One of my constant struggles in reading things on social media, especially from a Christian perspective, is how they place all of the results upon themselves. A constant one that I have seen is how churches and Church leaders have treated my generation, the Millennials, in regards to faith. I have read many reports or commentaries that lives in a place of scarcity and fear that the Christian faith will die if we don’t somehow get the Millennials back into the faith and the Church. My response to this is that if they don’t want it, it’s their loss. The Church lives on not because of the sole work of Christians but rather the revitalizing work of the Holy Spirit. A fear that somehow the Church will die because some Millennials have lost faith is indicative of a mistrust of the faithfulness of God. The question then becomes, “Why would someone evangelize then, if this is predicated upon the work of the Spirit?” My answer to this is simply because God is a gift. God is continually giving God’s Self to us, and it’s our job to receive it. We, also, are made in the image of a generous God, and we should desire community not only with God, or with other believers, but with the world. We want to welcome them into receiving this beautiful gift.
It has become obviously clear, however, that in the case of the Millennials and the generation after it, the iGen, that they are less and less interested in either organized religion or spirituality altogether. For Millennials, they are increasingly identifying themselves as ‘None’s.’ These are people who don’t identify with a specific religion but try to live a more ‘Spiritual’ life. The iGen (1995-2012) are increasingly less interested in those spiritual matters altogether. What’s similar in this generation, and these will be my areas of focus for this blog, is that there is a heightened emphasis on science, technology and together they have more depression and self-esteem than past generations.
Charles Taylor, in his book The Secular Age, describes something called Excarnation. For Taylor, this idea can be described as, ““the transfer of our religious life out of bodily forms of ritual, worship, practice, so that it comes more and more to reside ‘in the head.'” The lived life of these generations is overwhelming entrenched in Excarnation. Life is more spent in front of our phones (social media), our TV’s (Netflix, Video Games, and our computers (porn). Similarly, their ideas around science are just that, ideas. Science may explain reality, but it doesn’t understand reality. It’s similar to a DSM chart around something like depression. A DSM chart may explain depression, but it doesn’t know what it is like to be depressed.
My belief in a faithful evangelism to these generation means that we don’t fight truth wars, where we battle over ideas or even try to create catchy Facebook videos to convince people of the Truth, rather, that we live flesh and blood relationships that embody and reveal the Truth of Jesus Christ. We don’t need more William Lane Craig vs. Richard Dawkins debates; these are embarrassing and unhelpful. We don’t need to have battles on Facebook about which religion is or isn’t right and why atheism is or isn’t wrong. We need people to show up, to listen, to care, to love, to understand, to know, to relate, and to be present in a way that reveals the worth and beauty that they have in God. People may think they want a like on a selfie but what they want is a friend who likes them in flesh and blood. They may think they want porn or a hookup but what they need is someone who loves them in a way where true embrace happens. They might try and escape into a fantasy of video games, but the real hope is found in God who presents the Truth within reality (Word became flesh).
The task of Christians is to also look at ourselves in the mirror and to understand how our lives might be preventing this to happen. Is our faith wrapped up merely in doctrine and ideas, or do we understand that the doctrines that we do have are centered around a person (Jesus) whose claims about who he was were proved by the life that we live? And, are we willing to live out this Truth so that we can know Jesus in the same way? Secondly, are we willing to be uncomfortable? Are we willing to listen to peoples stories of depression and hopelessness? Can we, without defensiveness, endure and listen to the frustration they may have, right or wrong, about what they believe about Christianity? Lastly, can we be committed friends, in flesh and blood, to a generation that is more detached to human beings than ever? I think that when we look at these tasks, we have some work cut out for ourselves so that we can become a hopeful, living witness to generations more disenfranchised with Christianity than ever. While it might be their loss in not receiving this gift, it’s our loss if we cannot welcome them into our lives.