Ron Luce is the founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries. Among many other things, he has been at the forefront of the Acquire the Fire youth conference, which have now morphed into the Battle Cry youth conferences. In this book, Battle Cry for a Generation, Luce sets out his ‘battle strategy’ for reaching the youth of this country.The book has some impressive endorsements from Josh McDowell (guru of anything related to Christian ministry to teens) and Jack Graham (former president of the SBC), to Kay Arthur (Precept Ministries and Bible Study author extraordinaire) and Chuck Colson who writes the forward. So, seeing the book at one of the Battle Cry conferences, I decided to buy it and see what had everyone talking.
The book begins with something of an intended shock-effect couple of first chapters. There, through voluminous statistics, song lyrics, teen testimonials, etc., Luce points out the incredibly negative influence society is having on our teens. In fact, he shows how the media and advertisers are marketing towards them like never before, dangling everything they shouldn’t have before their eyes to entice them to buy their products, leaving the companies wealthy and our teens emotional, physically, and spiritually sick. Luce leaves us wanting to know the answer for how to fix the problems we have seen.
Luce presents his plan in an appealing way (at least for most guys). The plan is presented as a ‘battle plan’ with militaristic terminology and imagery. I find this appealing because the Bible often presents our spiritual conflict as a war – Matt 11:12; Rom 7:23; 2 Cor 10:3; Eph 6:10-20; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7; Jas 4:1; 1 Pet 2:11. Other pastors and preachers, like John Piper, use this dramatic imagery to help illustrate and tease out the implications of such teaching for our lives (see especially his book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy).
Despite the appealing nature of his book’s themes and organization, I noticed something disturbing as I was reading – a lack of explaining Scripture. Luce hardly ever explains what the Scripture teaches about an issue, or applies that teaching to the problems facing teens. In fact, in a book that numbers 199 pages, Luce only mentions the Bible 31 times! Again, these not explanations of the Bible teaching either, they are simply proof-texts thrown on the back of a sentence or paragraph to support what we says, as on pg 56, where he cites 6 passages to show that God’s people are in a spiritual war. He doesn’t try to explain the significance of those texts’ teaching, he simply quotes them to prove his point.
But what is most disturbing of all is that I cannot find the gospel anywhere in the book! As far as I could find, the word ‘gospel’ is only used once. And it’s not as if he talks about the gospel without using the word ‘gospel.’ You cannot find any explanation of the Christian gospel anywhere in this book. That is, quite frankly, shocking. In a book on Christian ministry to teens, the gospel should be soaking its pages! After all, the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Paul says that gospel is so important that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8-9).
Then again, this may be the heart of the problem. Maybe Luce doesn’t believe the biblical gospel? I know those are strong words to write, but consider the only way he mentions Christ’s death is in an exemplary way. Because Jesus died in obedience to God’s will, so should we. In fact, Luce sees the heart of Christian commitment being death to self and life for God (pp 66-67). This is not bad! What how can we do this? How is it possible to die to ourselves and our sin when our hearts are sinful and only sin comes from them (Jer 17:9; Prov 4:23)?
The Bible teaches that …
1) Christ died as a sacrifice that appeased God’s wrath against our sins (Rom 3:25);
2) This allows him to forgive our sins and remain just, having punished our sins (Rom 3:21-26);
3) What’s more, when we confess our sins and turn to God with faith in Christ, we receive the righteousness of Christ that allows us to be in right relationship with God (Rom 4:1-5:1);
4) Having been united to Christ in his death and resurrection by God’s Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14),
5) we can then follow his leading and put sin to death in our lives (Gal 5:16-25; Rom 6:1-23).
In Luce’s book, I see nothing of Christ’s atoning death for his people’s sins, nothing of Christ’s righteousness for his people, nothing of the need to trust God for something we cannot do on our own, nothing of the true gospel. Luce does talk about God’s forgiveness, but never of the basis of that forgiveness. It seems, if we simply say we’re sorry and live like we’re sorry, then God will forgive us.
This is not simply an oversight in his book, either. Having attended one of the huge, stadium Battle Cry events, I saw his beliefs in action. During the ‘invitation’ time on the first night, hundreds of teens stood and shouted ‘I choose the cross.’ But again, Luce said nothing of Jesus dying for sins. The only time he talked about the cross, he showed it to be an example to us to die to ourselves as Jesus did. Thus, choosing the cross was choosing our own cross to die upon. Though, rooted in Jesus’ own teaching (Mark 8:34), it is nothing less than a distortion of the true gospel.
In the end, I can only believe that Luce is not leading teens to a true knowledge of Christ, but instead is a false teacher who comes in sheep’s clothing but inwardly is a ravenous wolf (Matt 7:15). If I am wrong, then I will gladly admit it! I would love nothing less than for Luce or someone from Teen Mania to respond here or elsewhere with an affirmation of their belief in the biblical gospel and then see them preach it as Paul did (1 Cor 1:23).
I am not trying to attack Luce on a personal level. I think his heart is in the right place. But I do think he does not understand the gospel and therefore is less than Christian. I do not write that with glee or delight. Instead, I write out of a deep concern for our teens who are caught in the mire of our culture’s sin. But what they need is not a call to pull themselves up by their boot straps and live better lives. What they need to hear is the powerful, life-transforming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.