The Case for Christendom
Two of every three young American adults (66 percent) say that older Americans have better moral values than they do, according to new polling released by the Pew Research Center. A similar number, 67 percent, say their elders are more respectful of others. And 68 percent attribute a stronger work ethic to more experienced generations.
"[W]here perceived generational differences exist today about moral values, work ethic and respect for others, today's young adults—by heavy margins—believe that these differences have arisen because their generation hasn't lived up to standards set by older adults," the Pew Research Center noted.
The results vary significantly with only one other value that Pew polled. Americans younger than 30 are widely regarded to be more tolerant of races and groups different from them. Relentless public campaigns for diversity and acceptance of racial minorities and alternative sexual lifestyles have largely succeeded.
Mere Orthodoxy blogger Matthew Lee Anderson struck a nerve earlier this year when he identified young evangelicals as another group desperately seeking social acceptance. In a twist on the Pew data, Anderson sees his fellow 20-something evangelicals lobbying for acceptance by denigrating their elders.
According to Anderson's reading of evangelical youth, they believe older evangelicals were seduced by the Religious Right and didn't do enough to fight poverty and racism. They were preoccupied with a narrow set of values, such as abstinence from alcohol and sex outside of marriage. These same rubes even bought Left Behind books and watched The Late Great Planet Earth.
If young evangelicals had reached these conclusions for principled reasons, then Anderson might not be so concerned. But he suspects more nefarious trends at work.
"I get the sense that for many of my young evangelical peers, the doctrine of eschatology is less important not because of careful reflection upon the Scriptures, but because of the political and cultural scorn the doctrine has earned," writes Anderson, a 2004 graduate of Biola University. "For most young evangelicals, eschatology is cringe inducing not because traditional formulations are wrong, but because they are weird. That all Christians would disappear in a flash will hardly earn Christians cultural acceptability—and cultural acceptance, today, is their paramount desire."
Anderson worries that younger evangelicals miss their own shortcomings in the rush to judge older generations. Namely, their angst about individualism and consumerism is stoked by appeals to shed inherited community values in order to pursue the latest fashionable cause. While not specific about remedies, Anderson contends that the evangelical future depends on breaking this vicious cycle.
"Yet until evangelical leaders educate their laity on the importance of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the role and depths of the evangelical tradition, the importance of the body to the spiritual life and disciplines, and the wonders and glories of the Triune God—and then reform their ecclesiastical life accordingly—it will be difficult to keep our best and brightest within the fold," he writes.
John Mark Reynolds, founder and director of Biola's Torrey Honors Institute, responded this summer to Anderson in the first online edition of The City, a journal published by Houston Baptist University. Following the argument in his new book When Athens Met Jerusalem, Reynolds defends Christendom as an alternative to the contemporary hodge-podge of evangelical approaches to culture. It is easy to denounce fellow evangelicals as mistaken, but more difficult and productive to build a viable alternative.