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What Can the Gospels Teach Young Adults?

Marsh Chapel summer sermons seek wisdom for “emerging adulthood”


The fact that the Bible’s New Testament Gospels are about 2,000 years old may lead some to forget that their protagonist was anything but old. As Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Hill notes, “Jesus was young man. He lived and died a young man.”

Hence this year’s topic for Marsh Chapel’s annual summer preaching series, “The Gospel and Emerging Adulthood.” The eight-week series, beginning this Sunday, June 22, rotates four BU and four guest homilists at Marsh’s weekly 11 a.m. service.

Not only Jesus, but many of his disciples “were emerging adults themselves,” making them prime models for modern young adults, says the Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, BU’s chaplain for international students and one of the series preachers. “The passion and tenacity that so often accompanies young adulthood and early adulthood are evident throughout the Gospel,” says Longsdorf. “The Gospel lessons of peace, love, compassion, truth, understanding, and positive activism are all things that transform our lives, and young adulthood is a particularly transformative time in life. These ancient narratives remind us of who we are and help us to intentionally shape who we want to be.”

If the topic seems odd for the summer, when most BU students are away, Hill and Longsdorf note that many students, particularly those from abroad, listen to the Marsh service on WBUR, the University’s National Public Radio station, and especially on the internet, either live or by podcast later. Besides, says Hill, the series will also address how those who work with young adults can better engage with them.

In addition to the aforementioned preachers, the rest of the roster is made up of the Rev. Robin Olson (STH’86), School of Theology spiritual life coordinator; Brother Lawrence A. Whitney (STH’09,’15), University chaplain for community life; the Rev. Stephen Cady II, pastor of Asbury First United Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y.; Echol Nix, Jr., a Furman University associate professor of religion; Jonathan Walton, a Harvard Divinity School professor and Memorial Church minister; and the Rev. Regina Walton, associate rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Weston, Mass.

Now in its eighth year, the summer series has been popular, Hill says, citing, in part, comments received for the 2007 sermons, which were focused on the Iraq War.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

19 Comments on What Can the Gospels Teach Young Adults?

  • Amin on 06.20.2014 at 8:34 am

    How to stop thinking the right way and be superstitious.

  • Right way on 06.20.2014 at 9:19 am

    And what is the right way to think? You have already demonstrated shallow thinking – now teach us the right way, Sensei.

    • Amin on 06.20.2014 at 2:26 pm

      That’s what elementary school teachers are supposed to teach us: leave the faith away, in any form of it, as it kills reasoning, test theories through observation and experiment, build on the ones that pass the test, reject the ones that fail. No “holy” book has passed this test so far, and that’s why they require the anti-rational (you can say emotional) factor of “faith” to survive. For further knowledge, there are lots of great books one can study, and Bertrand Russell’s beautiful “Why I’m not a Christian” may be the best.

      • Right away on 06.20.2014 at 5:22 pm

        You do realize you are offering a philosophical position not a scientific one right? You are espousing materialism which the article is not about. You are making a category error. You think you are arguing reason vs. faith. But you are simply arguing for materialism over metaphysics.

        Faith and Reason work naturally together. You have not arrived at your position through “observation and experiment, build on the ones that pass the test, reject the ones that fail.” You are making a philosophical assumption based on what others told you. You are, in fact, a person of faith. Unless of course you are a master of all sciences and philosophies. Even still you are confusing categories. You may as well argue that compassion, love and self-reflection are superstitions all fail your test as well.

        Any book of poetry and history would also fail your test.

        The University system itself was a creation of the Catholic Church as was the Scientific Method. I could go on.

        I recommend learning basic category distinctions and the difference between science and materialism.

        You should tell Aquinas, Niccolò Cabeo, Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Roger Joseph Boscovich, Marin Mersenne, Bernard Bolzano, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, Nicole Oresme, Jean Buridan, Robert Grosseteste, Christopher Clavius, Nicolas Steno, Athanasius Kircher, Giovanni Battista Riccioli that faith kills reasoning.

      • Right way on 06.20.2014 at 5:31 pm

        I suggest you read the teachings of Jesus and compare them to Russell’s.

        How do you determine what is beautiful, good, worthy, true etc? How do you know how to act? What materialistic knowledge tells you how to best live your life or treat others or yourself?

        • Amin on 06.23.2014 at 5:47 pm

          Dear “Right way”!
          I don’t think I’m making a category error. I’d rather think you (in addition to millions of other people) are indoctrinated into the wrong belief that philosophy and religion are realms untouchable by science. I’m afraid you are simply fooled my friend, by those who want to keep selling their expired theories to ignorant people. Of course, reason and materialism are on one side, and faith and supernaturalism on the opposite. Is there an acceptable evidence (other than people’s dreams or hallucinations) for supernatural beliefs? No. That’s why you need faith, because there’s no reason. Have you ever heard someone talks about faith when teaching 2+2=4? No, because there’s evidence for that. When you have reason, you never need faith. A lot of wise men have already told your fellow theologian friends how faith kills reasoning; but a person already blinded by faith obviously finds it difficult to accept he’s wrong and keeps on using weak arguments to defend his/her position.
          You said I have arrived at my position only based on what others told me. I find this completely wrong about myself and perfectly true about any religious person. Why? Because I have actually arrived at my position through experiment and observation. I have looked at claims of holly books and compared them to experimental findings and as many of them turned out to be in contrary, I’ve found the hypothetical theories of the holy books wrong. Take the calculation of the age of universe based on the testaments which is 6000 years and scientifically which is 14.8 billion years as an example. While, you believe in something only because some people have told you it’s true without showing you any good evidence, and you’ve accepted that only based on emotions/faith rather than reason. So, I’m not a person of faith, as I’m never 100% certain about anything, and I only believe a theory to be close to truth if experimental evidence supports it, and to be false if there’s one evidence in contrary. You are a person of faith, as you believe in a theory despite a ton of evidence against it in front of your eyes.

          I recommend you learn better the very essence of science and scientific method/philosophy.

        • Amin on 06.23.2014 at 5:55 pm

          In addition, compassion, love, poetry and history have nothing to do with supernaturalism and religious/supernatural claims. There are a lot of scientific research to show the origins of emotions. And emotions are not necessarily anti-rational. So, please don’t keep using the occasional lack of scientific knowledge in some areas of nature as a proof for supernaturals.

      • DP on 06.22.2014 at 9:28 am

        Amin, which observation or experiment proves that observation and experiment are the only sources of truth? The claim itself does not seem to be based on empirical data. It seems unscientific to imply that emotions are somehow “anti-rational” when contemporary neuroscience agrees that rational judgment and emotion work in tandem to help us make decisions about what to do and what is true (i.e. Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio). And I think anyone being honest about their experience of why they believe what they believe will report that on some level it feels right to accept it. Bertrand Russell himself betrayed his desire for empirical proof when asked what he would ask God if he died and found out he was wrong, “Why didn’t you give us more evidence?”

        I am sympathetic to skepticism when it comes to the historical validity of the stories in the Bible. But if you are going to dismiss belief in Gospels as “emotional” or “superstitious”, it is important to acknowledge that all our perspectives on the nature of truth have a component that is not based in observable data, but is emotional. However, this does not necessarily mean it is not reasonable.

        • Amin on 06.23.2014 at 6:25 pm

          About your first question, the observation that proves experimentation is the right way for finding the truth is that it simply works! Scientists have proposed a lot of theories, most of which is falsified through experiments and some of them are supported and shown to be close to truth. Take Einstein’s general relativity for instance, the whole GPS system works based on that. Things work based on “scientific method”. But, show me statistically significant studies that indicate that prayers work. So, based on statistical studies we can know what works in harmony with nature and what does not, therefore what is likely to be true and what is unlikely.
          You may think Russell betrayed (?!), but actually with that sentence he is only telling you that there is not acceptable evidence for God (with your definition) in this universe. So, if I see him after I die, I won’t be guilty as he has been trying to hide himself!
          And about your point that “all our perspectives on the nature of truth have a component that is not based in observable data”, I absolutely disagree. There is nothing that human can be sure of without observable data, which is why psychics usually don’t win a lottery and patients don’t primarily go to priests rather than doctors.

          • Toward Meaning on 07.08.2014 at 1:21 am


            The Bible and other sacred texts do not claim to be science books or even in competition with science books. These texts are part of traditions and communities that offer meaningful ways of being in the world. Yes, they can be abused just as scientific research and technology can be abused. But that abuse does not make the thing in itself something inherently negative. Now I will say that it is possible to live a meaningful way of life without being involved in an acknowledged religion. In fact, someone with a belief system like your own (a belief that there is no God and that known religions do not point to truth) can cultivate a meaningful way of life. But that would begin with being honest about the fact that it is neither possible to prove God exists nor that God does not exist. The empirical reasoning that supports the existence of God begins with the assumption/belief that God exists. And the empirical reasoning that supports the notion that there is no God begins with the assumption/belief that God does not exist. Acknowledging this would at least help one avoid being so militant and (linguistically) violent in the attempt to convince others of the belief that there is no God or religious perspective worth pursuing.

            It may be easy to point out and dismiss the claims of certain Christians in the U.S. who oppose highly accepted scientific claims, but the reality is that this is a small group of Christians. The majority of Christians in the U.S. do not find it necessary to put Christian faith and science at odds with each other. Think about it: From a Christian perspective, humans were created to tend to the earth and all of God’s creation (the entire universe or multiverse for that matter). Sure, science can lead to the destruction of the universe, but if used in meaningful ways, it can help humans live the life for which we were created. And discoveries regarding the workings of the earth and various happenings of the ever-expanding universe highlights the wonders of God’s work. There is nothing in Christian scripture that calls people to avoid exploring, pointing out, learning about, and making use of the creation to better all lives (human, animal, plants, or any other kind of life we may encounter down the road).

            Finally, Boston University began as a school to train Christian ministers and eventually Christian laypeople as well. All the great research and examining students and faculty get to pursue at BU is a result of the Christian commitment to tend to creation and form people toward meaningful living. Even BU’s stance of tolerance of various perspectives (such as yours) is due to its engagement with Christian theological ethics. Just something to think about.

          • Amin on 07.10.2014 at 7:23 pm

            I have to disagree with you in that “sacred texts do not claim to be science books”. They do indeed speak a lot about the nature/universe and often turn out to be wrong. In addition, they do contain inherently negative concepts; for instance, take the story of Abraham attempting to kill his own son for God’s will. I did not claim that God does not exist. However, Jeudo-Christian God is certainly falsified experimentally (like any other theory could be). So, again I do not agree with you that God’s existence cannot be scientifically investigated. It’s been investigated and falsified indeed. But, there are theories and Gods that are physically impossible to test, and those theories are worthless, as we can never know if they are true.
            Of course, I had expected that religious community would take the slightest criticisms (that are completely normal in any other field) as being militant and violent. That’s what religion has evolved in you to compensate its weakness in being rational. Maybe it’s time to open religion like any other phenomenon to question and stop letting it get free rides.
            You may want to say those are a small group of Christians who oppose highly accepted scientific facts, but statistics are in contrary. Today, still 45% of Americans think the universe is less than 10000 years old (as taught by Bible). This is not a small group. Of course, religious people do not think religion is not in odds with science, otherwise they would not be religious! They mostly neither know their own religion nor do they know what science is in essence. I think you are not seeing the fine points. It does not matter if Bible encourages you to do scientific research or not. What it does is developing a destructive system of thinking which results in tremendous problems for humanity and nature, as observed historically. Take GW Bush, as one of the latest and most famous examples, who claimed to have talked to God and decided to start the war! What is destructive is this state of mind which happens inevitably in any religion or system of dogma.
            Finally, not only Boston University, but also almost all academic institutions of the world started by religious people and with religious aims. But, none of these means religion should not be questioned just like science, only because we’re emotionally addicted to it and would not like to let it go although a ton of evidence is showing its harms.

  • superstitious on 06.20.2014 at 11:07 am

    I find it interesting that people lay their in, and stake their lives on, things like PhDs, MBA, MDs, and MAs as the source of redemption yet scoff at people who hold to other faiths as “superstitious”. As someone of faith, I don’t ever recall scoffing at does not share my faith. Does that make me “tolerant” in ways that intellectuals are not?

    • Amin on 06.20.2014 at 2:53 pm

      No, it does not. Because, intellectuals have reasons behind their lack of faith and you have untestable emotions behind your faith, so they are able to defend their position and you are not. That’s why they’re always open to any question, and you call your inability in defending your position “being tolerant against scoffing” to seek sympathy and make the questioner silent.

      • Right away on 06.20.2014 at 5:26 pm

        Which intellectuals are those? I listed a few above. How about accomplished intellectual Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. Ph.D? A physicist and priest?

        The greatest intellectuals of history are nearly all people of faith.

        Inability to defend a position? Would you ask a psychiatrist to defend their “position” using cosmology?

        You nee

      • Jim in New Orleans on 06.20.2014 at 9:13 pm

        Amin I certainly respect your opinion, but the more you proselytize about a lack of faith the more insecure you actually sound about your own belief. None of the posts here are trying to argue for having faith; primarily they are focusing on being open to whatever one may believe. Your posts on the other hand actually smack of trying to convert anyone who does not “worship” your opinion. In that way, you actually end up being more evangelistic than anyone here. If people want to have faith in a deity, what is that to you? Seriously! If you want to be an atheist or agnostic, by all means go for it and I hope your life works for you. If the rest of us posting here want to follow a faith in a deity………why not live and let go? I honestly don’t understand your purpose here.

        • Amin on 06.23.2014 at 7:01 pm

          Dear Jim,
          My purpose here is to stop BU Today and everyone else from telling me, my family and my friends “What can the Gospels teach young adults?” by sending us emails, etc.! All developed countries have already let old superstitions (religions) aside and are working rationally based on human studies, except US. This is placing this country (and maybe the whole world) in a dangerous historical position. I want BU Today to be free from the influences of Church (which is a hard job as even US supreme court can’t be!) and instead of these sort of stuff sends people scientific findings, so that we can decrease the number of people that do not know earth is moving around Sun in this country (25% of people)!
          I think this explains why I can’t be indifferent about others’ beliefs. I see religion as harmful as it is untrue. People’s irrationality can affect my life too. So, I will try as hard as I can to be a part of the process of human’s self-awareness and fight against ignorance and superstition, before it’s too late for our species to survive our own misunderstandings and mistakes on this planet. Of course, this is not an issue for a believer, as God will save us if he wants to! And that is what I’m afraid of.

  • Ann Ramsey on 06.20.2014 at 1:23 pm

    I agree with the reply at 11.07 am today, and cannot understand how having faith is being “superstitious”. We learn truth and tolerance from the Gospel. By following the life of Jesus and listening to what Jesus taught, we have a perfect and lifesaving guideline.

  • thisFaith on 06.20.2014 at 2:48 pm

    Faith isn’t vulnerable to the natural. It is preternatural. So why defend faith from the natural (the attacks, the ridicules), when it needs no defense? Perhaps the people of faith are too natural themselves to appreciate the super-nature of their faith.

  • Mark on 06.20.2014 at 3:29 pm

    Can you post the sermons online so that we may read them?

    I’d also suggest that interested parties read Harvard professor Harvey Cox’s “When Jesus Came to Harvard,” about his Harvard course on morality as taught through the New Testament. The course was aimed at undergrads, and was the most popular course ever at Harvard.

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