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Millennials, Sit Down and Shut Up

Ho hum, another day, another preachy, arrogant, self-important op-ed, from a millennial telling churches how to avoid scaring off the sensitive snowflakes born around the turn of the century.

Up front I admit that I agree with her about "love on" (a hideous phrase) and even to some extent about "God will never give you more than you can handle." But as for the other three, if she doesn't like them, she needs to get over it. And most of all, get over herself.

In particular, she has a heck of a lot of gall, which simply makes her look childish, when discussing the phrase "The Bible clearly says..." That's supposed to be a no-no? Here's young Addie, telling us why:

We are the first generation to grow up in the age of information technology, and we have at our fingertips hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. We can engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s impossible not to see the way that their doctrines – rooted in the same Bible – differ and clash.

We’re acutely aware of the Bible’s intricacies. We know the Bible is clear about some things– but also that much is not clear. We know the words are weighted to a culture that we don’t completely understand and that the scholars will never all agree.

We want to hear our pastors approach these words with humility and reverence. Saying, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong,” does infinitely more to secure our trust than The Bible clearly says…

The fog of pride and self-promotion here really leaves one gasping for air. Let me get this straight, Addie: Because you have access to Bible commentaries on the Internet and can read "Biblical scholars" tweeting their little hearts out on Twitter, maybe even ask them some questions by way of your own tweets, pastors shouldn't say, "The Bible clearly says." Where does one begin? How about with the fact that there are a lot of things, probably including things that many millennials don't like, that the Bible does clearly say? We should also point out that relativism tinged with self-centeredness is the curse of too many millennials and that they need to apply a little of that vaunted humility to get over it and to admit that the Bible judges them rather than vice versa. We could continue with the fact that St. Paul's injunction to Timothy to "preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" doesn't really sound much at all like "This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong." Dare I say, "The Bible clearly says" that pastors are to teach doctrine boldly and to reprove false teachers rather than acting like limp-wristed wimps, even though the latter is the hipster-approved pastoral style.

Then there's this bit. Addie tells pastors not to use "Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as 'Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding'" and explains the prohibition thus:

Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist. Those of us who follow the Christian faith know that [the] world around us feels truer than the invisible God who holds it together.

Terms like backsliding that try to pinpoint the success (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of our faith, frustrate us. We don’t want to hustle to prove our faith; we don’t want to pretend. We want to be accepted, not analyzed.

What point exactly is supposed to be supported by the semi-coherent statement that "the world around us feels truer than the invisible God who holds it together"? It seems that the point is supposed to be that millennials are creatures of emotion, that God doesn't feel very real to them, and that therefore we need to be careful constantly to assure them that we, like, totally accept them the way they are, man, rather than talking about such exclusionary concepts as believers and unbelievers.

Now, who was it who told that parable about the sheep and the goats? Oh, that's right, it was the all-loving Jesus. Oh, well, so much for not talking about "who's in and who's out." C. S. Lewis once remarked, I seem to recall, that the most terrifying things about hell were said by Jesus, not Paul.

Implicit in all of this "What you need to say to woo us" talk and its joyous acceptance in the mainstream media is the idea that truth doesn't matter all that much. Politics comes to church. Actually, this attitude is also fatal in politics. It creates a kind of abuser situation in which the MSM and other concern trolls keep telling conservative (or even just Republican) politicians that they still aren't doing enough or the right things to be loved and trusted (notice Addie is big on getting the millennials to trust you) by the masses, that whatever bad things happen to them are their own fault for not trying hard enough, and that they need to try harder to do what the media wants them to do. Whether conservative criticisms of left-wing policies are accurate or not is thus set aside by means of what really amounts to a postmodern appeal to how people feel. The fact that the media will always make sure that many people feel that the Republicans haven't moved far enough left, will always make sure that the merits or demerits of liberal policies are not fairly discussed, is conveniently left out of account, because perception, not truth, is all that matters. This makes the analogy to the abused wife complete, because an abuser will always blame his victim, tell his victim to try harder, and then abuse again regardless.

Leaders too often accept this kind of abuse, whether in the political or in the religious realm, because they are too sincere and too naive in wanting to help by winning hearts and minds. Therefore, they keep hoping that if they just cook the dinner better next time they won't get a beating. It's a mug's game, and I suggest that both pastors and politicians stop playing it.

Tell Addie and her friends to sit down, shut up, and try to pay attention to distinguishing truth from falsehood instead of asking everyone else to cater to their feelings. You never know. Maybe a few of them will do so and, in consequence, will actually admit a gleam of light into their sophomoric darkness.

Comments (18)

It doesn't help my generation that the focus of many pastors is just "loving Jesus" and grace. Catholics seem to be about as bad for this as Protestants now. On the Catholic side, you have the cult of the poor which overemphasizes the Works of Mercy and on the Protestant side you have the heresy that Jesus set aside the divine law by fulfilling the Old Testament Law. Both of these lead inexorably to a point where doctrine doesn't matter, something at least resembling the deposit of faith from our forefathers is just so much baggage and ultimately to moral relativism.

I've sat in churches that so overdo the "sin is sin, is sin" idea to the point where most of the congregation believes a mundane liar is as separated from God as someone who is an unrepentant murderer of at least one individual. (Please, don't bring up edge cases here... I'm referring to lies that don't even reach the level of mortal sin).

*Sigh* This is why when asked what denomination I am by evangelicals I usually say "reformed Catholic" because this crap has pushed me much closer to Catholicism than any other group I know at this point.

Take it easy, Grandma. Should I bring you your heart medication?

We want to be accepted, not analyzed.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Or, as my pastor has said in invitation to all: "Come as you are...change when you get here."

The "we want" is irrelevant, the question should be "what does God want". If God wants us to repent, then we had better ask "repent of what?" Which requires investigation and inspection.

Take it easy, Grandma. Should I bring you your heart medication?
I would call you something, but this is a family friendly site...

Whenever I begin to read something in which the author claims to be speaking for "my generation" I can be sure that the result will be quite obnoxious.

How do I get a waiver so that I don't have to be considered a "millennial"?

It's okay, Joshua, there are plenty of great people born in that generation! So my title is directed only at the obnoxious ones.

Mike T., I definitely agree that the idea that "all sins are equal" is a part of the problem of the wimpifying of the church. I don't know if I'd use the language of being "more separated from God" by this sin or that, but the interesting thing is that Scripture definitely treats sins unequally, and not only in the Old Testament. Jesus definitely did at more than one point in his teaching.

But I suppose part of the problem is that if everything is about "what we want" then maybe "we" don't "want" to know what Jesus taught either.

Lydia, you nailed it when you referred to the piece as "self-important." The entire thing is suffused with the assumption that it is Christianity, and the Christian Church, that needs the millennials, not the other way round. It is written in pretty much the same way one would write an open letter to a political party--"Here's what you need to do to buy my support, and if you know what's good for you, you'll listen." It reveals a stunted view of the whole purpose of religion in general, which is not to present a view of the world to young people that affirms their feelings.

Maybe the worst thing about it is this arrogant brushing off of the idea that they have anything of real substance left to learn about the Christian faith, and that all that remains is to put things to them in a way that they find flattering. Access to limitless amounts of information, we are to understand, is basically as good as having read and thought seriously about that information. The conceit that the growing up in the information age has produced a generation that actually possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge is refuted by common experience and, come to think of it, op-eds like this one.

The author's posture--and, it has to be said, that of many of the people she represents--is not one of true "seeking," as they often like to call it, as that would imply a humble approach to the relevant questions and an eagerness to learn from others. She offers not even a head-fake in that direction, and seems oblivious even for the need to do so, secure in a hazy bubble of certitude that what really matters in matters of Christian faith is that the church enrich itself by enlisting her and her friends to its number.

I think this piece's subtext is that the author is not a right-winger and is bemoaning the association of evangelicalism with the advancing of a right-wing agenda.

So assumptions, but before I go on I just want to highlight this:

Here is what I can tell you about millennials: We grew up on easy answers, catchphrases and cliché, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things are almost always more complicated than that.

Has anyone ever said something like "We grew up on difficult answers and complicated explanations, and if we've learned anything, it's that things are almost always more straightforward than that."?

Anyways, when she objects to "The Bible clearly says..." I think she's really objecting to "The Bible clearly says [insert culture war thing or right-wing agenda]" I doubt she's objecting to e.g. "The Bible clearly says that we should have concern for the poor".

Same with drawing boundaries. She isn't objecting to drawing boundaries per se, but rather drawing them in line with culture war or political boundaries, such that Democrats or progressives aren't "real" Christians.

The other three don't seem to have anything to do with this, so maybe I'm just projecting.

How do I get a waiver so that I don't have to be considered a "millennial"?

You can be like me, born in 1982. Am I a Millenial, or a Gen X? No one seems to know. Maybe it's like Hispanic; you're a Millenial if you say you are.

I'm sure you are quite right on the right-left thing, Matt. But in that case she should ask herself whether she's wrong about that, too. What if the Bible _does_ clearly teach something that impinges upon a "culture war thing or right-wing agenda" and that seems to favor the so-called "right-wing" side of that issue? Surely that isn't a priori impossible. And if so, she should be more concerned, as a Christian, about what the Bible clearly teaches than about feeling comfortable while being to the left on that issue.

This is what I often refer to as "second-order Pharisaism". A first order Pharisee adopts a harshly judgmental attitude on points of doctrinal error or moral failure. The second-order Pharisee adopts a harshly judgmental attitude, not over points of doctrine or morals, but over the fact that other Christians care enough about doctrine and morals to draw distinctions between true and false or right and wrong. The end result is the same kind of priggishness and intolerance exhibiting by the traditional Pharisee, but to a different end. The first order Pharisee castigates and demeans someone to an unnecessary degree for, say, fornicating. The second order Pharisee castigates and demeans someone to an unnecessary degree not because they sin, but for pointing out that fornication is a sin. The main difference is that conforming to the demand of the traditional Pharisee can lead to repentance, while conforming to the demands of the second-order Pharisee will lead you to straight to perdition.

This comment is rather long, so you will not hurt my feelings by not publishing it. But I find Chesterton's piece below, published in his book _The Thing_ in 1929 (!) to be pitch perfect.

THE USUAL ARTICLE

THE Editor of an evening paper published recently what he
announced as, and even apologized for as "an unusual article."
He anxiously guarded himself from expressing any opinion on the
dreadful and dangerous views which the unusual article set forth.
Needless to say, before I had read five lines of the unusual article,
I knew it was a satisfactory sample of the usual article.
It was even a careful and correct copy of the usual article;
a sort of prize specimen, as if a thing could be unusually usual.
I had read the article before, of course--thousands and thousands
of times (as it seems to me)--and had always found it the same;
but never before, somehow, had it seemed so exactly the same.

There are things of which the world to-day is subconsciously very weary.
It does not always know what they are; for they commonly bear
large though faded labels, describing them as the New Movement or
the Latest Discovery. For instance, men are already as tired of the
Socialist State as if they had been living in it for a thousand years.
But there are some things on which boredom is becoming acute.
It is now very near the surface; and may suddenly wake up in the form
of suicide or murder or tearing newspapers with the teeth.
So it is with this familiar product, the Usual Article. It is not only
too usual; it has become intolerably, insupportably, unbearably usual.
It is appropriately described as "A Woman's Cry to the Churches."
And I beg to announce that, though I am of a heavy and placid habit,
and have never been accused of any such feminine graces as hysteria,
yet, if I have to read this article three more times, I shall scream.
My scream will be entitled, "A Man's Cry to the Newspapers."

I will repeat somewhat hurriedly what the lady in question cried;
for the reader knows it already by heart. The message of Christ
was perfectly "simple": that the cure of everything is Love;
but since He was killed (I do not quite know why) for making
this remark, great temples have been put up to Him and horrid
people called priests have given the world nothing but "stones,
amulets, formulas, shibboleths." They also "quarrel eternally among
themselves as to the placing of a button or the bending of a knee."
All this gives no comfort to the unhappy Christian, who apparently wishes
to be comforted only by being told that he has a duty to his neighbour.
"How many men in the time of their passing get comfort out of the thought
of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Predestination, Transubstantiation,
the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the belief that Christ will
return on the Seventh Day?" The items make a curious catalogue;
and the last item I find especially mysterious. But I can only say that,
if Christ was the giver of the original and really comforting message
of love, I should have thought it DID make a difference whether He
returned on the Seventh Day. For the rest of that singular list,
I should probably find it necessary to distinguish. I certainly
never gained any deep and heartfelt consolation from the thought
of the Thirty-Nine Articles. I never heard of anybody in particular
who did. Of the idea of Predestination there are broadly two views;
the Calvinist and the Catholic; and it would make a most uncommon
difference to MY comfort, if I held the former instead of the latter.
It is the difference between believing that God knows, as a fact,
that I choose to go to the devil; and believing that God has
given me to the devil, without my having any choice at all.
As to Transubstantiation, it is less easy to talk currently about that;
but I would gently suggest that, to most ordinary outsiders with any
common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference
between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming
into the room.

But I touch rapidly and reluctantly on these examples, because they
exemplify a much wider question of this interminable way of talking.
It consists of talking as if the moral problem of man were
perfectly simple, as everyone knows it is not; and then depreciating
attempts to solve it by quoting long technical words, and talking
about senseless ceremonies without enquiring about their sense.
In other words, it is exactly as if somebody were to say about
the science of medicine: "All I ask is Health; what could be simpler
than the beautiful gift of Health? Why not be content to enjoy
for ever the glow of youth and the fresh enjoyment of being fit?
Why study dry and dismal sciences of anatomy and physiology;
why enquire about the whereabouts of obscure organs of the human body?
Why pedantically distinguish between what is labelled a poison
and what is labelled an antidote, when it is so simple to
enjoy Health? Why worry with a minute exactitude about the number
of drops of laudanum or the strength of a dose of chloral, when it
is so nice to be healthy? Away with your priestly apparatus of
stethoscopes and clinical thermometers; with your ritualistic mummery
of feeling pulses, putting out tongues, examining teeth, and the rest!
The god Esculapius came on earth solely to inform us that Life
is on the whole preferable to Death; and this thought will console
many dying persons unattended by doctors."

In other words, the Usual Article, which is now some ten thousand
issues old, was always stuff and nonsense even when it was new.
There may be, and there has been, pedantry in the medical profession.
There may be, and there has been, theology that was thin or dry or
without consolation for men. But to talk as if it were possible for any
science to attack any problem, without developing a technical language,
and a method always methodical and often minute, merely means that
you are a fool and have never really attacked a problem at all.
Quite apart from the theory of a Church, if Christ had remained
on earth for an indefinite time, trying to induce men to love
one another, He would have found it necessary to have some tests,
some methods, some way of dividing true love from false love,
some way of distinguishing between tendencies that would ruin
love and tendencies that would restore it. You cannot make
a success of anything, even loving, entirely without thinking.
All this is so obvious that it would seem unnecessary to repeat it;
and yet it is necessary to repeat it, because it is the flat
contradiction of it that is now incessantly repeated. Its flatness
stretches around us like a vast wilderness on every side.

It is a character of the Usual Article that it alludes occasionally
to the New Religion; but always in a rather timid and remote fashion.
It suggests that there will be a better and broader belief;
though it seldom touches on the belief, but only on the broadness.
There is never in it by any chance anything resembling even
the note of the true innovator. For the true innovator must be
in some sense a legislator. We may put it in a hostile fashion,
by saying that the revolutionist always becomes the tyrant.
We may put it in a friendly fashion, by saying that the reformer must
return to the idea of form. But anybody really founding a new religion,
even a false religion, must have a certain quality of responsibility.
He must make himself responsible for saying that some things shall
be forbidden and some permitted; that there shall be a certain
plan or system that must be defended from destruction. And all
the things in any way resembling new religions, to do them justice,
do show this quality and suffer this disadvantage. Christian Science
is theoretically based on peace and almost on the denial of struggle.
But for all that there has been not a little struggle in the councils
of that creed; and the relations of all the successors of Mrs. Eddy
have by no means been relations of peace. I do not say it as a taunt,
but rather as a tribute; I should say that these proceedings did
prove that the people involved were trying to found a real religion.
It is a compliment to Christian Scientists to say that they also had
their tests and their creeds, their anathemas and their excommunications,
their encyclicals and their heresy-hunts. But it is a compliment
to Christian Scientists which they can hardly use as an insult
to Christians. Communism, even in its final form of Marxian materialism,
had some of the qualities of a fresh and sincere faith. It had one of
them at least; that it did definitely expel men for denying the creed.
Both the Communist and the Christian Scientist were under this
grave disadvantage; that they did turn a faith into a fact.
There is such a thing as a Bolshevist government and it governs, even if
it misgoverns. There are such things as Christian Science healers;
there probably is such a thing as Christian Science healing,
even if we do not fully admit that the healing is health.
There is a Church in active operation; and for that reason it exhibits
all the dogmas and differences charged against the Church of Christ.
But the philosophy expressed in the Usual Article avoids all these
disadvantages by never coming into the world of reality at all.
Its god is afraid to be born; its scripture is afraid to be written;
it only manages to remain as the New Religion by always coming
to-morrow and never to-day. It puffs itself out with spiritual pride,
because it does not impose what it cannot even invent. It shines
with Pharisaical self-satisfaction, because there are no crimes
committed for its creed and no creed to be the motive of its crimes.
This sort of critic is a surgeon who never performs an unsuccessful
operation because he never operates; a soldier who never falls because
he never fights. Anybody can talk for ever about a non-existent
religion which shall be free from all the evils of existence.
Anybody can dream of that entirely humane and harmonious Christianity,
whose Christ is never born and never crucified. It is so easy to do,
that half a hundred people in the papers and the public discussions
have been doing nothing else for the last twenty or thirty years.
But it is every bit as futile as applied to a spiritual ideal as it
would be if applied to a scientific theory or a political programme;
and I only mention it because I have just heard it for the hundredth time;
and feel a faint hope that I may be mentioning it for the last time.

Thanks, RC, that's actually very apropos. It almost looks as though GKC had met (some of) the millenials long before the millenium.

Untenured, spot-on. This in particular I could not have bettered:

The main difference is that conforming to the demand of the traditional Pharisee can lead to repentance, while conforming to the demands of the second-order Pharisee will lead you to straight to perdition.

What did St. Paul say? The Law was our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ. The anti-law of the antinomians will bring us to the Devil.

We are the first generation to grow up in the age of information technology, and we have at our fingertips hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. We can engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s impossible not to see the way that their doctrines – rooted in the same Bible – differ and clash.

How obnoxious. As if anything but the most fractional sliver of that generation has actually bothered to read those 'hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas and books', or 'engaged with Biblical scholars' anywhere. Much less on Twitter - you know, the place where you don't even get 200 characters to express yourself with?

This is the generation that confuses having in-principle access to a wealth of information with actually having read it. This is the generation where, if you ask them a question and they are - miracle of miracles - unable to get online, you're going to watch them disintegrate intellectually before your eyes, because most of them haven't learned to do much more than parrot quotes and claims they haven't grasped, and which half the time are incorrect anyway because they can't tell a reliable source from an unreliable one.

Terms like backsliding that try to pinpoint the success (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of our faith, frustrate us. We don’t want to hustle to prove our faith; we don’t want to pretend. We want to be accepted, not analyzed.

Get lost, you milleanials who have this attitude. We're not under the gun to accept you, and until you realize that your feeling accepted isn't important enough for other people to sacrifice their standards and beliefs, you're going to find you're not welcome anywhere - save for by those people who know a sucker when they see one, and know that the people who are obsessed with 'being accepted' make great tools.

Well said, Crude. The sentence, "We want to be accepted, not analyzed," is especially galling. It is another way of saying "We want to be accepted without being analyzed," which is another way of saying, "We want to be accepted uncritically," which is another way of saying, "We want our vices to go unmentioned in church." It's also a way of saying that millennials just hate it when other people have standards.

What's so crazy is that nobody would say the same about, say, Alcoholics Anonymous. The basic presupposition of Christianity is that human beings are deeply sick, cannot save themselves, and need Christ to do the saving--just as the basic presupposition of AA is that the alcoholic has a serious problem that he cannot, by himself, remedy. The basic presupposition of church is that it's the best place to go to gain knowledge of, and access to, that same Christ, just as the basic presupposition of AA is that the group is the best place to learn about staying sober.

This girl is like the drunk who rants that he doesn't go to AA to be "analyzed," and he's sick of hearing everybody talk about all this sobriety stuff. He has the internet if he wants to learn about that. And besides, lots of clinicians disagree about the nature and best treatment for alcoholism, and through the years there have been a lot of whacky treatments on offer, so who the hell do these people at AA think they are?

If you can't get past the part where you say, "Hello, my name is Sage and I'm an alcoholic"--what's the point of all this obsessing over my whiskey stash, anyway?--then you need to just give it up and come back when you're ready to admit you've got a serious problem and need help.

Parah Salin: "Take it easy, Grandma. Should I bring you your heart medication?"

Unfortunately, I think that's what many millenials might say in response to the correction and rebuke in Lydia's post.

I did stifle most of the chuckles that wanted to erupt.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often..

rachelle madrigal
www.imarksweb.org

Funny you should say that, Sage, as I have a friend who is exactly like that. He makes the millenial religious rant (despite being a boomer, like me) and is also a drunk who has elected to go the medical route of treatment because he doesn't buy all that A.A. stuff.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

Audrey
www.imarksweb.org

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