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The Last Christian Generation? April 18, 2006

Posted by fajita in Christianity.
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Josh McDowell's new book out is called, The Last Christian Generation. I have read the first chapter. You can too right here. I like Josh and respect the work he does with youth. He does have a way of connecting that is powerful. So, I write this critique as a fan, not an enemy.

I think that he does have his finger on the pulse of the emerging culture, but I wonder if he is maybe a little too dramatic with his assessment of it. I don't think he is really trying to use scare tactics, but with the numbers he uses and the way he uses them, I kind of wince every now and again. De facto, he is using scare tactics. The way he portrays the emerging culture in no way, shape, or form leads his readers to find much good in it, nor does it motivate engaging the culture. And if he does at all, it is counteracted by his critique.

My concern is that his lens is so evangelical that the depth of spirituality inthe emering culture is of no value to him. A mistake, in my opinion.

No, the emerging culture is not evalgelical Christianity. I think we call all agree on that. However, does the fact that the emerging culture's divergence from evangelical Christianity necessitate all of the alarm? One would have to assume that all is well and good with evangelical Christianity to have alarm for that reason. And, my friends, all is not well with evangelical Chrstianity.

Despite some of the things McDowell addresses (which need to be addressed), the emerging culture has some significant advantages as well. The emerging (postmodern) culture is willing to self-critique and willing to be wrong. OK, they have their sacred cows as well, but they are fewer, I believe, and certainly different. There is openness, willingness to talk, technological savvy, a love for story, a love for mystery and question, a skepticism of certainty (this is an asset and a detriment), and lots opf the other things that the evangelical world has much, much less of to offer.

I wonder if McDowell might do better in engaging with the culture AS WELL AS critiquing it.

There is at least as much good to be found in a postmodern world as there is in a modern world. That is not to exalt a philosophy to a religious or spiritual level, but let's be pragmatic – if there is good it is worth engaging. No philosophy is going to be the Kingdom of God in this world. Philosophy is too small to contain the Divine.

I do not believe that this is the last Christian generation. In fact, I wonder if there ever was a Christian generation – in America or anywhere. To speak of a generation being of one religion or sliver of religion is just too overstated. I think to equate evangelicalism and Christianity, too, is to make a significant mistake.

Fainlly, every person has the chance to be a Christian person, unique to their God-given creative senses and limitations – even if they are not so evangelically inclined.

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Comments»

1. Steve - April 18, 2006

Good post. I heard Josh when he gave a talk to U. of Va. students back in the 74-75 school year. Several things I remember. He let us know that his wife was on the front row and said to us, “guys, eat your hearts out!” That was pretty cool for those days when ministers generally stayed away from the hint of anything about attractiveness and sexuality. Another thing. At that point in my life, three years out of Harding, I had about given up on the idea of inerrancy. Josh sealed the deal. He related how that he new of a fine man and eminent Greek scholar who had studied the gospels and the synoptic problem. He emphasized especially that he was an excellent Greek scholar and that this man carefully and painstakingly studied and worked on the project of harmonizing all the “supposed” contradictions in the gospels. And, after having spent twenty five years on the effort, he finally achieved his goal. When Josh said that, I remember thinking to myself that if it was that difficult for a careful and assiduous Greek scholar and it required twenty five years for him to accomplish the task, then they must really be contradictions in the first place.

Emergent writers are showing us how to move beyond such issues to what is really important.

The last Christian generation? Ole Josh, your just like a lot of us aging boomers. Now that were getting older we long for the good ole days. Things just ain’t like they used to be. I say it’s time to move on and make some new, more interesting mistakes instead of the same old ones.

2. Jamie Arpin-Ricci - April 18, 2006

Glad to read this review. I had the same since from the brief overview I did of the book. Thanks!

Peace,
Jamie

3. john alan turner - April 19, 2006

First of all, your statement about postmoderns being willing to be wrong is…well…I’m not sure what to call it. Postmoderns are not willing to be wrong; they deny that there is such a thing as “wrong”.

Second, how exactly are you defining “evangelical”? You accuse some of equating the terms “evangelical” and “Christianity”, but it seems like you’ve equated the terms “evangelical” and “modernist”.

And I write this critique as a fan! 🙂

4. Fajita - April 19, 2006

I don’t enough John Alan Turners in my life. What I mean by that is someone who will confront my ides (or simply me) in such a way that I don’t feel like that person is a jerk. He does it well, and he does it in the above comment.

I might have been a little overstated on postmoderns being willing to be wrong. They are more likely to admit to being wrong in areas that are not sacred to them. Furthermore, fewer areas necessitate a right/wrong call. “I could be wrong on that,” is a statement under the influence of postmodernity. It is also, I will admit, a rhetorical tool used to ease conversation and avoid conflict.

Moderns are less willing to do that – they know right and wrong about everything and everything requires and right/wrong verdict. Postmoderns do have a sense of wrong because look at how they respond to Moderns. They say they “disagree” with “it,” but if they were to do “it” themselves, it would be wrong – which is why they don’t do “it.” Postmodern morality is based upon a different moral epistimology than is modern morality.

And about those evangelical cats. Most are modern and cannot see any difference whatsoever between modernity and Christianity. Even those who are up on the whole philosophical lingo choose modernity over postmodernity as the most Christian philosophy. I’m ready and willing to be proven wrong (I believe in wrong, by the way), but it will have to be compelling proof.

5. john alan turner - April 19, 2006

I think Art Lindsley has been as eloquent as can be when it comes to promoting a humble belief in absolute truth — he refers to it as absolutes without absolutism. And he says, “Some truth can still be real truth as long as we don’t take it to be the complete truth.”

He’s pretty staunchly evangelical.

Dallas Willard considers himself evangelical. So does Os Guinness. So does Len Sweet. Shoot, Len has come close to calling himself a theological fundamentalist. I’m pretty sure Scot McKnight still calls himself evangelical. In fact, if I’m reading the cover of Brian’s book correctly, McLaren calls himself an evangelical (among other things).

“I could be wrong” may be a statement under the influence of postmodernity, but it is not a postmodern statement. A postmodern statement would be: “Neither of us is wrong because there is no such thing as wrong. I am simply more right than you are.”

Well…a true postmodernist probably wouldn’t say that last sentence out loud. But that’s likely what they mean.

As far as postmodern morality goes, well, this conversation must again borrow from modern categories of moral and immoral. Modernists had to deal with the tricky thing that is the non-verifiability of “ought” in any kind of scientific way. Postmodernists have to deal with the tricky thing that is the universality of “ought” in every society.

I suppose what I’m really getting at in all this is that we might be better served if we allow words to mean what they actually mean — rather than importing meaning into them or allowing the way they are used to define them entirely. We should also be careful about making broad, sweeping statements about entire categories of people like emergents or evangelicals (or Roman Catholics for that matter!).

Thanks for your kind words and your willingness to discuss weight ideas here.

6. Fajita - April 19, 2006

JAT said,

“I suppose what I’m really getting at in all this is that we might be better served if we allow words to mean what they actually mean.”

OK, I’ll bite. What do you mean by this? Which words mean what?

And, those people you mentioned as claiming to evangelicals – I don’t disagree with you about their claims about themselves. However, I had a prof at Harding University tell me he was a Catholic Priest, but the Catholics wouldn’t claim him no matter what he said.

7. john alan turner - April 19, 2006

I’m sure what your prof meant by “catholic” was far from Roman Catholicism. He was probably trying to be provacative by being imprecise with his terminology.

But when the guys I mention say “evangelical” they mean “evangelical”. And I don’t know many evangelicals who would want to disown Lindsley, Willard and Guinness. Sweet, McKnight and McLaren maybe.

The two words I’m most concerned with here are “evangelical” and “postmodern”.

Evangelical simply means a branch of Protestant Christianity that emphasizes the authority of the Bible, the need for personal conversion and the availability of salvation through faith in the atoning death of Jesus.

Evangelical does not mean absolutism — that is a distortion of evangelicalism. Neither does evangelical mean modernist — that also is a distortion that may have been imported but is not inherent.

Postmodernism — while it may be self-consciously impossible to define — is a complete denial of metanarratives, absolutes and categories (such as right or wrong).

8. Fajita - April 19, 2006

If anyone else is reading this exchange between myself and JAT, then please notice that he is engaging in conflict with me, not against me. I am engaging in conflcit with him as well. People on the same team conflict with each other while people on opposite teams conflict against each other. And now, the fact that I mentioned teams puts me in a modernist cateogry, but I can handle that false label any time.

Now, to engage in some more conflcit.

JAT said: “Evangelical simply means a branch of Protestant Christianity that emphasizes the authority of the Bible, the need for personal conversion and the availability of salvation through faith in the atoning death of Jesus.”

I can accept this definition to a point. “Authority” of the Bible is a really tough one to swallow becuase if you ask 10 different kind of evangelicals what that means specifically and you’ll get 10 different answers that exclude the other 9, or at least exclude 5 of the other 9.

“The need for personal conversion” sounds good as well, and for the most part I agree. But conversion from what to what? And then to what ultimate end?

“…salvation through faith in the atoning death of Jesus.” Again, I agree, but then there is some fuzzy stuff here too. Can someone receieve salvation through the atoning death of Jesus in ways that look weird or different or culturally influenced? And if yes, says who?

Finally, JAT said: “Postmodernism — while it may be self-consciously impossible to define — is a complete denial of metanarratives, absolutes and categories (such as right or wrong).”

We’re just going to have to part way son this one. Militant, absolute postmodernism, the kind that eats itself, is what JAT has put out here. I don’t think too many people really go there – and even many people who claim to go there in rhetoric don’t really live that way.

What about the people who are skeptical of meta-narratives, but have not jettisoned them? What about people who distrust authority, but realize anarchy is just another kind of cruel authority? What about the people who are hurt and limping because the tidy modern packages didn’t cure them? These people seem more postmodern than modern.

Here is where I am going: I think JAT’s postmodern definition is too easy a strawman to take down. I could be critiqued (wait, I am critiqued) in the same way for my use of evangelical.

OK, the mics open – anyone?

9. john alan turner - April 19, 2006

You beat me to it! I was reading your critique of my definition of postmodernism thinking, “But that’s what he’s doing with evangelicalism — building a straw man argument.”

I would say that what you’re describing could be called soft-postmodernism.

And I would say that the straw man was first built by you around your narrow definition of evangelicalism. And your definition — while it may be close to what the folks in the blue states think — is farther away from the actual definition of evangelical than my definition of postmodernism is from the actual definition (if one even exists).

Since I dropped out of my D.Phil program, I don’t get to have these kinds of conversations much anymore! I’m having a great time and am so glad we can do this without calling each other names or having it deteriorate into the kind of rock throwing our non-denomination is known for!


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