Jeff McSwain Speaks Out about Young Life

One of the most highly trafficked posts in the history of this blog is, “Something Is Wrong at Young Life,” which I wrote shortly after the firing of Jeff McSwain from Young Life staff.  At the time, I wasn’t the only voice in the mix, either.  Christian Smith (whose book I’m working through this week) and others spoke up, and both Christian Century and Christianity Today covered the mess (the differences in the headlines of those two articles is telling: CC: “Young Life draws fire over new ministry guidelines;” CT: “Entire area Young Life staff out after evangelism mandate.”)

Whether or not McSwain and his staff were evangelizing kids was never in question; the question was the content of their message.  McSwain follows post-Barthian theologian, J.B. Torrance, in believing that the starting point of God’s relationship with the world is reconciliation, not hell.  Thus, McSwain did not follow the Young Life plan of camp talks which starts by telling kids that they are separate from God and leads toward embracing the reconciliation of Jesus.  Instead, he taught that Jesus’ reconciliation is the starting point, and he encouraged kids not to reject that gift of grace.

McSwain has now written about his experience at length, and defended his theological position for the Other Journal.  Here’s a taste:

In November of 2007, I was dismissed by Young Life for what was termed “theological differences.” Since 2001, I had been preaching the gospel with an emphasis on theological belonging, the idea that humanity belongs to Jesus Christ by virtue of creation and redemption. Rather than splitting Christ as Creator from Christ as Redeemer, I was keen to preserve the gospel symmetry proclaimed by Paul in Colossians 1, where he speaks of the Christ who created and reconciled all things (Col. 1:16, 20). This is the gospel “that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). This is the gospel that declares that every person is included not only in the first Adam but also in the second (Rom. 5:18).

My point was that preaching this kind of a Christ-centered message actually brings congruence between our incarnational work and our proclamation message. In other words, we habitually embrace kids at their worst because that is the way God is! We do not show love and grace to kids so that we can eventually introduce them to a different “god” (i.e., a god who is angry and withdrawn). This was the thesis of my paper “Jesus is the Gospel,” which I submitted to the Young Life Senior Leadership with their permission in August of 2007. But giving this type of theological belonging to kids was farther than Young Life leadership was willing to go.

via The Other Journal at Mars Hill Graduate School :: Young Life and the Gospel of All-Along Belonging by Jeff McSwain.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com/ Joey

    I loved during Poets, Prophets, and Preachers when Bell pointed out that the Bible begins in Genesis 1 (where things reconciled) and not Genesis 3 (where fit hits the shan). Definitely not an original thought but the first time I had heard it framed that way. Seems to reflect the theological difference between McSwain and YL.

    • Todd

      Joey, “reconciliation,” to McSwain, means us–In Christ!–in his sonship in his Father–in the eye-opening fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
      Yours (and Bell’s?) is an important anthropological & theological point–that our sequential reading of the Bible begins with “good” & “very good” Before we all get all bent.
      BUT there’s “gooder” news than the typical theology-book-sequence of God–creation–fall–repentance–redemption. McSwain, taking cues from Scripture & the early Greek Fathers, is seeing humankind through a lens from “before the beginning of of time” (Titus 1:2, 2Tim 1:9, Eph 1:3-5, Jn 17:5…), AND from beyond the consummation of our planet’s history–and that lens is a Person!–Christ himself! All creation–beFore creation–was shaped by the Incarnation…by the amazing generosity desiring to adopt us, in love, in Christ, into the belonging camaraderie, joyful, relaxed, exuberant, other-centered, love/life of the Trinity. We were found “much more” (Rom 5) in Christ BeFore we were lost in Adam. Jesus, in communion w the Father and the Spirit–not Adam–was ALways the blueprint for the human race.
      The N.T. (and humanity) is All about the relationship of the eternal Son & His Father (Jn 17:3), and the man, Jesus, seated at the rt hand of God in heaven, is where he has belonged/brought us (Jn 20: “Mary…Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, Im going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”) The relationship of the ascended Christ was always God’s goal for us…and Adam & Eve were a step on the way.
      “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them…” (2Cor 5:19.) McSwain points out the man Jesus has Unconditionally, Already at-oned us to to himself (as the passionate Calvinist wd believe), and he has included Everyone (as the passionate Arminian wd believe).
      Jesus Christ, the one By whom, Through whom, & For whom All things (& people) are made (Col 1) /// is also holding each atom (and person) together (Col 1, Acts 17:28) /// and has already reconciled All things (and humans) to himself (Col 1, 1Pet 3:18, 1Jn 2:2…)—Ya think might already be In Your life, 6 year-old Iranian lover-of-soccer-who’s-not-yet-heard-of-Jesus?
      The Triune God, revealed as he truly is–in Christ–is ever-only Loving by Nature & will Not be God without us. It has never crossed his mind to think differently about us. Therefore we are commanded to Change OUR minds about Him, and believe him as our Lord and Savior.

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  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Interesting. I read his article that you linked to and while he attributes those thoughts to Barth (which is undoubtedly where he encountered them), I was struck by the congruence with the threads you find woven throughout much of patristic literature. When you read St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom, and others, you find the theme of God reconciling all things and mankind now with a new source in the second Adam, a source that restores life to the dead. It is no longer man’s nature to die.

    And as he points out in his article, those themes are so interwoven and layered and permeating the whole of the NT, I’m surprised people miss them.

  • http://web.me.com/love101 A. Amos Love

    Tony

    Good stuff – We are already reconcilled…
    And God doesn’t remember our sin anymore…

    Why do we? ;-)

    *2Corintians 5:19
    That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,
    not imputing their trespasses unto them;

    *Psalms 32:1
    Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
    Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,

    *Isaiah 43:25
    I, even I, am he that blots out your transgressions for mine own sake,
    and will not remember your sins.

    *Isaiah 44:22
    I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions,
    and, as a cloud, your sins:
    return unto me; for I have redeemed you.

    *Psalm 103:12
    As far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

    *Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and be converted,
    that your sins may be blotted out,

    *Jeremiah 31:34
    …for I will forgive their iniquity,
    and I will remember their sin no more.

    *Romans 4:7
    Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered.
    Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

    John 1:29
    Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.

    1 John 1:7
    …And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.

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  • Anna King

    You say “we don’t show them love and grace to eventually introduce them to a different god who is angry and withdrawn”
    Last time I checked, that’s not what we teach in Young Life. Nor is our starting point hell. I’m not fully acquainted with what happened between Jeff McSwain and Young Life, but I can tell you that kids have been meeting Christ through Young Life for over 70 years. When you go to work for a ministry, part of your employment agreement is that you follow the same statement of faith as they do. I’m not sure what all the uproar is here. You are trying to sway from their fundamental teaching, maybe you belong with a ministry that shares your fundamental teaching. There are always going to be differences in theology between different groups of Christians. When your teaching is looking at the overall theme of the Bible as a whole, that the entire Bible is about Jesus, that he is the ONLY way to the Father, the ONLY truth, the ONLY life (John 14:6), and that without him we are separated from God because of our sin, none of us are righteous, no not one, and that we are commanded to repent and be converted (Acts 3:19), then the other differences aren’t worth arguing over. Besides, to say that it takes no action on our part, no choosing in order to be redeemed, is crazy. Just look around at people who don’t follow Christ who have so much evidence in their lives that they certainly haven’t been redeemed. No, that does not change how God has a crazy love for them, that while they were yet sinners Christ died for them. It just means that their certificate of debt is not paid until they turn their hearts over to Jesus. The credit to their account is waiting to be applied, and has been since the crucifixion.

    Besides, in my mind this is simple. You don’t go into any other job and push the boundaries and question/disregard their policies and procedures that are considered fundamental in that company without expecting to get some pushback or potential dismissal.