J. Warner Wallace

Author, Cold-Case Christianity

Much has been written about both the Biblical illiteracy of teenage believers and the flight of young people from the Church. Many have observed this trend, and I too have witnessed it anecdotally as a youth pastor (and shamefully, I contributed to the trend for some time before I changed course). Some writers and Christian observers deny the flight of young people altogether, but the growing statistics should alarm us enough as Church leaders to do something about the dilemma. My hope in this post is to simply consolidate some of the research (many of the summaries are directly quoted) so you can decide for yourself. I’ve organized the recent findings in a way that illuminates the problem in a continually updated article found here:

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The Gospel of Mark is a reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, but this ancient document isn’t the only text attributed to this companion of Paul, Peter and Barnabas. Another slightly less ancient text called the Secret Gospel of Mark claims to have been written by the same man who wrote the gospel we accept as reliable. But is this non-canonical text reliable? Was it really written by Mark? Remember that there are four characteristics of reliable eyewitness testimony, and the first attribute requires that any alleged eyewitness be present to see what he or she reports. The Secret Gospel of Mark was written too late in history to have been written by John Mark, and like other late non-canonical fabrications, this fraudulent text was rejected by the Christian community. In spite of this, the Secret Gospel of Mark contains nuggets of truth related to Jesus. It is a legendary and elaborate fabrication written by an author who was motivated to alter the history of Jesus to suit his own purposes. It is an alternative narrative fabricated from the foundational truths of the original Gospels. Much can be learned about the historic Jesus from this late lie:

The Secret Gospel of Mark (100-205AD)
The Secret Gospel of Mark is described in a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD), although this alleged letter has been attacked as a forgery by many scholars. The letter is the only source referencing the gospel; there are no existing manuscripts of The Secret Gospel of Mark. Clement was allegedly writing to another Christian leader named Theodore, advising him about the existence of a more expansive version of the Gospel of Mark containing additional stories and sayings of Jesus. This allegedly extended version of Mark’s Gospel was reportedly known only to Jesus’ innermost circle. Clement told Theodore to beware a false teacher (named Carpocrates) who further expanded this version of Mark’s Gospel to include his own heretical ideas.

Why Isn’t It Considered Reliable?
Many scholars simply reject the claims of Morton Smith (who reported finding Clement’s letter in the Mar Saba monastery in 1958) and maintain the letter is a forgery. Some of these scholars have observed a similarity between Smith’s claim and the 1940 novel, “The Mystery of Mar Saba”. In addition, the text is not supported externally; no other early church leader mentions this secret gospel. The majority of those scholars who do accept the legitimacy of the letter believe The Secret Gospel of Mark to be a late Gnostic adaptation of Mark’s Gospel.

How Does It Corroborate the Life of Jesus?
Regardless of the legitimacy of the Secret Gospel, it does confirm many historically accurate details related to the life of Jesus. The few elements that are included in the letter affirm that Jesus performed miracles (such as restoring a dead man to life), had disciples and followers (James, John and Salome are mentioned specifically), and taught about the Kingdom of God.

Where (and Why) Does It Differ from the Reliable Accounts?
As described in Clement’s alleged letter, The Secret Gospel of Mark (if legitimate) contained hidden teachings of Jesus intended for a select few privileged believers. In fact, one passage of the Gospel describes Jesus teaching some of these hidden truths to a young man he has just raised from the dead. If the letter is legitimate, it appears these alterations to the reliable Gospel of Mark were late modifications made by the Gnostic group described by Clement, (the Carpocratians).

This ancient text, although attributed to the same man who wrote a legitimate Gospel account, is a late fictional narrative. When assessed under the template we typically use to determine eyewitness reliability, it simply cannot withstand the scrutiny. The four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) are still the earliest reliable record of Jesus, written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus personally.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

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The Gospel of John is a reliable addition to the New Testament Canon, but this ancient document isn’t the only text attributed to this disciple of Jesus. Another slightly less ancient text called the The Apocryphon of John claims to have been written by the same man who wrote the gospel we accept as reliable. But is this non-canonical text reliable? Was it really written by John? There are four attributes of reliable eyewitness testimony, and the first characteristic requires that any alleged eyewitness be present to see what he or she reports. The Apocryphon of John was written too late in history to have been written by the Apostle John, and like other late non-canonical texts, this fraudulent document was rejected by early Christians who knew that it was unreliable. In spite of this, The Apocryphon of John contains nuggets of truth related to Jesus. It is a legendary and elaborate fabrication written by an author who was motivated to change the history of Jesus to suit his own purposes. It is an alternative narrative twisted from the truths offered in the original Gospels. Much can be learned about the historic Jesus from this late fabrication:

The Apocryphon of John (120-180AD)
The Apocryphon of John is a Sethian Gnostic text (Sethians were named for their reverent adoration of the Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, who they described as a divine incarnation and the ancestor of a superior race of humans). Like others Sethian texts, it was first discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi Library collection in Egypt in 1945. Three copies were discovered at that time, and another copy was later discovered in Egypt. All of these copies date to the 4th century, but scholars place the writing of the text in the 2nd century. The Apocryphon of John describes an appearance of Jesus to the Apostle John (after Jesus’ ascension) in which Jesus provides John with secret knowledge, much like other narratives in the tradition of Gnosticism.

Why Isn’t It Considered Reliable?
The early Church leader, Irenaeus refers to The Apocryphon of John in his defense of the faith entitled “Against Heresies” (written in approximately 185AD). From a very early date, this book was identified as a Sethian Gnostic fabrication and late document with no Apostolic eyewitness connection to the Apostle John. As Irenaeus wrote, the text was one of “an indescribable number of secret and illegitimate writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish people, who are ignorant of the true scriptures.”

How Does It Corroborate the Life of Jesus?
The Apocryphon of John presumes the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It also affirms John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee, and an important disciple of Jesus (who is described as a Nazarene). Jesus is also given the title “Savior” (although the meaning of this term is different in Sethianism).

Where (and Why) Does It Differ from the Reliable Accounts?
The Apocryphon of John is concerned primarily with an account of the creation of the world. The text was discovered in the Nag Hammadi library as the first document in a series of Sethian Gnostic texts and it includes the most detailed Sethian creation mythology. The role and position of Jesus in the Godhead is very different from orthodox canonical descriptions as a result of the presuppositions of Sethians who wrote this text. Sethian believers appear to have accepted the historicity of Jesus but attempted to place Him within their preconceived Sethian beliefs.

This ancient non-canonical text, although attributed to the same man who wrote a reliable Gospel account, is a late fictional narrative. When examined under the template we typically use to determine eyewitness reliability, it simply fails the test. The four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) are still the earliest reliable record of Jesus, written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus personally.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

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Have you ever regretted something you posted on social media? Don’t feel bad, 57% of Americans who use social media have posted something they regret afterwards. And that’s just adults. Now jump into the brain of a 10-year-old. Yes, a 10-year-old. Nielsen research labels age 10 the “mobile adoption sweet spot” because the average age a child receives a smartphone today is 10.3 years-old. How is a 10-year-old supposed to make wise decisions with social media like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook? (especially when COPPA—Child Online Privacy Protection Act—regulates that you have to be at least 13 to be on Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook). Young people don’t think for more than 3 seconds before they hit SEND. Sadly, the pics they post, the rants they engage in… even the offhand comments they make… often have dire consequences. In law enforcement we deal with the fallout of these posts daily. If you’re familiar with our work here at ColdCaseChristianity.com, you know how important we think it is to equip and prepare the next generation of Christian Case Makers. Part of this mission is to help young Christians understand how to navigate social media and post wisely in an insecure world. To help do this, I thought I’d ask the guy who literally just wrote the book on it.

Jonathan McKee is the author of over 20 books including the brand new, The Teens Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices: Wise Posting in an Insecure World. Jonathan speaks to parents and leaders across the country about today’s teens, and addresses the “smartphone generation” directly in school assemblies and events worldwide. Last week I had the opportunity to pick Jonathan’s brain about this important subject, and I think you’ll find the conversation eye-opening.

J. Warner:
Jonathan I see you as one of the foremost experts and important voices in youth ministry today. Were you seeing something in the lives of students that prompted you to write this book? Why, of all the topics you could (and have) written about, did you decide to write this book now?

Jonathan:
Great question, and the answer is because over three quarters of teenagers now have smartphone, yet very few people are engaging them in conversations about developing wise decision-making skills with this device. Most teens are learning lessons the hard way. They post a pic and regret it later. They use an app that brags “the pics disappear” and they interpret that as freedom from accountability. A screenshot later, they realize the post wasn’t as temporary as they thought it was.

It happens all the time. Boy asks girl to send a sexy pic. Girl sends pic. Girl and boy break up. Next thing you know, boy sends pic to the whole school with the caption, “What a whore!” Girl is devastated. Every high school has at least one story like this. Principals deal with this kind of drama continually. It’s why a whole generation of young people resonated with the Netflix Series, 13 Reasons Why. It mirrored much of what they saw in real life. If only parents were engaging their kids in conversations about these real-life situations.

J. Warner:
Parents aren’t engaging their kids in these conversations. Perhaps they feel ill equipped. Is that why you address parents specifically in the beginning of a book written to teenagers—an interesting approach, by the way—briefly giving advice to the “caring parent or adult” who bought this book for the teen they care about?

Jonathan:
Exactly. The book is for teenagers, but the publisher and I know that it’s typically Mom, Dad, or Grandma who buys the book for the teenager and says, “Here, you should read this!” In fact, I’ve already been hearing lots of parents call this book their new “phone contract” their kids have to read before they get a smartphone. But yes, I addressed parents quickly at the beginning to answer some of the daunting questions they have, like what age should my kids get a phone, or what parental controls should I use? So I answer those quickly, and then encourage them to use the book as a tool to engage their kids in conversation about this important subject. In other words, don’t just hand your kid this book, use the discussion questions at the end of each chapter to ask them, “What did you think about this Chapter on Snapchat?”

J. Warner:
Great chapter, by the way. So what do you think is the one most pressing risk you see for students and their use of social media?

Jonathan:
I’ll answer that by summarizing several chapters into one soundbyte: think before you press SEND. So much of where kids get into trouble is when they snap a pic, send a tweet or post a comment without giving it any thought whatsoever. Their pic gets circulated more than they thought, their tweet gets misinterpreted and their comment starts a fight. We need to teach our kids to pause before they post.

J. Warner:
That’s a nice soundbite.

Jonathan:
Ha. Thank you. Parents need to help their kids consider the permanence of their posts (again with the alliteration). They need to begin to understand: nothing you post is temporary. So don’t post anything you don’t want your principal, Grandma, your future boss… and Jesus seeing (Jesus is on Instagram, you know).

J. Warner:
What would you say to parents who are concerned their kids are spending too much time on Social Media?

Jonathan:
Parenting is a balance of bonding and boundaries. Bonding is hanging out with our kids, playing with our kids… eating greasy French fries with our kids. Boundaries is when we say, “Sorry, but you’re not going to that party,” or “Nope, you’re not going to have your phone by your bedside at night; I’m going to charge your phone for you.  It’s a free service I provide as your Mom.”

J. Warner:
Nice.

Jonathan:
Both bonding and boundaries are vital. So, if your kid is glued to their phone so much it is interfering with their sleep, their grades, and their relationships, Mom or Dad should respond in both areas. Parents can have the boundary of “no tech at the table,” and conversation tends to eventually emerge at family meals. At the same time, parents can engage their kids in conversation asking them questions about their own technology, not lecturing, but asking questions and listening. Maybe read a relevant article like this one, Half of Teens Feel Addicted to Their Phones, and ask:

How do you think this survey would have turned out if they asked young people this question at your school?

What would you have answered?

What is a sign of being addicted to your phone?

What is a good way to make sure your phone doesn’t hinder your relationships?

Teens don’t want to be lectured. So, offer them information and ask their opinion. Become good at spotting relevant articles and asking, “Do you think this is right?” Don’t tell them the answer, lead them to the answer.

J. Warner:
How do you see the use of social media shaping the culture in the years to come, and what advice do you have for Christian kids to make the best use of these platforms?

Jonathan:
I think our world is still figuring out the ramifications of what they created. It’s like seatbelts. Cars were invented in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until January 1, 1968 that car companies were required by law to provide seatbelts in all seating positions. Then it wasn’t until 1983 that laws kicked in to require people to actually wear them. That’s decades upon decades!

Consider the history of the Smartphone. In the early 2000’s very few people had Smartphones. Then Jobs announced the first iPhone in 2007. American didn’t even cross the 50% mark for Smartphone ownership until 2012. When it comes to young people carrying around everything at their fingertips… we’re talking about something most young people have experienced less than five years. I think in the next decade our world is going to experience some life-changing consequences that will result in some severe adjustments. Hopefully we will adapt and become smarter than our smartphone. As for Christians, the main lesson we need to learn is the lesson of loving others. We need to learn that the smartphone is a great tool for connecting with people outside the room… when it doesn’t interfere with the relationships of people inside the room.

Jesus was a man who noticed the unnoticed. When he was walking through a crowd of people he noticed the slightest touch from a woman who just barely brushed his garment. He stopped and said, “Who touched me?” And everyone thought he was crazy. But he persisted. “Who touched me?” And he gave attention to a woman that everyone else was ignoring. He did the same to a swindler named Zacchaeus and a promiscuous woman sitting at the well. Jesus didn’t ignore the least of the people in the room. Hopefully Christians will learn to put their phones in their pocket and follow that lead.

Few people have more experience with young Christians than Jonathan McKee. You can get a weekly dose of Jonathan on his blog, and read more from him about teens, parenting and youth ministry in his numerous helpful books available on Amazon.com and a bookstore near you.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

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About J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. J. Warner’s professional investigative work has received national recognition; his cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC’s Dateline, and his work has also appeared on CourtTV and Fox News. He also appears on television as an investigative consultant (most recently on truTV) and had a role in God's Not Dead 2, making the case for the historicity of Jesus. J. Warner was awarded the Police and Fire Medal of Valor “Sustained Superiority” Award for his continuing work on cold-case homicides, and the CopsWest Award after solving a 1979 murder. Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, J. Warner provides his readers and audiences with the tools they will need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. You can follow J. Warner Wallace on Twitter @JWarnerWallace

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