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GenX Fundamentalists With Postmodern Quirks

My concern with some of the talk among Christian GenXers is the obvious paranoia of definition and conclusion that might point the finger at another person and say, “You’re wrong.”

To disagree with the consensus of culture is blasphemous unless, of course, it is conspicuously evil and undeniably forbidden in the Scripture. No one will argue with what is actually written in black and white, but everything else is off limits. Thus, under the pretense of exalting the supreme authority of the Written Word, we have liberated ourselves from its authority by not subordinating our reasoning to its statements. Or worse, by disallowing reason altogether. Thus, young Christians begin to sound like the culture of our day that is so well defined by Jim Leffel: Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as “social constructs.” We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So we can’t have independent or autonomous access to reality. All of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture.

It frankly concerns me that every conversation on worldliness invariably turns to culture as if it is a trustworthy guide to help us navigate through the complexities of what is really a doctrinal/spiritual simplicity. This obsessive focus on culture by Christian GenXers corresponds with Leffel’s description of the Postmodern. Reality itself turns out to be a “social construct” or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call “metanarratives” (comprehensive world views), we find “local narratives,” or stories about reality that “work” for particular communities–but have no validity beyond that community.

In the discussion on grunge, I suggested a “metanarrative”. The reaction (not just blogged, but off the web) was disappointment that I would be so openly close-minded. But I agree with David Wells when he said, “The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself.”

Some of the reasoning I have seen has been typically postmodern. One young lady who is obviously a lover of God and truth (and I know that she or some of her friends might read this, so please be sure that I respect her) suggested that we need to define worldliness by what the world defines as bad. She smiles at Christians who get upset at CCM concerts. If they only knew what the world’s concerts were like they would discover that the CCM concerts were a breath of fresh air. The logic is as bad as the theology. Just because Exhibit A is worse than Exhibit B, doesn’t mean that Exhibit B is good. It only means that Exhibit B is not as bad. But the theology is what concerns me. The objective Word of God says that we are to be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). Are we supposed to be experts on what is the worst of society in order to speak authoritatively on what is good? Are we to withhold criticisms of what is bad because we are inexperienced in what is worse?

Instead of dreading the possibility that we are self-deceiving ourselves, all the bedazzled occupants of Vanity Fair, we boldly counter-challenge the challenger with cultural descriptions. Yet it is the opposite reaction that should be first in the Christian heart. Culture should be suspect. Even the seemingly most harmless aspects of it. Does it not stand to reason that the culture of totally depraved men (a Biblical doctrine) could be totally depraved? Or that our hearts could be deceived (a Biblical possibility) by the culture?

Read Anne’s thoughts on worldliness (comment #22 under “Jesus and Clothes”). Her thought process is very good, and I think I agree with her conclusions. But there is a danger that lurks even here. She said, “We can’t judge what a person is worshipping from these subjective elements of dress, music, etc; therefore, we cannot judge the spirituality of another believer based on shallow observations.” I agree. But allow me to be nit-picky. While it is true that we can’t judge, it is not true that we can’t discern. And herein lie four problems I notice when GenXers talk about any issue. The first three are borrowed from John D. Hannah in The Coming Evangelical Crisis.

1. The “penchant to systematize and organize information which on the surface appears commendable. The problem is this: It often leads to distortions of the complexity of the problem through both simplicity and naïveté.

2. Cultural pluralism which pressures us to be “tolerant, nonconfrontive, and concessive.”

3. Privatization. This reduces the reality of truth to the private sphere and suggests that “individual well-being and pleasure are the key elements in spiritual maturity.” Thus, statements like, “I don’t want to worry about what I wear when I go to church,” though impressive to the GenXer may be (notice I said may) spiritual immaturity rather than maturity.

4. Subjectivism. Our subjectivity is never reliable until we are grounded in objective truth. I am often involved in conversations –and more recently blogged – about issues with young adults. I have noticed that when I interject a verse or Biblical axiom, it is either ignored or I am regarded as hopelessly “fundamentalist.” One very interesting conversation (here I go again!) contained a “vision” for the future of Christians and MTV, dreaming of the day when Christians would penetrate/permeate the MTV culture. No Bible verses, just a dream. I had a whole bunch of things I wanted to say about that, but I simply put up one comment quoting the King as saying, “Woe are you if all men speak well of you”. A Bible verse. Now, I am fully aware of the fact that my interpretation of the verse can be challenged and that there might be other verses to support the vision of my unknown friend, but my point is simply this: If we are to have an impact on society we have got to start reasoning biblically. Even when we are just theorizing and philosophizing.

Now just a few comments on subjectivity. Obviously, we cannot eliminate subjectivity from our decision making process about what is right or wrong. So we need to understand it a little bit. Subjectivity is inextricably bound up in affections. Affections are dependant upon knowledge.(You cannot really love a person if you do not know him). It follows that if the more you know, the more you love. The more you love, the more subjectivity loses its individuality and becomes like the object of its affections. When we were buried with Christ we died to the necessity of binding rules. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col.2:20-21)? But that is only half the story!

In Christ there is never death without resurrection. So follows Col. 3:1. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above….Set your mind (KJV affections) on things above, not on earthly things.” Clearly, the miracle of salvation means a radical change of affections/mind that is rooted in the knowledge of Christ (Jn. 17:3). Consequently, the more one loves God, the more he/she feels like an alien in this world, the more his/her subjectivity conforms to Christ, and the more he/she suspects human culture.

“Come now, let us reason together.”


7 Responses

  1. These are just thoughts and analysis from myself, meaning they are not necessarily objective and they are pretty much based only upon my experiences (I am, after all, a GenX Fundie, so how on earth can I be dogmatic about anything– except the validity of my own experiences? :o)

    In some regards, especially where my standards are concerned, I consider myself a product of (or a reaction to) the previous generation of Funds. I now really loathe Christians picking on each other, and that seems to be what a lot of those Funds did back then (maybe still do now)– they fought about everything, took firm, dogmatic stances on everything, whether it was ecumenicalism or the color of women’s hose (my father recalls that a prominent fundamentalist used to preach against skin-colored pantyhose on women. Excuse the example, but just to show how ludicrous it can get . . . )

    I’ve heard violent messages preached against all shades and forms of CCM. And there was a time when I believed these people were correct. I believed God Himself believed and spoke what they preached.

    But now, I don’t think so. It really doesn’t have printed in It those 5 points of why a drum beat is the road to hell. And I meet people who, in their hearts, can (gasp!) truly worship God with various forms of CCM–and I personally know that these people have close relationships with God.

    Perhaps this is where our value of experience over “objective” truth developed from– because what we were told was “objective” really wasn’t, as experience proved. (Read that sentence several times for emphasis.) Also, and I say this cautiously, you get a little wary of “truth” when it’s used (and I mean that in the lowest sense of the word) to make the point that a given preacher wants to make. We have become skeptical of absolutes, it’s true, though perhaps for understandable reasons.

    Now, I know that Mormonism is wrong. I will be dogmatic about that. I have studied this cult, and there are objective, clear, written Biblical proofs that this system is diametrically opposed to FUNDAMENTAL Biblical truths. So it’s not that I, as a GenX Fundie, will not be dogmatic. It’s more that I am very careful about what I am dogmatic about.

    It’s also true that GenX Fundies are growing up in a much more global world. We have internet, frequent contact with missionaries, friends overseas, short-term mission trips, etc.

    International examples of what influences my thinking: here in my country of residence, the believers have a cow if you want to drink communinion from separate, little cups– because in the GREEK, the word for CUP is SINGULAR, so we MUST use one, big cup (or three big cups, depending on the size of the crowd– go figure that one out). Or– if you want to use grape juice instead of wine– NO! the Bible actually says WINE! These are huge deals to them. But to me, the idea that these things might be sin is absolutely ridiculous. (Maybe I’m not a “fundamentalist” here 🙂

    But this adaptive thinking transfers to my home culture: So who cares if they want to do that or if such-and-such is important for those people.

    Oh, and doing deputation. Every church (in America) has its own standards of what is right and wrong. . . you just roll with the tide. Drums, guitars, synthesizers, Christian ‘dance,’ . . . whatever. The thing is– very often I get the sense that those people are truly worshipping God. I was almost in tears sometimes at the simplicity of some of the worship that I experienced among these places, with those non-conventional (to me) means. (Oh, and most of them consider themselves conservative fundamentalists, of course.)

    So maybe it’s not entirely valid to fault GenXer’s for undogmatism. Just put it in a particular, specific context first, then, if we’re not dogmatic about Mormon doctrine being anti-Biblical or fornication being sin– you can pound the gavel. But even from your own experiences, you can see why GenX Fundies are a little nervous about being dogmatic (don’t forget the nude-colored hose, drums, and large communion cup).

    You know, on a personal note, when I was really “strict” in my standards, I think I judged everyone by my own ruler. When God losened that up, got rid of a lot of my “dogmatism,” I find myself becoming less self-righteous, less judgmental (in superficial things), and more quick to love and be convicted of non-loving thoughts and attitudes, more open to the Spirit’s promptings. You know, I still wear dresses most of the time. I don’t pierce my nose, listen to heavy metal, wear tatoos or anything (though I do love vegatarianism, solar housing, and other “new age” ides). So anyway . . . I won’t be dogmatic about this or anything, I just wanted to magnify my experiences over the “objective” truth (tongue in cheek).

    I think constructive perspective is to look at where we’ve come from, where we are now, and to see how to use the strengths of GenX Fundies mindset. There’s a lot of potential here because of our doubts, skepticism, or whatever it is. Then, the weaknesses will most likely correct themselves along the way, as we “experience” things 🙂

  2. I agree with what Anne just wrote. Much of our generation’s trouble (perceived and real) is due to our reaction against errors of past generations. Just this weekend I was talking with a small group about how I think many of our churches (“many” being relative to my experience of course 😉 ) appear to have forgotten about Jesus. We preach behavioral modification as a means of salvation. Of course, it isn’t that blatant, but that seems to be the underlying concept and is almost certainly the result. I know that when I’m in services state-side, I often long to hear about Jesus himself but rarely get more than a passing comment. Just tell me about him, show me who he is and what he’s really like. Let me learn from his life/death/resurrection how to live myself. Better yet, show him to me so clearly that I forget myself.

    (I do not mean to minimize repentance and condemnation of sin. I thoroughly believe that all Scripture can be tied directly into Jesus and who he is. I also believe that if you show me Jesus clearly, I WILL be convicted and changed by the work of the Spirit.)

    Also, I think there’s a basic misunderstanding and would like to make a clarification on the GenX concept of “culture.” When reading, one needs to put himself into the mindset and historical setting of the author (as much as is possible) to understand the importance of and reasons for what he is saying. If we read books simply from our own vantage without taking into account the vantage of the author, it’s easy to discount what he has said as outdated, outlandish or simply foolish.

    When I speak of current cultural concepts, I’m attempting to do the same thing: see the situation from the other person or group’s viewpoint. Taking the “grunge” example: as an outsider, I lump it in with either rebellion or young-person foolishness and fadding. But within the context of Seattle (where “grunge” is supposed to have originated), it really does make sense and is normal. It isn’t an attempt to be rebellious. So from my outside perspective, I think of grunge negatively. But by trying to take an inside perspective, I can avoid condemning something that is truly neutral or even positive. When outside the Seattle area, I can pretty safely say that kids are being rebellious or just plain dumb/immature. But if I’m dealing with someone in Seattle, I know to treat the issue differently–I know that it isn’t an “issue” at all.

    Does this cultural contextualization always work? No. No one can see another’s heart. We can’t even comprehend or trust our own heart/motives.

    Should we at least try to understand where the other people are coming from? Yes. That gives us a greater appreciation for that person/group’s background and allows better opportunities to engage them spiritually. I can avoid the superficial and neutral and try to deal with the individual. (Which reminds me: postmodernism isn’t an emphasis on society at large as much as it’s an over-emphasis on the individual. In many ways, postmodernism is individualism gone amok–individualism masked as broader culture.)

    As for Culture at large, I don’t think any of us mean to be arguing for an open acceptance of fads or concepts of rebellion/the anti-God world system. We do strongly emphasize sub-cultural characteristics and viewpoints for the reason noted above, but I should hope that we aren’t arguing for blatant sin.

    However, you are correct in noting that it’s difficult for us to make (or maybe just to pin us down to) lists of sins apart from those given in the Bible. Fornication? Bad. Homosexuality? Bad. Rebellion? Bad. Durnkenness? Bad. Gluttony? Bad. Pants on women? Who cares. Drums in church? Take it or leave it. Forms of rebellion? “Well, now you’re asking for opinions on specifics and we’d like to understand the particular subcultural viewpoint of your area before making a statement. Within certain regional or even individual town or church community viewpoints–sometimes even subviewpoints within an apparently unified organizational front, pants on women and drums in church could indeed be forms of rebellion and should be avoided. However, determining whether or not the pants or drums should be labeled as ‘sin’ will be decidedly more difficult as the Bible actually says . . .” 😉

    As Anne said, younger believers don’t like making quick dogmatic judgements, largely because we’ve seen the results of opinion-as-Gospel. When truth and lie have been intertwined for your whole life, it takes time and experience to unlearn the bad and rebuild trust. It will take even more time for us to relearn the good that past generations have to offer us. Please be patient with us. Because of our past, dogmatism (real or perceived) immediately associates itself with error in our minds and is distrusted until it proves itself (if it’s even given the chance to prove itself, which it may not be! That is a definite fault for us). A willingness to listen to other viewpoints without making fast (yes, I intend both definitions) public judgements/condemnations will go a long way with us–graciously working around our admitted fault in the process–and will actually help the listener in truly discerning the good and bad, accuracy and error.

    If Jesus is really our goal and guide, he’ll bring us around. And he’ll work amazing amounts of good in the process.

  3. Correction to the last sentence in the second to the last paragraph in my statement above: I meant “A willingness to listen to other viewpoints BEFORE making . . . judgements” not “without.” Sorry about that–highly different meanings there!

  4. This discussion has started opening up some seminal (to me) thoughts about my/our (genX fundie) views.

    People sometimes criticize our era/generation for relativism and subjectivity.

    That critical reaction may be understandable, but focusing on it only negatively short-changes us to understanding the truth.

    As much as we might feel insecure and lack the faith (myself included) to say this: Some things ARE relative; some things ARE subjective. And it’s not bad, wrong, or sin that they are. And maybe more things are subjective and relative than we are comfortable admiting, more than the previous generations allowed.

    On one side, that’s hard to deal with, because (I’ll use myself as an example here) I feel safe being able to dictate for everyone else everything (that’s important to me). I want people to be “spiritual” how I am spiritual– to be like God has convicted me to be. I don’t want standards to be subjective. But in many ways, they ARE.

    Now, this is very important. I want to stop a minute and talk about that word “standards.” When we use this word in our fundamentalism, we mean dress, music, art, etc. OK, this is one GREAT, FANTASIC, WONDERFUL change that can be gleaned from/for GenXers. What if our “standards” become love, modesty, trust, joy, honesty, peace, devotion to God, not worshipping idods, mutual submission, humility, hope, contentment, etc. Those are great standards!

    The shame is that many/most of us who are rethinking Fundamentalism are just casting off any appearance of having “standards,” as in the first usage of the word. We walk away from the standards of dress, etc, and walk away from God (or that god we thought was god–who “declared” all those standards). And we don’t move on to the second definition.

    But here’s the thing: “standards,” by the second definition, are truly NOT relative, NOT subjective, NOT changing. The expressions of them may change, but those spiritual values are the “real thing;” they are stable. They (not long skirts, no-makeup, no-drums) THEY are Christ, our Savior from sin.

    “Sir, we would see Jesus!”

    That’s the heart cry of many GenX Fundies, whether they can define it or not.

  5. I don’t think I understand how we can define “worldliness” apart from our culture. I understand holiness is black and white to God, and I’m sure worldliness is too, but it’s not to me, and I haven’t found a way to identify what it is apart from applying biblical principles to my current context.
    So my question is, how do we determine what is worldly from the Bible without looking at culture? Maybe that’s not what you were saying, but any help you could give would be appreciated.
    And is worldliness an absolute? Or does it change?

    (i know you’re moving now, but if you could ever get to this I’d appreciate it, even if you just send some thoughts over email.)

  6. If you don’t mind my inserting something here, I was thinking about that same topic earlier– the definition of worldliness.

    I think this is one of the great shifts between the previous generation of Fundamentalists and the GenX Fundamentalists.

    In Fundamentalism, we were defining worldliness as certain clothing styles, certain types of music, certain hairstyles, etc.

    What I have noticed happening among some of this generation of Fundamentalists (and what the Christians-in-MTV lady was using as her foundation, whether she knows it or not), is that worldliness is a matter of what’s in the heart. Like hate and selfishness is worldly and love is godly; immorality is worldly while faithfulness/morality/modesty is godly. And what you wear, listen to, etc. isn’t what we examine or worry about so much.

    I’m not sure what I think about this yet, personally– what God considers worldliness– if it’s strictly what’s in our heart– like a person can listen to CCM (that “worldly” style of music) but have a pure heart worshiping the Lord. Is that OK to apply to other issues, too? The thing is, I know people who do this, and they are some of the most vital Christians I know. So that leans me towards thinking that external standards don’t define worldliness.

    We all know, too, that if we’re pursuing being like the world– its fashions and trends– if we’re setting our hearts after the world, that is wrong. It’s idolatry. But whether we can so definitively say for large groups of people that a certain thing or style is “worldly”– that’s debateable.

    I’m not sure I’m writing this coherently. But it was something I was ruminating over, too.

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