyn.” Then, almost immediately, transgender issues multiplied, even reaching Illinois.

Consider what happened when Township High School District 211 tried to fight the federal government. A transgender boy wanted to use the girls’ locker room at Palatine High School. He was denied access by school officials. The student, who is still anatomically male, took the demand to the Department of Education. After several meetings, the suburban Chicago school board acquiesced to the demands and submitted to monitoring by the OCR through 2017.

Andrew Walker of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote, “By taking the action it has, the federal government is endorsing a worldview of expressive individualism—a worldview that shuns limits, endorses controversial gender ideology, and opens up society to ever-evolving standards of sexual morality.”

So far, only Texans are successfully standing against the transgender advance. After a citywide “rights ordinance” was defeated 62% to 38% in November, Second Baptist Houston’s pastor Ed Young said, “I think there are enough people in the city who still have and will vote godly principles. A lot of people did some soul searching and said ‘This is enough.’”

What can pastors do? Ahead of these developments, Russell Moore told Baptist editors in February that transgenderism is likely to come first to the church youth department as adolescents copy the blurring of male and female identities in the larger culture. Be ready.

For pastors, the call in 2016 is to preach Genesis 1-2 descriptive of the sexes and the whole of Scripture as prescriptive of marriage, family life, and sexual identity and behavior. Have we ever before needed sermons saying “boys will be boys” is no excuse for sin, but instead a plea for gender sanctity?

Meanwhile, the blurring continues—literally. Pantone Color Institute chose two hues as 2016 Color of the Year. They’re blending pink and blue to demonstrate “gender fluidity.” Pantone calls it “a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Jesus-squareBy Eric Reed | The killing of 14 people at a social services facility in San Bernardino, California came only two weeks after the fatal shootings of 192 people in Paris in November. At first, the California attack seemed different from the Paris massacre: far fewer fatalities in a daytime shooting following angry words in the workplace.

But then, similarities emerged. Weapons of war altered to discharge more rounds and kill more people, a stockpile of explosives, young people with Middle East backgrounds, and finally the verdict: self-radicalized Muslims.

The fear of ISIS-connected terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that has marked 2015 appeared plausible and justified. But for some Christians, combatting terrorism on a national security level became complicated by biblical mandates to care for widows and orphans and strangers as we witnessed the flight of 1.5 million Syrians from their own homeland, trying to escape ISIS rebels themselves.

There was no uniform response from Southern Baptists. Several leading pastors agreed that Syrian refugees should not be admitted to the U.S. And polls showed many people agreeing with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who recommended halting Muslim immigration in response to terror attacks.

But others found themselves defending Muslims as Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, cautioned, “A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”

What are believers to do? First, we pray. That is not a simplistic answer. To know the mind of Christ, we study his Word and we pray. The Teacher who instructed us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” is the same One who said “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Second, we can educate ourselves. The pastor who said that members of his church are “all over the place” on handling Syrian refugees can lead meaningful discussion rather than allow his flock to wander into emotional or unbiblical arguments.

Third, remember the spiritual need of all persons involved. “Our Muslim neighbors are not people we want to scream and rail at—we don’t want to demonize our mission field,” Moore told Buzzfeed. “I think that the evangelistic missionary impulse of Christianity that sometimes seculars present as nefarious actually is what grounds evangelicals to see individuals not as issues but as persons.

“Every person may well be our future brother or sister in Christ.”

The BriefingPercentage of Christians in US remains high
About 75% of Americans still identify as Christians, after a 5% drop since 2008, according to a new Gallup poll, which also shows that the number of those having no formal religious identification has increased by 5%, amounting to 20%.

Abortions in Illinois fall by 28%
The Illinois Department of Public Health released its data from 2014 showing that the abortion rate for minors fell by nearly 28% from the year prior, representing over 500 lives. The Mauck & Baker Law Firm in Chicago attributes those numbers to the state’s newly-enacted parental notification law.

Chicago area funeral home to serve alcohol
Last week, the village board in Wheeling, IL approved the creation of a new liquor license allowing Kolssak Funeral Home to serve alcohol during funerals and wakes. “Right now we’re pioneering, we’re out there looking far out, thinking these things could change the life celebrations at a funeral home,” David Kolssak said. “The spirit of this is not to do nothing but help people at a time of need.”

Iranian pastor Fathi freed from prison
Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi has been freed after five years imprisonment in Tehran because of charges linked to his Christian faith, Middle East Concern announced Dec. 22, estimating nearly 100 Christians remain imprisoned there.

Illinois is the biggest loser
New data released by the U.S. Census bureau showed that in terms of domestic migration — people moving about within the United States — Illinois saw roughly 105,200 more people leave than arrive. Even when offset by a gain of more than 37,600 by way of international migration, Illinois still ended up about 67,500 in the negative column.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Daily Herald, Illinois Policy, Illinois Review

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Unrest and reconciliationBy Lisa Sergent | Chicago joined the list that started with Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri as protestors against police shootings of young African American men took the streets, often chanting “black lives matter.” In contrast to other troubled settings, recent marches in Chicago were mostly peaceful, despite the volatile subject matter.

Race-related protests spread to college campuses such as the University of Missouri in Columbia, which led to the resignations of both the president and chancellor. Even the sense of safety a church provides was shattered one June evening, when a white shooter shot and killed nine people of color while they met for prayer at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

In response, religious leaders continue to the call for racial reconciliation. But the church’s role is unclear. Some are counting on the church to bring peace, others say the church is fanning the conflict.

According to Barna Research, 84% of Americans agree with the statement: “There is a lot of anger and hostility between different ethnic and racial groups in America today.”

Surprisingly, Barna’s polling revealed a significant minority believe “churches add fuel to the fire of racial animus; more than one-third say ‘Christian churches are part of the problem when it comes to racism’ (38%).” The percent is even higher among the Millennial generation (ages 18 to 31) where 46% believe Christian churches add to the problem of racism.

Despite those numbers, the same research found 73% of Americans believe, “Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation.” That view is as common among whites (75%) as it is among blacks (77%), although Hispanics are a bit more skeptical with 67% believing churches can play a role.

A role for the church: SBC leaders have held and participated in summits and ministries aimed at reducing racial tensions throughout 2015. SBC President Ronnie Floyd declared “racism and prejudice is a sin against God” at June convention in Columbus, Ohio. At the same meeting, Floyd led messengers in a prayer for racial reconciliation within the convention’s churches and across the nation.

Even more hopeful is LifeWay President Thom Rainer who forecasts fewer segregated churches in 2016. On his blog, Rainer stated, “For most of American history, 11 a.m. on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week. That is changing. A church that is not racially and ethnically diverse will soon become the exception instead of the norm.”

cultureBy Nick Rynerson

“Unless the gospel is made explicit,” says Matt Chandler in his book “The Explicit Gospel,” “people will believe that Jesus’s message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.”

Much has been made lately of this idea, that the gospel must be consistently made the explicit focus of our ministry, teaching, preaching, writing, thinking, and living. At first it sounds good; who wouldn’t want to center their life on the gospel explicitly preached? Declaring, believing, and enjoying God’s grace given to us through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the penultimate privilege of the Christian.

But what does this mean for Christian bakers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and insurance salesmen? Does this mean we need to weave gospel presentations into everything we do and avoid things that don’t fit in with our understanding of the gospel?

According to the Bible, maybe not.

While Jesus said that the whole Bible testified about him (John 5:39), in the first 39 books of the Bible, there is basically no explicit mention of Jesus. But that certainly doesn’t mean the gospel wasn’t present in the Old Testament. After his resurrection, Jesus on the road to Emmaus applied the explicit gospel to the less obvious gospel message of the Old Testament: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

One of the wonderful things about the gospel is that it is a story. It’s the story of man’s rejection of God and God’s redemption of the creatures that rejected Him through the blood of the sinless son of God. And in this story there are themes that any good gospel presentation will communicate: rebellion, love, grace, redemption, and unmerited favor.

When we see the world through these “gospel-colored glasses,” we begin to see those themes in unexpected places. Understanding the explicit gospel helps us see the implicit gospel. By having a level of explicit “gospel fluency,” as Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt puts it, we aren’t provoked to put gospel demands on earthly things. Instead, we begin to see echoes of the explicit gospel in those same earthly things.

The apostle Paul, maybe the most “gospel fluent” person to ever walk the earth, modeled this for us in Acts 17. Here, Paul preaches the explicit gospel in Athens and then, incredibly, cites Greek pagan poetry as examples of the love and graciousness of God! This means that Paul must have read these poems and thought, “Wow! The themes of the gospel are so strong, I bet I could use these to actually preach the gospel!”

He saw the implicit gospel because he knew the explicit gospel.

This means we are free to see the good gospel themes in the “secular” world. Whether it’s a movie, song, book, or TV show, if we are familiar enough with the themes of the gospel we can pick out those gospel themes when they show up in culture. The Christian appreciation of culture is possible when we are convinced that God’s world, even in its fallen state, echoes God’s word (i.e., the gospel).

Seeing the world through gospel-colored glasses also allows us to not have to tell the whole story every time. This is why good fiction written by Christians can be so powerful. Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Marilyn Robinson can bring me to tears not because they present an elaborate gospel presentation, but because they use well-crafted stories to imply gospel truth. It’s truth that circumvents propositional logic and hits the heart.

Art, music, and stories have a funny way of doing that. They speak to something deeper than our logical mind, as if when we read a good story or listen to a good song, something deep within us is stimulated and our hearts “burn within us” (Luke 24:27). So yes! Preach the explicit gospel, and put on your “gospel-colored glasses” to be on the lookout for the implicit gospel too. We need both. As Martin Luther reminds us, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

Nick Rynerson is a staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture and works for Crossway Books publishing house in Wheaton.

Heavenly peace

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2015

Nativity SceneFour months ago, my husband and I got the best gift we’ve ever received: Our daughter, Lucy, was born August 5, launching us on an amazing, sleep-deprived journey as parents.

When we held her for the first time, we saw her with new-parent eyes—she was squinty, puffy, wrinkled, splotchy perfection. I’d guess we got about 90 seconds of peace before the thought popped in my mind that has dominated the last four months: Oh, there are so many ways we can mess this up.

New and prospective parents, resist the temptation to Google. Because once you go down that road, there’s no coming back. Paci or no paci? Swaddle or free sleep? Is the fresh air good for her, or full of germs too mighty for her tiny immune system? If she fails at tummy time, is it because she’s nervous about performing well in front of me? (Believe it or not, this is a thing, even at four months. Google it.)

Those 21st century concerns are embarrassing to say the least when I think about what another, historical mom must have worried about in the days after her son was born. This stable is so dirty, Mary must have thought. There are so many goats.

And later, Who are these people from the east who have come to see him? Can I trust they have his best interest in mind?

And, ultimately, I know why he’s here. Can I really stand to watch him fulfill God’s purpose for his life? Can I really let him die?

How many ways can I mess this up? she must have wondered.

The worries of motherhood, which can spiral pretty quickly into downright terror, could have made Mary cling tightly to the gift she’d been given, and the heavy responsibility she must have felt. After experiencing four months of parenting-induced anxiety, I know that had I been Jesus’ mother, I would have kept him in the house and away from germs for as long as possible. Probably still in his swaddling clothes.

But instead, after submitting herself to what had to have been a numbing proclamation (Luke 1:38), Mary watched everything happening to her son and her family and treasured them all in her heart, meditating on them (Luke 2:19).

Instead of worry, she embraced the heavenly stillness and peace of knowing that while her human weakness and propensity to make mistakes lurked around every corner, God was in control.

He still is.



The_Briefing_ChristmasNew data reveals Christmas churchgoing trends

In a recent poll, LifeWay Research found among those who don’t attend church at Christmastime, a majority (57%) say they would likely attend if someone they knew invited them. Americans living in the South (66%) and Midwest (64%) are more likely to attend church at Christmastime than those in the Northeast (57%) and West (53%).

3 surprising news items that spiked online Bible searches in 2015

When news broke in 2015, many searched beyond the pages of a newspaper to the pages of Scripture for information about current events, according to an analysis of online Bible searches at

Angel Tree to ask volunteers to sign a statement of faith

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program will require its coordinators to affirm its statement of faith beginning Jan. 1, 2016. The organization’s statement of faith does put it at odds with liberal churches that do not share its stand on issues of life, marriage, and the inerrancy of scripture.

SBC pastor prays with Caitlyn Jenner in Texas mega church

Transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, prayed with Pastor Ed Young Sr. at a Christmas pageant at Houston’s Second Baptist Church. Jenner attended the church of Young Sr., who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, for the reality series “I Am Cait.”

Democrats criticize Trump, other Republicans on Islam

In the final Democratic presidential debate of the year, all three candidates said the U.S. government should partner with Muslims in the fight against terrorism and accused Republicans of demonizing adherents of the world’s second largest religion.

Sources:, Christian Post, Facts and Trends, LifeWay Research, Outreach Magazine, World Magazine

The New Seekers

Lisa Misner —  December 21, 2015

Today’s magi are young and worldly wise, but naïve about Christ

Worldly wise, spiritually curious

Worldly wise, spiritually curious | The magi in this nativity hail from Uganda.

By Mark Coppenger | While a 60-year-old church planter in a university town just north of Chicago, I had at least one big personal question: Why would college students come to a basement rental space to hear a balding, overweight preacher who was often the only one in the service wearing a tie? At least I knew it wasn’t my effort to “dress for success,” which used to mean gray slacks, a blue blazer, rep tie, and such, but had come to mean work jeans and an untucked shirt. The best I could tell, sartorial and tonsorial factors were not much in play.

And lest you have the impression that I was some sort of maven at reaching Millennials, I should hasten to say that a lot of them stayed away, and a lot of them who gave us a look never came back. As the old joke goes, “We had three decisions on Sunday. One was for God, and two were against.” I think that goes with the territory when you preach “the whole counsel of God” in an age when feelings, relativism, and political correctness rule.

In our 11 years in Evanston reaching out to the Northwestern University campus, our church plant grew about five per year in average attendance, ending with about 55 a week. Of course, college communities are very fluid, and we’d regularly have our heart broken by graduations, where we’d lose a chunk of our treasure. But we labored on in joy and with some fruitfulness, and today we take great satisfaction as seeing our former parishioners on the mission field in Germany, India, and China; as Christian faculty at such universities as Maryland and North Carolina; in corporate positions from New York to San Francisco; in military service bands, medicine, the urban classroom, magazine staffs, NASA consultancies, symphony orchestras, etc.

Many of these folks were already walking with the Lord, and we simply had the privilege of walking with them on a segment of their journey. But some were also coming in from the pagan pool. Some were old guys—one was an aging veteran of Iwo Jima who was concerned with “studying for finals”; another was a middle-aged Baha’i, who wanted a chance to bone up on one of the many faiths they somehow embraced.

All this being said, here are some things that come to mind about our linkup with Millennials, many of whom were not believers when we met them.

They’re seeking a way out

First, let me say that in the talk about “seekers” and “seeker-friendly churches,” we see something of a duel between those who point to Romans 3:11 (“there is no one who seeks God”) and Jeremiah 29:13 (“You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart”).

The former say that the lost have little or no appetite for the true God, at least until he intervenes in their hearts. The latter emphasize the human will and point to cases, whether biblical (John 12:21), historical, or contemporary, in which people did, indeed, come looking for the Lord.

Of course, this leaves open the question of why they were looking. (For what it’s worth, I’m persuaded that the overarching answer is that God puts it in their hearts to seek him, and they’re not really seeking him until he does this.)

I think it’s fair to say that most of our seekers were looking more for a door out of their current spiritual situation than for one into the Kingdom of Christ. They’d made a mess of their lives or come up empty in one way or another. They were unlucky in love, academics, employment; depleted and damaged by addictions, sexual sin; exhausted by the grind, betrayed by friends, marginalized by the culture and such, and they were willing to try something new. So they weren’t so much homing missiles intent on pursuing the righteousness of God, as they were anxious travelers thrashing about in the woods, spotting a cabin light in the distance and walking toward it.

Some were happy to join in the life of the cabin, glad to receive the mercies and life of the one who had invited those who were “weary and heavy laden” to come to him for rest. But others soon got cabin fever and sought the exit.

They loved the warmth and camaraderie and words of grace and love, but they couldn’t abide the language of Zion or imposition of the biblical prerogatives, and so, after warming their hands at the hearth, they plunged back into the darkness. There were, for instance, those who couldn’t or wouldn’t give up their intimate co-habitation without benefit of marriage. If they had been looking for the true God, they would have stayed, but they were only interested in trying out a new drug.

I was struck by the testimony of one of our Chinese students that her father had urged her to check out Christianity since it seemed connected with human and economic wellbeing. He wanted her to get a fix on what those Christian birds were up to that made them fly so high.

For those who had a heart to stay, we made a way for them to grow “in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.” For the others—the rich young rulers, if you will—they’d had a look at what discipleship meant, like it or not.

Despite what the critics say, the church still has a lot of cachet, and we should expect people to give us a look if only to figure out, “What is it with those guys?”

Spiritual nomads need roots

Fewer and fewer young adults come from gratifying homes, and those that do so miss what they had when they move away. Either they don’t much know what a family is supposed to look like, or they long for a substitute. And that’s where the church can come in big time.

In Evanston, Sharon and I were empty nesters for most of our years as a church-planting couple, so we had a lot of freedom to connect in fatherly/motherly (or grandfatherly/grandmotherly) ways. We’d go to their plays, recitals, sporting events, and such, taking photos, making over them at receptions, and basking in the moments of their achievement.

I remember one night at a club in Rogers Park, we went to hear a group called the Blind Anabaptist Blues Band, formed by one of our Northwestern students. They performed in all sorts of venues, high and low, in the Chicago area. They offered a mix of secular and sacred music, the lead singer with something of a Bob Dylan/Tom Waits sound. That night they led with several of their “worldly” numbers (e.g., “Girl With Gin on Her Lips”), but then, 20 minutes or so into the set, they gave a straightforward rendition of an old hymn.

You might think this would come off like fingernails on the blackboard, for overnight hookups were shaping up at the bar, pitchers of beer sloshed everywhere, and a lesbian couple had taken to the dance floor in front of the band. But a sweet reverence came over the room, with strangers mouthing some of the words, and with, perhaps, a tear or two at this or that table.

Perhaps they remembered the days when their mommy took them to Sunday school, they sang in the youth choir, or they sat on the back row of some church, barely attentive to what was going on, but with their young impressionable minds absorbing those gospel strains. So we need to be careful about throwing old stuff under the bus, for it may well be a linkage point.

What they know, what they don’t

I may have this all wrong, but I don’t think the current young adults read or learn as much background material as we Boomers did. I’ve seen several studies showing that, in high school and college, they’re writing fewer and fewer term papers.

They’re juiced with music in their ear buds, tweeted to insensibility, selfie’d into the third celestial ring of narcissism, and often remindful of the French, who after their 18th-century revolution, started the calendar all over again, declaring themselves the founders of a new age, no longer beholden to the BC/AD business.

So while you may stumble on syncing your iPhone or some other item of technological arcana, you know who Lottie Moon was, how William Carey fought widow burning in India, what turned Wales upside down in 1904, how ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ connect with oil, the connection between Nineveh and Mosul, and what difference Mordecai Ham and William Randolph Hearst made to Billy Graham.

Today’s seekers don’t. Of all the people in that list, they may not even know Billy Graham. They may know a lot of stuff, but they’ve missed a lot of important stuff their filters have kept them from learning.

These are folks who’ve been brainwashed in the paralyzing ideology of political correctness and overweening sensitivity, ever alert to the “gotcha,” by which they’ll lose their social standing, if not more.

They know that “Islam is a religion of peace,” that “gay is okay,” and any number of other secular pieties. They learn that the greatest sin is perceived intolerance (a foolish conviction exposed in Allen Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind”), and they’ve likely joined in the witch burnings of those designated “phobic” in one way or another.

But there you are, speaking the plain language of the Bible, whether the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of sin and hell, male headship in the home, and the sanctity of marriage and unborn human life. “You can’t say that!” they say.

“Oh, really,” I respond. “Well, here it goes again.”

Sure, some will stomp out grumbling, but others will be intrigued by the spectacle and stick around to see what the fundie mine sweeper will set off next as he covers his ears and goes lumbering through the fields of biblical teaching.

Some veteran missionaries in our church introduced “storying” for internationals, working off graphic wall hangings replete with Bible scenes, from Genesis to maps. The non-Christian Asian students were particularly receptive. (And, in this connection, I’ve really enjoyed my work at—“One God. One Book. One Story.”)

I think stories in the form of illustration can also take sermons to a higher level. Some call them “raisins in the oatmeal.” Whatever. I know Jesus used them a lot, in the form of parables. And I know they connect powerfully—and legitimately, if they serve the task of true exposition.

Culture also offers opportunities to connect with Millennials. They’ve been taught to stereotype “fundamentalists” or “chauvinists” or whatever class of vermin is au courant, and they may be queuing up for their own Mizzou protest or Wall Street grump-in according to the demands of the professionally offended. After all, thanks to the modern university, Millennials are hothouse plants, oblivious to thinkers who don’t fit the school’s suffocating ideological template.

So when you suggest that you prefer Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. Dubois, Edmund Burke to Howard Zinn, or Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace” to Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle,” they have a tough time processing your comments.

You might tell them you prefer poems that rhyme to those that don’t, maybe like the work of Robert Frost and Robert Service. That’ll drive ‘em nuts. But do it with a mischievous smile, letting them know that you don’t wish them harm, and that we’re happily a part of a Divine Comedy, not a Divine Tragedy.

My tactic: unruffledness

With the breakup of the family and society’s precipitous descent into the abyss of relativism, hedonism, narcissism, and even nihilism, we are confronted with all sorts of waywardness and frowardness, and we do well to handle these with unruffledness. Today’s seekers will show up with alarming tattoos, mad theories, “father wounds,” and promiscuities, and we should not think it a virtue to swoon in the face of affronts to holiness.

Don’t blink.

Let them tell their story and even put on their displays of lawlessness. Then pick up as you can. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t cover his ears and go “La-La-La-La” when he heard or saw something unpleasant. Unlike Jesus, we realize that we’re all a mess without his touch, and that none of us could endure a moment-by-moment projection of our lives in Times Square.

Don’t flinch from speaking a biblical word to sin, but don’t flinch from ministering to the sinner.

I’ve heard that, and have come to believe that, God honors our efforts even when they seem futile. We knocked on miles and miles of doors in Evanston, held a range of special events in city parks, and did a mass mailing to the city’s residents. In the end, very few came to church as a result. Or I should say, very few of those we contacted came to church. But a lot of others did, from sectors we’d not anticipated.

One congregant was a dear fellow who told the same stories over and over again over lunch, forgetting that he was repeating and repeating himself; another was a new convert from Islam; another was a theater student, working in constant tension with the values of the secular stage and the claims of Christ; yet another was a Messianic Jew who, as a policeman in uniform, dropped in on our services from time to time; another a pastor’s kid from Arkansas.

Call it an application of the “law of sowing and reaping”—that God keeps account of our witness efforts and rewards us with fruit from fields we’d not cultivated. We’d not sought them, but by his grace they sought out us.

Mark Coppenger is professor of Christian apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a church planter and pastor in Evanston, Illinois.