How self-centredness replaced God-centredness
An edited version of this article is found at, Millennials choose fake theology (On Line Opinion, 8 April 2019).
(image courtesy 123RF)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
What would influence Christians to ditch core Christianity for another kind of christianity?
Some of the process is expressed in an article in Fairfax newspapers (online) in Australia. This report on the research into how God-centred thinking has been replaced by another breed should be of concern to all Christians, especially evangelicals.
The replacement was self-centred picking and choosing what to believe in the Bible. Take a read of: Social media upends public’s Bible quote preferences.
The research was associated with Reverend Dr Peter Phillips, director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John’s College, Durham University, UK. He said: ‘Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11’.
According to the article:
John 3:16 had been knocked of (sic) its pedestal in print by the social media era: “People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’s death upon the cross on social media. It’s a bit heavy.” The passage, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed in the UK by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11, according to YouVersion, a digital Bible provider with more than 350 million users.
It reads: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11 is also the favourite in nine other countries, including Canada and Australia.
1. An assessment
(image courtesy KissClipart)
Here is my brief analysis of what I see happening in the UK with this digital Bible reading research of Millennials (or, Generation Y) who were born between 1982 and 2002.
What is this article telling the Christian community that needs evaluation?
1.1 Fake theology in the article
The false teaching in this article included:
1.1.1 People’s change in biblical emphasis and support.
This is told in the journalist’s writing:
In the beginning – and for centuries that followed – God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.
The change in acceptance and emphases through social media is an example of pragmatism (what works best) in action. It is promoting fake theology when any generation promotes self-centredness instead of God-centredness.
That the Millennials discard John 3:16 for Jeremiah 29:11 is an example of abandoning Christo-centric theology for egotistic, feel-good theology.
Does it occur to these researchers and the Millennials that they are replacing the centre of Christianity with a bogus doctrine?
1.1.2 From ‘poster boy’ to ‘star’: Christianity for the Oscars.
“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11,” said Reverend Dr Peter Phillips, director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John’s College, Durham University.
That one paragraph demonstrates a change in worldview by the Millennials. The change is from:
(1) God’s love for the world and Jesus’ sacrifice of his life to bring salvation to whomever believes, to
(2) The fake doctrine of prosperity and hope in the here and now.
1.1.3 The crux of Christianity crucified by compromise.
“People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’s death upon the cross on social media. It’s a bit heavy.” The passage, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,”
So the cross of Christ and his shedding his blood to provide eternal life is ‘a bit heavy’ for social media.
I cannot imagine anyone with that approach standing up for their faith to the point of being a martyr like Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Hugh Latimer and those slaughtered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador: Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian.
(image courtesy TeePublic)
Compromise does not stoke fire in the heart of Christianity. Here we have an example of the Millennials who changed the truth of God (John 3:16) to fake theology (Jer 29:11).
1.1.4 Let me interpret the Bible my own way.
This is done in true Frank Sinatra style, ‘My Way’.
According to experts, the switch is a product of social media and young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online (Fitzpatrick).
What is the ‘Bible’s Way’? This is every Christian’s responsibility, although directed to Timothy: ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15 NASB, emphasis added).
You might say: You are cherry-picking a verse to support accurate handling / interpreting of the word of truth – the very thing that you accuse the Millennials of doing?
Please examine the context of 2 Tim 2:1-2 (NIRV),
My son, be strong in the grace that is yours in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach in front of many witnesses. Pass on to people you can trust the things you’ve heard me say. Then they will be able to teach others also.
Timothy’s role of teaching others was central to his task of ‘accurately handling the word of truth’, as it is for all Bible teachers today. It is the role of all Christians to check out the Scriptures when any preacher or teacher speaks.
We know this from Acts 17:11 (NIRV):
The Berean Jews were very glad to receive Paul’s message. They studied the Scriptures carefully every day. They wanted to see if what Paul said was true. So they were more noble than the Thessalonian Jews.
It is every Christian’s responsibility to check any preaching or written teaching about Scripture.
According to these researchers, the switch from Christo-centric to self-centred fake theology is:
(a) ‘a product of social media’, and
(b) ‘young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online’.
This is postmodern, deconstructed Christianity in action. Postmodernism is difficult to define simply. In this Fitzpatrick article we have an example of the trend that moves from ‘cold, hard facts’ (John 3:16) to ‘warm, fuzzy subjectivity’ (Jer 29:11).
Got Questions? has defined it as:
Post-modern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward…. When groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.
For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases.
Then add the deconstruction, reader-response elements of postmodernism. Here, an author’s intended meaning of a book or article does not provide the correct interpretation of his or her own work. The readers determine what any book or article means.
The ‘young people’s expectations of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online’ is not the way to read any document to gain its true meaning. Expectations should not drive any person regarding the content of articles in The Sydney Morning Herald or History of Australia by Manning Clark, or the Bible.
You’ll appreciate that when many people read the one author’s book, there are many interpretations and each is as valid as the other – in deconstruction. So the intended meaning of any book of the Bible goes down the postmodern chute of confusing, multiple interpretations and nobody can say which is the correct meaning.
Imagine using that approach when completing your tax return, giving your driver’s licence details to a policeman, reading the Brisbane Courier-Mail, or the Bible. Which way does the promoter of postmodern deconstruction want us to read his or her own book? Literally or by deconstruction?
What I see in this preference of Jer 29:11 over John 3:16 is a deconstruction of biblical theology to replace it with fake theology, i.e. self-centredness instead of Christ-centredness.
It’s a different gospel of prosperity without the cross, hope without the atonement.
This is how the article describes postmodern theology in practice:
With apps such as Bible Lens – which allows users to create new images using their own photos overlaid with quotes from the Bible – and YouVersion’s search-by-emoji function soaring in popularity, Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings.
The YouVersion website explains Bible Lens:
YouVersion Bible Lens is the app that transforms your everyday photos into profound, Biblically-based artistic shareable images. Bible Lens lets you take a picture, or point to one you already have. It detects not only objects in your photo, but more importantly, the Biblical themes of the moment that photo captured… and then suggests Bible verses to match!
This highlights one of the issues with the YouVersion app approach. It matches your photos or artistic, shareable images to specific Bible verses. This is not the way to disciple people in important Christian disciplines of:
(a) contextual biblical interpretation,
(b) learning not to cherry-pick single Bible verses to make them say what we want them to say,
(c) refusing to use software that interferes with appropriate interpretation. This does not mean that all software linked to Bible knowledge is to be avoided. I access many articles online, including Bible translations through BibleGateway and BibleHub.
(d) using the biblical themes of the moment that photos capture, and leaving the app to choose the Bible verse.
(e) Since ‘YouVersion’s function [is] soaring in popularity, Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings’ (Fitzpatrick), Millennials have postmodernised the Bible through ‘search-by-emoji’. This leads to a pick-and-choose Christianity that avoids the wisdom and knowledge of God, gained through fear of Him.
I have no confidence that it will develop disciples who know how to study the Scriptures with the foundation, ‘Wisdom begins with fear and respect for the Lord. Knowledge of the Holy One leads to understanding’ (Prov 9:10 ERV). All knowledge and wisdom must begin with the Lord or it is worthless.
Building a foundation for faith on apps that pick and choose Bible verses to go with the artistic images you use, is like building one’s house on the sand of intuitive emotion of feel-good faith. See Matthew 7:24-28. Taking action on what apps decide is not practising biblical Christianity.
‘Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings’ (Fitzpatrick). They sure have and it does not resemble the Gospel of John 3:16. It is time for God’s watchmen and watchwomen to stand up and be counted to counteract this Christless, fake gospel.
1.1.5 Therapeutic, self-centred identity
The me-centred fake theology is declared in this kind of statement:
Reverend Dr Phillips, whose book Bible, Digital Culture and Social Media is published later this year, said: “We find that Millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity and how faith can help them in their future. The result is a shift in public display of the Bible.”
There you have it: ‘it’s far more about their own identity‘ and it’s ‘a shift in public display of the Bible’, according to the Millennials. The shift is more disturbing than public display of one’s identity.
A Christian’s personal identity is found in being made in the image and likeness of God (see Gen 1:26; 5:1–3; 9:6; Col 3:9–10; Eph 4:24–26; and James 3:9). Theologians down through the centuries have debated what it means for human beings to be created in God’s image. This is a reasonable summary of the meaning, in my view:
The image of God (Latin: imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.
Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.
It is a radical change by YouVersion apps. It’s a leap of faith to another worldview of postmodern deconstruction that condemns any talk about truth. Absolute truth is taboo.
This is discarding biblical Christianity for feel-good millennial therapy. It is fake theology of personal importance over God Almighty’s sovereignty. Am I too dogmatic in labelling this as another gospel?
1.1.6 Discard the context for therapeutic benefit
One of the major errors of the Millennials represented in this article is the approach to Christianity and its association with Jeremiah 29:11.
To whom was Jeremiah 29:11 addressed? This is the context of Jeremiah 29 (NET):
(image, Babylonian Captivity, courtesy Pinterest)
‘The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was addressed to the elders who were left among the exiles, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the other people who were exiled in Babylon’ (Jer 29:1).
‘The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem’ (Jer 29:4).
“For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. They are prophesying lies to you….”’ (Jer 29:8-9a)
‘“For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope’” (Jer 29:10-11).
One of the ‘Comments’ posters examined the context of Jeremiah 29 and correctly interpreted verse 11:
From my cynical believers perspective you are absolutely right. Furthermore that passage is not about ‘me’ at all. It was written ‘to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon’. i.e. the Israelites held captive by the Babylonians after the invasion in 587BC. In fact here it is in context (from Jer 29):
“10 When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
There are many problems with this approach to Christianity but hermeneutics (interpretation) is one of the BIG ones.
2. Post-truth in action
I consider Fitzpatrick’s content to be an example of Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016, post-truth. which is ‘an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”’. (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2019. s.v. post-truth).
In context, this promise of Jer 29:11 is not for Christians in the 21st century. It was for the nation of Judah (cf. Jer 27 – 29, 39-43; Book of Ezra), the people carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar. But it’s a classic example of feel-good Christianity in action. This time it avoids the truth of John 3:16 to replace it with an emotional appeal that is false because the verse is cherry picked and has no application to the believer today.
In my understanding of interpretation in context, it was not meant to extend contemporary hope and prosperity for Millennials in the 21st century. That meaning is generated out of context and provides false hope. Nevertheless, the Bible Society in the UK put this spin on it:
But the popularity of Jeremiah 29:11 also comes down to the context of social media, said the Bible Society.
“Passages like John 3:16 concern an eternal perspective and hope beyond death,” the society’s Rachel Rounds said. “These are not easy concepts to convey on social media, which doesn’t really do context or nuance and is a challenge for politicians, scientists and the Church alike”.
Two commanding themes against Christianity dominated this article.
Firstly, postmodern fake theology replaced exegesis of the biblical text and its interpretation in context. It moves from facts to fuzzy feelings, driven by a reader-response technique of the reader determining the meaning of a text. Millennials decide for themselves what is ‘better’ faith than John 3:16. Since many readers read a text, there will be many interpretations and none of them is ‘correct’ in an absolute sense.
Secondly, the post-truth view expressed in the article was that objective facts of Jesus’ life being given for the sins of the world are replaced by Millennials from a hope beyond death to a hope for now – prosperity.
All of this means self-centredness has replaced Christ-centredness. The result is a different gospel generated by fake theology.
This fake theology needs to be exposed by evangelicals and others who are concerned about the demise of truth in our culture.
However, this is a risk for evangelical Christianity that must be banished:
(image courtesy Pinterest)
 Laura Fitzpatrick 2019. The Canberra Times (online) 25 February. Available at: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/world/europe/social-media-upends-public-s-bible-quote-preferences-20190225-p50zyy.html (Accessed 25 February 2019). This article is from the Telegraph, London.
 Although there are conflicting opinions about the timeline for the era of the Millennials, census bureau results (USA) show ‘that the millennial generation is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002’ – Robert Farrington 2019. What is the Millennial Age Range and What Does That Mean Financially? The College Investor (online), 13 February. Available at: https://thecollegeinvestor.com/19793/millennial-age-range/ (Accessed 25 February 2019).
 I use ‘fake theology’ as an adaptation of ‘fake news’, which means, ‘false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting’ (Collins English Dictionary 2019. s.v. fake news). So fake theology is false, sensational information circulated under the guise of orthodox biblical teaching.
 Got Questions 2002-2019. What is post-modern Christianity? (online). Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/post-modern-Christianity.html (Accessed 26 February 2019)).
 Got Questions 2019. What does it mean that humanity is made in the image of God (imago dei)? (online). Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/image-of-God.html (Accessed 26 February 2019).
 Fitzpatrick op. cit, sneakyguy12. Available at: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/world/europe/social-media-upends-public-s-bible-quote-preferences-20190225-p50zyy.html#comments (Accessed 25 February 2019).
Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 February 2019.