The Word According to GenZ is a devotional for teenagers published by LifeWay. It’s written by a ministry named “Sunday Cool,” headed up by Carll Hooper, who is well known for their YouTube videos. “Cool Carll” and his crew are known for their over-the-top depictions of today’s teenagers and often include some form of biblical message intertwined into the video, though some of them are simply intended for comedic relief. Their videos are obviously meant to be caricatures and should be taken as satire.
The book was cancelled by LifeWay only a few days after its release when there were significant complaints about it being irreverent and disrespectful. It seems that many who were in uproar didn’t realize this was a devotional book, not a new bible translation – although I doubt that would have changed their opinions. Further, it was cancelled very shortly after Lifeway Students had concluded a livestream for youth workers that featured a segment with Cool Carll and the Sunday Cool team, discussing this very resource. Needless to say, the response from the youth ministry community felt like a whiplash and they were left confused. It came off like youth pastors were being called into the Senior Pastor’s office after parents started complaining about their ministry based off a partial truth.
As a veteran, theologically-minded youth pastor who’s still in the trenches, I’ve been watching this conversation with interest and am sympathetic to both camps. I don’t actually have a copy of the book. Now that it’s unavailable, it looks like that won’t be possible for quite some time (Sunday Cool seems to be working on its own distribution plan for the book, apart from LifeWay). Here’s my attempt to capture what we can learn from this controversy.
What’s Good About The Word According to GenZ
The devotional was based off the ESV translation and included a devotional message for students. This is a good and helpful way to engage students with Scripture and to guide them into further reflection about the Word of God.
As the image above shows, each day’s devotional included a devotional intended to help a postChristian generation consider the truth of Scripture. There was never any intention to provide an actual “translation” of Scripture. The section headed as “GenZ Translation” is a tongue-in-cheek way to draw students in. As students read the ridiculous “translation,” they need to refer to the actual ESV translation to make sense of the GenZ version, and then read the devotional to understand what the passage means for life.
GenZ is composed of today’s teenagers through early 20-year-olds. They are the least Christian generation in American history, many of whom have very little familiarity with Christian teaching or the contents of Scripture. Gone are the days when pastors and youth workers can assume any biblical foundation off which to build. Statements like, “As you know…” and “You’ve probably heard this verse/story before…” only makes GenZ feel like they don’t belong, because they don’t know and they haven’t heard. A resource like The Word According to GenZ might actually be compelling enough to draw unchurched teenagers to read it.
Cool Carll, and Sunday Cool, understands the worldview of GenZ and is committed to the call of the Great Commission. These should be affirmed and cause Christians to have a posture of graciousness towards their ministry.
What’s Concerning About The Word According to GenZ
Today’s generation of teenagers have a sarcastic and irreverent sense of humor. As someone who tends towards sarcasm, I can easily get drawn down those paths. That also means I know how easy it is for sarcasm and jokiness to overshadow something that’s valuable and meaningful. This is my chief concern here. The form may be overshadowing the function.
Even if we give The Word According to GenZ the benefit of the doubt and view the “GenZ translation” as a type of teaching-hook or introduction into the actual content, I’m skeptical that students would remember that content. More realistically, I think they’d read through the GenZ translations, laugh about it, then close the book. And then what are we left with other than turning the words of the Bible into a joke?
This is where I can sympathize with the critics. I think it’s a stretch to say this devotional is blatantly disrespectful to Scripture, especially when you consider the intended audience and purpose. Indeed, the very purpose is to point students to the timeless truth God’s Word, rather than to try and re-create it to be palatable to a new generation.
And this reaches my primary concern. Much about youth ministry over the years has been very well-intentioned, but the actual ministry didn’t measure up with the mission because it has been so clothed in the culture that the gospel has been overshadowed. Consider students who attend a high-energy evangelistic event with lots of giveaways and food where the materialism of the night actually counteracts the treasure-in-heaven that was proclaimed. God can (and does!) use any opportunity where the gospel is proclaimed to transform lives, but that doesn’t mean it was the best vehicle for evangelism.
Consider the video below. Although I do think it’s funny and entertaining, I’m also somewhat uncomfortable with that. Not uncomfortable because I feel the need to impress anyone or be accepted by the “serious people,” but because it actually does make the Bible into a punchline. Although it’s funny, it’s the type of funny joke that slowly erodes the foundations of what is good and true and beautiful.
Devotionals are good and helpful resources for those of us who are committed to passing the faith on from generation to generation. This is especially true when discipling students who didn’t grow up attending church and have little (or no) biblical background. But, despite Cool Carll’s good intentions, I have a hard time seeing this as the best resource for the job. Students who would actually read the devotional portions would be better served by other resources, while students who won’t read the devotionals are merely laughing at the GenZ translations.
All this said, I do not believe The Word According to GenZ deserves the hate and criticism it’s receiving. There are many books that actually mislead readers, teach false doctrine, and should be cancelled immediately for teaching heresy. This is not one of those books. While I don’t plan on using the devotional with my students, I am thankful for Sunday Cool’s ministry. I merely believe they’ve missed the mark on this particular project because the form has overshadowed the function.