Friday, November 03, 2006

Why You Need to Read "The Younger Evangelicals"

I've been reading a book called The Younger Evangelicals by Robert E. Webber. From the start it talked about a transition between generations and put a sort of artificial dividing line between them at the birth-year of 1975.

I struggled from the outset with this book because, well, I was born in 1975.

I was born in modern clothing, and though I reacted negatively to the church when I came of age, I was then "converted" in Bible school and for all intents and purposes put on the clothing of the traditional church. In time I also took on the clothing of the pragmatic church (ie. the worship-driven, seeker-sensitive model). But I can tell I was born in 1975 because while this made sense to me I always felt like there was still further to go.

The Younger Evangelicals is telling me what I've felt all along. It's not that I'm smart. Its just uncanny and amazing to find that so many my age and younger are way ahead of me and yet are articulating what I've had such a hard time putting my finger on.

Webber says:

The younger evangelical is interested in building organic Christian communities, not huge Wal-Mart churches that deliver a full range of Christian consumer goods.... [When given the option to plant "Gen X" churches within the existing ones, however, they are increasingly] uneasy with the "church within a church" approach. This younger generation wants the widom of other generations; they don't want to be separated out as a group with characteristics they "will grow out of and graduate from". Instead, writes Zander, Xers have "the very characteristics that the church ought to grow into."... It is interesting [though] that for the most part younger evangelicals are committed to start-up chuches. Many existng churches, most perhaps, still function in the modern established pattern and are fearful to take the kind of risks it takes.... [and the younger evangelicals] feel the investment of time it takes to change an existing institutional church is hardly worth it.

This is perhaps where my age separates me a little from those younger than me. I feel it has to be worth it. Maybe I have a bit more faith in my predecessors, but I don't want to be a church planter. However, I wonder if my predecessors will have any faith in me, let along those younger than I.

I am not interested in dissing the older generations, partly because I have to look at myself and see that I am part of them, and I like a lot of what they gave me. After all, they are the ones getting me to read these books! Let's give credit where it is due! But there is a definite need to move forward, past modernity. Take the good, leave the bad. The rationalistic, conversion centered approach is waning in its ability to communicate the Christian story with clarity or conviction today. We need to progress, or, to put it in the terms of the younger evangelicals, we need to regress--get back to our roots, recover the ancient Chrisitan tradition, and embody it in a new day and age.

If too many churches are too afraid to go forward with the younger evangelicals then I fear that in twenty years we will be relegated to the sidelines of Christianity or even cease to exist altogether. I share many of the same fears of the older generation about some of the new trends in theology and practice, believe me, but I am less scared of it the more I understand. And (maybe because I was born in 1975, I don't know) I share the vision of the younger evangelicals. So I'm stuck in the no-man's land. I understand the reservations but I also understand why people are leaving in droves.

I read a book like The Younger Evangelicals and I can imagine my denomination the Christian & Missionary Alliance being revived for an exciting new chapter, one that is much like its first. After all, our founder AB Simpson was all about this stuff.


Coutts said...

by the way whoever is reading. I've begun to use this blog for some free-writing. PUtting my ideas down helps me think it through. Putting it public makes me think it through even harder. It also gives the possibility for feedback. Please give it if you are reading along. Thanks for reading along. I just want you to know I'm thinking out loud here. THis isn't a manifesto or anything. Not yet anyway.

Tony Tanti said...

I hear ya Jon. I remember the overwhelming feeling I had coming out of Alliance History and Thought class and that was that we lost A.B.'s point somewhere along the way. He was counter church-culture for his time and the Alliance is missing a lot of his vision and Christ-like appetite for real ministry.

Interesting about the 1975 thing. You were born to bridge the generations.

Missional Jerry said...

Im a CMA'er as well

And I think we have a great chance to be

David Fitch is doing Great Work

John Soper is missional Mind so is Bob F. at national

Dr. Steve Bailey at ATS certainly knows his stuff as well and is helping to move ATS in a missional direction.

Join me over at becoming missional and contribute to our conversation over there!

Anonymous said...

Jon, interesting that you refer to A.B. Simpson...he was a man who obeyed God's Word sometimes at the expense of his denomination (the Presbyterians). Although he wasn't angry with them (something each new generation has to discipline itself to avoid) he did blaze new trails in spite of them sometimes (egs: clear statements and experiences of the new birth,believer baptism, evangelising responsive people groups...the poor...which cost him a pastorate, healing,etc. I hope the C&MA hasn't drifted too much from these biblical/culture impacting roots. I identify with your statements now, as I did when I was your age...the last thing I wan't to become is irrelevant. Beenthere.

Coutts said...

i am starting to think that the C&MA has drifted wherever:

-biblical/theological discussion is avoided or even purposefully pushed down for fear of upsetting people and people don't listen or explain themselves they just insist on the traditional way
-it has bought into the CEO mentality of church leadership and does not allow women to lead or teach adult men
-chorusses are being repeated over and over but the only silence in the service is the awkward pause between announcements and "worship"

there could be more but those are the big three burdens i have growing inside of me.