Why Millennial Christians Can’t Get Their Spiritual Stuff Together

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The other day I was browsing my Facebook newsfeed when I came across this article: “50 Reasons This Generation Can’t Get Its Sh*t Together And Actually Shouldn’t.”

Because I’m a sucker for linkbait — and because I’m at the tail end of “this generation” (aka the Millennial generation) — I clicked.

As I read, I resonated with many of my generation’s “reasons.” I, too, am “following [my] passions rather than a steady paycheck.” Ditto for “choosing passion rather than pats on the back.” Double ditto for “dreaming bigger rather than sleeping longer.”

But as I continued reading, I sensed this interesting theme weaving its way through my generation’s 50 reasons. See if you can spot it from these examples:

9. We’re learning new languages rather than interpreting old ones.

27. We’re inventing rather ingesting everything they throw at us.

31. We’re reforming laws rather than conforming to them.

39. We’re trying new foods rather than following our mother’s recipes.

The theme? The old is bad, the new is best. Or, to coin an overused cliché: out with the old, in with the new. . . .

. . . the present

. . . the innovative

. . . the progressive.

In the intro, the author herself acknowledges this theme: “We’d rather not sit around, complying with the rules and ideals that have been handed down for generations.”

And therein lies one of the reasons my generation of Christians can’t get its spiritual stuff together. The problem is what scholar Timothy George, in his book Reading Scripture with the Reformers, calls “the imperialism of the present.” What does he mean by this?

He tells the tale of how people once believed we were at the center of the universe, that the whole of reality pivoted around our tiny speck of dust. While Copernicus popped that bubble, we have still have an overinflated sense of time — our time.

“We still place ourselves, our values, our worldview at the center of history, relegating whole epochs to the Dark Ages or pre-Enlightenment culture,” George says. “Thus, the Christian past, including ways earlier generations of believers have understood the Bible, becomes not so much something to be studied and appropriated as something to be ignored or overcome” [emphasis added].

He’s right. We do; we are.

Rather than rediscovering and retrieving what the church has believed and how she has behaved, we’re reimagining both.

Now, the Bible is merely viewed as a collection of human conversations about faith and life, rather than an authoritative guide to both, breathed by God Himself.

Now, amongst a sea of alternative gods, Jesus isn’t worshiped as the only one, true God, but merely the highest, deepest embodiment of the character of God.

Now, the cross isn’t the butcher’s block upon which Jesus was willingly slaughtered to do something with our rebellion, but merely the highest, deepest expression of a life of love.

Then there’s hell, which is now merely a collection of really bad human acts on earth, rather than an experience people will endure post-judgment.

Toward the end of the first century, a church leader named Jude gave a number of young Christians some words we need at the turn of the twenty-first: “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

To my fellow Millennial Christians: rather than ignore old belief in favor of new ones — as we’re so inclined to do with everything else — struggle to preserve what the church has believed about faith and life.

Because it’s only in going backwards that our generation of Christians will truly move forward in its spiritual journey.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.

  • Marcy

    Well done!

  • Trinka

    Well-said Jeremy.

  • bakabomb

    The dichotomy you pose is both simplistic and fundamentally false. In no way is it an either/or question: Either accept church doctrines and dogma in toto — or reject them all?! Very few millennials, very few living people of any generation, actually make such an argument or propose such a drastic choice.

    Ever heard of the word “discernment”? The faculty of discernment is given to each of us by our Creator. It’s a function of our intelligence, and it’s meant to be used. Blind acceptance of ancient orthodoxy is a rejection of this God-given gift.

    The body of Christ is far from monolithic. I suppose you might see that as something to be deplored. Most of us see it as something to be proclaimed: “Our Creator’s house has many mansions! If it were not so, would I have told you?”

    An old and much-beloved hymn has been excluded from many hymnals because of its gore-drenched lines: “By the light of burning martyrs / Jesus’ bleeding feet we track.” And yet it also contains these lines:

    “New occasions teach new duties;
    Time makes ancient good uncouth;
    We must upward still, and onward,
    Who would keep abreast of Truth!”

    Amen and amen.

  • http://www.BradDoll.com/ Bradley Doll

    You make an extremely good point here, Jeremy, and I am hoping you inspire at least some to take greater pause to “study the masters” so they can incorporate the wisdom and beauty of the ages in fresh paintings on the canvas of our faith.

  • http://amishmashpaddywhack.blogspot.com/ Tragic Mishap

    Interesting.

    I would like to correct one common misconception here though. The Ptolemaic system placed earth at the center of the solar system, that much is true. However, this was not interpreted as the “best” position or the center of attention. According to the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic system, God or the Prime Mover was the outermost shell of a series of 55 (in Aristotle’s formulation) concentric shells. God was the perfect Being, and since the earth was the very farthest point you could get away from God, that meant Earth was literally the worst place in the entire universe. The Earth was the farthest place away from God, the perfect Being. It was literally at the ass-end of the universe, the armpit. It’s simply not true that the earth being at the center meant it was the center of attention or the best or most favored place.

    There are all kinds of myths about what the ancients and medievals believed that are invented and propagated by people who are selling the very idea that you are criticizing: that people “back then” were rubes, idiots and incompetents. For instance, the ancient Greeks knew the earth was round, as did all medieval Christian scholars, since they heavily depended on Greek scholarship in the scholastic tradition. This lie was labeled one of the top ten historical myths by the Encyclopedia Britannica, and yet it is still referenced constantly by public figures up to and including the President.

    Christopher Columbus was not opposed in the court of Salamanca because he believed the earth was round and everybody else believed it was flat. This myth can be traced back to a book by Washington Irving, the same guy who wrote Rumpelstiltskin and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Christopher Columbus was opposed in the court of Salamanca, for which we have accurate records, but he was opposed because he thought the earth was much smaller than it is. The monks and scholars there knew the earth’s real size pretty accurately for the time, but they didn’t know about the American continent, and neither did Columbus. Columbus was arguing that he could make it to India by sailing west, and the monks argued that he would never make it because it was too far! The monks were correct and Columbus was wrong, but the American continent saved his bacon. At first Columbus thought he had reached India, which is why he called the natives “Indians”, a name that stuck.