My Take: Culture Wars, Millenial Angst, and a Dose of Perspective


The last few months have highlighted a supposedly growing trend among young Christians who are fed up with Christianity as they know it— apparently they don’t want cultural battles; they want peace. They don’t want religion; they want Jesus. They don’t want Church, they want community. And while there is still the reasonable debate as to whether this new-found angst actually signals something distinct or is simply the result of ours being the first generation wired for sound without having to work within the confines of the establishment, this much is obvious: young people don’t want the Christianity of their parents.

So when I ran across the following in the preface of John Stott’s Basic Christianity, it sounded eerily familiar.

“‘Hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.’ These words describe large numbers of people, especially young people, today.

They are opposed to anything which savors of institutionalism.  They detest the establishment and its entrenched privileges.  And they reject the church—not without some justification—because they regard it as impossibly corrupted by such evils.

Yet what they have rejected is the contemporary church, not Jesus Christ himself. It is precisely because they see a contradiction between the founder of Christianity and the current state of the church he founded that they are so critical and aloof. The person and teaching of Jesus have not lost their appeal, however. For one thing, he was himself an anti-establishment figure, and some of his words had revolutionary overtones. His ideals appear to have been incorruptible. He breathed love and peace wherever he went. And for another thing, he invariably practiced what he preached.

But was he true?

An appreciable number of people throughout the world are still brought up in Christian homes in which the truth of Christ and of Christianity is assumed. But when their critical faculties develop and they begin to think for themselves, they find it easier to discard the religion of their childhood than make the effort to investigate its credentials. [emphasis added]

As true (and timeless) as Stott’s observations are about the relationship between young people and the church, what struck me more was the fact that he wrote them first in 1958--the generation of our grandparents—and then reissued them in 1971--the generation of our parents.

Trust me, I’m not dismissing the concerns of millennials, just trying to offer a bit of historical perspective and the caution that maybe we’re not as special as we think we are. Maybe we’re not the first generation to have metaphysical angst and maybe, just maybe, the very people we are fighting against have a bit more perspective than we think they do.