We just arrived back home from a visit to one of the churches that funds our college ministry. It was a wonderful time for catching up with old friends and making some new ones. But one conversation sticks in my mind, because it is a conversation that I seem to have been having in one form or another over the past months. It was with a mom who was talking about one of her children who has distanced herself from the faith of her childhood. No resentment of parents with whom she is on good terms. Nevertheless, she cannot embrace the faith she grew up with.
This is not a new story. It happened with friends of mine in my generation. But it seems it is happening to an unprecedented degree among the generation known as Millenials according to David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith. I’ve not yet read this (though it sits on my Kindle) and perhaps after this conversation, I should. What strikes me is that my generation has failed the rising generation in not living the light and love of the message of Christ when we knew better:
- We often preached the authority of the Bible selectively to point out others sins while conveniently leaving out our own. We preached about social causes that upheld our politics and ignored biblical teaching that would favor “the other side”.
- We allowed ourselves to be seduced by political parties instead of living prophetically as the people whose Lord is greater than all our modern Caesars.
- We sang “O How I Love Jesus” but lived “O How I Love Walmart” (or Macy’s, or Saks depending on how well off we were).
- We wanted our kids to remain untouched from the world but communicated that their success in academics and work was actually the really important thing.
- When they came to us with hard, searching questions that we had suppressed in our own minds years ago, we said “not now” or “just believe” or “what are you trying to do, stir up trouble?” Or we gave simplistic answers to thoughtful questions that conveyed, “we got nothin'” (when sadly, if we did our homework we would find that we did).
- We claimed to be “colorblind” which was true in the sense that in most of our churches you could only see one color.
- We said “Jesus is Lord of all” which really meant he was Lord of all of our Sunday mornings, and personal devotions and relatively little else. For many of us, Sunday and Jesus had little to do with Monday through Saturday.
- We fought to teach creation and “intelligent design” and often formed the most powerful resistance to efforts to care for the creation and protect God’s creatures.
At least in these ways we have failed. I could make the list longer and no doubt there are things I am blind to. Certainly my friends will protest the wonderful exceptions. They are right, and yet as I look at the history of the last thirty years, I think we did a pretty poor job on many counts. I have no defense. All I can say, insofar as these things were true of us, is that we were wrong, we have sinned, and desperately need forgiveness.
I sense among many younger writers who have hung in and are rethinking the call of the church, that they are saying, “we will do better.” I seriously hope they are right. I am also chilled as a child of the Jesus movement that we were saying the same things. Maybe the only thing that can save any of us from failures of my generation is to recognize the hubris of thinking we can do better. If looking at ourselves through the eyes of the rising generation is humbling for us, I hope it might also be instructive for those who follow.
Perhaps what we can do together in the time that remains for us is to learn anew radical dependence upon Christ to heal us, and as we read the scriptures together, to challenge each other to the radical obedience of pursuing all that is written there, not just our favorite verses or hobby horses. I long for more conversations with this generation where people are saying, I am following Christ because of the integrity of my parents and the people their age, where people are drawn once more to Christian communities because they are so radically different than the culture around them.
This is my confession…