Here's Jim's take on his recent visit to us:
The most considerable evidence that we’re entering a “post-Religious Right America” is the shifting political agenda and theological emphasis of a new generation of 20-something evangelicals. I meet them all the time on the road; they are coming out of the woodwork for The Great Awakening book events in mass numbers.
I travel with one of these young evangelicals, a missionary kid who grew up in the former Soviet Union and who recently graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. From the conversations he and I have been having with those in attendance at book events, churches, and evangelical college campuses, it’s clear that churchgoers growing up in conservative pews are finally coming of age.
Last week at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, they packed the venue, with some sitting on the floor. Many of these students are disillusioned with the models of engaging the faith with which they were raised. This emerging generation of evangelical pastors and theologians realize that Christianity has an image problem: it is seen as hypocritical, judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too political. They desire something radically new and different, yet still solidly rooted in Jesus.
The quantitative picture painted by Barna pollster David Kinnaman in his recently released book, unChristian, is qualitatively borne out in this group of Generation Y "insiders"—those raised inside the church but frustrated with the status quo. They will shake things up in the years ahead, both politically and theologically.
Politically, these 20-somethings are less likely to associate with the Republican Party than ever before, as discovered by a recent Pew Research Center poll. It showed that party identification among white evangelicals ages 18-29 decreased from 55% to 40% between 2005 and 2007. That’s 15 points in just two years. This doesn’t mean young evangelicals are automatically becoming Democrats (and I don’t think they should). It does mean that their agenda is broader and deeper, no longer beholden to a single partisan ideology – more concerned with 30,000 children dying daily of poverty and disease than with gay marriage amendments in Ohio.
Theologically, these 20-somethings are abandoning a worldview that reduces the gospel of Jesus Christ to an afterlife-oriented, fire-insurance, salvation pitch. These are Matthew 25, Luke 4, and “Sermon on the Mount” Christians. They really believe that the kingdom of God represents God’s best hopes and dreams for this present age, not only for the life to come.
From coffee-infused, late-night seminary conversations to missions trips bringing them into relationship with single mothers living in the crumbling remains of America’s inner cities, with children living on garbage dumps in Mexico, with teenage girls rescued out of Southeast Asia’s sex industry, and with the boy soldiers of sub-Saharan Africa – the 20-something evangelical worldview is being disciplined by a new global context.
This new generation—the Fuller Seminary Generation—isn’t responding to The Great Awakening message because of what we’re doing; they’re responding because of what they already see happening all around them. They are summoning the confidence to articulate a new vision for Christianity for the 21st century, rooted in the timeless orthodoxy of a first-century rabbi. And once it emerges, it could change everything.
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