Adventism's Fascination With The Growing Young Cohort From Fuller Seminary

Dear Adventist Brothers and Sisters,

My name is Ryan McCutcheon and two years ago I was one of our Alaska Conference delegates to the “Growing Young Cohort” put on by Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. My summation of their program is that portions of it may hold value for Adventist congregations but that we should refrain from inviting their coaches to guide our churches through any type of reform.

Some supporters of the Growing Young Cohort:

Retaining our own youth while reaching out to others is a process that can be better accomplished in-house through the power of the Holy Spirit. The following is a short list of observations that I pray both Adventist leaders and lay members will consider when making conclusions on how best to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the young.

Observation Number One: “People get really good at what they focus on.”

Whenever I go over to a local doctor’s house I always find myself examining his drywall. The large rounded corners and ceiling intersections unmarred by any cosmetic trim are the amazing work of a real mudding master; it’s something I hope one day to have in my own house. The foundation however, well I just assume it’s up to code.

Churches are kind of the same way. Adventists are a brotherhood of concrete guys where some of us even become expert geologists. Gotta know if there is any sand down there, right? We only build on bedrock (Matthew 7:24). Obsessing over this single facet of Christianity has left our churches…I want to use the term “incomplete.” You can live in a house where only half the plumbing works and it is devoid of finished flooring, just like we live with churches that don’t foster a family spirit or where a core group does all the work.

It’s difficult to sell an unfinished house though, just like it’s difficult to invite new or young people into our churches that don’t have as vibrant a community as others. Proving we have the best foundation out there is really only the start of any relationship. We need to be more intentional with our allegorical mudders and painters because they are the ones who make church both livable and visible. They are also a basic necessity—that’s just how God designed it.

How does the non-Adventist Fuller Seminary fit into this picture?

Well, in order for an ecumenical college to survive with teachers from all sorts of different backgrounds the seminary has to avoid deep foundational issues. They’ve gotten really good at what they focus on however and that is Christian community. To me, this is like looking at that amazing sheetrock and thinking, “This is what I want one day.” Fuller’s model community isn’t something we can casually brush off just because they’re not Adventist. It is now the new norm for what is expected of us; and that’s a good thing. The requirement is higher and we need to grow in order to reach it. Success will take absolutely everyone you have.

Observation Number Two: Bobbleheading is an effective tool to proselytize.

I was teaching in Turkey when I first saw Bobbleheading in action. My boss invited me over for a party to try his famous spinach pies and I found myself watching an illegal religious meeting for an hour before we ate. The logic presented was one of pure momentum where the leader would state a handful of obvious truths before getting to his point. Like, “The sky is blue, the sea is salty, Mohammed is the Prophet.” And just like Bobblehead toys that people put in their cars, the men at that meeting would start nodding in agreement over and over and right through the final point without giving it any thought. Momentum works.

It was scary though, sitting through those “Growing Young” meetings, when across from me sat a handful of Adventist leaders who started Bobbleheading. Now a large part of me wants to dismiss those guys like the empty-headed dashboard trinkets they resembled, but I know they’re not stupid. They just have a lot of zeal combined with dangerous lack of knowledge.

In other words, they are in so far over their heads they can’t see the surface to know up from down. It’s only by the providence of God that I can; my experience with Fuller has lasted over sixteen years. It’s a more robust perspective than any two-day conference will provide a youth pastor. I discuss it in my book, Finding Life Alongside Islam.

Essentially at these (Fuller Growing Young) meetings, we were bombarded with a bunch of common sense church stuff then asked to completely invert our priorities based on research that did not include Adventist youth. It’s a false association at the very least. Oh, and they will provide coaches to help us do it.

Observation Number Three: A prescription for lead pills can’t cure lead poisoning.

Back in Turkey before I arrived, the pastor in Istanbul unofficially contextualized the gospel by preaching from both the Bible and the Qur’an. I talked to a member there who commented, “By the end of church your head is spinning because you don’t know where he got anything he said.” The method was completely ineffective. The cure for that was to take a young American-Turk who was completely on fire for Christ and send him home to contextualize the Gospel by claiming he was a Muslim who believed in Jesus. It didn’t work either. Not in Turkey, the United States, Bulgaria, Egypt or in Mongolia. Tens of millions of dollars disappear, not to mention the untold value of souls lost forever, because we assume it is our classical Three Angels’ Message that isn’t working.

Contextualized mission work is also a Fuller project that unfortunately continues to this day with the support of the North American Division, Andrews Adventist Seminary, Walla Walla and Loma Linda Universities.

You see, we’ve been heavily invested in Fuller ecumenicism for a good twenty years. Objective evaluation of their product just isn’t something our pastors are capable of when everyone they trust is telling them, “I’ve heard wonderful things…”. Bobbleheading normally ensues.

The practical result of this is basically getting a prescription for the poison already killing us. Fuller Seminary prioritizes a psychological gospel over the “truth that sets you free.” They’re looking for Jesus here on Earth instead of recognizing the singular purpose of religion is to escape death and glorify God.

And once again, just like with Islamic missions, we are being asked to officially embrace an ecumenical religion when it’s the unofficial version of the same thing that has stripped us of God’s power.

Think back for a moment. How many times in the past year have you heard a sermon teaching you to present saving truths to your friends? Zero?

And how many sermons have you forgotten that had something to do with God wanting you to be happy? We’re already there unofficially and the result is that our youth aren’t interested in our religion. Do we really want to enshrine this Growing Young vogue as church protocol?

So, once again, Adventists do need to be more intentional in promoting those with gifts of hospitality, faith, healing and mercy, but we don’t need non-Adventist coaches to help us get there. If our leaders had one real takeaway from the “Growing Young Cohort” I hope it is that all decisions need to be discuss-able.

I pray the unique perspective God has given me will add a bit more light to that conversation when writing the story we wish to become.


Ryan James McCutcheon was a teacher and missionary in Turkey, and currently lives in Sitka, Alaska. Ryan is the author of the book Finding Life Alongside Islam.