Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Generation in the Balance

Ecclesiastes 12

1 “Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them"-

2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;

3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;

4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint”

This past Saturday I spent an hour bell-ringing for the Salvation Army. All in al it was a nice way to spend the morning. People, it seemed to me, were very generous, especially the ones you wouldn’t expect. Hispanics, who now comprise over thirty percent of Emporia’s population, were especially generous. But there was one group that seemed to want no part of the giving – young people, from their teens to their early thirties.

I thought it was just my odd way of looking at things, but today, after speaking with a few of the folks from the Lions Club, I found that I was pretty much on the mark.

Now I’m sure I’ll get comments from people telling me how noble our young people are today, and I’m sure there is some truth to that. But I’m going to engage in a few glittering generalities for a few minutes. I think that the generation we are raising now is in serious trouble. Why, you ask? Because, I say, that they seem to me to be utterly self-absorbed, which makes them very difficult to reach.

Now if you’re reading this post and you’re a Christian you’re probably thinking that it’s all those worldly parents who are raising worldly children that constitute the problem. If men like Chuck Colson are to be believed (and I believe they are) the problem is just acute within the institution of the Church and the institution of the Christian family. A few illustrative comments from Chuck Colson’s latest from Christianity Today will follow.

Using Christopher Reeve’s life and death as a starting point he asked a group of Christian young people what the moral problem was with Mr. Reeves’ position given to the United States senate on stem cell research. In case you’re not aware, Mr. Reeve advocated stem cell research because it would “serve the greatest good for the greatest number.” Christopher Reeve was a very nice man, a man who focused almost all of his energy in his latter years to being a visible representative of his cause, advocacy for stem-cell research to develop a cure for the spinal cord injury that was eventually to take his life. The problem with his position, as Colson wisely pointed out, was that it was self refuting. Reeves advocated research that would bring a cure to him, but the cost would be millions, possibly billions of dollars. And it would also mean crossing a moral threshold that until now we have not dared to cross. Why should, or would, a society spend money to keep him alive when there are millions of other individual causes and other diseases and conditions that touch many more lives than his. Couldn’t that money be used to help even more people by spending it on research to seek cures for other diseases? Yet, if Reeves had had his way and “what he (Reeves) advocated actually were our governing philosophy, he would not have been there to testify.” And what of the moral questions that his position raised? Reeves said we should ignore them and concentrate on his need.

But beyond Reeves, Mr. Colson had problems with the Christian young people he was addressing. He was appalled, noting that:

“I don’t know whether the students lacked analytical skills or were just confused, but when I explained the inherent contradiction, the lights went on. When I discussed the concept of absolute truth, and the fact that it is knowable, there was an occasional nod of understanding, but it was clear I was breaking new ground. These students, mind you, were products of Christian homes and schools.”

Charles Colson – cited in Christianity Today (December 2004)

At this point I need to move on. If you can’t see the self-refuting nature of Reeves’ argument, think it through. Then think it through again. And…..again. If you seriously consider it the truth will come to you.

But I have something else I believe is even more important that Reeves' argument. It’s the sad fact that many, many Christian young people are falling for it. Why? Colson points out in his piece that a recent George Barna poll showed “just nine percent (my research into Barna found that it was thirteen percent) of evangelical students believe in anything called absolute truth.” Whatever the difference is between the two numbers, the fact is that this is absolutely astounding news! Nine percent or thirteen percent, you choose your poison.

I’ve seen it happening, and I suspect you have too. This raises the question of how this all happened.

I’ll put it simply, bluntly. They learned it from us, their parents, their teachers, their mentors, their adult friends. “You can’t be serious,” you say. “I am,” I say.

The young people of this generation have observed, been taught, and mentored by a generation of adults who drifted from the truth and used “faith” as a tool to achieve whatever ends we felt were important. In a nutshell, faith was more about us and less about truth.

There may have been more paths into this state of affairs. I can think of two. The first came from the “left.” It all started innocently enough. There were causes like women’s roles in ministry. That evolved into developing a language of inclusiveness. That became, in turn, a signal to include abhorrent behaviors into the mix. That’s pretty much where things stand on the left right now.

We on the right had our own path. We got caught up in our cleverness. The “Book” warns us not be become “wise in our own conceits” but we didn’t listen. Too much of what happened in the eighties and nineties was about achieving our goals in life and using Jesus as a tool to get them.

We did it all with jazzed up music, seeker-friendly churches, anything we could use to attract the masses. Most often the words sounded right, but it was where the rubber met the road that we had our problems. Success was going to be our goal in life and Jesus was going to be the vehicle. Prosperity was just around the corner, a prayer or a confession away. We sang about it. We danced for joy about it. We declared it. I remember a jazzy little number I heard in the eighties; it said it all. It was titled, “He Works for me, His Work is Guaranteed.” It was, so we thought, all about Jesus. We might just as well have been saying, “Hey Jesus, when you finish the vacuuming I need you to go down to the bank and straighten out my account. I’m overdrawn. And then when you’re done with that I need you to fix my car. The injector’s stuck. When you’re done with that come on back and I’ll find something else for you to do.”

That was the Jesus young people saw us talking about in the last twenty years. You may gnash your teeth and wail, but in your heart of hearts you know I’m right.

And what happened to Kerygma and the truth that has been passed on to us for centuries? Oh we still talked about it…..occasionally. And what of Jesus’ lordship? Oh we still talked about it…..occasionally. And what of the categorical imperatives Jesus issued? Oh we still talked about them…..occasionally. But more often than not we proclaimed a Jesus who would fulfill the American dream for us. We treated the Lord of the universe as if he were a politician whose only job was to fulfill our desires.

So, the young people of today learned it from us. We’ve tried to deny it by saying that the young who are abandoning truth are un-teachable. I submit to you that they have been incurable learners all along. They’re just carrying out what they’ve learned to its logical extension. For eighty percent or more (Barna’s data) of the young people on the left faith has been stripped of any meaning. Everything is fine. Everything is right. Everything is good. For the eighty percent of the young people on the right faith has come to be nothing more than a vehicle to satisfy lusts and desires. It’s every bit as subjective as the truth lived by their counterparts on the left. The only difference is in the language employed. One talks about the “Ground of all being” and the other is almost constantly heard saying, “Praise the Lord.”

After his encounters with evangelical Christian young people Colson concludes by saying:

“We’ve no time to lose. All the evidence shows that we’re already losing our kids. With only 9 percent of born-again teens believing in absolute truth, can we rescue this generation? Can we afford not to try?"

He’s right on all scores. There is no time to lose. And we must find a way to reclaim this generation before it’s too late!

1 comment:

Tom Reindl said...

Phil, I like Chuck Colson, I really do. But he tends to forget about the Holy Spirit, in lieu of his programs, as so many preachers and teachers do. There's more to this than just absolute truth being missing. Youth are taught very, very little about the Holy Spirit, about Jesus in us, and about loving one's neighbor as oneself. Instead, they are given the same types of programs we find in any public school, just as adults are given the same type of programs we find in any "successful" business.

Lose the programs, go back to the source, Jesus Christ, and this problem becomes an issue of faith again. But as long as we try to fix things with programs that are "designed" to fix things, we will fail. We plan the same way we pray, without the Spirit. Is it any wonder our children don't really know the only absolute truth there is? My daughter's faith MUST be her own, it MUST belong to her. If that doesn't occur, she will never KNOW the Truth.

There is no program for making my daughter's faith her own. That is a work of the Spirit, and although I can encourage her, the best thing I can do is live my faith out right ion front of her, and leave the programs to the world.