So if you haven’t seen the news reports or any of the video clips for the controversial new indie film Jesus Camp, check it out at http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com. I haven’t seen the entire movie (although I would like to at sometime), so I want to avoid making a snap judgment of the film altogether, but from I have seen it has raised some critical issues for us in the Church, particularly in the Pentecostal/charismatic community to deal with. For me, it raises questions like:
How do we process Pentecostal spirituality in children’s ministry? How hard do we push our teenagers and children to live “sold out” for Christ?
How do children process guilt and shame over sin?
Do those of us in Pentecostal/charismatic youth and children’s ministry use emotion and hype in order to manipulate them?
If even if we are not trying to be manipulative, is that what is happening when we rely heavily on emotion and hype?
Are we confusing hype for truth or emotion for spirituality?
In order to answer these questions, I think that it is important to understand the “Kids on Fire” summer camp, which is featured in the film, in it’s context. I have not done extensive research, but from what I have read it seems that the camp and it’s leaders are clearly within the Pentecostal/charismatic (and therefore evangelical) stream of Christianity. So before you write off these people as freaks, flakes and cult leaders, it is important to see them in the context. Typically, Pentecostal spirituality includes an integration of body, mind, affections and spirit. It is also seized with a apocalyptic vision and fervor to proclaim the gospel before the coming of Christ. (See Steven Land, Pentecostal Spirituality) Over the last 100 years, we have seen a militant motif used a different times by different Pentecostal/charismatic groups, but typically that is what it is…a motif, a metaphor, a symbol, a way of using biblical language to inspire a group of Christians. Some of the media coverage of the movie has made too much of the camp’s use of “war-like” themes. This is not uncommon in a Pentecostal/charismatic context.
With that said, I am uncomfortable with the clips that I have seen where kids are caused to feel guilty for their sins and for the sins of others. I have not seen the clips in their context, but I have seen enough that it makes me question the camps approach to children’s ministry. Watching the clips on youtube.com has got me thinking whether or not children have the intellectual and emotional maturity to understand what is happening. I don’t think they do. It is obvious that the kids are moved emotionally, but being moved is not the same thing as making a reasoned choice. It is also not the same thing as the working of the Holy Spirit. I do believe that we confuse emotional outward demonstrations with the inward working of the Holy Spirit.
I think it is critical that we do not try to bully our way past people’s free, a reasoned will in trying to communicate biblcial truth. Overly emotional and guilt-ridden pleas for repentance can do that. Furthermore, the we can no longer equate emotional reactions with what the Holy Spirit is doing. Yes, the Spirit touches our emotions, but the Spirit’s work is so much deeper than that.
I am eager to watch the film and give a better response, but check out the trailer and email me and let me know what you think.