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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cotton Candy Christianity Anyone? See Centrifuge for Details

I am a little slow catching up with what is going on with Centrifuge. When I was an SBC youth minister, our kids never made it to any of the fuges and I never really saw the draw to them. Looking back and reading the curriculum as provided by Stephen Underkolfer, I am so glad I did not attend.

Stephen, a fellow SBTS student, shares the woefully disappointing curriculum for this year's Centrifuge camp which leaves out the cross, repentance, sin, and centrality of the gospel. In place of the "old-fashioned" gospel is the new "thrill ride." This is nothing short of cotton candy Christianity which is made to taste great but leave you empty. It is palatable to the unregenerate but incapable of satisfying. Centrifuge has become a microcosm of the Disneyland of American Christianity which has traded the pearl of great price for our trademark blue-light-special gospel. We have bartered away the truths of the gospel and have baited our students with cheap grace. In pursuit of being "relevant" and "contextual" we have undermined the unadulterated and unmitigated Truth for a glossy substitute which is fashionable and "hip." Several bloggers have chimed in since Stephen's post (including Tom Ascol, Alex Forrest, and Mark Combs). Some of you may remember the account of a youth pastor's experience at M-Fuge last year as reported by Ascol which reeked with New Age mysticism. One must wonder what in the world is going on here! Jesus is not "the most entertaining and thrilling rise we could ever choose!" Jesus does not "want to become a part of us!" What we are beholding is a nicely wrapped benefits package for students who will say, "What's in it for me?" A thrill, being entertained, and a little cotton candy on the side? Hear what the curriculum tells the leaders to say: "We must choose the ride that promises the most enjoyment, the most gratification and the one that allows us the most benefits. That ride is the one that Jesus is asking you to ride. The call of Christ is not wrapped up in a neat, little package. He's telling you up front that it's a little intense. He's telling you that He wants you to make a commitment. But most of all, He's telling you that you need Him to survive...." So I guess the gospel really does begin and end with us. What is at the center is not the glory of God, not the worship of Jesus Christ, not the praise of his glorious grace, but me! Is this not the clear teaching of this curriculum? Gene Bridges rightly asserts that the text the writer of the curriculum uses (John 6) was not intended to tell people that they could have Jesus on their terms whenever they want. The crowd was following because of what was in it for them, and in the end many left to never follow Jesus again. The crowd wanted a Christ without a cross, and this is precisely what the curriculum is offering to these students today. A couple of thoughts come to my mind. When I was a student minister, I preached expository messages which lasted approximately an hour (I say that because it is believed that students cannot bear any message longer than 20 minutes). I gave handouts to every student and made available my sermon manuscript (yes it actually was a sermon and not an object lesson) to anyone who wished to use it throughout the week for further intake and devotional material. To my surprise there would not be a copy left. I realized that when you train appetites to salivate on t-bone steaks they won't want to partake of spiritual junk food. The bar has simply been lowered below biblical standards, and the way we avoid dealing with the sub-standard is making it look so cool, so good that it almost looks like the real thing. Yet truth be known, we have impoverished our students while quoting such verses as "taste and see that the Lord is good." Our students deserve better, and Lifeway should take note. My second thought springs up from what Joe Thorn mentioned earlier this week about the weakness of Lifeway literature. He mentioned that Dr. Thom Rainer said, "Through this new line (B&H academic) we are going to communicate that we are serious about serious matters." This is good news, but here serious matters is assumed of the academic and theological sort, not student ministry or Centrifuge curriculum. But is anything that is in print that teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ serious business? Should we not be serious about our students? Surely they deserve more than a thrill ride, and Lifeway should have known this already. Finally, let me make my appeal to Lifeway leaders. Please, please consider changing your curriculum. My heart bleeds for students and have seen firsthand their disdain for superficial Christianity. In our culture they are already overly entertained and under challenged. Rather, give them the gospel thoroughly and passionately. It was the Apostle Paul who said,

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . ." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Dear brothers, I would also like to remind you of the gospel you have received and the gospel we have preached. This is where we stand. This is the gospel to which we must hold fast. This is the message of first importance which cannot be changed, altered, or watered down. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. According to what? According to the Word of God. I would like to say according to Centrifuge curriculum too, but I cannot at this point. What we have received we must deliver. This is the transmission of the gospel from generation to generation. If this is not preached, written, and spoken, we of all people are most to be pitied. Tell them about sin, about the cross, about the excellencies of Jesus Christ and his infinite love. And may it ever be that we can return to knowing nothing except Jesus and him crucified and find our boasting in his cross on which we find ourselves - not on a thrill ride but on an execution pole. O that students would lose their lives that they may find it in Jesus Christ! **************************************** In the meantime, for those of you considering a quality camp to take your students, let me take the time to plug what I consider to be the best camp in the country - Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. No, they do not have the backing of a denomination or have the big name speakers or outrageous budgets. Honestly, they do not need them. They are real. They don't soft-peddle the gospel. I strongly encourage you to consider them whether it be a DNOW, camp, ski retreat, or just a weekender. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

If you would like to contact Lifeway, here you can find the executive management team with their email addresses.


Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

I, too was oblivious of Centrifuge.
I blogged on it here. I'd like to know what you think of my thoughts.

3/11/2006 08:18:00 AM

Blogger Jimmy said...

Wow. Never been to Centrifuge myself, but it sounds like it's right up the American church's alley.

This "cotton candy" attitude is found in our culture across the board. Pop culture reeks of superficiality, materialism for its own sake, a numbed heart and mind, and fads that last no longer than the time it takes to pop a bag of popcorn. It's sick.

But it's even sicker that the church feels the need to mimic shallowness and artificiality to draw people to it, especially young kids. I have no problem with a cool t-shirt or quality music or what-have-you, but those things are of no real importance and can't be considered anything but niceties. They're not essential, they're not permanent, and ultimately, they're not important or meaningful. What IS all those things is the gospel of Christ, and what IS all those things is the Word of God. If we could train young men and women to hunger for God's word, the future of Christianity in this country would look a lot brighter.

It seems that the fluff is all that is given to or expected of today's youth groups. (In general.)

3/11/2006 05:11:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

You know, I was thinking, they have the purpose=-driven youth ministry which was spawned off the purpose-driven church. I wonder if it could be possible to have a IX Marks student ministry spawned off IX Marks Ministries. I wonder where Mark Dever and the guys at IX Marks stand on student ministry in general.

And oh, before I forget, the bloggers at Reformation 21 recently held the theme of youth ministry I think. Anyone know more about that?

3/11/2006 05:33:00 PM

Blogger JustByFaith said...

Thanks for this post. I'm sending a link to this post to my church's youth pastor!

3/11/2006 07:40:00 PM

Blogger The Traveler said...

Thanks for pointing out SWO I am printing the application now.

It is such a breath of fresh air to my starving soul.

3/11/2006 08:56:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I am glad you have found SWO as well. Someone you might want to get in touch with is Zach Mabry who is also a student here at Southern. He is a full-time staffer at SWO and could answer any question that you may have. You may find his contact information on the website, but if not, feel free to email me at outpostministries[at]yahoo[dot]com.

3/11/2006 10:58:00 PM

Blogger Kenan said...

"I wonder if it could be possible to have a IX Marks student ministry spawned off IX Marks Ministries. I wonder where Mark Dever and the guys at IX Marks stand on student ministry in general."

Chapter 18 of The Deliberate Church may shed some light on how they view student ministry in general, Timmy. Dever/Alexander (whoever it was that really wrote the book) discourage against the specialization of a church staff into minister/director of youth, of children, of music, of education, of missions, of discipleship, of evangelism, etc. due to its tedency to professionalize the ministry, to fragment the church, to be program driven, and to instill a territorial mentality of the minister.

3/11/2006 11:03:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Earlier today I emailed Dr. Rainer about this deal with Centrifuge and received a prompt reply. Because he is away right now, he is not able to address this situation immediately. He did say that this is a serious matter to him and that he had not looked at the curriculum. He asked for time that he could carefully and fully examine the study, which we should all give him the latitude to do so. I appreciate Dr. Rainer's comments and speedy reply and look forward to hearing what he has to say on this matter.

3/11/2006 11:16:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was pointed to your blog by justbyfaith, as he and I dialogue about these sorts of issues a lot. I am actually a three-time veteran of Lifeway camps- I worked M-Fuge rather than Centrifuge, which is admittedly very different. But I am a product of attending Centrifuge for five summers as a teenager.

Don't get excited: I am not about to lambaste you for your criticisms. I have not read the "Thrill Ride" cirriculum, but the name alone pretty much sets me straight. Thrill Ride and Real Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer style) are not synonymous. Thanks for exposing this, and calling it to the attention of people who do trust Lifeway. We must be discerning, and I agree wholeheartedly that students need to be taught to labor through the Bible, fully preparing themselves to be changed by the power of the Word. We do need to feed them steak.

About the M-Fuge cirriculum that I used last year though- I have to offer a defense. I cannot remember the fellow's last name who wrote the Bible Study material, but his name is James (Steele sounds right?) and he lives in Nashville, TN; most (from my understanding) cirriculum writers for Lifeway are hired freelance- they are given the theme (by the Fuge offices at Lifeway) for the particular camp (i.e. Thrill Ride) and then the person is given the task of writing cirriculum to fit the theme. Working to appease the theme and not the text is probably the problem.

But to vouch for this James fellow who wrote last year's M-Fuge Study, I didn't find any errors. I didn't hear any jokes or drink any cokes. Each day, the students were to realize more about the Lord's character and consequently to understand why He is worthy of their worship. We studied a different Psalm daily (23,40,73,84,93); it was centered on the text and I thought that it had integrity. I suppose anybody could come in and do a sorry job of teaching it, but the material itself was not bad. It wasn't Piper, but it wasn't bad.

So, basically, the lesson to be learned is that Lifeway should be accountable- absolutely. The problem is that the SBC is pretty diverse if you think about it. We (who care to read your blog and mine) are the minority, but we are still in the SBC. Reformation takes a long time, and a lot of labor, and a lot of love, and we have to decide which is best- trying to reform what is already in place (working for Lifeway, taking students to the camps with the staff members who are trustworthy) or just totally rebelling and doing your own camp. I can't say that I have decided for sure, but for now, I say stay with Lifeway and be an agent for change.

Thanks for your blog... i plan to frequent it.

3/12/2006 02:12:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


Thank you for your comments. This post and the comments shared are intended for the betterment of the fuge camps and Lifeway altogether. I for one would like to recommend Lifeway curriculum without reservation; furthermore, I would like to see as a whole Lifeway resources be more representative of sound, biblical theology rather than what appears to be cultural novelty.

When i refer to last year's M-fuge, I am not speaking from personal experience but from what was shared on Tom Ascol's blog. I thought I linked to it, but I guess I didn't. You can find it here:


I share your concern with reform in the SBC and believe we are beginning to have the leaders in place who can help promote that cause. Thanks again for checking in!

3/12/2006 07:46:00 PM


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