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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Final Christian Generation?

Written by: on January 24, 2019

The evangelical movement reaches much wider than most might assume. When one considers evangelicalism and its leaders it is likely in the contemporary world that figures such as Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Francis Chan, Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, Joyce Meyers, James Dobson etc. come to mind. While these people may be representative of a portion of the contemporary evangelical

movement it is not limited to the conservative branches of the world Church. “In fact, some of its most influential thinkers and personalities are members of denominations that are not widely identified as ‘evangelical’.”[1] This demonstrates the broad scope of the movement where individuals are connected more by a loosely constructed set of basic beliefs with some latitude for forms of application. There are four main foundational beliefs upon which the movement is based. 1. That Jesus is the one in whom ultimate meaning can and should be found. 2. The Scriptures are held in high regard and seen as authoritative. 3. The practices of water baptism and the Eucharist are essential. 4. The doctrine of the Trinity is accepted as the means by which to explain the Godhead.[2]

The Evangelical movement speaks to a transcendent reality and in addition to the theological underpinnings is also largely experiential. Thus, it is not unusual to hear evangelicals speak of significant events where they sensed God’s presence in a unique way much like John Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate. These experiences are interpreted as signs of God’s Spirit intersecting with one’s life to bring comfort, understanding or calling. It is therefore not surprising that of all the movements of the Christian Church this is the one that evidentially has had the most significant worldwide impact. It is this experiential aspect of Evangelicalism that has the potential to attract emerging generations immersed in post-modernism. While they certainly desire robust and critical thinking they also require that any beliefs have pragmatic and near immediate application.

Reading the text for this week, Global Evangelicalism, was a reminder that the Church has always struggled with maintenance of religious fervor. It is often assumed that this apparent waning of interest in the Christian faith is a new phenomena. Charles Taylor’s work ‘A Secular Age’ suggests that the real change that has taken place is in the area of alternatives.[3] However, a sense of staleness was recognized only a few generations after the Reformation. The initial Evangelical movement came about largely because “by the seventeenth century Protestant Christianity was widely regarded as having lost its Gospel vitality.”[4]  The struggle to transfer a vibrant Christian faith to the next generation has always been a challenge it seems. In each age of the Christian movement it has been necessary to discern the cultural changes and adapt the Gospel to them. The Christian faith has always been only one generation away from complete collapse. This is nothing to fear but rather represents only a problem to be solved. It also suggests that the answers to the transference problem will by necessity be unique to the new generation as previous methods are unlikely to captivate them in the same manner.

For contemporary emerging generations part of the unique solution may include the need for a multi-cultural expression of faith. “The world is becoming more and more a single place, a single ‘village,’ with all the outcomes this has on human relations and the way we see the world.” [5] The mono-cultural Christian framework representative of the vast majority of the Church, and in which most adults likely feel at home, is not reflective of the contemporary ‘global village’ and often seems disconnected to real life experiences for many young people. The Church is therefore often seen as antiquated and disingenuous, part of the cause of the polarization evident in society rather than the solution. Although the Christian faith taken as a whole is the most ethnically diverse of any religion this is generally not reflected in the local congregation.[6] For emerging generations this smacks of exclusivism and bigotry, something they are more averse to than any previous generation.

Globalization and post-modernism also cause other potential challenges for orthodox Christianity as; “boundaries (religious, political, and cultural) are blurred or marginalized…The key assumption….is that there is no ultimate universal set of truths to be attained.”[7] Between mono-culturalism and the elimination of universal truths it is little wonder that emerging generations are leaving the Church in record numbers. However, all is not lost. If the Church can transform itself into the multi-cultural body of believers it was designed to be (Colossians 3:11) as well as discern the best means of communicating the essentials of the faith in order to transmit its dynamic iteration for this specific time period, the next generation will certainly be captivated. Some may fear change and suggest that the Gospel is being diluted in order to become palatable for emerging generations. However, this transformation of the faith is nothing new. “This has happened several times in the history of Christianity; the faith [has undergone] both major expansion while at the same time virtually reinventing itself in new forms.”[8]

While it is prudent to remain vigilant and maintain much of traditional Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxis the ultimate goal should be passing the baton to the next generation for them to carry into the future. Ultimately it will be up to them to determine the essence of the Christian faith while the leaders and adults of today will move on to become part of “the great cloud of witnesses.”[9](Hebrews 12:1)

 

 

[1]Lewis, Donald M., and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2014. P. 12

[2]Ibid p. 18

[3]Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018. P. 25

[4]Lewis, Donald M., and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2014. P. 40.

[5]Ibid P. 62

[6]Ibid p. 72

[7]Ibid p. 67

[8]Ibid p. 74

[9]Hebrews. In The Holy Bible. NIV. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2011.

 

About the Author

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Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am particularly passionate about encouraging the church to reflect the diversity found in their surrounding community in regard to age, gender, ethnicity, education, economic status, etc. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

3 responses to “The Final Christian Generation?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Dan!

    What a title! Well done, and I would assume every generation has been asking this question.

    Your concluding paragraph is a great one! “While it is prudent to remain vigilant and maintain much of traditional Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxis the ultimate goal should be passing the baton to the next generation for them to carry into the future. Ultimately it will be up to them to determine the essence of the Christian faith while the leaders and adults of today will move on to become part of “the great cloud of witnesses.”

    I suppose your own answer to your title is summed up in whether or not there is a good passing of the baton. Am I right?

  2. Hey Dan, I am really interested in your research and eager to learn from you as you study our faith being passed on (or not!) to the next generation. One of my favorite Christian History professors, Dr. Brunner, told us “You are the gaurdians of orthodoxy in our time.” As a budding theologian, I take his words very seriously. How do we balance passing on a faith that holds true to the wisdom of the ages while not passing on the parts of our theology that were our own structures? I do agree the multiculturalism is the way of the future that holds true to the wisdom of the ages. What can I do to pass that on?

  3. Hi Dan,

    I resonate with your post… thank you. Your conclusion gives me hope: “…[T]his transformation of the faith is nothing new. ‘This has happened several times in the history of Christianity; the faith [has undergone] both major expansion while at the same time virtually reinventing itself in new forms.'” Continual renewal and evolution of faith as expressed and lived out. As our cultural contexts continue to shift, Christ’s presence in the midst of culture will always adapt, for He loves the world and wants salvation to come to all. We need to position ourselves with open hands, ready to allow God to lead us in reshaping church and faith, always humbly aware we are only seeing a small fraction of the total picture.

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