I’ve been writing here lately about how the Evangelical churches are destroying themselves by selling out to conservative politics in general and to Trumpism in particular. They’re destroying the credibility of their witness to the world, and more crucially, they’re destroying the credibility of their witness to their own younger generations.
Jared C. Wilson, a Gen Xer who’s on staff at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, brings the fire. Wilson recalls his formation, growing up an Evangelical kid in the 1970s and 1980s. Excerpt:
I don’t remember any of the churches I grew up in going overboard on the nationalistic fervor, even during the chilliest years of the latter stages of the Cold War. Patriotism just kinda hung in the background, like the flag on the sides of so many church altars. But, then, the gospel just kinda hung in the background too.
One thing I do remember our preachers and Sunday school teachers telling us, however, is how much being a good person mattered. Your reputation, your integrity, your character—this was your currency. This warning was expressed in a variety of contexts and with a variety of applications. It was especially stressed during anxious election seasons, but it was a constant lesson from our elders, for whom personal integrity meant so, so much.
We were schooled on the importance of the Christian worldview—in opposition to postmodernism and other philosophical evils. Our teachers typically weren’t well-versed in philosophy, but they warned us zealously against moral relativism, situational ethics, and hypocrisy.
He says that his generation became spiritual orphans, theologically abandoned by their elders, who were focused more on this world:
Then came more seismic shifts. My generation is called Gen-X. Remember them? Probably not, because we contributed essentially nothing to the evangelical movement save for the emerging church, which has emerged into thin air (or into the mainline). Anyways, we got lost in the shuffle. We looked up to our forebears, who seemed to be merging their mid-life crises right into their church-growth strategies. (What’s with the Hawaiian shirts? We’re nowhere near an ocean.) The worst thing you could be was irrelevant.
And I think that’s where we ended up becoming ecclesiological latch-key kids. Because the pursuit of relevancy is the pursuit of influence, of power. And when power becomes your god, you’ll do as much biblical gymnastics as it takes to get it or keep it.
I’m not a millennial, but I feel abandoned too. The opening dialogue is something I see reflected almost every day now in comment threads, news articles, and from friends and family on social media. Not about Democrats, though. Heavens, no. Democrats are still obliged to keep good character, and in fact, they cannot, as their very platform precludes it. Conservatives, however, may do as they like. Say what they want. Get away with almost anything. So long as their platform reads right.
This is the logic daily rehearsed from believers in the unchanging Jesus! From the same believers who raised us to believe that standing for the truth was more important than anything, that being persecuted for your integrity was better than compromise, that morality was not relative, that ethics are not situational. And now these same teachers are wanting us to believe that a little “R” by a man’s name covers a multitude of sins. That what wasn’t okay for a “liberal” is justifiable for a “conservative.” That if there weren’t just so many other things on the line . . .
We’ve been abandoned by our teachers. Our guides have left us without fathers. The men and women we looked up to have gone against everything they told us to believe in. We wonder if they ever really believed it themselves.
Some of this orphaned generation will fall in line, because they were discipled according to the moralistic therapeutic deism fueling the evangelical zeitgeist. But some of this generation will refuse to do so. Because they learned to do as you say, not as you do.
The evangelical generations are divided. That much is clear. It is a sad situation to see so many orphans. They’re reading all the old dead guys, because they can see how those guys finished. They can see who held the line all the way and who didn’t. They are listening to more non-white evangelicals, because those folks have learned how to persevere from the margins for centuries. And the upside to all of this is that the orphan will come home. These youngsters who have rejected your idolatrous politics, your nationalistic faith, your moral subjectivity, your fear of the alien and the stranger, your gospel neglect will finally do you proud when they inherit your churches. If they can keep their heads on straight.
Read the whole thing. It’s powerful, powerful stuff.
Let me suggest some old, dead, mostly Greek guys for burned-out younger Evangelicals to read: the Fathers of the Church. The “early church” probably isn’t what you think it is. A great place to start is church historian Robert Louis Wilken’s great book The Spirit Of Early Christian Thought: Seeking The Face Of God. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It makes the key theologians of the patristic era come vividly alive.
Please don’t think that the entirety of Christianity is late 20th and 21st century Evangelicalism — or, to be honest, what you experience at your local congregation, no matter which form of Christianity it is. Christianity is so much broader and deeper than most Americans think. It’s up to you to look for it. I completely understand being so disgusted with pop Christianity that you want to stomp away from it. But you should not confuse the Church of What’s Happening Now with the Church. If you do, the tragedy will be yours. There is something better out there, something that has always been, and is waiting for you to discover it.
I won’t be around this blog till this afternoon. I’m painting walls at church.
By the way, this monastery below, St. Catherine’s, on Mount Sinai, has been there continuously since the 6th century, a living presence of ancient Christianity that thrives to this day: