Younger Evangelicals: At War with the Culture Wars

16 May Andy
May 16, 2012

When it comes to high-profile moral issues, younger evangelicals seem more at odds with older evangelicals than with secular culture.

And with that statement, so begins a new blog series: “Younger Evangelicals and the Culture Wars.”


The May 8th vote on Amendment 1 in North Carolina punctured a high pressure system that has exploded into the blogosphere.  You can almost hear the un-stitching of the fabric binding older generations of Christians with younger generations.  Tearing free from our forbears feels like an urgent necessity.  The growing distance so poignantly sensed between 20-/30something Christians and those in their 40s and beyond just got wider.  And this inter-generational chasm is now highly public fare.

“You are losing me.”  That twist on David Kinnaman’s latest book may sum it up quite well.

But maybe “We are leaving you” is more to the point.

We are not all just lost or stranded.  Many of us are willingly heading for that red glowing “EXIT.”  But not necessarily from the church (which is more the focus of Kinnaman’s research).  Many of us are explicitly vocal that we are indeed Christians… we just want to make it clear that we are The Next Christians (title from Gabe Lyons) who are finding A Faith of our Own (title from Jonathan Merritt).  A conscious inter-generational divorce seems to be steadily underway.

From what I have seen of their material, Kinnaman, Lyons and Merritt have given us some intelligent and ultimately edifying material to guide us through this volatile territory (I certainly mean no ill-will in my reference to their fine works!).

It is worth wondering though, if, at the popular level, the situation seems akin to the embarrassment of a teenager on family vacation at the beach—you know, when hanging out with newfound friends in the same peer group is awkwardly interrupted by a socially un-savvy aunt who calls you by a juvenile nickname you did not supply to your new friends and tells you it’s time for supper.

Of course, the stakes are much higher than the vain insecurities attending a teenager’s reputation among peers.  The culture’s perception of Jesus and the Gospel is at stake.  And for many of us, the “EXIT” to which we rush leads not so much to the sanctuary’s back door; it just leads to a different room from where all the older adults are having a potluck in the fellowship hall.

But potlucks can be awesome.  And awkward aunts can actually be quite enjoyable….

In this new series, co-blogger Joel and I are exploring the complexities of the war on the culture wars.  We want to listen carefully to the melange of voices.  And we want to ask the right questions.  Here is one to start with:


The post opened with this observation: younger evangelicals seem more at odds with older evangelicals than with secular culture.

We should ask, do young Christian adults identify better with non-Christian peers within the social sphere of young adult culture or with older Christians within the social sphere of the church?

Distancing ourselves from older Christians is, to a large extent, missionally motivated.  We cherish the Gospel so much that we regret its unfaithful depiction by our (living) forbears.  For the young evangelicals who have been so vocal since May 8, it is axiomatic that engaging culture through legislative and political means is at best a dangerous strategy.  Jesus himself seemed quite ambivalent toward the political machinations of his day: “render unto Caesar…” (Lk 20:25).

But less noble motives may be plaguing this intra-church war against the culture wars.  It is worth checking those motives carefully.  Because if we are laying down arms once arrayed against the culture to take up new arms arrayed toward our own church family, then that is something over which Jesus is certainly not ambivalent: “keep them in Your name… that they may be one” (Jn 17:11).


This post will end with another question to be taken up for further consideration presently: is it the means of cultural engagement with which we are at odds… or are we also opposed to the actual values?  In other words, is our ire directed solely against the way (means) older generations in the church have addressed the culture, or are we upset because we have now embraced the values those generations have attacked?

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7 replies
  1. Unsanitary Jesus says:

    Reblogged this on Mattr of Fact: On Seeking the Truth in Time and commented:
    Great Post from my good friend and classmate Andy…

  2. Unsanitary Jesus says:

    The questions here are ones that keep me up at night. I feel like if their is a war going on, then it is not one that I want or have asked for (on any count). My statement has become: I love Christ, I love the Church, I affirm the creeds, and I desire to live a life that honors all three. I am dedicated to the teachings of scripture and committed to attempting to live out the story presented within.

    My concern, then, is not so much scriptural or theological as it is pastoral or missiological. The conditions on the ground have changed, and it is imperative for the church to not just react, but proactively deal with these changes.

    The good news is that over the past century we have made tremendous strides in understanding and refining the mission and purpose of those in the field. The post-colonial strategies within the global south have paid huge dividends and have ignited those areas for Christ. We have the tech. We have the know-how. We have the theology. We just need the will to go there.

    I think of my place in America not as the member of a dominant power structure, but a missionary on the field. Gone are the easy Christendom days, and chances are they would not be back.

    Last year I had the chance to sit down with Glenn Hatcher, who heads the training program for Globe Missions. He had a great comment. In 2005 he returned to America from the Middle East, and he stated that he came back unconcerned about the fate of his native country. After all he had just spent 15 years watching the Gospel take root in a far more arid soul. Yet as he talked with friends and co-laborers he noticed that rather than rolling up their sleeves to meet the challenge, they were content to sitting around their pretty but vacant building cursing and moaning the vacancy.

    For me and others in the Younger / Post Evangelical movement I sense a group of people ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. For many the attitude seems to be that if it does not aid the mission of converting (re-converting) those on the field, it needs to be rethought and re-purposed. Yes, this may mean doing things differently. Yes, it may mean giving up the fight on some fronts. But I have taken to calling this Strategic Redeployment (some of the French theologians of the last century called it resourcement). It is moving the fight to where it can be won.

    Yet I also admit to feeling a little like my mentor John Wimber in the 1980s. John has said that he was committed to looking like a fool if it meant aiding the Gospel; yet he never realized that it would be the church, itself, that branded him as such. John put some new ideas and methods into action, and was enormously successful with them. Yet he was asked to leave the church for which he worked, because, “we don’t do things that way.” He was not the first “accidental” church founder, one might argue that what happened then also happened to greats such as Luther, or Wesley. My hope is that we are not at a similar junction. My prayer is that those within mainline Evangelicalism can see us for who we are: people passionate about using all available means to bring reconciliation and peace to the chaos of the world. Wouldn’t it be sad if we bring some peace to secular America, only to see war with sacred America.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. [...] At War with the Culture Wars:  When it comes to high-profile moral issues, younger evangelicals seem more at odds with older evangelicals than with secular culture. [...]

  2. [...] At War with the Culture Wars:  When it comes to high-profile moral issues, younger evangelicals seem more at odds with older evangelicals than with secular culture. [...]

  3. [...] at the blog Hopeful Realism the contributors came up with a new series of posts entitled, Younger Evangelicals and the Culture Wars. The first two posts in the series are about the generation gap between those under 40 in the [...]

  4. [...] (the North American segment of the church, at least).  Here is the main observation from the first post: When it comes to high-profile moral issues, many younger evangelicals seem more at odds with [...]

  5. [...] the 2nd installment of a new series, “Younger Evangelicals and the Culture Wars.”  See here for the 1st [...]

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