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Jesus is the Gospel

Jeff McSwain

October 20, 2019

Young Life White Papers

I have struggled with the idea of releasing these papers. After consulting for years with my wife, my parents, and numerous counselors, I am going forward. I do not feel bitterness or rancor towards anyone in Young Life, and I love our many friends who are still on staff, remaining inspired by the love they display for Christ and teenagers. At base, I’m doing this on the chance it might benefit the kids who will someday come up in Young Life, that they might recognize that the unconditional and relentless love their amazing Young Life leaders have been showing them is an accurate witness to who God really is as revealed in Jesus Christ. I continue to believe that for us to know that God didn’t change his mind about us when we changed our mind about God is an irreplaceable anchor of assurance for healthy life-long discipleship. 

These are old, and hopefully I’ve evolved as a theologian since 2002, but I’ve decided to share the below essays as they were originally written (typos and all!). These papers were internal documents. They were not initially meant for public consumption. Looking back, it’s clear that I took liberties I wouldn’t take in an academic paper, erring on the side of what I had personally absorbed from my theological influencers, more than on meticulously citing them. Without changing the text, I have added some footnotes to give credit, to note a few scripture references, and to supply some elaboration. I regret that I didn’t use more gender inclusive language back then. Also, it seems funny now that I used the words “kids” so much to describe high schoolers—that’s a term that has forever been a part of the Young Life culture.

Proclamation and Discipleship: A Matter of Belonging (2002).  In the fall of 2001, while on a year-long study leave from Young Life at The University of St. Andrews, Scotland, I was invited by my former Fuller professor and Young Life’s Director of Training (Cliff Anderson) to participate in a Young Life task force on Discipleship. From Scotland I joined conference calls with the other members of the small team. My particular assignment, and resulting contribution, was to write about the connection between proclamation and discipleship. In my years of speaking at summer camp, combined with my day to day relationships with teenagers, I had begun to question the proclamation model. My masters work at Fuller and St. Andrews intensified my convictions. In the end, Cliff decided not to share this paper with the team, nor, as far as I know, with anyone else. I understood the organizational sensitivities and the importance of timing. In response to the paper, Cliff did have this to say in personal correspondence: “I'm not sure why you stressed that you want my ‘candid, brutally honest opinion...’  To me that implies some degree of wondering if it fits within the current culture of YL.  The short and emphatic answer is "YES!"  You've done a magnificent job of articulating a theological, historical, biblical, and applicable position on evangelism and discipleship.  There's not a point I disagree with.  I think it all needs to be said and taught within YL” (email March 7, 2002).










An Invitation to Mystery and Truth: The Separation Myth (2003).  Finished with my Masters at St. Andrews, I was stoked about re-entering the trenches of ministry and proclaiming the gospel in a way that felt to me more in line with the heart of Young Life. Before my camp speaking assignment at Windy Gap, I wrote this essay for the other staff on our assignment team to frame the direction I was taking with the message. That summer (2003) I chose Scripture describing sin as fighting against God’s unconditional embrace in Christ (and inherently self-destructive), as opposed to sin separating unbelievers from Christ’s embrace. The approach was refreshing for some folks and very troubling for others. 


Jesus is the Gospel (2007). By this time I was still the Area Director of Young Life for Durham/Chapel Hill. The adversity I had faced within Young Life was difficult, but I received enough support and encouragement from inside and outside of the mission to believe that I was still right to propose a congruency of gospel Word and deed. In 2007 I heard that the Young Life Management Team was creating a document called “The Young Life Non-Negotiables of Gospel Proclamation.” I was given permission to submit a paper to the process. “Jesus is the Gospel” was a plea (my last plea it turned out) to consider the opportunity we had in Young Life to biblically preach what we practice. 


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