MORE YOUTH BIBLE STUDIESMORE YOUTH BIBLE STUDIES
YOUTH BIBLE STUDYYOUTH BIBLE STUDY

Competing Isms

By Barry Shafer | has been in youth ministry for more than 20 years. | April 2 2012

Maybe you've seen the change.

Teens long have picked from a smorgasbord of worldview isms (i.e., atheism, naturalism, etc.), but today's isms no longer sit back waiting for teens to pick. They are creatively and aggressively evangelizing the teen generation. Purveyors of worldviews have awakened to something youth workers have known all along: The teen years are ripe for lasting formation.

Only 10 years ago, the teen who espoused a non-biblical worldview needed to be bold and intentional to hold to that view. Today, this kind of thinking is the new normal. Our teens are measuring the gospel message along with everything else, and there's plenty of cultural support for the everything else.

So how do we nurture the faith of our teens through the onslaught of earthly systems bombarding their hearts?

Thankfully, we don't have to fly blindly on this.

Nothing New

The message of good news was born into a culture that was bursting with explorative thought. The events and writings of the New Testament developed against a backdrop of Hellenistic worldviews that were springing out of Platonic and Socratic schools, philosophies that sought to explain existence and how to respond to that existence.

While much worldview pressure came from the outside (systems connected to Hellenism, the Greekifying of the Roman Empire), other influences came from within (Gnosticism, which put forth several theories trying to explain Jesus, all of them tripping up over Jesus' divinity). With few exceptions, today's isms come from similar directions. From outside, we have systems such as atheism, naturalism, materialism, etc. From inside, our modern Gnosticism arguably comes in the form of movements and organizations claiming the historicity of Jesus while questioning His divinity.

The Best Defense?

Two of the strongest, most direct warnings against New Testament era isms are found in Colossians and 2 Peter. In both instances, the warnings about "hollow and deceptive philosophy" (Colossians 2:6-8) and the covert effort to "introduce destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1) are accompanied by stronger exhortations to live "rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith" (Colossians 2:6) and to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord" (2 Peter 3:18).

Additionally, Ephesians 4 tells us that when we as gifted leaders equip our teens, they will not be easily swayed. In fact, they will grow to experience complete fullness in Christ.

Ruminate on those action words for a minute: equip, root, build up, strengthen, grow. These are not casual, haphazard words; and youth workers are positioned advantageously to live out these words in the lives of teens. The best defense against deceptive philosophies is an active offense that equips our teens and grounds them in the faith. Bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit bills, not so much by knowing the counterfeit, but by being hyper-familiar with real money. We need to hyper-equip our students with the what's and the why's of the gospel. What is redemption? Why do we need grace? What is unconditional love, and why did God extend it?

Sacred Connection

When Paul addressed the Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17, he built his message around the observations he'd made regarding their spiritual interests and pursuits. The neighborhood gods clued Paul in on spiritual needs. We can use a similar approach as we observe our teens measuring worldview options. Teens are searching and seeking. When they pursue a non-biblical worldview, they are reaching for something that resonates. This is a clue for us that there are deeper questions to ask, hidden needs to nurture.

Our sacred task is to steward the connection between our teens' deepest needs and the gospel's redemptive message. When this connection is made, it doesn't matter how creatively and aggressively the evangelists of today's isms come after our teens. Truth wins every time. It's an advantage we always will have.

As director of InWord Resources, Barry has written numerous Bible studies and is author of Unleashing God's Word in Youth Ministry (Youth Specialties/Zondervan), a vital resource for hyper-equipping teens for today's worldview competition.

Current Issue