Somewhere around age 16, I got worn out by the charismatic evangelical youth group culture where I had been spending most of my free time. I had been to what seemed like hundreds of camps, conferences and youth rallies all around Australia, each with its own stadium rock worship band, multithousand dollar lighting rig and intense preacher who used words like “awesome”, “incredible”, “blessed” and “pumped”.
Reading Louie Giglio’s Passion: The Bright Light of Glory reminds me of what it felt like to be in that space nearly a decade ago. Compiling a number of sermons from the evangelical heavyweights who have spoken at Giglio’s Passion conferences over the years (John Piper, Judah Smith, Christine Caine, Beth Moore and Francis Chan), Passion is full of the hyped-up black-or-white, life-or-death language that I remember from those youth rallies. It’s intense and rhetorically impressive, but also exhausting.
Underneath the hype are mostly positive messages for Giglio’s target demographic of young people aged 18 to 25: work hard, don’t be afraid of taking risks, care for the poor and people around you, honour God in all of your dealings, don’t give up on the church, make vocational decisions that are worthwhile and that help other people. Do these things, most of the authors seem to say, and you will change the world.
But there are moments in Passion I don’t know what to do with, like the repeated insistence of some of the authors that the ultimate goal of a Christian should be to make Jesus “famous”, or, more worryingly, when Piper casually slips “war” in next to “changing diapers and doing taxes” in a list of activities that can have a “God-exalting, soul-satisfying unity”.
Even though I worry that the methods used by these authors to make Christianity appealing actually commodify the faith, I’m happy that a book with such wide appeal is encouraging young people to do meaningful things with their lives. Is asking more from books like this asking too much?
NewLife Uniting Church, Robina