Podcast: The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation (Kevin DeYoung)

By koa sinag

Podcast: The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation (Kevin DeYoung)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

What Young People Are Really Hungry For

In this episode, Kevin DeYoung encourages pastors and youth leaders to remember that our fundamental mission as believers has not changed and that reaching the next generation will not be done through relevant pop culture references or harnessing the power of the newest social media platform but rather by loving the next generation and teaching them the truth and power of the gospel.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

  • Have Our Strategies to Reach the Next Generation Been Working?
  • The Rise of the Nones
  • Is Gen Z Truly Unique?
  • The Erosion of Institutional Trust
  • The Secret
  • Grab Them with Passion
  • Hold Them with Holiness
  • Challenge Them with Truth
  • Amaze Them with God

01:24 – Have Our Strategies to Reach the Next Generation Been Working?

Matt Tully
Kevin, thanks for joining me again on The Crossway Podcast.

Kevin DeYoung
Always good to be with you.

Matt Tully
Kevin, since the Great Commission, I would say, Christians have undoubtedly been devoting themselves to the task of making disciples. We spend a lot of time and thought about how to win people for Christ. And throughout history we see different strategies and different methods and emphases when it comes to thinking about what it means to win someone to Christ. And I wonder if you can set us up for today in answering, How would you summarize what our approach to that has been like as Christians?

Kevin DeYoung
One way to answer that question, and it will lead in probably to the rest of our conversation, is to think whether our efforts to bring people into the church, disciple them, win them to Christ, is that task mainly the same as it’s always been or is it going to be vastly different from age to age or generation to generation. There’s always some level of no one’s going to say, hopefully, just repristinate the fifteenth century or something. Hopefully every evangelical is going to say the message is still the same. But in terms of the task and the strategy and what to do, I think the last fifty years in particular in North American evangelicalism, what I would know best, has leaned pretty hard into the We’ve really got to do things in a totally different way. Some books have had that kind of title even—Change or Die. So you think of the seeker sensitive movement, which has a kind of popular level, but before that it had an academic, theoretical level. A lot of that coming out of Fuller Seminary or Donald McGavran.

Matt Tully
There was an intentional strategy behind it.

Kevin DeYoung
That’s right. It was a homogenous unit principle, or it was we really need to understand the culture. So there was a time where people did cultural surveys. Survey your neighbors, find what they would want in a church.

Matt Tully
What are the felt needs that are dominant in their minds?

Kevin DeYoung
So I think that has been woven pretty deep into a lot of how evangelicals think that if we are to reach the next generation, of utmost importance is to understand the movies they’re watching. And so we maybe even need to watch all the movies, even if they’re garbage. We need to understand the way that they think. We need to understand their objections. We need to know even their tastes, their preferences. And we need to find the maximum cultural bridges that would allow them to come over into the faith.

Matt Tully
I don’t know how much of that too is predicated on this growing sense that the chasm separating Christians from non-Christians is growing bigger and bigger, and even that Christians are losing ground in the culture broadly. Is that part of it, where over the last few decades, we’ve just sensed that Christianity has lost its influence over the culture that maybe we once felt like it enjoyed?

Kevin DeYoung
I think it’s certainly that, and that is just growing exponentially, that the same old ways of doing things or saying the same old things isn’t going to work anymore. And we’ll get to that. There’s an element of truth there. But I think it’s also the way in which we now think of generations. And I do believe that there are generational differences that are driven by events and technology, so there are certainly things to learn from that. But it seems to me in the last fifty or sixty years that has become paramount in many people’s minds so that a baby boomer and a Gen X—see, when I was growing up—I’m a Gen X—it was my people that the church was trying to reach. And I have lots of funny remembrances of baby boomers saying, We’re not going to reach you college students unless I get up here with my guitar and play “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” No, actually, that’s not winning any college students, even when I was a college student. So we tend to kind of see the world as our generation. And so there’s been a lot of thought that this next generation has different styles, preferences, questions, and so everything needs to be sort of tailored to them. But then when that generation moves on, you have to reinvent the whole thing.

Matt Tully
It’s interesting you say this has characterized in the last few decades of the church in America, at least, and yet it hasn’t seemed to have been working. We see lots of stats, and I want to get into some of those in a minute, where the number of people who are disavowing the Christian faith, walking away from it, and not wanting to be part of it, are bigger than they’ve ever been before.

Kevin DeYoung
The rise of the nones, which is well documented and continues to accelerate. So though there are examples—noteworthy ones we can point to—of very big churches with this kind of methodology, you’re right. Certainly, for society as a whole, it’s not working. If we’re banking on that strategy to overcome the sinful proclivities of the human heart, that’s not working.

06:51 – The Rise of the Nones

Matt Tully
Let’s talk about the nones. I was looking at an article from the AP recently, they just published it last month, and it indicated that a full thirty percent of US adults polled identified as nuns. That includes atheists and agnostics, but anyone who doesn’t affiliate with any formal religious identity or group. But that group of the nones was especially prominent among young people. The same article reported that four out of every ten people under the age of thirty would identify as a none. Which is close to as many people now in that same age cohort who would identify as Christians. What do you make of that, particularly around young people?

Kevin DeYoung
It is happening, and it needs to be considered. I think there’s a temptation to make the argument, and from the books I’ve read, they say this doesn’t really account for most of it. There’s a temptation to want to say, Well, all of these nones weren’t really Christians anyways. These were just people who used to say one thing, and now they say something else.

Matt Tully
They were nominal?

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, probably nothing’s really changed except their answer to the question.

Matt Tully
Gotcha. So the poll has changed, perhaps.

Kevin DeYoung
The poll has changed because now it’s more socially acceptable to say I don’t have any religion. So that accounts for some of it, but the sociologists I’ve read say that doesn’t actually account for most of it. It’s not just people who had no religiosity now daring to say it; there really are—

Matt Tully
There are shifts happening.

Kevin DeYoung
There are shifts, and there’s decreasing religiosity. Now, some good news, or at least a little less bad news, those changes have been less so among evangelical churches than they have been among Catholics and than they have been among mainlines. So it’s not as bad for our kind of world, but it’s still bad and it still makes a difference for the world that we’re living in. I look at some of the things I probably said fifteen or twenty years ago where I might have said, You know what? The rise of the nones—have at it. It’s better. We’re showing who the real Christians are, get rid of cultural Christianity, the light will shine brighter in the darkness. And of course there’s an element of truth to that, but I think we’re seeing a broad Christian consensus—the goal is not nominalism, of course—but a broad Christian consensus in the culture does make it easier to introduce people to Christianity. Nominalists have some cultural categories that many of these nones now have none of those categories, or they are antagonistic to the category.

09:41 – Is Gen Z Truly Unique?

Matt Tully
That leads to another question I have. It seems like every generation of people, in particular Christians, we tend to look at the next generation and increasingly as we get older we see the differences, and we sometimes magnify the differences and maybe overblow the differences between us. We feel like they’re strange and they don’t seem to resonate with the things that make a lot of intuitive sense to us. But when it comes to Gen Z, this younger generation under thirty, do you think there’s anything to that? Is there something different about the worldview—about the culture that surrounds young people today—that maybe is a pretty significant difference compared to previous generations?





Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, that’s a million dollar question. You can go read the Puritans and you can read people in the eighteenth century and they’re always lamenting—back to the earliest church they’re always lamenting—that we don’t seem to be as godly as we used to be, and the next generation that’s coming could be the very end. It’s getting bad. Now, there are seasons where people are more optimistic, but that’s a strain that is always there.

Matt Tully
It’s part of getting older. We just get grumpier, I think.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, and the good way of viewing it is to say it’s a part of getting closer to the Lord, maybe, that you see the sinful patterns more clearly, and maybe we tend to look at our own past experiences with more rose-colored glasses and it just looks bad. We didn’t see the blind spots in our own age. So you think of somebody who maybe grew up in the fifties and sixties—maybe a white evangelical—and we’re blind to pervasive racism in the culture. And that person may say now, Yes, I’m glad we don’t have that. That was bad. But the way they look at that may not really register. What they feel is, Can you believe that we have men becoming women, and we have gay marriage, and we have abortion, and we have divorce? Those things. So we feel that more poignantly, but to your question, yes, there is something different. And I do think Jean Twenge—her book is on generations, and she’s one of the leading experts on it—her theory is a technological theory of generational change, that it’s largely driven by different technologies. I don’t think that’s all of the explanation, but I think that’s an important one. And that does mean that generational and cultural change is truly accelerated, that things that might have taken a hundred years may take ten years. Things that might have taken ten years may take one year. It really is the case that change can happen much more quickly because of our digital age. One example of cultural change is as a Gen Xer, I am conversant and comfortable and familiar with the digital world, I’ve had a blog for a long time, I’m on Twitter, and I know how to work my iPhone. But I have a very distinct memory of when email became a thing. Dialing up the modem and when you had to go to a computer lab at the college to get on there and type your paper. So I remember. I’m not a digital native.

Matt Tully
You know what life was like before the iPhone.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. None of my kids do. They can hear about that, just like you and I wouldn’t have any idea of a time without cars. We know there was a time when people didn’t have cars, but it’s just some place in the distant past. It doesn’t really have any cultural pull on us.

Matt Tully
And therefore, we don’t see the cultural influence and impact that technology has on us. We don’t understand it.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. We take that as a cultural given. And this is where I think not just evangelicals but just people can be naive. But evangelicals, and it gets somewhat to the point of this whole book, is we can tend to see technology as just a neutral. Samuel James, of course, has written a lot about this

Matt Tully
Digital Liturgies.

Kevin DeYoung
And Tony Reinke. And I had both of them on my podcast. Tony’s a little more technology positive and Samuel more technology cautious, but it’s true that we often think of them as just tools that we can use without realizing how they use us and how they change us. So the car—if you just take that as a cultural given, as all of us do (of course you have a car), we just think, Yeah. This is how I get from place to place. How do you live without a car? You don’t think, Well, what did this do to neighborhoods where people used to have their porches facing out to the streets and now they have their patios on the back towards the lawn? What did this make suburbs possible? How does this change how churches work and how you get to church? There are all sorts of things that are massive that the automobile is without a doubt one of the most significant things that’s happened in human history, but we all just grow up with it and we don’t think about it.

14:51 – The Erosion of Institutional Trust

Matt Tully
It seems like one of the other big things that is often mentioned alongside the rise of the nones, and in particular the younger generations, relates to the way that people have lost a lot of respect—and not just respect, but trust—in institutional organized religion. There’s the sense that Christians—and maybe especially Christian leaders, like yourself—are too often in it for themselves and they are looking out for the in-group, but anyone who’s not in that inner circle is disposable. We hear a lot of critiques around that, and that’s often cited as a reason that people are leaving the church or suspicious of organized religion, generally. How would you counsel Christians who want to reach the next generation—and this maybe leads into the topics of your book and what you hit on there—how would you counsel them to think about this issue when it comes to reaching the next generation?

Kevin DeYoung
I’m going to agree and disagree with the assessment, and I think you’ll probably track with me. It’s certainly the case that there’s a low level of trust in institutions. It used to be, even when I was growing up, basically three networks, and three networks give you, “I’m Walter Cronkite, and that’s the way it is. I’m just telling you the way it is.”

Matt Tully
And everyone tuned into that one newscast.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, of course. Walter Cronkite’s before my time, but the three networks and a kind of common culture. You’re kind of watching the same TV shows. I mean, I just look back at what the Nielsen ratings would be for shows when I was really young. You never hit anything like a thirty-three percent share or fifty percent.

Matt Tully
The series finale for Friends was this massive number that—

Kevin DeYoung
And except for NFL football, probably, nothing gets anywhere near because it’s all very segmented, everyone’s got a streaming platform, and cable was before that. So that’s just an example of when you have a few gatekeeping institutions, the positive is sort of that’s where we go, and we trust them. The negative is, well, what if you shouldn’t trust them? What if ABC, CBS, and NBC was pretty slanted in what they were doing? Well, then you’re glad that Rush Limbaugh came along or Fox News came along. But as all of that proliferates, what you end up with is nobody has much trust in what somebody else is doing.

Matt Tully
So you’re saying this issue of a lack of trust and the fragmenting of this institutional trust is much broader than just the church.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, that’s right. So it’s not just the church. It’s broader than that because if you got a million people watching your television show at night, you’re big time. Well, a million people is a lot, but it’s really kind of not a lot with 330 million people. So to make it now, it can be small, but it just needs to be committed. And so where I was saying that I agree, certainly, that there’s a lack of trust in institutions and leaders—it’s a huge populist moment right now that I think no matter what anybody did was bound to happen because of the internet. Everyone has access to everyone else’s opinions. It couldn’t be otherwise, I think.

Matt Tully
We all hear the terrible stories that do exist of things going wrong, people doing bad things, but we all hear about them because of the internet.

Kevin DeYoung
If some church in Topeka, Kansas had some church meltdown with their leader, that would happen there and it would be a big deal. Maybe the denomination would be involved, maybe some people in town, but now if it’s the right sort of person or wrong sort of person with a platform, it’s going to be news and all of a sudden you extrapolate. So all of us can go through the list of whatever. You just say three names and people could say, Wow! There’s a massive problem. Well, maybe there is, or maybe those were three big names that we’ve heard of, and maybe the actual numbers, if we knew them, are not any different. So, yes, this is an issue across the board. And why I say a little pushback, I think people are people, and they’re always going to want leaders. They’re always going to need heroes. They’re always going to follow authority figures. So you can find the most fever swamps on the internet—conspiracy theory, agitators of all sorts of things—and they’ll have somebody in that fever swamp who’s a leader. Someone whose opinion they don’t want to cross. Someone whose voice in that group is taken to be very important. So anybody who starts by making a name against that institution, if their influence is going to endure, they’re going to create a new institution, and they’re going to be a voice in it. And so it’s not that people don’t still have authority figures in their life. In fact, the scary thing is they have some really bad ones at times. But you’re right. It gives, at times, a very sincere heartfelt and at times I think just a convenient out for people who don’t want to give the church the time of day, or it leads us to reinterpret our own experience now with these new categories that in previous generations maybe that was just kind of a rocky patch. Now you have a way to experience and reinterpret that experience as something much more nefarious.

20:35 – The Secret

Matt Tully
That’s a really helpful summary of that particular issue. And obviously, there are lots of other related issues that help to explain, but not fully explain, the rise of the nones and just the trends that we see more broadly in our culture today. And that kind of gets then to the title of your book, which I love. It’s a classic Kevin DeYoung book title. The Not-So Secret Secret to Reaching the Next Generation. At the risk of spoiling the book for our readers and causing them to not want to buy the book, which you should buy the book, what is that secret?

Kevin DeYoung
It’s a very short book, so it’s a very short secret. At one level I say the secret is that there’s no secret. I first started thinking about this, writing on it, preaching on this way back in the Emergent days.

Matt Tully
Refresh our memory. Quick history lesson. What was the Emergent Church?

Kevin DeYoung
The Emergent Church, in one sense, is no longer with us, but I think the spirit of it is there. The emergent church was in the early 2000s. You might say it was a vibe that on the one hand it wanted to do lots of creative things in worship, so it kind of had that We don’t like seeker Boomer worship strand. There was also—

Matt Tully
More authentic.

Kevin DeYoung
More authentic. Let’s just draw a picture on butcher block paper as we worship. But some of it wanted to recover liturgy, and that was good, but then there’s a strong social justice, anti-religious right part of it. And then there was the Velvet Elvis, our doctrine is too freeze dried, buttoned down—

Matt Tully
More Jesus, less doctrine.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. Red letter Christians—we need to emerge from all that. So I wrote Why We’re Not Emergent, and that’s back when I was young. Now I’m just DeYoung. But people would ask, If Emergent isn’t the answer—and then I was pastoring University Reformed Church right across the street from Michigan State. Okay, you’re right there with college students. And it was like somebody put the microphone, Tell us, what’s the secret? I’d almost get that question.

Matt Tully
It goes back to that idea that we’re always looking for the next thing that’s going to unlock the current generation.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah, exactly. And that generation is now one or two generations—they’re the old people, the middle-aged people now. So what I started to say back then was there’s no secret. Okay, they sort of get it, but can I say anything more helpful than that?

Matt Tully
The interviewer’s face fell at that point.

Kevin DeYoung
So what I wanted then and want now in this little book to reinforce is that most of what we need to do is what Christians have always needed to do. You put the necessary caveats there, that the generations do change. The answers don’t change, but the questions that people are asking change. We do need to be mindful. We do need to withstand the temptation to just live in some other century and just make that—

Matt Tully
So there is some contextualization that has to happen.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. And I think Zane Pratt said this one time, that contextualization does not mean making the gospel or the truth of the Bible more palatable; it means making it more clear. So yes, if people aren’t understanding what you’re saying—

Matt Tully
Because of cultural preconceptions or a lack of cultural familiarity with certain ideas within Christianity, all those things could be true.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. If you say our church has elders, contextualization might mean trying to explain what an elder is so they don’t think it’s just an old person or a cult or something. But with the gospel, there’s lots of different ways to explain the gospel. Contextualization means just trying to make sure they don’t misunderstand what you’re hearing and in a way that they can understand, but isn’t to say, I’m not going to talk about the difficult things. I’m going to make this just as palatable as possible and remove this scandal. So yes, contextualization. And no one accuses me of being hip or cool, but I think I live a fairly normal, observant life. When I drive my kids to school, they want to listen to—I know some of the current pop songs, I guess, because my kids do. I don’t go see the movies, but I know what’s out there. All that to say—

Matt Tully
You’re not totally isolated from the real world.

Kevin DeYoung
I’m not totally isolated. I’m not just living in the seventeenth century because that’s where all of my dead friends are. So I just want to say it is possible that there are people who major on the minors or they put unnecessary barriers up. The gospel is a scandal in itself, but then they sort of make it like you need to enter into a cultural time warp to come into your church. So all of those caveats. What I want to say in this book is that it’s mostly the same. It’s loving people. That’s why I think cultural understanding has value. We need great cultural apologists. We need people to help us understand that. But I do want the ordinary pastor, the ordinary parent, to not feel like, Oh, if I’m going to do youth ministry or I’m going to talk to my teenager, I need to read the French philosophers, have an extra degree in critical theory, I need to know everything that Taylor Swift is singing about in her songs—like you need to have a cultural refresher course every two weeks. No. And in fact, if you try too hard at that, you will seem really, I was going to say cringy, but I think that word has already passed by.

Matt Tully
It’s already passe.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. So I think what a lot of Christians are trying to do with that, the good instinct is I want you to know I care about you. I want there to be a connection. But one of the big things in the book is loving people is a better way to make that connection. Give people the gift of your curiosity. Ask good questions. Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves. You don’t have to be an expert in all of this and know how to deconstruct all of the cultural errors that are out there. Show love to people. Show hospitality. Invite them over. Ask them questions about themselves. Love covers over a multitude of cultural ignorance.

27:08 – Grab Them with Passion

Matt Tully
Let’s talk through some of the other specific suggestions that you have in the book. So there’s no secret and there’s no silver bullet, but you do mention a few things. So the first one is “grab them with passion.” What does that mean?

Kevin DeYoung
People want to know that this really matters, and the illustration I’ve given so many times when I preach is the story—whether it’s true or not, it should be—of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin.

Matt Tully
It’s a classic pastor’s illustration.

Kevin DeYoung
If it’s not true, it should be. It’s true that Franklin was a fan of George Whitefield, even though Franklin was not any kind of evangelical Christian. But the story is told somebody said, Franklin, why do you keep going to hear George Whitefield preach? You don’t believe a word that he says. And Franklin replied, I know, but he does. He was gripped by the—I hesitate to use authenticity because that word has been spoiled, but he really means it. He really believes it.

Matt Tully
And you could see it.

Kevin DeYoung
You could see it. So I think someone literally coming off the streets into our church, I think you could sing with a pipe organ. I think you could sing with guitars. I don’t think it’s limitless; I do think the instruments matter, but I think you could praise God in a lot of different ways. And if you have the most cutting edge music and you look in and its concert quality and you look around and no one’s singing, that communicates something. And you could be in a forty-person psalms-only singing church and they’re singing their guts out and it’s not any kind of musical connection probably with the person, yet they’ll sense, Why are all these strange people singing this strange song like their very life depended on it? That’s what I mean by passion. And it’s not a personality thing. I’m not saying that you all have to have a certain intensity of your personality.

Matt Tully
I’m thinking of John Piper preaching. We don’t need to be preaching to our kids like John Piper would preach.

Kevin DeYoung
Glory!

Matt Tully
Yeah, with all the hand motions.

Kevin DeYoung
No one doubted that Tim Keller really believed what he was saying. Totally different personality, but in earnestness—and it is a biblical verse that says, “do not be slothful in zeal.” So in a sense, yes, when parents drag their kids to church and make them go and their kids sense, This doesn’t mean a whole lot to my parents. They’re just doing it. That is communicating more to your children than almost any lesson you’re didactically giving them.

Matt Tully
And all parents know that. We’ve seen that in our kids that they tend to follow us, at least at a young age, in our passions. What we’re excited about, they get excited about.

Kevin DeYoung
And it’s much more caught than taught. We should still teach. We should still do family worship. But if you do all the family worship and it’s not caught from your life, it can have a negative effect. And conversely, if you struggle, like our family does, to get to the family worship every day but hopefully there’s a sense that this really matters to mom and dad and they really love us and care for us and it’s really the most important thing in their life, that’s communicating a lot more than you realize.

30:23 – Hold Them with Holiness

Matt Tully
The second thing you highlight is “win them with love.” We’ve kind of talked about that one, so we’ll keep moving. “Hold them with holiness.” Maybe that’s one that is a little more—where are you going with that?

Kevin DeYoung
The opportunity we have in our increasingly godless age and the rise of the nones is that true Christian virtue will stand out. It will stand out more than it used to. The hard thing is we can’t rely on the culture to do a lot of the formation for us. I think that’s where a lot of us have been, whether it’s the schools or just the entertainment or just the general sweep of things. We need to be discerning, but a lot of it is like you’re on that lazy river at the water park. It’s kind of floating your inner tube in the right direction.

Matt Tully
Even a lot of that comes through cultural taboos, things that everyone kind of agrees are not really good, even if sometimes we do them.

Kevin DeYoung
What you shouldn’t laugh at, what you shouldn’t show, what sort of disqualifies someone from public life.

Matt Tully
All of that is breaking down all around us.

Kevin DeYoung
Yeah. So we don’t have that leading us in the right direction. A lot of times it feels like rapids pushing us back the other way. So the opportunity is genuine Christian commitment and virtue in an objective and noticeable, though not ostentatious, holiness. That’s what I mean by “hold them with holiness.” This is biblical. Peter says, “May they see your good works and glorify God on the day he visits us, or they’ll be put to shame.” Even when someone opposes us, we may not see it, but maybe there’s something in the back of their mind that says, I don’t know. He is a genuinely really kind person. She is the best person, the hardest worker I have.

Matt Tully
I see integrity in this person.

Kevin DeYoung
I see integrity. And I think just with people from the outside that’s why I say “hold them with holiness” so that they have a sense that says, Okay, I may be rebelling in my my mind and heart against these hard Christian truths and what they say about sexuality, but I can’t deny this is a different kind of community, and they do live a different way than other people do. There are a number of books written by feminists right now who are kind of being mugged by reality to say, The sexual revolution has been a really bad deal, especially for women and children. And so I’m hopeful that people will see that, and it’s going to be a long journey for most of them. But maybe they’ll say, You know what? You know where people actually treat one another with love? You know where women are really honored, actually, is in the church. And that distinctiveness, to be a distinctive people, is what God calls us to.

Matt Tully
And some of our drive to be holy has to come from, though, a belief and a fundamental trust that what God calls holy is actually good for us. It’s not just burdensome rules that steal the fun out of life.

Kevin DeYoung
One of my go-to text is 2 Peter 1:5–8: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s like the famous saying from M’Cheyne—”What my people need from me most is my own personal holiness.” It doesn’t mean, if you’re a pastor, that your church will get large. It doesn’t mean as a parent that you can guarantee every single one of your kids will be a Christian. But you will not be ineffective or unfruitful. If you’re bearing fruit in your own life of holiness and godliness, people will be able to pluck that down and realize it. It goes back to your first question. There are lots of ways to draw a crowd. There are lots of ways still in America to have a big church. But there’s still only one way to really be truly spiritually fruitful, and that’s that you yourself need to be bearing fruit in keeping with the gospel. And that’s sort of what I mean by “hold them with holiness.”

34:39 – Challenge Them with Truth

Matt Tully
I’m struck, though, that the definition of fruitfulness matters there because again, we see a lot of examples of worldly fruitfulness, even within the church, that isn’t necessarily the fruit that God ultimately is giving us. Now we’ll just quickly go over the fourth: “challenge them with truth.” What are you getting at there?

Kevin DeYoung
The truth is going to be challenging, and I actually think that people are willing not always to believe it, and they may hate it, but I think they really want to know. *Would you just tell me what you really believe? Are you hiding something?

Matt Tully
Don’t play games.

Kevin DeYoung
And that goes back to a lack of trust in authority and authority figures. Paul gives us the answer—by an open statement of the truth. So just a fastball right down the middle. Just let people know. Now, again, to be a wise communicator I think as a preacher, I may make certain guardrails. I want to make sure that you don’t misunderstand over here and over here, but we don’t want to undermine the truth with death by a thousand qualifications either. Challenge them with truth. Say, This is a hard thing. I’m preaching through Revelation right now. There are a lot of hard things. There’s judgment, there’s hell. And I’m coming to the text where a third of mankind is wiped out by this demonic horde. And it’s to repent. And part of what that passage is saying is one of the reasons God allows wars and death in the world—horrible things we’re seeing in our world right now—is to call people to repent and to say something worse is coming. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian or where you live. That’s a hard word, to say something worse is coming. I’ll tell people that this is a hard word. But we need to get the right view of God, which really leads—I just did the segue for you—

36:38 – Amaze Them with God

Matt Tully
Here we go. “Amaze them with God” is your last thing. What does that mean?

Kevin DeYoung
I’ll just give you my poor man Piper’s imitation. Piper and others talk about big God theology. People don’t realize it, but we live trivial lives. We’re glued to these phones, like I am too often. There’s a whole slew of people making good salaries to just learn the dopamine hits to just get you to—

Matt Tully
Like that next cat video.

Kevin DeYoung
Candy Crush. Do they still do Candy Crush? I don’t even know. Whatever it is, and I’m not shaming you if you enjoy and occasional recreation, but people don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t know that they need a picture of a big God. So I love what happens in Revelation 2 and 3 and Revelation 4 and 5, because you have the seven churches—seven real churches—and all the churches are different. They have different strengths and weaknesses. Some, you might say, are too liberal. Some, you might say, don’t love people enough.

Matt Tully
It captures the gamut.

Kevin DeYoung
It runs the spectrum of it. And so chapter 4 and 5 come next because what do they need? What do they need to be overcomers? It’s no coincidence the next thing is, And I saw a vision of One who was sitting on the throne, and the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures and the seven spirits of God and peels of lightning, thunder, flashes of lightning. All of that is to ask, Do you know what each of these churches—Christ gave him specific commendation and condemnation—but what all of them need most is a vision of the One who sits on the throne. They need a big, big picture of God and of the Lamb. And that’s what people don’t have. Conservative media, a lot of which I agree with, they might get abortion right, they might be right to tell you about the dangers of woke. They may get a lot of cultural flashpoint issues right; they will not give you a Revelation 4 and 5 picture of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matt Tully
Kevin, thank you so much for walking us through this short little book that you’ve written and helping all of us to be a little bit more prepared to engage our culture for Christ.

Kevin DeYoung
Great to be with you.


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