Jesus Christ or a ‘Jesus experience?’
September 4, 1998
Our editorial conference this month was feistier than usual. At issue was the Presbyterian Youth Triennium story. “Here’s good news,” suggested one of our editors. “6,600 young people praised the name of Jesus. We can celebrate that.”
But conflicting reports, including one from Presbyterian seminarian Tracee Hackel, gave other members of our staff reason for pause. Ms. Hackel examined the nuances of platform presentations, asking what kind of Jesus was being offered up by conference leaders. Did Triennium worship focus on the Jesus Christ made known in Scripture, or on a “Jesus experience” of each participant’s own making? Careful thinkers know that the difference is both subtle and significant.
There is little question in our minds but that most of the young people who voiced Jesus’ name at the Triennium thought they were worshipping the Jesus whose life, death and resurrection were reported in Scripture. Citations in worship: a drama before the empty tomb, a majestic cross, and the light that blinded a scoffing Saul … these were specific references to historical events, not simply figments of the participants’ imagination. We rejoice over the fact that this rally praised Jesus’ name with a fervor reminiscent of – dare we say it? – recent Promise Keepers’ events.
But where will our denomination’s youth ministry go from this Purdue extravaganza? Any rock star can attest to the power of banner and bravado, lights and smoke, spine tingling and stereophonic sound, not to mention the energy generated simply by being in the midst of a crowd that size. We hope that as emotions subside, these young people will find that they received something of substance at Triennium – the Christ of Holy Scripture, who will stay with them for the rest of their lives.