Emerging Generations and the Church

I highly recommend this review of two books written in 2002 that appeared in the magazine “Touchstone”.  It is a great summary of the generational trends with regard to Christianity and the Church that began in the 1990’s among GenX’ers, and that have only increased over the past 10-years among the Millennials. The insights and the suggested trends are proving to be true!

The title of the review article is, “Orthodox Twenty Somethings,” and the reviewed books are: The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
by Colleen Carroll, and The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World by Robert E. Webber.

Here are a few paragraphs that I find particularly compelling.

It isn’t supposed to be happening. Traditional Catholic piety is finding zealous practitioners at universities across the United States. The children of Planned Parenthood devotees are becoming advocates of Natural Family Planning. Nice suburban girls who ought to know better are making monastic professions in—you guessed it—traditional orders, and there are enrollment spikes on the charts of conservative seminaries across the Christian spectrum.

At the same time, some of today’s Evangelicals are unresponsive to the agendas of their immediate forefathers in worship, theology, and general “church strategy.” They are seeking instead “a biblically rooted, historically informed and culturally aware” evangelization of their hometowns, and the creation of new congregations attuned to the ancient faith. This isn’t quite supposed to be happening either.

None of this is supposed to be happening because it’s not the project for which two generations of Protestant and Catholic clergy have worked. And it’s certainly not what for decades a graying army of secularists has agitated for in American public life. The push for relativist moral teaching, “simplified” worship, interchangeable sex roles, and an utter separation of private belief from political expression has come from the pulpit as readily as it has been demanded by pseudo-intellectual elites. But against all odds, portions of a modern American society, which groans to find itself secularist, is returning in a quiet revolution to the fundamental truths of the Christian religion.

It goes without saying that “the primary cravings of young orthodox Christians in America—for tough time-tested teachings and worship imbued with mystery and a sense of the transcendent—are often the result of deficiencies in their childhood spiritual diet.”…

The evidence of public opinion polls shows a trend of twenty-somethings “clamoring for convention,” writes Carroll. The increase in Latin Mass attendance during the 1990s, for example, can be attributed to a “retro-revolt among U.S. Catholics,” rather than a nostalgic return by the elderly to a rite with which they grew up. Marie-Thérèse Scott-Hamblen, the young orthodox wife of a young orthodox Episcopal priest, may not have been the first to use the term “young fogey,” in The Living Church magazine in 2001, but she put her finger on a phenomenon that has reached even the most liberal denominations in the United States. As often as not, those who seek traditional worship in their congregations are young men and women whose only opposition is their parents’ generation of clergy and laymen. The older generation’s response tends to be in the negative; after all, worship has to be modern in language and form to appeal to “the young people,” that strange mass of mainline census data that never actually finds its way into a pew on Sunday morning…

The evidence of public opinion polls shows a trend of twenty-somethings “clamoring for convention,” writes Carroll. The increase in Latin Mass attendance during the 1990s, for example, can be attributed to a “retro-revolt among U.S. Catholics,” rather than a nostalgic return by the elderly to a rite with which they grew up. Marie-Thérèse Scott-Hamblen, the young orthodox wife of a young orthodox Episcopal priest, may not have been the first to use the term “young fogey,” in The Living Church magazine in 2001, but she put her finger on a phenomenon that has reached even the most liberal denominations in the United States. As often as not, those who seek traditional worship in their congregations are young men and women whose only opposition is their parents’ generation of clergy and laymen. The older generation’s response tends to be in the negative; after all, worship has to be modern in language and form to appeal to “the young people,” that strange mass of mainline census data that never actually finds its way into a pew on Sunday morning…

There is a built-in nostalgia for the pre-Constantinian Church in this worldview, which assumes the death of traditional Christendom and the birth of a new post-Constantinian model for Christian life—hence “ancient-future.”

I highly recommend reading the review if you want to understand what is truly happening within the cutting edges of American Christianity, rather than what those determined to maintain the status-quo would like us to believe.

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