A Question from One Millennial to Another

A Question from One Millennial to Another August 4, 2013

From Brett McCracken, a Millennial, responding tactfully to Rachel Held Evans with the alternative:

How about the opposite? Millennials: why don’t we take our pastors, parents, and older Christian brothers and sisters out to coffee and listen to them? Perhaps instead of perpetuating our sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before?

And for pastors, church leaders, and others so concerned with the survival of the church amidst the glut of “adapt or die!” hype, is asking Millennials what they want church to be and adjusting accordingly really your best bet? Are we really to believe that today’s #hashtagging, YOLO-oriented, selfie-obsessed generation of Millennials has more wisdom to offer about the church than those who have thought about and faithfully served the church decade after decade, amidst all its warts, challenges and ups and down?

Part of the problem is the hubris of every generation, which thinks it has discovered, once and for all, the right way of doing things. C.S. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery,” defining it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

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  • Reading McCracken, it strikes me that he’s cashing in on the whole “millennial leaving the church” as his writing smells like link bait. I might not totally agree with RHE, but it seems she writes from the heart and from her experience of growing up in a conservative evangelical / fundamentalist environment. I also think he sees what he desires to see and the charge of “sense of entitlement”, it can be argued, can be applied with even more justifiable force and vigor to baby boomers and gen-x-ers. There’s a personal subjective bias in his take and he keeps hitting that chord.

    Here’s another take on why millennials are leaving the church and I believe it more on target — not just YEC and denial of science, but the checklist ethics/morality and modality of absolute certainty. Not all millennials, as some “double down” on the absolutist certainty spoon fed to them and become harshly opposed to the consensus of the rest of their generation.

    In a sense, there is truth in McCracken’s missive, but I think it applies to all age brackets — as church has become a consumable good — disney-esque campuses, golf cart shuttles to the dazzling weekend show w/ big screens, church goers gravitating to megachurches that provide vast assortment of children ministries. And also, the age bracketing of youth, young adults, etc. that might have made sense in 20th century world, but is misguided in a post-modern, post-Christian age.

  • Kyle J

    By necessity, these discussions always rely on caricature, but “today’s #hashtagging, YOLO-oriented, selfie-obsessed generation of Millennials” is particularly egregious. Feeling concern about how the church has so often (mis)treated gay people, to pick the most crucial issue IMO, has nothing to do with social media habits.

    Rachel’s point in her first post was that this is about substance, not style. I see nothing wrong with churches taking a step back and asking whether young people are leaving because they’re not finding an environment conducive to loving their communities. That’s certainly not the case everywhere, but it sure is in many.

    On the issue of being a gay Christian, I’m not hearing a lot of wisdom from older Christians. It’s either fundamentalism or silence.

  • In other words, “Millennials, quit yer bellyaching and conform; otherwise we don’t want you anyway.” Not the sort of kindness which leads to repentance.

  • Stephen Schutt

    Yes of course – McCracken is just trying to link bait & puff his own ego. After all, he was the one who went on CNN’s belief blog & regurgitated the same tired cliches. And the one who became famous in the first place by destroying literalist straw men in a year long experiment for his first book. Oh wait…no…sorry, those were all RHE.

    Look – it doesn’t matter what his intent, both sets of points must be weighed & examined independent of the intent of their authors.

    “the charge of “sense of entitlement”, it can be argued, can be applied with even more justifiable force and vigor to baby boomers and gen-x-ers.” Then argue it. Stating your opinion is not arguing the case. I’m sure glad its only McCracken who is subjective here. Hahahahaha.

    As for evolution & Christianity – you might have actually made a decent point there. Though I find far more tolerance of evolutionists in Christian circles than Christians in scientific circles.

  • Phil Miller

    Though I find far more tolerance of evolutionists in Christian circles than Christians in scientific circles.

    Tangent, sort of, but I find the term “scientific circle” to be kind of interesting… What do you mean by it? Science department at universities? I know quite a few Christians at all levels in such departments. It seems to me that most students who feel they’re not welcome are the ones who come out of the gates swinging. My experience at one of the largest research universities in the country is that Christians are the ones itchin’ for a fight in general. Sure, there are a few antagonistic professors, but in my experience, those aren’t the norm.

    I think that’s kind of the whole point of the anti-science stuff. It goes deeper than simply whether a church tolerates people with different views. It goes to the whole way it approaches the world and how it encourages its members to see the world.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s very useful to look at these issues in generational terms. It’s not as if there aren’t boomers in churches having these same types of feeling of alienation. It goes deeper than that. The problem is when churches start majoring on the minors, so to speak.

  • scotmcknight

    Your last sentence, Kyle, is the sort of egregious simplification you accuse Brett of — as someone who has traveled around a fair bit I’ve run into one pastor and church leader and lay folks who grieve over this issue, who are struggling to combine mercy and holiness …

  • Andrew Dowling

    “who are struggling to combine mercy and holiness …”

    And thus is the generational divide right there. The wide majority of young people, many having grown up knowing gay people personally as “coming out” became less taboo, and seeing homosexuals portrayed as normal struggling human beings in shows and movies like Will and Grace and Philadelphia, don’t see this as a holiness issue at all. They don’t buy the argument that its a personal “choice to sin” and they don’t see rationality in the traditional church arguments. It’s a completely different paradigm of where the start and end points are. And this is from talking to many young people both Christian and non-Christian . . including many raised in the church but now within the growing “none” subcategory.

    I think the choice by the American church (Protestant and Catholic) to make homosexuality a major wedge issue did long-term damage that will be difficult to undue. Many young Christians see the traditional arguments as nonsensical, and when the church pushes so hard for them, it, in their minds, forfeits its moral authority. Which is ironic, since to conservatives this issue becomes the dividing line by which the church must hold its moral authority or be swallowed up by secularism.

  • Susan_G1

    Yes, part of it is the hubris of every generation. But the answer isn’t to humiliate them into silence, as this statement implies: “Perhaps instead of perpetuating our sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before.”

    The wisdom of those who have gone before has failed Millenials. We have handed them a planet devastated by our short-sighted selfishness, an economy wherein they cannot find jobs (except in Starbucks or Panera), a society wherein people in power are largely intent on society and science-denying, and this is only in secular matters. The state of the churches we present to them reflects the world we are handing them – broken and in denial. Is their frustration so hard to understand?

  • Susan_G1

    Andrew, I agree with everything you have said, except for the “Will & Grace, and Philadelphia”. These are our portrayals, not theirs. Theirs are their friends, cousins, brothers and sisters in Christ, or not in Christ. It’s much more personal to them, and should be to us all as well.

  • Susan_G1

    “Though I find far more tolerance of evolutionists in Christian circles than Christians in scientific circles.”

    BS! Being in both circles, I can personally attest to the opposite. Most people in sciences are well educated and have manners which lead to an atmosphere of respect. The same cannot be said of many of my Christian friends, who feel that I’m a failure for believing in evolution, and egregiously harmed my children by teaching them real science in homeschool. No one in my “scientific circle” looked at me as if I was possessed by demons for letting my kids watch “The Simpsons” (until a Christianity Today cover article praised the show!). I would like to know on what evidence you made that observation.

  • Tom F.

    Humbly, I have to wonder if these sort of conversations are more about power than anything else. Each younger generation holds the power over the older generation, because the younger generation are the ones who have to carry on what the older generation has built. Otherwise, it will die. “Millenials are leaving the church” could have the subtext for communicating to an older generation “This thing you care about, it will die unless you give me more power to make changes you may not like.”

    Each older generation holds the power over the younger, because it bequeathes identity and can choose to let something die rather than let it change. “Oh yeah, you’re going to let it die, huh. Well, your generation is perverse and terrible. And maybe I’d rather let it die than let someone like you ruin it.”

    Of course, this is only one angle to it. I’m not saying that McCrakken and Evans are both completely reducible to this position. There’s a lot of truth to what both said. I just wonder if acknowledging the power aspect of the conversation would be more honest. This is about power, and getting power through social science that threatens decline. The positioning and counter-positioning, of the framing of the old as “behind” or of the young as selfish and self-possesed. All of these are strategies that look to limit and delegitimize people’s voices as they try to express what they are hearing from God. So- power.

  • Kyle J

    Well, I meant “I’m not hearing” in the specific sense of my own experience, which is no doubt much more limited than yours.

    I’d be very interested in hearing what specific actions by churches you’re seeing on this issue. Is the struggling and grieving changing anything on the ground for gay people?

  • Adam

    I have listened to the older generation and I don’t find much wisdom there. There are a few good places to go. I consider Scot here to be someone who really thinks through the issues, but the majority of people I meet, this isn’t the case. To me the older generation is filled with fear and I find myself being the person thinking through the difficult issues and explaining the complexities to those older than me.

  • Rory Tyer

    “Many young Christians see the traditional arguments as nonsensical”

    It has been my experience that most young Christians know much more about the personal lives and hopes of their gay friends and/or relatives than they do about the reasons why some people believe Scripture teaches that same-sex sexual activity is one of many sexual activities considered sinful (since it occurs outside the context of a marriage between a man and a woman). In other words, for them to first consider “the traditional arguments” nonsensical they would have to first know those arguments, and I’m not sure that happens. For many people I know, the idea that this is something that can be argued is actually distasteful, hurtful, and discriminatory. That almost always guarantees that the discussion doesn’t get heard in its fullness (combine that with loud and actually discriminatory voices that some take to represent certain sides of the discussion [but that do not] and you see the problem).

    This isn’t to say anything about the rightness or wrongness of these arguments; and it is a wonderful thing that more Christians care about / are asking good questions of those in their lives who are gay. It’s just that most people I’ve met who are my age or younger (>26) aren’t aware of why some people interpret the Bible as they do.

  • Kyle J

    If monogamous gay relationships were, in fact, inherently hurtful, wouldn’t that manifest itself more clearly in the personal lives of our gay friends?

    Again, I can only work from my own experience. But I think we’ve all heard the arguments used in favor of a strict reading of scripture on this matter. The major problem (but the only problem, I’d argue) with those arguments is that they simply don’t “work” when we look at the world around us. People engaging in the behavior don’t show the same symptoms that go with other types of sinful behaviors, and there’s no evidence that the church has found a way to help people rid themselves of the sin beyond simple suppression of a part of their identity.

  • attytjj466

    Reading these comments reminds so much of what I heard and said myself back in the late 60s and early 70s. Another time when generational divide was very pronounced. Really interesting. CS Lewis at the very least was right in the quote above. I like RHE and her ilke. Constructive criticism is a good and healthy thing. But McCrackens zinger above is a great line and the element of truth in it seems evident from the resulting howls about it. Only an element of truth can sting like that. Wherever I go I see millennials with faces buried in their cell phones, be it church, resturaunts, ball games, family gatherings, wherever. There is something of an element of the obsessive about it.

  • Phil Miller

    Wherever I go I see millennials with faces buried in their cell phones,
    be it church, resturaunts, ball games, family gatherings, wherever.
    There is something of an element of the obsessive about it.

    This reminds me of the old anti-drug commercial… “I learned it by watching you!” 🙂

  • Collins

    As a millenial who lives in that great bastion of conservatism between Seattle and Vancouver, BC (jk) and has spent at least a fair amount of quality time near RHE’s stomping grounds of the South (Nashville, though, not Dayton) I have a couple thoughts as I read through this thread:

    McCraken and Rachel I think are both arguing for…drum roll, please…humility. I think Rachel is spot on in identifying many of the problems that seem to plague conservative evangelical circles and the vitriolic reactions that often greet her experiences don’t exactly help the issue (Justin Taylor, I’m looking at you). Though I think that some of her experience is geographically conditioned–it certainly has seemed to me that, in practice, “conservative” in Tennessee is very different than “conservative” in Western Washington–I think nearly every issue she identifies is a live and pertinent one that I have encountered in my personal experience either through my own struggles or the struggles of my millenial friends.


    This is where another point of humility (McCraken) speaks something of a rebuke. It is hard to hear that we might sincerely have to lay down our frustrations and give previous generations a vote. Paraphrasing John Stackhouse on this point: we ought to give previous generations a vote (Chesterton), but not all the votes (Stackhouse). I think the hard part that we millenials have is giving previous generations ANY votes if that vote doesn’t line up with our own sensibilities.

    I don’t think McCraken is saying that RHE is wrong…l think he’s pointing out that she’s only identifying half the problem. Anybody have thoughts on this?

  • Susan_G1

    Good analysis. The problem is that humility must come from both parties for a real dialogue to occur, otherwise you simply have one party browbeating the other.

  • AHH

    Though I find far more tolerance of evolutionists in Christian circles than Christians in scientific circles.
    As a scientist in an Evangelical church, my experience is the opposite. The typical attitude toward Christians in my scientific circles is “indifference”.
    Although it helps that I am not in biology or geology — I think there is more hostility towards Christians in those fields that some Christians have actively denigrated.

    As for the “literalist straw men”, Stephen Schutt should count himself lucky if he never experienced the sort of fundamentalist-leaning Evangelicalism that was the topic of Evolving in Monkey Town, For many of us, the Christian subculture depicted in RHE’s first book was, alas, familiar and accurately portrayed.

  • Stephen Schutt

    Anecdotal evidence. My anecdotes are very different. Truth is that I’ve actually really care for my friends who are creationists. They get science wrong, but I don’t really care what they think about that. I’ve found that its like talking about politics with family members – agree to disagree, and understand there is a proper & improper time to bring it up.

    As far as non-anecdotal evidence (yes, such a thing exists), I point to the leaders of the new atheism – who have all become famous through specialized areas of natural science & then used the credibility they acquired there to attack religion. Richard Dawkins is probably the most notorious, but Hitchens isn’t too far behind him…Most Christians interact with science through the lens of those two – and they feel attacked and respond in a fashion with which you are familar.

    Wait – what does the Simpsons have to do with this? And why do you care how other people “feel”? Honestly, you may be jumping to conclusions there.

  • Stephen Schutt

    Scientific circles is a vague term – I was going for those who are actually doing the research, and yes you are correct, there are many Christians in those. However, the viciousness among the Atheists in those circles is pretty bad – Dawkins & Hitchens both started in scientific fields & then used the influence they gained there to branch into religious studies, philosophy & history for the sole purpose of attacking religion

    As for Christian circles tolerating evolutionists, what you mentioned about people “itching for a fight” is probably true here as well. You’re definitely right about your sphere on that one, but I’ve seen evolutionists behave vehemently towards creationists in church settings, and I just don’t see what that accomplishes.

  • Stephen Schutt

    Funny that one line generated more than the rest of the original reply. Haha.

    What field are you in?

    As I said in another comment, I actually am very close to some creationists (used to be one myself) and they’re wonderful people. They get science wrong, but I don’t go to them for that. Honestly, I just have a good amount of tact & wisdom when I bring up the subject and I’m really not spoiling for a fight. Its allowed me to have honest discussions with pastors & church members while maintaining long-term friendships.

    And on top of it, trying to convince Christians that science is nothing to be afraid of is a little harder when the likes of Dawkins & Hitchens come along. Talk about abusing science creds for the sake of Atheism. Good grief.

    I do need to read monkeytown, but compared to Ken Miller & Francis Collins, I doubt RHE has much to add. Seriously, this video changed my life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg

  • Susan_G1

    Why do I care how other people feel… Because I’m a normal person. Part of society. Why, do you think I shouldn’t care?

    Are you a scientist? What is your basis for speaking with authority on this matter?

  • AHH

    I started in chemical engineering and ended up in chemical physics, where I do research at a (nonmilitary) government science agency. In neither field is science/faith friction an issue like it is in geology or biology.

    Many “creationists” are fine people; My beef is more with the “movements” (Answers in Genesis, Discovery Institute) who use dishonest propaganda to lead these fine people into bad positions and poison the relationship between science and faith, leading to a culture where scientists feel alienated from Evangelical churches.

    One thing I see in your remarks is mention of crusading atheists like Dawkins as though they represent the attitude of scientists. If there were one thing I wish I could get across to the church, it would be the extent to which this attitude is a minority even among atheist scientists. The vast majority are simply indifferent, and don’t care any more about my religion than about the car I drive. Assuming Dawkins represents the typical scientific attitude is as wrong as judging Christianity by Jimmy Swaggart or Ray Comfort.

    I agree that RHE won’t add to the science/faith discussion beyond the people you mentioned. Evolving in Monkeytown isn’t about science and faith (it does get one chapter, I think). It is about her evolution from a culture of anti-intellectual fundamentalist certainty to a place where faithful wrestling with questions and doubts is allowed. Having been exposed to some of that fundamentalist culture in my past, I found it an inspiring read.