Hi hi hi and welcome back! Goodness, that apologist Sean McDowell turned out to be a goldmine for us. Recently, we speared his stated reasons for why customers should buy apologetics materials — coincidentally, like what he produces. While we were at it, we revealed a tangled web of self-interest and nepotism that seemed to drive his recommendations. One of those recommendations caught my eye: Summit Ministries. Today, let’s look at Summit. Let’s see what it is, what it offers, and what it costs. And then we’ll ask: Is it worth that cost, even to true-blue evangelicals? I bet you won’t guess the answer!
(Note: I wrote the above last sentence before writing this post. Hey, this ain’t your Captain’s first rodeo with apologetics businesses.)
Everyone, Meet Summit Ministries.
Summit Ministries sells apologetics courses and materials aimed at teens and young adults.
When we heard Sean McDowell recommending it, I think he did that mostly because he was going to be one of their teachers that summer. But even without that motivation, a lot of evangelicals really seem to like Summit. (Non-evangelicals probably have never heard of it.)
On the “About” page of Summit Ministries, we find this opening statement (all emphases in my quotes always come from the source unless I specifically note otherwise):
The great tragedy of people walking away from faith is that it’s entirely preventable.
To which I reply instantly, no, it isn’t a tragedy or preventable at all — not unless evangelicals do stuff they absolutely hate and make changes they absolutely don’t want to make, which they 100% won’t.
In reality, this decline is inevitable.
But Summit sells apologetics materials, so they’re not going to admit any of that.
How Summit Will Totally Fix This “Great Tragedy.”
That “About” page opening paragraph continues:
There are three great struggles people face today: purpose, place, and truth. Summit is a place where people come to learn how to think about these things. Knowing what the Bible says about you. Asking questions and living out faith in the context of community. These shape your worldview.
Summit Ministries’ mission is to equip and support rising generations to embrace God’s truth and champion a biblical worldview.
Here, we learn that Summit Ministries’ stated function is to reframe and restate apologetics talking points in ways that they promise will sound better to younger adults.
That’s important, because those younger adults overwhelmingly reject older evangelicals’ entire model of Christianity: what those older evangelicals have come to call a Biblical worldview. Older evangelicals are currently panicking about the hemorrhage they face in general, but most especially in the percentage of young adults leaving their ranks.
And they are right to fret and clutch their (almost-certainly-fake) pearls.
A Demographic Time Bomb.
Almost all flavors of Christianity currently are graying in place, with average age of congregations rising steadily year by year. However, the next generation has largely opted out of Christianity. No new generation waits eagerly to replace those older Christians as they die off.
I think I began hearing phrases like “demographic time bomb” as early as 2014. By 2015, Christian leaders seemed to mostly-understand how bad things had gotten.
But here we are now in 2020, and they still haven’t accepted what they must do to slow down their decline in that age group, much less to reverse it. They’re still playing catch-up.
And that’s what Summit is doing.
Summit’s hucksters pretend, along with the rest of their pals in evangelical leadership, that if they just drill down harder on apologetics talking points, and find a magical way to rephrase them and reframe their ideas that doesn’t instantly repel young adults, then they will totally fix everything. In the meanwhile, whether these efforts pay off or fail, they’ll have gotten their money from frantic evangelical parents.
An entire subculture exists in evangelical Christianity around the indoctrination of the young. Evangelical leaders teach their tribe’s parents, from the time they have their babies, how to keep their kids Christian for life. Very little deviation can be detected in these instructions, either. All of the leaders parrot each other, draw upon each other for inspiration and validation, and teach much the same nonsense. Then, they blame the parents of kids who leave anyway for not following those instructions.
I can’t blame evangelical parents for thinking that their instructions are valid and work. Their entire lives, they’ve been taught what they think is a Biblical worldview. Summit draws upon those teachings and that specific Christianese dogwhistle term to bolster the validity of their offerings, and they do so in the most shameless and opportunistic way imaginable.
It’s Time For A Quick Christianese Segue!
All of the possible interpretations of the Bible compete with numerous other interpretations. Unfortunately, no Christians can pole-vault any of their quirky li’l interpretations above anybody else’s, since none of them base their ideas on reality.
So to make their own ideas sound superior, evangelicals christen them Biblical.
- Biblical view of marriage: Straights-only, opposite-sex, and complementarian. Usually involves a stay-at-home mom, unlimited childbearing, and a Lord and Master daddy. (Source 1; Source 2.)
- Biblical view of homosexuality: Bigotry-for-Jesus. If the bigots-for-Jesus don’t outright demand reparative therapy for children, then at the very least they expect grim condemnation of LGBT folks and wordless celibacy from them. (Source 1; Source 2.)
- Biblical view of environmentalism. Varies dramatically in meaning. Usually seeks to minimize any blame for humans’ role in global climate change. At most, the Christians involved will call for decreased waste and increased efforts to recycle. (Source 1; Source 2.)
As you can likely guess, any and all competing viewpoints get slammed as not-Biblical and thus inferior to whatever meaning the Christian using the word prefers. In this way, the word functions as gatekeeping as well as an attempt to borrow authority for an argument that lacks any of its own.
Thus, whenever you hear an evangelical talk about biblical anything, mentally translate it to the evangelical-culture-war-friendly version of that thing.
A “Biblical Worldview.”
Unfortunately, even people who consider themselves fervent Christians might not possess a Biblical worldview, cautions Geneva College on their own self-promotion page:
Many of those who lack a biblical worldview are technically Christian; they attend church every week, read the Bible, and identify Christ as their Lord and savior. However, their worldview is not Christian because, at the end of the day, they regard man as in charge of his own destiny. These individuals may be the most challenging to interact with at times; they’re well aware of your argument, but choose to interpret Scripture differently than you do.
And yeah, I remember that difficulty myself. Goodness, those other Christians sure got tetchy when I told them they were Jesus-ing all wrong and needed to change to start Jesus-ing like I did!
So, a Biblical worldview, in Christianese, means the way that evangelical culture-warriors see the world and people in general, as well as how they think human relationships should work. (See: Focus on the Family; Barna Group; Ministry 127.)
As one might expect, Summit Ministries itself is a standard-issue evangelical group. They embrace fully and completely all of the usual talking points and ideas.
Consequently, their Biblical worldview completely embraces the evangelical culture wars. Their products sell the culture-war model of Christianity to young adults.
Their “About” page ends thusly:
We teach students to stand for truth and justice in the most unexpected way.
And we shall see.
The Flagship Summit Conference.
Based on the Christianese offered, then, we can tell one thing right off the bat: Summit offers a variety of programs designed to reinforce evangelical talking points.
Their flagship product is their 14-day “Student Conference.” They aim it at young adults aged 16-25. This conference currently costs USD$1795, with a $195 nonrefundable reservation fee. Ouch. (See endnote about COVID-19 concerns.)
They try to reassure parents worried about the cost by offering the possibility of transferring Summit course work to college course credit. If any attendees currently attend one of a list of participating Christian colleges, those colleges might offer scholarships to help those students attend.
Summit also offers tuition assistance for eligible students, on a basis they do not disclose and which does not begin until the student has paid the nonrefundable $195 reservation fee. (See endnote about this fee.)
The Other Offerings.
In addition to the 2-week conference, Summit also offers a variety of other programs.
Summit Semester: a three-month long series of apologetics classes taught in-residence. The page about the course tells us:
Students will be taught to worship God with their head (truth), heart (relationships), and hands (practical living).
Hilariously, that sounds exactly like something in Elfquest. Literally. The Sun Folk (a tribe of desert-dwelling elves) have this thing they call the Trial of Hand, Head, and Heart. Cutter, the series’ hero, undergoes this trial to win the right to woo Leetah, his crush, without interference from his competing suitor, Rayek.
This semester-long thing costs $11,495, with a $500 nonrefundable reservation deposit applied to that balance. For additional fees, students can apply a few parts this course to course credits at
participating colleges Bryan College. Maybe.
Summit Basecamp: a series of free lectures (read: videos) that adults can take so they can teach a “biblical worldview” to students. Summit markets this series at church leaders, parents, and educators. They declare, “Your community and church need this training.” And since Christian hucksters never, ever lie about their products, Christian adults obviously can trust this declaration. “Generation Z experts” talk in the videos, most of which concern evangelicals’ twin culture wars against healthy sexual relationships and women’s rights.
Powered by Summit: various apologetics lectures and whatnot hosted by evangelical schools, for costs ranging from $20 to $400.
Summit Resource Library: Posts and videos directed at young adults concerning culture-war topics. Many of these posts and videos intersect with modern pop culture and evangelical fogies bearing long-debunked talking points for a whole new generation of cringe.
On Its Own Merits: Is Summit Worth the Money?
It’s very doubtful.
Recently, I streamed a lecture from a Biola University apologetics course. To say the very least, I was profoundly unimpressed with it. Not only did the lecture not actually offer anything new or interesting that I’d never heard before, but lecturer also did not offer anything close to what I’d consider to be academic rigor. In short, this free lecture reminded me of every single church sermon I’d ever heard, like every apologetics product already on the market. Biola simply repackaged what already existed, then sold it at a high cost to consumers who trusted the Biola name.
Since a sneak preview should be at least as high in quality (if not much higher) than the rest of the product, I determined that this Biola course wasn’t worth anyone’s time and money.
Summit’s offerings seem extremely similar in nature.
If people already know how the major apologetics arguments work, then they are already ahead of the game with Summit. These arguments never vary much in nature or scope. It’s hard to imagine any college-age evangelical who isn’t intimately familiar with the apologetics hand-waving involved in, say, the Bible’s various contradictions (bonus Sean McDowell!). (Regarding these contradictions, see: Here, here, and here.)
Thus, a quick re-read of one’s apologetics shelf at home ought to cover the book-larnin’ side of Summit.
Does Summit Successfully Indoctrinate Young Adults?
Here’s where assessing the value of Summit’s offerings gets a little tricky. And I reached for the phrase “a little” on purpose.
See, Summit offerings revolve around indoctrination techniques. Without having intellectual rigor and factual basis behind evangelical claims, that kind of manipulation is really all that’s left for its hucksters to sell.
I strongly suspect that Summit sells long-term offerings for that reason. When teens leave an average youth-group sermon, that’s it for them for a week. They’re off the leash. During the following week, who even knows how much stuff they could discover that directly contradicts the talking points they absorbed that Sunday? Even at evangelical colleges, parents can’t count on these other adults to maintain their hold on kids.
So Summit offers semester-long and two-week-long courses that keep students within arm’s reach for way longer. Summit’s main value to parents seems to rest in their teachers’ ability to maintain constant reinforcement over a longer period of time.
So: Are Summit’s products worth the price asked? Do these products do what Summit claims? And most importantly, is Summit effectively meeting its own stated goals?
I bet you’ll never, ever, ever guess what we discover … next time.
NEXT UP: How Summit gauges success. See you tomorrow!
COVID-19 Note: Summit offers refunds in case they must cancel a conference or class. However, this shouldn’t reassure parents. Jerry Falwell, Jr. ran college classes at Liberty despite deep and grave concerns about virus infection. When students sensibly stayed away, he refused to refund their money. I know of one lawsuit sparked by his callous decision already.
Thus, if Summit decides to run the conference at a time when infection remains a serious concern, they may go a similar route. Evangelical hucksters cannot ever be counted upon to do the good, kind, or honorable thing — not when money’s on the line for them. (Back to the post!)
About the $195 fee: I couldn’t find information about potential refunds of this fee anywhere on their site. So I talked to a very helpful gal at their helpdesk. She told me this info is contained in their End User Agreement. However, you don’t see the End User Agreement — or the info about refunds of the $195 — until you’re at the payment screen for the course (according to her)!
No way was I gonna give these guys even faked info, so I asked her to email me the agreement. She did, and you can click here for a screenshot of it that I made from my email. In essence, Summit gives (ALMOST) NO REFUNDS after a certain deadline. Exceptions: a death in the family; possibly the student’s own illness. If Summit sends a student home for bad behavior, no refunds. (Back to the post!)
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Final note: I found this today and thought it was interesting. I loved the preface note:
As with any intellectual project, the content and views expressed in this thesis may be considered objectionable by some readers. However, this student-scholar’s work has been judged to have academic value by the student’s thesis committee members trained in the discipline.
LOL! “Please don’t set this poor kid on fire for saying stuff you won’t like!”