I just came back from four great days in Louisville, KY, at the Cross Conference, a conference for college students centered upon the call and task of foreign missions. The plenary sessions were delivered by some of the most popular men among young evangelicals. John Piper opened, Matt Chandler spoke, David Platt electrified, Kevin DeYoung challenged, Richard Chin encouraged, and thousands of college aged students were enthralled. The conference was fantastic. It moved me deeply, challenging me to look at my life and ask difficult questions of myself and my ministry. I will talk more about that in the future as I sort through my thoughts and prayers.
What I want to comment on today is a preaching style that seems to be sweeping the hearts and minds of the millenial generation: namely, the unapologetic and authoritative proclamation of truth.
I am amazed at how young adults are enthralled with preachers such as Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll. Both of those men preach long, theologically weighty, expositional sermons, light on illustrations, heavy with confrontation over sin. The millenial generation, who is supposed to be obsessed with shaping and crafting their image, flocks to hear these men spend forty five minutes to an hour pointing out the broken sinfulness of these carefully crafted images. I heard Chandler once joke about those who come to hear him preach. He said something to the effect of “You guys are like a bunch of masochists coming to hear me speak. ‘Matt, call me a moron again!'” So he does. Yet, we run to hear him speak. Why?
Also, there are the guys like David Platt, Francis Chan, and John Piper who likewise capture thousands upon thousands of followers among young adults. In an age where pastors are told to speak simply, create a conversation, avoid Christianese, and meet seekers where they are, these men preach strongly with deep and passionate theological precision, always adhering strictly to the text in front of them. They challenge their listener to interact on the ground of Scripture rather than meet the skeptic on the ground of understandable unbelief. Yet, these men preach to tens of thousands every time they open their mouths. Why?
As I have thought about this I have come to a humble conclusion. These men speak with the authority of absolute conviction to a generation dubious about the morality of conviction itself. And their conviction is contagious.
Let me throw in a couple of quick disclaimers. I realize there are tons of other pastors who preach very differently than these men and are loved by thousands of young adults, but the men focused upon in this article are counter cultural in their preaching styles which makes their enormous popularity surprising. I am also not ignoring any of the most important issues in the ministries of these men. I am just taking them for granted and looking to figure out what else they have in common; I know God is the one who draws all men to Christ; I know the preaching of God’s word does not return void (regardless of who is preaching); and I know the Spirit is moving to accomplish the will of the Father and of Christ.
But I also think the cultural malaise with conviction over absolute truth may have created a generation tired of hearing thought provoking questions with no answers. I think young people intuitively feel the silliness of following someone who tells you what they say may not be true, because truth cannot be known. Taylor Mali nailed it in his stand-up routine:
I think the age of doubt as a virtue is slowly passing us by. And I think Jesus, the truth, rejoices in its passing.
What do you think? What makes these guys so popular?