If you’re not a nerd in the CRC blogosphere – and who’s not these days – you may have missed all four legs of an attention-getting dispute that not only has some interesting theological/philosophical dimensions for the CRC, but also reveals part of how people born in different generations think.
While these rules aren’t hard and fast, particularly if you were born near a borderline of these years, most sociologists would put these birthdates on the generations now living in North America (along with their populations):
•GI’s (1904-1924) – 60 million
•Silents (1925-1945) – 55 million
•Boomers (1946-1979) – 76 million
•Gen X (1965-1979) – 52 million
•Millenials (1980-2000) – 78 million
•Wired (2001-Current) – ?
(Note: If you grew up in a rural area, you may need to bump the dates forward up to 10 years and if you grew up in a non-US urban center, you may need to bump them backward)
Of most interest for the Church currently are the interactions of 4 generations – the Silents & their children, the Gen X’ers – and the Boomers & their children, the Millennials. Silents & Gen-Xers tend to be more conservative with more defined lines on truth, while Boomers and Millennials tend to be more willingly liberal/accepting of various viewpoints and have blurrier lines on truth. Silents/Gen-Xers tend to overvalue history in comparison to the modern-day, while Boomers/Millennials tend to overvalue the present. Take a minute to figure out where you might land.
Now, consider these three articles, which have come out in the last few days:
Article #1, from The Banner, by Bob DeMoor (born around 1950), argues against the need for strict regulations on older creeds & confessions, instead calling us to gather around something written during the 1980′s (the Boomers’ heyday, which also produced theological juggernauts like Shine Jesus Shine & Boy George):
“We need to make the Contemporary Testimony what we sign on to instead of the historic confessions. That way we affirm our current understanding of Scriptural teaching and of creation revelation and always keep before us the necessary challenge of praying, working, and reflecting together on how our key sign-on document should be updated to keep us ever biblical and relevant.”
Article #2, from James KA Smith’s blog not only calls DeMoor out for irresponsibly questioning the relevance of the historic creeds & confessions – along with the lines they create – he plays the generation card. And like a lot of Silents/Gen-Xers, he goes with the classic, fingers-in-your-ears “if-I-can-say-it-louder-and-more-angst-ridden-than-you-can-I-must-be-right” method (incidentally, the same logic that birthed punk rock – Smith was born in 1970):
“Hey, baby boomers, I want to let you in on a little secret: you don’t own the denomination, though I know you’ve acted like you do for the past 20 years. And I know you think that the next generation is looking to eviscerate our confessional Reformed particularity just as you’ve been trying to do. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. In fact, I think you should start to realize that those opposing you are not just “old codgers” who aren’t as enlightened as you, but also younger folks who have seen where this goes and are actually looking for a more ancient faith. Some of us Gen Xers and rising Millennials are not interested in your “updated” faith: we’re looking for the thick, rich particularity of historic Reformed faith, understood as an expression of catholic Christianity.”
Article #3 is from Bryan Berghoef, on his blog (because he can’t comment on Smith’s – who, in good Gen-X logic, doesn’t allow it). Berghoef apparently is interested in “their updated faith” and disagrees with Smith, who’s just huddled Millennials into his Gen-X camp. He then goes on to demonstrate who Millennials are really aligned with – Boomers – and almost completely agrees with DeMoor’s original thesis. He alludes Smith’s arguments because, well, they don’t agree on the philosophy behind the argument – they’re just talking over eachother, as Smith was over DeMoor. Berghoef is, as you might guess, born right around 1980:
In other words, times have changed, and since we’ve refused to update the old confessions, why not re-appropriate our common statement of faith (which we already have) that articulates afresh our understanding of Scripture, God, and the world we live in? I think it’s a brilliant approach. Not everyone likes it though. Surprise. What is a surprise is that someone in the philosophy department at Calvin College —who is a terrific thinker and writer— would be the source of the opposition.
While Berghoef has a Millennial thought process and a Gen-X delivery, pastor Dan Brown checks in with Article #4 on his blog, a true Millennial statement of “why can’t we all just get along?” Like a true Millennial (Brown was born around 1980, as well), Brown affirms and cautions everyone simultaneously:
And to all of our prophets – keep speaking – we recognize within ourselves the lethargy of the center. Our Laodicean lukewarmness. Sometimes we get complacent and forgetful. We need you to challenge us. To call us back and to bring us forward. To challenge and inspire and motivate and anger. We would be lost without you…But to one another – remember that you are brothers and sisters too – and vital in the service of Kingdom. You are not problems or enemies. You’re just different parts of the same body and sometimes you forget that. Please forgive each other – please keep disagreeing – but don’t harbor anger in your hearts.
Now, I won’t be as trite as to boil this entire argument down to what generation we find ourselves in (they are all raising important points – see I’ve revealed my Millennial-ness), but I think, based on this argument progression and much of the Millennial research we reference quite a bit on this site, you can say a few things:
- Boomers & Millennials are incredibly linked – especially in the tension they feel against imposed authority and the tension they do not feel when rules and previously-believed truth starts to get fuzzy.
- These are the generations who created the consumer-based model and left the Church, in succession
- Millennials are true centrists – middle-of-the-road walkers and have no problem accepting & validating people making completely opposite points. For them harmony/unity > orthodoxy
- Silents & Gen-Xers are also very linked….just the opposite – they prioritize history and long for distinct restrictions on truth
- These are the generations who championed the word-based missions movement and the emergent church’s love for ancient-future worship in successive generations
We far too often believe that we are the ones that operate without generational influence – we think that others might be, but we certainly aren’t. But the reality is the opposite – all of us fall into generational thinking. Smith brings this out in his piece most vividly – but ironically fails to recognize his own generational bias, trying to fold all generations following him into his own argument – a common mistake many of us make.
More importantly, all four of these generations have contributed to our current loss of young adults in the CRC – and in-fighting between generations won’t fix it. We need to work together for solutions – and realize our own biases in the process.