Recently I was talking with a great friend of mine about the incredibly obvious barriers between older generations and the youth. My friend is a youth pastor who stands in the gap between these two distinct worlds. As our discussion developed, we ended up pondering the significance and importance of the fundamentalist movement. Much has been said to attack the movement for all of its short comings from the perspective of young evangelicals, while those who were a part of the movement defend it and consider our present society’s faults a result of forsaking conservative values. One thing is certainly clear, the times have changed.
But what has primarily caused the times to change? There are far too many factors to comprehend all of the variables which have played into the cultural shift, but there are some obvious culprits that are easily pointed out.
The main thrust of the fundamentalist movement was to bring orthodoxy back into the Churches and establish the basic standards for faith and practice. Though the movement was nation wide and the attempt was to develop universal standards, there were still a great deal of differences among regions. Those in the South considered ‘mixed bathing’ inappropriate, while those in the North had no clue what the South was referring to. (It simply means guys and girls swimming together). Those in the South took no issue with tobacco, while those in the North considered it a sin. It seems the North and South have always disagreed on certain standards. The question is, were these regions right to make these standards of spirituality. Yes and no.
In some ways, it was inappropriate for the fundamentalist movement to put standards on things that didn’t pertain to spirituality. There needed to be a division between what was sin, what was foolish, and what was culturally unacceptable. Women wearing pants would have been both foolish and culturally unacceptable at different points in history, but it has never been a sin. Today in society, no thought is ever given to the issue of women’s rights to wear pants. Therefore, it is not something the Church ought to be focused on, nor is it a standard that must be upheld. But that wasn’t always the case.
If we understand what was taking place in history alongside of the fundamentalist movement, it will help us to shed some light on the culture of that time. The movement began during the height of the Industrial Age, which brought great wealth and power to the United States. During this critical time in history there was far less global communication. As a result there was a strong spirit of national pride, involvement in local communities, and an emphasis on the family. During that time there were localized sub-cultures which had profound impacts on their region.
The Industrial Age was quickly replaced by the Information Age (a.k.a. the Digital Age) which had a tremendous effect on culture. While, in that day, it would take a book several years to circulate before a rebuttal was written, now, before the first book is even published, authors have already written the first draft of their response. With Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. the world has become much smaller at a rapid rate. National pride diminished as Americans watched news reels of what was taking place in Vietnam. With the worldviews being muddied by a broad view of culture, localized values became less important. With more things to distract us and the whole world at our disposal, the family focused less on mutual pursuits for individualized hobbies.
During the Industrial Age, it was essential that local Churches have a clear understanding of the letters to the Corinthians. Many, however, did not. These letters, written by the Apostle Paul, were designed to show the Church how to develop a worldview. When Paul says what they were doing was a shame, he is pointing out how the culture they were living in demanded a certain set of standards for the sake of the Gospel. These were not absolute standards for all of the Churches, but Paul wrote them specifically to the Corinthians because they were too immature to figure them out on their own. The fundamentalist movement was attempting to establish standards for faith and practice, but perhaps their ambition was a little too broad, not taking into consideration the flux of culture and the differences in interpretation by region. As a result, the standards on practice have remained as an inappropriate standard for spirituality.
Presently, we are in a unique time in history where many of the standards and practices of the fundamentalist movement have become irrelevant. This is not to say that they were wrong, but to point out that the movement was culturally specific. It is essential for young Christians to navigate their own faith and establish new standards and practices for today. This is much more difficult than it was in the past. Young Christians need to be considerate of the fact that what they do is seen by people half way around the world, not just those in their neighborhood. It is essential that young Christians learn to navigate their own culture because they are far more effective at it than we are. Yet they need our wisdom.
One of the major problems of the youth culture is their inability to fully understand a topic. They have not been taught how to study. Their Church, school, and media have taught them to simply accept soundbites as facts without further investigation. Today, at just a click of a mouse, something ingested can be shared with a community before it is digested. Not a lot of thought is given to the things young generations re-broadcast via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. If something intrigues them, all they have to do is click ‘Share.’ This is incredibly dangerous because it doesn’t require that anyone truly studies or understands anything with depth. The youth need older, wiser Christians to come in and teach them how to use social networks in a way that won’t ruin their Christian testimony. That wisdom is not going to come from those who think that social networks are evil. Younger Christians need older Christians who aren’t blindly bashing their culture to help them navigate through life.
That is where my friend and I fit into this world. As young adults we stand in the gap. We can remember a time before cell phones, social networks, and wikipedia existed. Older generations have a difficult time relating with this world. Ken Ham wrote a book about the age gap called Already Gone. It was a good book, but not as great as David Kinnamon’s book You Lost Me. The difference is that Ken Ham is in his 60’s while David Kinnamon is in his 30’s. The difference is remarkable. Yet, many older Christians feel the need to interject their opinions about the current youth culture without trusting in young leaders like my friend who are far closer to the language of the day.
It is imperative that we not force standards, that are culturally significant to a time in the past, on new generations. We need to stick to what the Bible says definitively and develop a clear understanding for ourselves how the Bible convicts us to live in culture. This is a common theme in the Bible, but one that is often overlooked. We need to stop blaming the world for the degradation of society and focus more on our own mistakes.
The argument today that the world has become immoral is not a fair debate. I would acknowledge that the world seems to be worse today than twenty years ago, but only in the context that it has always been getting worse – gradually over time. The revolution of women wearing pants has not played a major role in bringing down the moral fiber of society. There are other culprits working behind the scenes. The largest being the lack of contextualization.
It’s not fair for a young person to look back on a foreign culture and suggest that the faithful Christians of that day were wrong any more than it is right for older Christians to force outdated traditions on the youth. It is essential that each generation personalize their faith and remain true the the fundamental evidences of Scripture. The cultural values will be lost with time and new cultural values will take their place. We should focus less on the cultural values and more on the definitive truths that will inevitably shape us into the image of God we were designed to be.