MEGASHIFT IN EVANGELICAL MODELS

 

                  There is a major movement in this first decade of the 21st century in a hermeneutical trend within the Evangelical ranks.  There have always been conflicts over interpretive models we use in studying scripture (cf. paradigms are present in all areas of research, not just scripture).  Historically there has existed the conflict over Roman Catholicism (compare Vatican I and II concerning the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church and main line Protestants and now non-Christian religions) and classical paradigms of Protestantism and between Calvinists and Wesleyans, pacifistic Mennonites and “just” war Lutherans or a Baptist and an Anglican, such as Billy Graham and John Stott.  Each of these theological paradigms has always been aware that hermeneutical models organize our presuppositions and structures our conclusions (see my work on “Thomas Kuhn’s Theory of Paradigm”).

 

                  Now, in our Postmodern culture, there is a new paradigm of thinking we may well call a “new model.”  This new model is dividing evangelicals.  The new model first appeared literarily in C.S. Lewis’s, Chronicles of Narnia (see my work, “The Apologetic Stance of C.S. Lewis”).  The Baby Boomers and Generation X generations do not share the “classical model” even though the generations share a commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior and the scriptures as the authoritative Word of God.  How shall this megashift be understood?  Shall Christians embrace it as a recovery of biblical faith, or repudiate it as one more example of capitulating to culture (cf. compare Niebuhr’s classic work, Christ and Culture; Langdon Jones, Great Expectations: America and The Baby Boomer Generation (NY: Ballantine Books, 1980); Christianity Today, Feb. 19, 1990, “Evangelical Megashift,” p. 12-17; Michael Horton, “What is the Megashift?” in Modern Reformation  (Jan/Feb. 1993, 1ff (total journal on this issue); William Madedy, A Generation Alone (Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

 

                  This phenomenon represents the heart of our postmodern cultural wars (cf. George Barna, Baby Busters, The Disillusioned Generation (Chicago: Northfield Pub. Co., 1994).  George Barna says, “In terms of evangelicalism, we have a generation coming up that doesn’t speak the same language, doesn’t go to the same places, doesn’t have the same needs, and isn’t looking to Christianity to answer their spiritual concerns. . . .”  “We either change or we lose them.”  In order to approach this Generation X we must retrace the complex history of the 38-40 million individuals who compose this generation.  What are some of the cultural indicators that shape this generation?

 

Back in Cultural and Personal Chaos--This generation are children of divorce, with 50% coming from fractured homes.  They are children of two job families.  This generation is the 13th generation which has grown up in America’s cultural context (cf. Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, 13th Generation (Random House Pub., 1993).  Howe and Strauss predict negative consequences from their dysfunctional family background.  Richard Peare, professor of Evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary, calls this generation a “clinically depressed generation.”  The pessimism of this generation perhaps derives from their failure to attain the optimistic goals of the Baby Boomers and now Generation X.  Much of the main frustration of Generation X must be summed up by “Boomers had free love; we have AIDS; they had war and poverty; we have a TRILLION DOLLAR DEBT; they had a booming economy; we have downsizing and pollution.

                  The pain of divorce has made Generation X shy about commitment.  It is no wonder that MTV’s Beavis and Butthead’s nihilistic worldviews are appealing to Generation X.  GX does not trust organized religion; visit the chat rooms of American on line to hear the opinion of this generation on God and the Church (cf. the classical vocabulary (hell, faith, judgement, wrath and sin) are completely reinterpreted in the megashift of new Evangelicalism).  This generation is pragmatic.  They demand relevance, not “true truth;” they call for help concerning career decisions, morality, Aids, dysfunctional families and substance abuse.  The organized Church does not have a good image among this generation.  This generation is the first to grow up with postmodern world views (cf. compare apologetic models of Josh McDowell and MTV).  Modernism assumed that knowledge is objective, certain, good and attainable.  In this classical world the knower was an observer, information was linear, progress was inevitable and the focus was on the autonomous individual.

 

                  In Postmodernism, the primary assumption is that truth is not rational or objective.  There are other ways of knowing, including one’s emotions and intuitions (cf. Romanticism’s revolt against Positivism, also Existentialism, Phenomonology and Psychoanalysis).  In this pluralistic, relativistic milieu, meaning depends on the perceived (cf. issues and persons) (e.g. Seeker Friendly, audience analysis via Heidegger, Fish, Postman, Rorty, et.al.).  Truth is defined by each individual and the community of which he or she is a part (contra Schaeffer’s “True Truth”).  For Generation X information processing is non linear and fragmented; the idea of progress is illusory and the focus is on community (cf. but loss of transcendence in postmodern culture precludes consensus which is essential for community). The challenge of Generation X demands retooling in Churches and schools if this generation is to be reached.

 

The Spiritual Search of Generation X--Inter-Varsity Fellowship’s

Baby Buster consultation identifies five main characteristics that Generation Xers are looking for in faith groups:  (1) Authenticity:  What they want is unity, love and acceptance.  They prefer honesty over politeness.  (2)  Community:  I am homesick for the home I never had (cf. Soul Asylum and Homesick). This song reflects the Xer’s anger over the broken, dysfunctional families that many busters come from (cf. meditative prayers or quiet time are not popular).  There is a possibility that Xer’s will play down family obligations.  Often the term “family” is not a safe concept.  Often members of this group are isolated individuals who refuse “community” (cf. responsibility and accountability presuppose some paradigm consensus).  (3) Distaste for Dogma:  Barna reports that 81% of Xer’s do not believe there is “absolute truth.”  Apologetics must be more than intellectual gymnastics.  Barna urges that we “don’t tell them what to believe but rather create a discussion with provocative questions that will engage them.”  (4)  Focus on The Arts:  This generation has chosen a nontraditional preference for religious expression.  This centrality of music and TV in Xer’s lives cannot be overestimated.  VCRs, 24 hours of MTV videos, Wolfmans, CD players and channel surfing “are all part of the air they breath,” says Fuller’s Richard Peace.  Pop culture has replaced classical evangelical modes.  Generation X also sees art as a primary vehicle for worship.  (5) Diversity: The Church is notorious for its racial division.  How does the Church communicate reconciliation and unity in our pluralistic-narcissistic culture of Generation X? (see esp. S.L. Carter, The Culture of Unbelief)

 

                  What must the Church do to reach a culture of ethnic diversity?  (cf. read the Ephesian epistle and see the relationship of the unity of culture, the Church, Christ and the Family). The gospel of racial reconciliation must be preached and lived if our diverse world is ever to hear of Christ’s unifying and saving power.  “We have to look for ways to become relevant without compromising,” says Barna.  Generation X has come into young adult maturity in a cultural and moral “whirlwind of barbarianism.” “Their pragmatism and scepticism and their search for community and personal relationships are exactly what the emerging era requires.”  (Mahedy/Bernaidi, A Generation Alone (IVP, 1994); note that without unifying consensus, community is impossible)  In our postmodern culture, we confront the growing irrelevance of The Church among many Xers.  We must wrestle as Jacob did, with God and MTV generation.  Christians put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6.10ff) to win our cultural wars. (Carter, God’s Name in Vain)

 

                  Our greatest challenge is to communicate to a generation that is offended by the biblical images of the cross, sin, guilt, responsibility, hell, judgement and wrath.  We just don’t seem to be asking the questions the Bible answers these days.  According to scripture, the universal issue is not “How can I be happy?” but “How can I be saved?”  (cf. G. Barna’s User Friendly Churches need this, not a contextualization that expresses biblical/spiritual compromise.  It cannot mean theological surrender to the culture (Romans 1.16ff; I Corinthians 1.10ff; II Corinthians 10.4ff; Acts 17.16ff.)  This debate cuts to the very heart of what we believe about God, Christ, the Gospel and salvation.  Is this too legalistic?  Will a biblical response subvert the love and fatherhood of God?  “We will never feel right about God until we are right with God.” (J.D. Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary)

 

JDS