Helping a Generation Incapable of Having Souls

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Can one be a contemporary evangelical and fully human?

In the frenzy of activity that evangelicalism has become, I often think of the late Rich Mullins (Photo Right), who opted out of the CCM craze (Contemporary Christian Music) and chose to live and teach among Native Americans on a reservation in New Mexico. This follower of Jesus was a modern-day Thoreau in two ways: 1) he lived life on his own terms instead of conforming to culture around him; 2) he thought a lot and communicated his thoughts through his life and words.

A quote from Rich Mullins is the epigram for my chapter on American Christianity in my upcoming book, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite. “I really struggle with American Christianity. I’m not really sure that people with our cultural disabilities, people who grow up in a culture that worships pleasure, leisure, and affluence, are capable of having souls, or being saved.”

Thoreau and Rich shared in common two traits most American evangelicals do not possess. They were willing to be countercultural individualists, a quality that grew out of the second trait deep thinking that shaped their daily life. The evangelical community too often values conformity and substitutes the light, breezy and experiential over deep thought. The secret of evangelicalism’s growth is marketing (sales/distribution/promotion) of a “product” that has been tailored to match (or seem relevant) in a superficial American culture.

I think both American culture and evangelicalism are on a collision course with a God shaped reality namely, that humans created in God’s image, carry a capacity for spiritual, intellectual, creative, moral and relational depth that neither today’s shallow evangelicalism nor popular culture can satisfy.

The warning signs of discontent are manifest in the next generation, which is vulnerable to evangelical sway in their early teens, but is abandoning it in record numbers when they turn 18 and move away from home.

Francis Schaeffer saw this coming 30 years ago and wrote in “The God Who is There,” I find that everywhere I go– children of Christians are being lost to historic Christianity. They are being lost because their parents are unable to understand their children and therefore cannot help them in their time of need. We have left the next generation naked In the face of twentieth century thought by which they are surrounded.”

The New York Times documents this phenomenon in a piece titled Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers, a fascinating look at evangelical responses to their demise among today’s youth.

What is most interesting to me is the insufficiency of evangelical responses: 1) Trot out Jerry Falwell and Jack Hafer to challenge evangelical pastors. 2) Hold a one-day emotionally charged Teen Mania rally concluding with taking off your “secular T-Shirt” and replacing it with a Christian-T.” These are hardly adequate solutions to a deep-seated problem in American religious and cultural life.

Lest I seem like a whiny stone caster, let me say I agree with D.L Moody who once replied to complaints about his evangelistic style, “I like better what I am doing than what you are not doing.” We at our little not-for-profit Center for Faith and Culture are taking steps to address these problems, but our strategies are not quick fixes, they are not for the faint of heart and they aliene a lot of evangelicals when we talk about them.

As a matter of fact our biggest immediate needs seem like it is money (we need at least ($) 60,000 by December 31) to stay on schedule, but I am only now realizing, the real obstacle is much deeper. Our real challenge is finding the handful of people who: 1) Agree that both faith and culture are in need of a total transformation; 2) agree that cultural transformation begins with a personal spiritual, intellectual, creative, relational and moral transformation; 3) are willing to become non-conformist to what is generally popular in both American cultural and religious life; 4) are prepared to invest time and money in grassroots, relational initiatives to being addressing the problems.

If this describes you and you want to know more so you can join us in becoming part of the solution, send a self addressed, stamped return envelope to CFC Tell Me More, PO Box 77385, Seattle, WA 98177. We’ll send you a brief description of what we’re up to and a return envelop for your donation should you decide to make one.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in October 10, 2006 by | No Comments »

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