(Ryan Mayo, Programming Director at the Oread Center, is responsible for the opinions in this essay)
GK Chesterton once described the novel Robinson Crusoe as a wild romance of prudence and limits. In the book, Crusoe has been shipwrecked and left adrift before finally reaching an isolated island. Curiously, Chesterton concludes that the most significant passage in Defoe’s entire story is a list.
This list is an inventory of all of the items Crusoe managed to retrieve from the sinking ship, and Chesterton declares it to be “the greatest of poems.” His gladdest thoughts were of an axe, book, compass, coat, and rope – with the realization that they could have been destroyed in the wreck but weren’t. Unfortunately, his most troubling thoughts were of the wonderful items that had been ruined or lost. Several times Crusoe weeps at losing pictures, matches, blankets, and other objects of utility or sentimentality.
So Crusoe endures until rescue, simultaneously giddy with his found inventory and sober-minded about his lost items. For Christians, Crusoe’s state is ours also. We are tasked with making sense of the loss, forging ahead with what survives, and considering the rescue. For Crusoe, the rescue was a future hope rooted only in his wishes. For us, the rescue has already been initiated, and yet much of its effects are still anticipated and not felt.
by Ryan Mayo
Abstract: Millennials have been vocal about the reasons for their disappointment and detachment from the local church. Yet their critiques of worship style, gospel presentation, and other public practices are not often accompanied by wise suggestions for reform. The local church should embrace this emerging generation with winsome warnings and offer a long and historic perspective about the deep liturgies of church involvement.
For the last 15 years there has been a mildly successful formula for publishers seeking to capture young evangelical readers. It looks like this: prompt reflective Christians in their late 20s or early 30s to chronicle the ways in which the institutional church failed them and their peers.1 There are some variables between the writings, such as the degree of disappointment or the depth of research, but the general plotline remains the same. The authors, about a decade removed from their involvement with the offending institutions, will predictably generalize their church’s particular offenses to include the near-abandonment of an entire generation. The final chapters, however, nearly always offer a ray of hope for the institutional church, as the authors outline a few steps to reconcile Christ’s church to the generation it has soured.
If churches want to retain Millennial participation, these authors have suggested that they adapt to their changing demands, which mostly fall into three categories: worship styles, gospel presentation, and public involvement in social justice activism.
I have divided a longer post into two shorter parts for clarity. In part one, I hoped to show that the language of brokenness is imprecise and that Millennials are increasing the uncritical use of this term. In part two, I hope to show the dangers inherent in substituting brokenness language for the concept of sin and sinfulness. Finally, I’ll offer some guesses on why these shifts have occurred.
As we’ve seen, the concept of brokenness itself is imprecise. But it becomes even more problematic when we uncritically substitute it for the historic language of sin, for at least three reasons. First, it ignores the breadth of the historic understanding of sin. Sin and sinfulness are broad and thick concepts in Scripture, as evidenced by all the different experiential and philosophical descriptions for it. Consider some of the other Biblical metaphors for sin:
- A hard heart or a stiff neck
- Missing the mark
- A beast crouching at the door (Genesis 4)
Those who adhere to the Westminster Confession recognize sin as any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. Theologian Cornelius Plantinga describes sin as “disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony”.1 Notice that each statement addresses sin both as human moral agency and human circumstances. We are simultaneously culprit and victim. The real concern in this conversation is that brokenness is reductionist. It primarily identifies the human problem in the area of circumstance and then communicates it using the language of victimhood. If I see myself mainly as broken, I am tempted to allow that characteristic to explain more of my life than it should.
I have divided a longer post into two shorter parts for clarity. In part one, I hope to show that the language of brokenness is imprecise and that Millennials are increasing the uncritical use of this term. In part two, I hope to show the dangers inherent in substituting brokenness language for the concept of sin and sinfulness. Finally, I’ll offer some guesses on why these shifts have occurred.
The flexibility of words from generation to generation makes a fascinating study in American history. We are all familiar with words whose meanings have dramatically shifted, such as:
The changing of words typically doesn’t reorder or reshape fundamental beliefs or practices in our lives. The academy may publish interesting papers when it happens, but most of us simply shrug and move on with the new meanings. However, certain theological language commands our attention when it begins to take on new contexts, new connotations, and new meaning, since these words represent realities about ourselves and about God. Significant generational shifts in language present a danger to Christians because they hinder the ability for the old and mature to inform the young.1 Familiar words that are filled with new content lure different generations into a false sense of communication. The Greek myth-makers at least allowed Sisyphus to roll the same boulder up the same hill. Readers of theology that are trying to make sense of the ancient, the recent, and the new are confronting the same boulders, but always on a new hill, in a new direction, and rolling for a new purpose.
One of my favorite childhood books was called If Everybody Did (Jo Ann Stover). The plot was simple: the left side of the page featured a questionable ethical decision while the right side showed what society would look like “if everybody did” that same thing. These offenses ranged from littering to squeezing a cat too hard. For example:
I’ll admit that I still think of this book and its simple lessons in ethics whenever a prominent writer offers unorthodox visions of what Christianity should look like. If Everybody Did provides a helpful grid to think through the logical implications of Christians acting en masse.
This week Donald Miller wrote an admittedly ill-advised piece on how he prefers to skip out on his local church. After significant backlash from the internet world, including The Gospel Coalition, Miller attempted to clarify his statements and diffuse some of the frustration. Best known for his 2002 book Blue Like Jazz: non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality, Miller captured the non-committal heart of millennial Christians who liked Jesus and spirituality but either resented or ignored the traditional church experiences. He is no stranger to controversy when it comes to church doctrine.
This particular piece focused on Miller’s dissatisfaction with local expressions of church and worship. He confesses that he doesn’t “feel connected to God through singing” and doesn’t “learn much about God hearing a sermon.” He adds that he’s just like “most men” in his frustrations with traditional church services. Miller also finds fault with the way the message is given, citing his studies of psychology to demonstrate that lecturing only appeals to a small portion of the audience. Lastly, he admits that he rarely attends church, choosing instead to connect with God most intimately and most often through his work, since “church is all around, not to be confined to a specific tribe.”