by Brian Fisher*
The spiritual hunger of college-aged men and women has manifested itself in recent years through a ministry called Passion led by Louie Giglio. In January of 1997 two thousand students attended the first Passion Conference in Austin, Texas. In January of 1998 five thousand students attended the second conference. In January of 1999 eleven thousand five hundred students attended in Fort Worth. From September 1999 to January 2000 Passion representatives crossed the country in preparation of their largest conference to date, known as “One Day.” The name of the conference (and a praise song bearing the same title) was taken from phrases used in Psalm 27:4 and Psalm 84:10 “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” (NIV). In May of 2000, over forty thousand students gathered on Shelby Farms outside of Memphis, Tennessee to pray for spiritual awakening in their generation. Since that time, Passion has continued to gather and motivate students to worship and fulfill the Great Commission. Just this past January 18,000 students and student ministry leaders attended the annual Passion Conference in Nashville. These are incredibly encouraging signs of the movement of God’s Spirit among the next generation of spiritual leaders for the body of Christ.
Unfortunately this very same hunger for spiritual things has left many students vulnerable to bad doctrine. At each of the past Passion Conferences John Piper has filled one of the plenary speaking roles. Most people are familiar with Piper, but allow me to give you a taste from his most recent teachings to which thousands of college-aged students have been exposed:1
- “Paul foresees the possibility that some professing believers—in the judgment of charity he calls them brothers, may go to hell… Your works confirm that you are saved.”2
- “Getting to heaven in the New Testament involves the use of means… Your perseverance in faith is a means of attaining heaven; it is necessary… Mutual exhortation is a means by which we preserve each other, strengthen each other, sustain each other, help each other persevere to heaven. It is not automatic… Prove that Christ died for your brother by extending the means that Christ bought to get him to heaven. Prove that… If you go the other direction you may show that not only is his soul in peril… but your lovelessness may be testifying you’ve never tasted of grace either, and you are not in Christ, and His blood has not covered you effectually…”3
The favorable response to Piper by the students in attendance reflects an overall trend of the resurgence of Calvinism on college campuses throughout the country. Entire groups of college students are dedicated to reading and discussing Reformed authors. Students are hungry for theological depth, and there are no competing “grace” voices on most campuses.
Piper’s appeal, however, is not merely the appearance of theological depth. He also calls students to die to themselves and live for the cause of Christ throughout the world.4 He speaks to a generation longing for significance. The Free Grace movement is losing the battle. We have little representation on college campuses, and where we do have a voice, we are not calling students beyond theological debate to the cause of world evangelization. We are not seen as the group most likely to sacrifice all that we have to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
Even if you are not in a university town you will have recent graduates, and you will certainly have college aged men and women in your congregation. They are strategic for the future of the free grace movement and the cause of the Great Commission. Let’s not overlook this opportunity. I believe in the gospel we preach. I believe that our understanding of God’s word is true. I also believe that there are few within the evangelical community worldwide who are keeping the gospel pure. That places upon us an added motivation and a heavy obligation to make sure that the gospel of God’s grace thrives in the next generation.
*Brian is the Senior Pastor of Grace Bible Church in College Station , Texas . This article was part of a plenary message Brian gave at the 2006 GES Conference that is available in both CD and DVD format. The message was entitled, “Grace in the Next Generation.”
1. All quotes are in consecutive order. The force of his argument has been carefully preserved, and no statement has been taken out of context or presented in such a way as to misrepresent John Piper or Bethlehem Baptist Church. Sermons were delivered at his church. Other quotes were delivered at Passion ’06.
2. “We Will All Stand Before the Judgment of God (Romans 14:10-13)”; October 30, 2005.
3. “Do Not Destroy the Work of God (Romans 14:14-23); November 6, 2005.  See Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper, for his theology of missions.