Tuesday, October 10, 2006

From the forthcoming Viking/Penguin book Righteous, an outsider's look at young conservative evangelicals, by journalist Lauren Sanders.

Christian youth is deinstitutionalizing the American church for the first time
in about 400 years. This evangelical movement isn't just about internally held
principles, it's a matter of lifestyle. Young evangelicals look so similar to
denizens of every other strain of youth culture that, aside from their religious
tattoos, the difference between them and the unsaved is invisible. After all,
shared culture is an opportunity for people to connect and gain one another's
trust. Culture -- your favorite music, sport, pastime, style, you name it --
presents an opening for evangelism. Once bonds are forged over a beloved band or
football team, then the Evangelical "message" can work its way into a
relationship. Once the message is heard, a world opens in which God's love, as
well as your cultural predilections, provide spiritual isolation from the
secular world. It's hard to imagine an aspect of secular culture lacking a
Christian counterpart: one can choose from Christian hip-hop ministries,
Christian military intelligence classes, or Christian diet groups in this mirror
society.
The evangelical culture is rooted in place, and it's expanding every
day to swallow a generation whole.

I'm not sure the embrace of contemporary culture among evangelicals is all that new, and I'm pretty sure it's not based entirely on evangelitic strategy. I'd argue that evangelism is changing because evangelicals have embraced much of the broader culture, actually, and because I'm geeked out on Andy Crouch (see my post at Strangely Dim) right now, I'd very quickly prescribe exercises in creating new culture rather than simply assimilating or coopting the same ole same ole. I'd also be inclined to edit the grossly mixed metaphor of the last paragraph. But I could be convinced otherwise.

In any event, it's always interesting and a bit scary to hear how others describe you to one another. How close does this assessment of young evangelical subculture come to your assessment?

2 comments:

daveterpstra said...

I would say that this assessment describes the vast majority of the younger evangelical subculture. Which really isn't a sub-culture at all. It is really the same as every other culture except we go to church a couple times a month and believe something different (which gets us into heaven one day).

The assessment nailed it. We have embraced the culture around us for the purpose of evangelism. But really we just made evangelism "easy" by telling people they could keep their rock star lifestyle and add a little Jesus to it. After all, we've kept our lives pretty much the same as before we were Christians.

I suspect those younger evangelicals who will do the most damage for the Kingdom are the ones who are the most radical in their faith. Those who are living in communes, moving overseas, and taking vows of life-long celibacy will save themselves and the world around us. The rest of us will live comfortably in suburbia...for Jesus.

Anonymous said...

This phenomenon is termed contextualization. So you are right, Dave, it's not new. It's not what we wear or the music we listen to or what we eat, but who our Lord is.