What Would Jesus Make of “Passion” (Conferences)? Guest Blog by Austin Fischer

What Would Jesus Make of Passion? by Austin Fischer (Teaching Pastor, The Vista Community Church, Belton/Temple, Texas)

 Hooray Excellence!

 At the moment I’m writing this, there are 60,000 college students gathered inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. They are singing worship songs, listening to sermons, and gathering what will no doubt be a massive offering that will go towards combating human trafficking. It’s pretty unbelievable stuff, but the Passion conferences specialize in the unbelievable.

Cutting edge media, excellent musicians, famous speakers. If we’re going to be candid, it’s refreshing to see something “Christian” also be something of such exceptional quality. You could invite an agnostic friend to it and not blush at the prospects of asking him to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend something that feels like a home-school prom. I like excellence, you like excellence, we all like excellence, and I think Jesus does too. Hooray excellence!

That said, as I was reading the tweets of a number of my students who are at Passion, a question kept bouncing around inside my head. Maybe I was asking it of God or maybe God was asking it of me—I often can’t tell the difference. But either way, the question was, “What would Jesus make of Passion?”

Now I know, I know. The question is both loaded and brutally anachronistic, but it just kept asking itself to me. Spoiler alert: I have no idea what Jesus would make of Passion. But here’s some stuff I threw up against the wall. Maybe some of it sticks.

Thought #1…Temple = Georgia Dome

I remember the first time I went to a Passion conference. I was a senior in high school and together with my youth pastor and a few friends, we made the trek to Sherman, Texas. And from the beginning, the trip had a certain vibe to it, a vibe I’ve since learned is the anticipation of pilgrimage.

Religious pilgrimages—as far as I can tell—stretch back to the beginning of human history. There’s something primeval and elemental about the act of going on a journey to a place where we believe we will encounter something transcendent. In the Hebrew Bible, we see God commanding the Jews to make yearly pilgrimages to “appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 34:18-23). Once the Temple was built, these pilgrimages would culminate there, the place where heaven and earth came together. Indeed for a Jew, the Temple was the holiest place in the whole universe. They traveled there because God was uniquely there.

And by way of crude parallelism, it would appear that what the Temple was for an ancient Jew, the Georgia Dome is now for many young-adult, American evangelicals. They take a yearly pilgrimage to the Dome because they feel it is a place where God is uniquely present.

“Cleansing” the Temple?

So what do we make of this? The first thing that came to my mind was Matthew 21 and Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple. I put cleansing in quotations because contra popular belief, NT scholars point out that Jesus is not cleansing the Temple so much as he is shutting it down. Flipping over the tables of the money-changers and seats of the dove-sellers (21:12)—these are not acts of purification but condemnation. The exchanging of pagan coins for Jewish coins and the selling of animals for sacrifice were both essential for Temple worship. The Temple didn’t need rehabilitation. It needed to die.

But not because God hates buildings; rather, the Temple needed to die because Jesus was replacing it. Jesus was a one-man, walking Temple; the place where heaven and earth came together and God was uniquely present to his people. As N.T. Wright says, “What the gospels offer us is a God who is in the midst [of us] in and as Jesus the Messiah…Jesus himself is the new Temple at the heart of the new creation…And so this Temple, like the wilderness tabernacle, is a temple on the move, as Jesus’ people go out, in the energy of the Spirit, to be the dwelling of God…”[1]

Now from one angle it’s tempting to connect these dots. Jesus shut down the Temple because he was replacing it. The Georgia Dome has become a new Temple. Jesus would walk into the Georgia Dome and flip over the merch tables and slam Chris Tomlin’s guitar, Garth Brooks style. And while that sort of simplistic reasoning certainly won’t do, I do think it raises some interesting questions regarding the pilgrimage/Temple mentality that so clearly permeates the Passion ethos. So here go a few thoughts…

(c)hurch

Jesus didn’t shut down the Temple because it was evil. He shut it down because it was obsolete and no longer needed. God was doing a new thing, was making himself present to his world and his people in a new way, and the Temple didn’t have a place in this new creation. God was now present to his people through the Spirit and was present to the whole world through his Spirit-filled community = the church. And I put church in lower case on purpose. Local churches made up of normal people doing normal things…this is the God-appointed medium of God’s presence and grace to the world. Not a Temple. Not a yearly pilgrimage. And dare I say, not a trip to the Georgia Dome.

To be sure, many Passion attendees love their local church and their pilgrimage to the Dome is a noble period of spiritual refreshment. But I don’t mind going out on a limb and suggesting that for a great many attendees—perhaps the majority—Passion is the most spiritual moment of the year. It is the standard by which all other spiritual moments will be judged. They’ll have to wait a year to feel this close to God again because it’ll be a year before they’re back here, singing the resounding chorus to an awesome song, having just listened to a sermon from their favorite celebrity pastor, all while their eyes are dazzled by the glitz and glamour of it all. It will be a chore to wade through the ordinariness of actual church life for another year.

As I once told a college student, if Passion is the most spiritual moment of your year, a.) I feel bad for you…b.) you’re not going to be able to love and serve your actual church. And that’s because your actual church actually has to be the church. It has to deal with crying babies, botched song transitions, average sermons by not-famous people, and a budget for the year that is half that for 4 days of Passion. It’ll never measure up and so you’ll probably bail and look for a church that will feed your Passion addiction (if only Passion could be a church…or wait…it is J) or you’ll stay and complain and never put down any real roots.

I inhabit and am thus aware of a rather small sliver of reality that I know as my life, and speaking from here, this is not hypothetical. I work with college students, I watch it happen, and I deal with the aforementioned phenomena. For the longest time, I didn’t quite know what to call it and I still don’t. But I know it involves a skewed understanding of the spiritual life in which a streamlined, hyper-spiritualized gathering has replaced the gritty reality of incarnation, of learning to be a human, among other humans, through whom God is reconciling the world to himself. It invigorates the spiritual life to be sure, but it does so by immersing them in something that just doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the real world.

And so as ironic as it may sound, maybe what Passion is doing is not progressive or ground-breaking so much as it is, well, antiquated. That’s hyperbolic to be sure but maybe, just maybe, Passion needs to make sure it doesn’t build something that Jesus already tore down. And I really hope it doesn’t build it on top of the church.

Thought #2…Going Vegan in a Steakhouse

Maybe you don’t buy the “Passion or church” thought above. Maybe you think you can have your cake and eat it too. I’m not so convinced most people can, but moving on, thought #2 is something I hope we can all agree on, even though it is uncomfortable.

So I’m told that at the beginning of this year’s Passion conference, Louie Giglio got up, surveyed the energy and buzz of 60,000 students packed into the Dome and said, “Is this not incredible?” He went on to talk about how Passion has become a global movement, impacting millions of lives and followed that up by telling the story of a student who had been addicted to drugs, but as a result of last year’s conference is a year clean. Louie then said, “The testimony of these days in the Dome will be, ‘I know that He is the Lord,’ and ‘I know He can do immeasurably more because He did it in my life,’ and ‘I don’t need an event, I don’t need a Dome, I need Jesus’.”

“I don’t need an event. I don’t need a Dome. I need Jesus.” Amen! See, Louie and company know it’s about Jesus and not an event. But let’s allow ourselves to sit with the irony for a moment. Louie stands before a crowd of 60,000 people, in the Georgia Dome, talking about how this is a global movement, telling a story about how this event helped a guy be sober for a year…and he says, “I don’t need an event, I don’t need a Dome…” But Louie, you’re in the Dome, at an event, hyping the event. We hear you saying something about not needing a Dome, but it’s hard for us to take you seriously when your face is being projected on that 5-story tall LED screen suspended in the middle of the Dome.

Perhaps it’s something like taking a group of people to the best steakhouse in town, providing them with a buffet of the finest cuts available, all the while telling them that eating meat is wrong and we should all go vegan. You can talk to people about the virtues of going vegan all day long, but as long as you’re feeding them steak, I doubt they’re really listening to you. And perhaps even more importantly, I question whether you really want them to listen to you.

Means = Message

There is a more technical way to say all of this: your means is your message. When delivering a message, our words are not the only things that communicate. Everything communicates, and in particular, the “way you do things” communicates, perhaps the loudest. I’ll borrow an example from an excellent book.

Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken were the pastors at one of those suburban, fast-growing, soon to be mega-churches. Fearing they were bordering on becoming a “seeker-sensitive” church, they started really emphasizing discipleship from the pulpit. But they noticed it wasn’t changing the culture of their church. It was still trending towards consumerism and impotent discipleship. What was the problem? In their own words, “We couldn’t merely change the words we used to communicate the gospel because there were too many other messages ingrained in the Oak Hills culture that would contradict our words.”[2]

In other words, you want to make sure you’re creating disciples and not voyeuristic consumers? Then you’re going to need more than words spoken in a context that contradicts everything you’re saying. It’s naïve to think we can hook people with a massive, consumer experience, and then not expect them to act like consumers. As Carlson and Lueken say, “Our attractional methods are not neutral. We are training people as we attract them.”[3]

Some Conclusions

So what would Jesus make of Passion? I don’t know. I think he’d enjoy hearing 60,000 people singing to him. I think he’d love a massive offering taken up to combat human trafficking. I think he’d rejoice in the refreshment and repentance taking place. And as mentioned earlier, I think he’d enjoy the excellence of it all. These are—in and of themselves—indisputably good things. But I’m not sure what he would think about the new Temple we’ve constructed, the celeb-pastor cults, or the Passion fever. But deconstruction is easy, so how about a little reconstruction.

I suggest this: Do some massive downsizing for Passion next year. Minimal media, no celeb-pastors or musicians. Get people who are good, just not famous…they’ll cost less. Maybe just leave the regular lights on. Maybe you could charge $50 instead of $200. By my calculations, that’s somewhere around $10 million dollars you’ll save the attendees. Then, challenge everyone who attends to put that $150 they saved at Passion towards their local church’s budget. Or if they really hate their local church and don’t believe in it enough to give $150, then give it to Compassion, International Justice Mission, etc. And then maybe Louie could stand up in the Dome in front of 60,000 people and say, “I don’t need a dome, I don’t need an event, I just need Jesus”, and we’d actually be able to hear him.

And one more thing. We Christians do have an unfortunate tendency to be cynical towards things that are doing well—especially when it’s not “our” thing. Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s all too easy to be swept away by some latent notion that if it’s Christian and successful/excellent than there must be something wrong with it. The success and excellence of Passion should be something we rejoice in. But success and excellence—from a truly kingdom perspective—are things only achieved through ruthless self-evaluation and continual repentance. Like most things, I don’t think the Passion conferences are all black or all white. Like most of us, they do some good things and bad things. So here’s to exposing the hype and nourishing the good.

 


[1] N.T. Wright, How God Became King, 239.

[2] Carlson and Lueken, Renovation of the Church, 57.

[3] Ibid., 67.

  • PJ Anderson

    Though I wonder about the conference mentality among professional clergy, I cannot help but think how impactful my own experiences with Passion (and its predecessors) has been. While in seminary I attended a couple of One Day conferences and was really encouraged and blown away by the movement of the Holy Spirit I encountered there. As I took college students to Passion following my graduation from seminary I also was amazed at how these events can, and do, mobilize a generation for Christ. Through events like Passion we’ve seen dozens of young college students walk away from the vain pursuit of the (fading) American Dream and enter into ministry callings. We’ve seen many in our group come to faith in Christ and a renewed walk. I don’t think they are bad things, however we need to keep our perspective.

    Your best point in the piece is the line about if Passion is your most spiritual moment. That is where we should camp out and remind ourselves that this faith journey is mightily important and must be sustained across all the days of the years. Thankfully the leaders of these conferences are aware of this and have started corresponding churches and ministries, many in forgotten places of our cities.

    Though the piece is, at points, contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, I do commend your emphasis on remaining fixed on growing a deeper faith and not being hindered by isolating our experiences to a single day/event.

    • rogereolson

      Will they accept as “corresponding churches and ministries” those that are explicitly Arminian in theological orientation?

    • Lisa

      Are you saying that all the good that Billy Graham has done is less than becasue he met in arenas and domes. He always had famous singers and kenote speakers. I feel sure that all the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior at his meetings felt it was one of the most spiritual moments of their lives. Jesus shows up anywhere you invite Him. It saddens me that there are so many pastors who are always looking for the negative in everything. When 60,000 college students choose to spend their own money and spend four days praising and worshiping God….that’s a good thing! Why try to find fault with it?

      • rogereolson

        Just speaking for myself (not Austin), I attended two Billy Graham crusades. One was many years ago and the other was not that long ago (one of his last crusades). Both were primarily focused on evangelism and were supported by a wide variety of local churches. The second one had a Christian hip-hop group, but it wasn’t very spectacular. People who came forward to accept Christ were channeled into local churches for discipleship.

  • John I.

    Amen.

    Thank you.

    Please continue to be thoughtful and reflective, and dependent on Jesus, and a writer of texts like this one.

    Sincerely,

    John

  • Rachel

    Passion being the spiritual highlight of someone’s year is no different than church being th spiritual highlight of someone’s week. It seems the arguments against Passion are just as easily applied to the local church. I don’t think the problem lies with the program, per se, but rather with the spiritual training given new believers – whether as applied to church or to a conference. (Note: I’ve never been to Passion itself.)

  • Phil Miller

    Maybe Jesus would have something to say about this (from last year’s conference)?
    http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-salvation-not-a-decision-66530/

    I know the intent of this post isn’t to get into Calvinism, but I don’t think one can talk about the Passion conferences without doing. The fact that Piper is always give a platform there is the biggest problem with the Passion Conferences. I was two (’06 & ’07) and they were smaller then (18,000 or so). I don’t like that they give John Piper an avenue to introduce the thought to college students that Calvinism is the most intellectually rigorous version of the faith (multiple people treated Piper as a brilliant theologian in their comments when I was there).

    I don’t want to come off as if I totally reject the movement, though. I think overall they are doing a good thing. The students I took to the conference loved it, and, honestly, I don’t know how many of them actually noticed the Calvinist stuff (although I know some of them did). It’s just one of those things that prevents me from being totally excited about the movement anymore.

  • http://www.billyymcmahon.wordpress.com billy mcmahon

    Well said! After many years of participating in it, I would describe myself as sort of burned out by the Passion-type culture. Here’s a question I started to ask myself after starting to feeling a bit disillusioned: “Would I still be a Christian if I did not feel God’s presence?” It’s really tough to answer this- you have to really examine what motivates and drives you. Of course Christ brings comfort, but I’ve oftentimes confused this with a sort of vegetative emotionalism brought about by intense worship services.

    • https://www.epicvoyage.org/blog/ Chris

      As someone who grew up in pentecostal churches, I can attest to how easily we confuse emotion with “feeling God’s presence.” Job certainly lost that feeling for a bit.

  • josh carney

    Austin,

    Great post. You killed it, but what’s new? I tried to read this critically because I figured I’d be predisposed to disagree with you before I started. I have a thought and would love your feedback. You wrote, “They take a yearly pilgrimage to the Dome because they feel it is a place where God is uniquely present.” Let me state my supposition in case I have it wrong and that way you can dismiss my question as moot. The dome/temple is a metaphor for a place where we go that we elevate as a spiritual experience. this is problematic because it teaches us to depreciate the hard work/commitment of doing local church (or something to this effect). First, I should say I’m inclined to agree. Temple and domes can and very often do just this. But as I thought about my own life and the life of all kinds of people i respect I began wonder if we don’t all have domes. Here’s two examples that came to my mind. If i had the money I’d go to the festival of preaching every year. It would be among other things, a spiritually high experience for me. Or how about the students who, some of them not even for credit, go on Gloer’s trips to the monastery? Surely this appeases the mystic in them in way that the demanding nature of budgets, sermon prep and pastoral counseling don’t. What do you think? Do we have temples and domes we go to each year?

    • josh carney

      oops meant predisposed to “agree” with you.

      • rogereolson

        Josh, whatever message this is a correction to didn’t come through. Send it again, please!

    • Austin Fischer

      Great thoughts Josh, and yea, I definitely think we all have domes. So I guess the question is, are all domes created equal? Or perhaps its corollary, who are we to judge another person’s dome? Those are tough questions. Here’s my thought. All domes aren’t equal but we should be very careful in critiquing them. But when a dome has become The Dome for a really high percentage of the people I am, in some sense, responsible for, I think it’s a good idea to poke your head in and take stock of what’s going on. Most domes could probably use the occasional renovation, or at least a changing of the furniture.

  • Tommy O

    Outstanding post! Thanks for sharing it Roger!

    • rogereolson

      And, of course, thanks to Austin for writing it!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Austin,

    “……maybe, just maybe, Passion needs to make sure it doesn’t build something that Jesus already tore down. And I really hope it doesn’t build it on top of the church.”

    This is outside my experience (just some small knowledge from bits of reading), but your statement quoted above stands out as having the ring (Spirit) of truth. Thank you for this perceptive analysis – and, on your parallels, you needn’t ask for our indulgence. Connecting the dots is not really all that easy, especially when we often resist doing so. Courage!

    On medium and message, I cannot resist reminding us that the phrase “medium is the message” relates to the work of a famous Canadian, Marshall McLuhan, who lived long before many of your readers were born. Wiki has the following little bit of historical trivia that should at least amuse: “McLuhan frequently punned on the word “message”, changing it to “mass age”, “mess age”, and “massage”; a later book, The Medium Is the Massage was originally to be titled The Medium is the Message, but McLuhan preferred the new title, which is said to have been a printing error.”

  • http://www.makedisciplesnow.org Tim Worden

    Excellent article, Austin. Until we grasp the Romans 12:1 definition of worship, we’ll continue to settle for concerts, motivational speeches, and laser light shows. It will always be easier to attend a cool event than to die. What would Jesus think? It would do us all good to camp out in Isaiah 1:15-17 for a while.

    “The only way to combat consumerism in the church is to take away what consumers want to consume”
    – Hugh Halter from the book “AND – The gathered and the scattered church”.

  • gingoro

    This kind of leaves me open mouthed as I have never heard of “Passion”. Only two possibly comparable events come to mind. One is IVCF’s Urbana Conference but from the one time I went it does not really seem to correspond to what you are talking about. The second is Christian Musical shows put on by folks like The Cathedrals, Bill Gaither etc but which I never attended as it seemed inappropriate, although friends did attend.
    DaveW

    • rogereolson

      Why “inappropriate?” I’ve been to Cathedrals concerts (and others like theirs) and Gaither “Homecoming” musical events. I even met and sat and talked with Bill G. for a while before one of them. (We were sort of friends for a while.) I realize they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but what’s “inappropriate” about them? They’re just concerts, not worship events and certainly don’t substitute for church for anyone.

  • J.E. Edwards

    OUCH! I think this post wants to be constructively critical, but it’s hard to make a skunk quit smelling like a skunk. I didn’t go, nor have I been to a Passion conference. At my age it would probably creep out the young people:) No doubt, there are a number of things I agree with in the post. Especially the adrenaline high that people leave with. However, there are too many camps, seminars, retreats…..(you get the drift) that end up this way, too, yet we don’t hesitate to load up the buses every summer. Having worked at summer camp and now having teens, I’ve learned to let the Holy Spirit do His work and pray that much of what they hear will over time become a real part of their life. The part I’m talking about is Austin’s emphasis on excellence that almost negates the actual work of God in the lives of all who were there. That’s dangerous (in my opinion). It’s one thing to think it, it’s another thing to make a judgment in a blog post. The other thing that was almost the crown of the post is nearly laughable. Trying to make the similarity to the venue of the conference to the Temple (even Mecca as a pilgrimage) was pretty much over-the-top. You almost lost me there, but in the spirit of fellowship I hung in and found that there were some valid questions for all to ask ourselves. Like I said, they are for us to ask ourselves, probably not even each other.

    • rogereolson

      Well, neither you nor I will ever be able to find out for ourselves. Last I heard people over 26 are not allowed to attend. I wonder why that would be? When I attended summer “Bible camp” and other youth-oriented events as a youngster I always appreciated the older folks who were there.

      • Phil Miller

        People over 26 are allowed to attended if they’re affiliated with a campus ministry in some way. You would just have to find a campus group to get involved with. I imagine the reason they restrict registration for adults not affiliated with campus ministries is that they have always been a movement for college students, and I could see that if they allowed anyone to register, that would quickly be diluted. The bands and speakers that they have at the events are popular enough that they would draw quite a few people who aren’t students. It would become like another Christian festival, similar to Creation or Cornerstone.

      • CC

        Passion is aimed at 18-25 year olds primarily. I believe the age limit is in place because if all the rest of us who attended Passion and are now out of that age bracket still went (as I would love to do), it would mean fewer students could attend and it would dilute the impact on that age range. But “grown-ups” do attend as sponsors or chaperones. Someone’s gotta drive the church van!

      • J.E. Edwards

        Haha. I was hoping to see you at the next one:) “Not allowed” is kind of true… Actually, if you are a group leader or a conference volunteer you are welcome. I guess it is geared toward a certain demographic. I wouldn’t hold that against them strictly, speaking for myself. I hope I wouldn’t speak out too harshly on any evangelical event, regardless of who is or isn’t speaking there. I’m pretty sure the same people (or mostly the same) have been speaking there since its beginning. I don’t want to judge Austin’s motives for writing this, either. He’s entitled to ask these kinds of questions.

    • Austin Fischer

      Yea the Dome = Temple was over the top, but I kind of admit that in the post. I am intrigued by the “think it but don’t say it” thoughts. Not quite sure what to make of it, maybe “consumerism is American Christianity’s skeleton in the closet and we should just leave it there and let it do the dirty work because is has its benefits”?

      • J.E. Edwards

        Sorry for the lack of clarity there. I was simply saying that some things are simply our opinions about other Christian brothers and their activity. Sometimes it may be better to keep those things to ourselves. I don’t think anyone here is willing to say that people aren’t helped and much good is being done there. It may not be the way we might do it, but it doesn’t make it wrong either. Maybe I should keep those thoughts to myself sometimes…..

  • Corey

    First, your vegan anology doesn’t translate. He wasn’t preaching that the dome or any of those things in it should be abstained from. He is simply saying glory be to God and not the things of this dome. If I told you, it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus, would you call that hypocritical because despite what I’m saying I still exist? Second, you talk about Jesus thoughts on Passion as though they are hypothetical. I think they are real, and His blessings are upon it. Third, a lot of these “famous” people you speak of we’re made famous as a result of being at Passion. Ever heard of that Judah character that was there this year? Me either, but I bet you’ll hear of him now. If they bring in a roster of not famous people next year, they’ll be famous by the time it’s over. Last, asking them to eliminate the “consumer” aspects of Passion is like me asking you to eliminate this blog and write your thoughts on paper or maybe even chisel them in stone. Where does it stop? Some would argue that your vision is still too consumoristic because you still brought in $3 million, or because it wasn’t hidden in some hut somewhere. As long as they (the people behind Passion) aren’t using it for anything sinful, or executing it by any means that are sinful, then I’m behind it just as it is. And I bet they are checking themselves daily on this.

    • Austin Fischer

      Hey Corey,
      I think the vegan analogy does translate because I think you’re fudging Louie’s comments a bit. I do think he was preaching that an unhealthy attachment to events is a bad thing and you don’t need that. Or to put it another way, he was saying that none of the glitz and glamor is necessary and it can be dangerous. My point is, it is hard to really hear that when it’s being said to you in a context of glitz and glamor that is so hyped that even the hype is being hyped.

      As to the “where does it stop” line of reasoning, I’m just not sure that gets us anywhere. I don’t know where it stops but I can find a few places where it should start. Should we hold off on starting until we know exactly where it stops? I don’t think so.

      • Corey

        I’ll stipulate to your second point…. I definitely don’t think we should kick back and do nothing until we can draw a hard line… but unless I can draw the conclusion that what they are doing is wrong, I don’t see where we can criticize their methods. I have to trust that they are seeking the heart of Jesus when making decisions…. especially since I’m not a part of their planning process.

        To your first point: I’ll even stipulate to your interpretation of what he’s saying here (even though I think you are making a bit much of it), but that doesn’t change my original point. The existence of the glitz and glamor is not a necessity, but it’s also not bad. That’s why I think he’s simply reminding them that the focus is on Jesus. Take a look at your own life… Is everything in your life necessary? Or are there things that have the potential of unhealthy attachments? Sometimes we need reminders to keep these things in perspective. You can remind someone not to drive too fast, while being the one drivers seat…. how is this any different?

  • Kristi-Joy

    I realize that this is the least important part of your point, but thanks for the good laugh contrasting a “homeschool prom” and an “excellent event”! Raised homeschool k-12, so I know exactly what you mean!

    • Austin Fischer

      But that was the most important point I made!

  • http://davidwbarratt.com David Barratt

    This article is really an amazing look at Passion. However, I wonder if you applied these same arguments to your own local church, would you end up at the same result (albeit, on a much small scale)? Because your paid by a church, isn’t your argument for the local church just as strange as Louie’s argument for the Dome? Shouldn’t we use the same thought to remove the temple (the church building), the high priest (the pastor), and the tithe?

    • Austin Fischer

      If I follow, I’d say this. I wouldn’t go further with my argument because the local church is where God intends that it stop. I didn’t pick the local church…God did.

  • http://michaellukaszewski.com Michael

    There are always people cynical toward big events. Some of it is warranted, and some is due to pure cynicism. But at the end of the day, I ask myself this question: When may daughter is 19, do I want her at the Georgia Dome with 59,999 other college students?

    A resounding yes.

    And that’s the end of any debate in my mind.

    • Austin Fischer

      Hey Michael,
      I like the angle from which you approach this. My only fear is that you’ve created a debate I didn’t intend to create. This wasn’t a “should I go to Passion” vs. “should I not go to Passion”…but, in what unintended ways is Passion shaping college students and how can we correct some of that.

      • https://www.epicvoyage.org/blog/ Chris

        Louie Giglio seems to have an uncanny knack for making technically accurate statements that are distorted when repeated. For instance, watch him speak on Laminin and then go read up on it. Don’t just look at the pictures, actually read. What he says does not contradict what you find but what is repeated by the listeners does. He set them up.

        Austin, you are seeing the same problem when you point out Louie’s statements about not needing the venue while seemingly relying on it. His statement is accurate, but is it true? I’m not so sure.

        Michael, big events do raise more criticism because they affect more people. The size of the event is not necessarily the problem though. Jesus had 5,000 men, plus women and children, in one place without all of the flashy lights. I am not he, but does the gospel message carry that kind of force here? Ironically, it was only the day after Jesus did that when he ran everyone off by explaining the meaning of the food (John 6).

  • Steve Olson

    Who says I can’t learn something from an evangelical… I’m not sold on Passion Conferences, don’t get me wrong and you make some salient points about Youth Gatherings becoming the standard by which young people judge their own church, it happens at Lutheran events too. What struck me most and it is one I am going to meditate on and that is the notion that Christ was making the Temple die… we of course know that He called us to recognize Himself as the New Temple on earth but the cleansing has always been just a cleansing to me…. wonderful to hear this again in a different way. I am a Lutheran, a progressive one at that, I diverge with you on a lot of things that in the end are not going to matter all that much, but in my sinful nature I cling to here on earth as central to my faith. Still, enlightenment can come from a variety of sources and sometimes where you least expect them to be.

  • Belinda

    Read your thoughts and I like!!! Especiallly this thought….
    “I suggest this: Do some massive downsizing for Passion next year. Minimal media, no celeb-pastors or musicians. Get people who are good, just not famous…they’ll cost less. Maybe just leave the regular lights on. Maybe you could charge $50 instead of $200. By my calculations, that’s somewhere around $10 million dollars you’ll save the attendees. Then, challenge everyone who attends to put that $150 they saved at Passion towards their local church’s budget. Or if they really hate their local church and don’t believe in it enough to give $150, then give it to Compassion, International Justice Mission, etc. And then maybe Louie could stand up in the Dome in front of 60,000 people and say, “I don’t need a dome, I don’t need an event, I just need Jesus”, and we’d actually be able to hear him.”

  • Dan Johnson Sr.

    With all due respect and no unkindness intended, please, and notwithstanding the serious and sensible concerns raised, this borders on sour grapes. You can’t put a prize tag on the value of the camp meeting or the retreat, or the once-in-a-lifetime missions trip. And how many lives were changed, careers rearranged and destinies altered by the past great Urbana conferences?

    • Austin Fischer

      No unkindness taken. I would agree you can’t put a price tag on camp meetings/retreats/Passion, etc. But does that mean we can’t honestly unpack some of the baggage that comes along with it without it being called sour grapes? I, personally, don’t have any desire to see Passion go away. I just don’t think it deserves to be a sacred cow.

    • Percival

      As a 20-year career missionary I would advise you to rethink your high regard for once-in-a-lifetime mission trips. Usually, they are not well thought out or strategic and they draw resources and energy from more important endeavors. Granted, some people fly back home and say it was a great experience and it gave them a new perspective. But hey, if that’s all they wanted, I could have saved them the cost of the overseas flight by recommending a real commitment to a local ministry. Passion conferences may be good, but isn’t it right and fitting to compare them to other neglected endeavors that are not so sparkly? Every decision we make involves the loss of something we did not choose. We should be brave enough to look at both sides of these equations as we count the cost.

  • Denaj

    Thanks for the article, its refreshing to see believers still analyzing and not zombified.

    I respectfully disagree with the vegan analogy. You wouldn’t tell them that eating steak is wrong. You would say, “You don’t need a steakhouse. You don’t need a steak. You need to be healthy.” Let us tread cautiously in determining the effectiveness of the steak and how it can be used to nourish the consumer.

    Let us also take care not to waste ammo firing at rubber dummies when the crucial battles are being fought elsewhere. Thanks for you article, it forced me to think.

  • http://www.justinboothby.com Justin Boothby

    This article is great! These are pretty much my exact thoughts on the conference. I believe in spending money to reach the lost, but I get overwhelmed when the cost of lights, sound systems, speakers, etc. cost so much money that could be going to feed the homeless or…human trafficking. I believe in doing things right and with excellence. Christians haven’t done things with excellence for a long time and it’s great to see things done the way they should. But once again…how much money are we willing to pay.

    P.S. Why is it that we are cynical when it’s not our thing? I struggle with this all the time; I guess it’s pride haha. Great article.

  • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    Great article. I know you did not write it, Roger, but the fact that you shared this says a lot. As someone who has only been to one conference in my lifetime of being a Christian (Dare2Share, to help with local churches), I cannot say I buy into the hype of Passion, OneThing, Christian conferences, etc. It is not to say that I do not enjoy seeing these events happen; it is merely that as a musician, I experienced Cornerstone Festival a few years and saw the same kind of thing for those who enjoy “Christian music” and found myself fairly turned off. We do create temples, for lack of better terms, to experience God in grandiose ways, only to come back to our regular communities and live, dare I say, normally.

    Either way, I enjoy how fair and balanced this article is, and I have shared it a few times to hopefully encourage my peers to think about these kinds of events in a different manner. Cheers!

  • Ben

    Well said. However, by being a guest blogger on Dr. Olson’s blog, I was expecting something about how Passion conferences are fueling the young, restless, and reformed movement.
    I loved the parallels to pilgrimage. I think there’s a lot more that could be said in that aspect. It seems as though every youth movement has some kind of conference or another that it boasts. There is much to be said about what can be gained when we leave our ordinary contexts. As an expat in the Middle East, I have a much higher appreciation of the US, the American church, and so forth. In some ways, I think I can understand it much better from the distance I’ve achieved over the years. As the old Yiddish saying goes, “To the worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.” I believe that on some level, departing from the local church environment, though disruptive in some ways, is helpfully disruptive in others. In fact, it is quite possible that the pilgrimage to Passion can increase the love and appreciation of local churches.

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    This reflection is not up to the intellectual standards of this blog site. Questioning some of the trajectories of Evangelicalism is one thing. Raining on parades is something else altogether. What happened at Passion is a flashpoint. That is all. Let the kids enjoy it and build good memories of special gatherings. It is true that leaders of such high profile events tend to overstate the case for the good that is being done. But we already know that, and they do, too. Attractional events have their place. Let sleeping does lie.

  • http://www.clintbyars.com Clint Byars

    Sometimes I wonder if our personal issues and thought processes should make their way to our blogs or if we should just let them be our own thoughts and internal opinions. I’m not so sure what good it does to publicly process how we feel about a thing such as a public event. But these are just my thoughts, oh wait…dang it.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    It is certainly *possible* that many of your critiques are valid and needed – perhaps this is something that would have to be applied on a case-by-case basis for each speaker and attendee – but, speaking as one whose home church sends a group every year, led by a good friend / former mentor of mine and his wife, I think that, for many, Passion conferences are a sort of needed reorienting that reminds them exactly why the everyday, week-in week-out things they do are so important. It gives them fresh inspiration and impetus for the “normal” (which is, we are agreed, where the real stuff of ministry happens) and stands as a powerful reminder of the bigness of the body of Christ – it’s very humbling to see your ministry / Christian walk visibly situated aside thousands of others and to be reminded that even this is just one small slice of North American Christianity, let alone global Christianity. Revelation’s vision of a great multitude worshiping God in unity is sometimes difficult to see, especially given the fragmented nature of the global church and especially North American Christianity; I can imagine that it is very encouraging to participate in something that is, in a very real way, a foretaste of that – and I say this while remaining in agreement with those who are nervous about the impression some receive (rightly or wrongly) from Passion that Calvinistic theology is the only good theology.

    It is impossible to execute a large event and flawlessly ensure that everyone’s on the same page about the exact place that event ought to hold in their lives, or the perspective they should have on that event as it relates to the day-in, day-out realities of local church and local community ministry. The broader conversation that ought to happen, which you hint at but do not delve into (rightly so, since that would be a very long post), is whether large-scale events like this ever have a place in the life of God’s people, and if so what that place should be and why.

    There are some times where it is good to be skeptical and there are others where it is good to be generous (generous skepticism? Skeptical generosity?), and I am still not sure which ought to win the day when it comes to Passion conferences – perhaps you and I are on the same page about that. And I imagine that it is only in the long-term that the full effects of this will be made known. Those I know who take Passion at its best are those for whom Passion serves as a sharp and empowering reminder of the significance of their weekly local ministries; and so I am in favor of it to the extent that it serves that purpose, and to the extent that a large group of people drawing attention to / applying resources to a specific issue (sex slavery) is able to accomplish something via synergy that would not necessary exist apart from those forces.

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  • Martha Barnett

    Interesting to read and some fair questions to ponder, but overall it made my heart sad to read. For starters….no evil in the Temple? Jesus’ love and zeal for His Father led him to denounced the present temple activity as thievery when it was supposed to be PRAYER! There was evil going on. And yes, we know that through Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit we have become the new Temple of God. So, anyway that works for the indwelling Christ to rise up and take over more and more of a believer…I rejoice in it!

    There really is room for the big over the top, done-well, super gathering that claims to be all about Jesus as well as the small, done not so well, more ordinary and routine practice that also claims to be all about Jesus, AND everything in between! The question is…is their evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in the process, the program and the results? Are hearts opening and receiving from Christ, hearing His voice? The venue, the style, approach, etc. may not be to your particular liking or preference as “you see it”, but are hearts and heads having an encounter with God in a significant way that gives greater vision, desire, a plain old hunger for intimacy with Christ?! God can work through anything. In my 44 years of walking with Jesus I have been deeply changed through the “temple/dome/stadium” experiences- participation in Billy Graham Crusades, Urbana Conferences, Campus Crusade for Christ Conferences, Moms in Prayer retreats, AS WELL AS my precious local small church Bible Studies, outreaches, one on one mentoring relationships, mission trips, on and on and on. Did you really have to work so hard to try to convince us that there’s got to be a better way than how the Passion Movement does their thing? I felt that some of you analogies were desperate to make a point. In raising our kids, we wanted them to experience as much of the bigger gathering as possible because some things can happen in that setting that are so valuable and not going to happen most of their lives. Yes, some were disappointing, but some were obviously so valuable in their growth with God! Underlying all of their experiences were parents, grandparents, youth workers who were praying God’s word and will over them very routinely with faith, trusting God to use the spectacular, the ordinary, the difficult, the thrilling, the big and little. God knows and so did we that they had plenty of the in your face, Godless, profane, all about me, competitive and cruel school experiences year after year, so praise God for the “highs” of the two weeks at Christian Camp, Winter Youth retreat, etc. I agree with Michael above who said, “But at the end of the day, I ask myself this question: When my daughter is 19, do I want her at the Georgia Dome with 59,999 other college students? A resounding yes.” I would add, Amen! If I weren’t 62, I would love to be there.

  • Austin Fischer

    Hey Don,
    I’ve received a number of responses like this–laissez faire–and I certainly understand it. And for me it’s been a reminder of how much context shapes your perspective. My hunch is that you don’t work with college students. If you did, I think you’d see a bit more skin in this game and laissez faire wouldn’t be so easy for you.

  • John I.

    I am disturbed by attractional, high emotion events. I do not see that sort of annual event in the early church, not that I am suggesting that we eliminate pianos and organs because they are not mentioned in the Bible. However, the lack should give one pause–which is what I think Olson is doing here. Olson has frequently said that his blog is not a highbrow theological magazine, but a place to muse and reflect and toss things out for comment.

    In my own life, and that of others I respect, I’ve seen a lot of spiritual development even though we never attended any such event. So it’s not strictly necessary, nor even necessarily a good thing. And on that latter point I note that God can even bring good out of completely evil events that were intended by the Adversary to be only for evil. Does that mean that the evil events were worth it or justified? Of course not. Similarly, just because God brings good things out of Passion conferences does not mean that the conferences themselves are a good thing that we should continue. Perhaps the goods should be sought in other ways, ways that avoid the negatives.

    In addition, much of what people experience as “movement of the spirit” is nothing more than emotion, group think, and crowd dynamics. As I read over the 2000+ years of history in the Bible (depending on when Moses left Egypt) I just don’t see God working like that. Not even in the NT era–where the big splashy events were the conversion of thousands, not the get together of thousands of lukewarm social christians going for the party with their youth group friends.

    On the other hand, the Student Volunteer Movement of 1886 – 1926 had large meetings which inspired a generation of youth to become missionaries. As Ralph Winter has documented, the % of bible school students going to SVM events was much larger than the % of current Bible school students that go to similar events (e.g., urbana, etc.).

    I don’t want to rain on others’ parades just for the sake of raining, but I do feel that caution and serious reflection is in order. And I don’t see that sort of reflection preceeding or following such events. The events just seem to get bigger because they can, and because American culture generally subscribes to the belief that bigger is better. Absent is the self-critical thinking and analysis.

  • K Gray

    After reading this post I am unsure who is being criticized, or for what. Did “Passion” miss the mark? Maybe someone who attended could chime in on that. Was is ‘too’ excellent? Too costly? Maybe an insider could respond as to whether any services or bands or speakers were gratis. Is is a poor witness of Christianity to the world because of showiness? Should people who attended feel bad about seeking fellowship or encouragement in big events instead of solely from our church or smaller events?

    I get the feeling there is subtext I’m missing – but that would not be uncommon! Personally I hope events like these continue and one day my young adult children would attend something like it. Sometimes we need a pilgrimage.

  • Tom

    I don’t think anyone would deny that conferences like this can serve as milestones in a person’s spiritual life. I think what people find objectionable is the over-commercialization or rebranding of this particular form of Calvinism all the while presenting it as though it is historic Christianity. I think many feel frustrated that they don’t have the same reach on today’s youth. This is mainly owing to the way the YRR crowd has taken advantage of social media and marketing. Some of us, though we are entirely comfortable using things like social media and the internet don’t feel like we can cross over into marketing and the re-branding of our theology in a way that has a pop-culture feel to it. I feel like this is just Calvinism re-branded. Sure there are some new insights and new things coming out from the YRR folks but the core is basically the same. I personally feel like it has gone the way of a business model and therefore it cannot but continue to have big events, big celebrity pastors, and things of that sort. The question is whether it will be a viable movement ten years from now.

    • rogereolson

      You get close to the heart of my own issues with Passion. Over the years I have had numerous students come back from the conferences telling (independently of each other) that they hear some pretty strange things from speakers such as “Christ didn’t die for you; he died for God” and “God foreordained sin” and “If a dirty bomb fell on this city it would be from God,” etc. I suspect just as much confusion as sound theology has been sown there.

  • JR

    I wish there were Arminian conferences like this, but it does appear that Calvinists seem to be more strategic and passionate about events such as these.

  • Andy

    This first commenter says, “Through events like Passion we’ve seen dozens of young college students walk away from the vain pursuit of the (fading) American Dream and enter into ministry callings.”

    I read here a presupposition that “ministry” is good and pursuing a secular living and providing for a family (my words) are less good. Granted it can quickly become “vanity.” But I question that “walking away from” non-ministry vocations is a desirable effect of a conference (I admit to changing the words, hopefully not the meaning).

    The comment does add that “they are not (necessarily) bad things,” which is what I am highlighting and where we agree. I would like to see Followers of Christ in all the secular fields and want to caution against somehow lowering the value of a secular vocation.

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  • Timothy

    What makes the Passion conferences different from say Keswick? The implication of the post is that in some way Passion is new even if it is obsolete. Keswick goes back to the 1870s. Does it function in the same unfortunate way as the post claims Passion does? In US there must be dozens of events similar to Keswick. Is it merely the size and razzamataz that sets Passion apart?

  • Kyle Spencer

    I have to completely disagree with you, respectively. My friend wrote this about your article:

    Your whole argument relies on the premise that Jesus shut down the temple because the ideas of a temple or spiritual pilgrimage were bad. JESUS SHUT DOWN THE TEMPLE BECAUSE PEOPLE WEREN’T USING THE TEMPLE FOR THE RIGHT PURPOSES. It flows then that if you can “defile” a temple it must be inherently good. If it want, you wouldn’t be able to defile it. So that being said, there’s really nothing wrong with a modern day temple. I have to disagree with your next argument about how large events like Passion disable people from settling at a local church. Your metaphor is totally off. I don’t start refusing to eat my normal meals just because I’ve had a fancy steak dinner. If I did, it’d be my fault, not the steak dinners fault. Same with big events and local churches. Both have their place. And then the whole thing about having big name preachers an musicians being wrong is utterly asinine. Paul was the biggest name in preaching during his day. People traveled from all over to hear him. A lot of the time, preachers become famous because they’re truly allowing God to speak to them which gives them powerful sermons. If you enjoy going to Passion, please keep on doing so! It is a wonderful conference!

    • rogereolson

      Aren’t you forgetting John 4:16-26? It seems to support Austin’s point about the Temple.

    • Austin Fischer

      I think what you–or your friend–think I said is a lot different from what I said.

  • PLTK

    I guess I would have to say I wouldn’t want my daughter at 19 to be at an event like this with 59,999 other students… I would prefer her to be spending time overseas in service to others or serving the local church here in the U.S. in some manner. Perhaps taking a class on theology or the Bible. But then, I have never liked the “big stadium emotional events.” That said, I did go to Urbana and loved it… but compared to what I read about this Passion event, Urbana is more focused on developing the young Christian and sending her out to serve.

  • K Gray

    Bottom line is the fruit. Does Passion help preach the gospel, enlarge the Kingdom, encourage repentance and Christlikeness? Were people truly born again, or convicted to change, or greatly encouraged?

  • Tom

    No disrespect but I’ve always found it ironic that the people who like to talk most about the glory of God are the people who receive the most glory from man. Something is terribly wrong with the road we are going down. There is something that is not quite right with the marketing aspect that Christian churches are using to promote their pastor, their church, and ultimately their brand of theology. I believe that everyone, including unbelievers, have a baloney detector in them. They can realize when something is genuine and when something is merely marketing. But maybe it’s not that easy because today that which is genuine is so mixed up with that which is natural and earthy. I think Christians from a few generations ago would find what passes for worship today as scandalous. How did we get here?

    • rogereolson

      If Daniel Bell is right (see The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World) we have largely succumbed to the seductions of desire controlled by capitalism. Put another way, we have accommodated to consumerism.

  • josh

    wow you made some interesting points however they all stem from an assumption that passion has created a new temple. And that assumption is the least supported of your points. The only support you have for it is that is similar to a religeous pilgrimage and if thats the case why call it temple and reference the Jews why not reference the Catholics in the middle ages with crusades or even muslims with Islam. And since you are going to build an argument that passion is the same as religeous pilgrimidge. Why dont we compare it to the crusades and say we mst be careful becuse before long are going to start killing people in Jesus name. We have to be careful about this passion thing. My point is to say this you have kinda decent points but your bassis is a stretch in the begining of your argument. And your Scripture out of context even if it is true satatement about the temple

  • jon

    I’m disappointed by your attempt to disguise your feelings about this movement by surrounding your statements in philosophical questions and compliments. I would appreciate your opinion more if it was stated what you believed about the movement, straight up. I too, have (present tense) many reservations about “celebrity pastors” and “rock and roll church”. I visited seven local churches in the Atlanta area, doing all I could to avoid the mega churches I was surrounded by. I was cynical. Maybe I am still being cynical in my view of your piece; however, when you end the article with passive aggressive statements (my perception, not necessarily your intention) such as “maybe you should take that money and give it to your local church,” it’s hard to take what follows it as a true “philosophical” argument, disclaimers aside (i.e. “we Christians do have a tendency to be cynical…”). However, I recently got plugged in at Passion (the Church) and I can tell you firsthand, there are amazing things happening, true discipleship from Community Groups to small group Bible studies forming naturally that occurs from the constant push for fellowship with one another, to the “Doorholder” movement within the church. This article ripped at my heart. Everything in it stated some of the reasons I avoided church, because I sought to be “real” and if I were to get plugged back into Church, I was going to do it the “right way”. However, once I experienced it, I give praise to God every day I randomly chose to attend a Community Group my brother continued to invite me to. I understand what you mean and your intentions behind the article. There is a need for deep, nourishing discipleship unclouded by lights and glamour. I just want you to know that is happening with the Passion movement.


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