Monday, September 17, 2007

Young evangelicals adrift

Ignorance of important theological distinctions, denominational origins, and the Modernist/Fundamentalist dispute seems prevalent among young Evangelicals, says Dean Curry of Messiah College. He is concerned.

We are all always subject to being "...tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine..." We are also all influenced by the spirit of the age - and tolerance for other opinions, often meaning not caring - is very much a part of that spirit in our age. It is, in fact, vitally important to understand how doctrine came to be, and why the lines were drawn where they were. There may well be disputes that no longer matter - but it is impossible to know unless the reasons those disputes occurred are also known. As the founder of Faber College wisely observed, "Knowledge is Good."

In the October First Things, in an article titled "Evangelical Amnesia," [not online] Curry writes:
.... Without theological moorings, young evangelicals are without a spiritual rudder and thus at the mercy of the prevailing winds of personal feeling and the cultural zeitgeist. Indeed, as young evangelicals have drifted from denominational and theological moorings, it is no wonder that many have found haven in postmodern categories of the "emerging church" movement that, in the words of one of its enthusiasts, encourages "a new way of doing church and being the church, one that resonates not only with ... the first fully postmodern generation."

This new way of doing church finds its focus in the postmodern holy grails of tolerance, diversity, generosity, openness, inclusion, antidogmatism, and subjectivity. Traditionally understood, Christian theology is about drawing lines between truth and error. Postmodern Christian theology, however, is suspicious of line-drawing, emphasizing instead epistemological skepticism and relational integrity.

To be sure, the mosaic of contemporary American evangelicalism defies easy generalization. The research of Smith and others suggests that American young people remain religious and that predictions of the total secularization of American youth culture are premature. Nevertheless, the fading light of theological literacy among younger American evangelicals raises questions about American evangelicalism's century-long role as the bearer of Christian orthodoxy among American Protestants. Without a clear Christology and understanding of the Church, biblical authority, common grace, and soteriology, it is no wonder that young evangelicals are increasingly unable to articulate and defend the historic Christian worldview and are drawn instead to postmodern ways of thinking.

The damage done here is not only to theological fidelity but also to Christian apologetics. To a generation for whom being tolerant and tolerable is the sine qua non of social etiquette, there is little motivation to defend robustly a distinctive Christian theology. Pressing, as it does, absolute truth claims, traditional Christian apologetics is bound to offend the embracing postmodern sensibilities of open-ended theological hospitality.

It should not be surprising that the faith commitment of these young evangelicals is so shallow. ....
First Things, October, 2007, pp. 15-17

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