My Generation Needs Help, But Not In The Way You Might Think

1 Aug

I want to preface this post with two undergirding principles:

1. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, revealed to man by God through those whom He ordained to use for that purpose, and that it is both the unfolding witness to God’s work of redemption and true in everything of which it speaks.

2. I uphold both the dignity of every human person, as well as every person’s inherent depravity.

With these two principles in mind, I believe that if people want to be courageous (and truly helpful), they need to be willing to tell my generation that we’re all too often wrong and unhealthy.  This flies in the face of our culture’s idea of courage.  Our culture sees change as courageous, over and against the upholding of conviction.*  Yet, I believe that for more than a few of the longings of my peers (as well as myself at times), the necessary response is “no” or “that’s not right.”  To do so may invoke ridicule, resentment, insult, and/or alienation, because what is good, right and needed is not always received as such.  I say these things for many reasons, but far and above all of them, I say it because I believe the yearnings and desires of my generation jettison a  robust understanding of the Gospel, and its transformational power.

In this post, I want to address three problems with the way we frame the conversation (or argument, depending on who you are dialoguing with).  The first addresses the way in which we uphold human longing; the second addresses the irrational belief of “deeds over creeds”; and the third addresses what I believe is a Biblical argument against appealing to the prevailing desires of people (pragmatism in action).

1. When we frame the conversation in terms of people’s longings, we place the longings of the human heart above the realities of the human condition and the true remedy.   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” says the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 17:9).  And if Calvin was right (and from my own experience, I believe he is) about the heart being an idol factory, why should we believe that the longings of our hearts are inherently good and right?  Oftentimes, my own longings merely point to my selfish desires, sinful tendencies, or inadequacies (perhaps I’m the only one, but I like to think that I’m not), and I am a man who has been graciously redeemed by the God of the universe!  Man bears the imago dei (image of God), but does so in a terribly, sinfully flawed way.  And we must recognize this if we are to honestly address and assess what needs to be done.  The true remedy is not a giving in to someone’s desire, but rather the objectively true, beautiful, and good Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

AS AN ASIDE: We oftentimes make these claims in conjunction with claims about the state of the church. We fear the death and irrelevance of the church, but we do as if we do not know that Jesus Christ said He would build His church, and that nothing would prevail against it.  We should not fear for something that God has promised to take care of.  We are not in charge of the church, Jesus Christ, the head, is. He will see to it that His church does not die out, or that it does not become irrelevant.

2. My generation speaks incessantly about upholding deeds vs. creeds.  I lament that this phrase ever came about because the idea itself is irrational.  How can one rightly do without knowing what/how/why to do it?  Why would we ever believe that we can govern without knowing/understanding the laws and balances of power inherent to the government?  Why would we ever believe that we can write books, magazines, and newspapers without knowing/understanding elements of language, grammar, marketing, publishing, printing, etc?

While there is need to hold the “bookish” and “hyper-intellectual” accountable as they seek to follow after Christ, I believe that to give into a deeds over creeds mentality is to give into an illogical, works-driven, anti-intellectual Christianity.  Going back to Jeremiah 17, the prophet says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes…it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8)” I believe that it is only out of a healthy knowledge of Christ, His person and work, and the nature and character of God that we can even begin to truly serve our neighbor.  We love God by trusting God, we trust God by knowing God, and when we trust God we will serve our neighbor in love.  If we expect fruit (deeds) without roots firmly planted by the stream (creeds/doctrine), we will end up like the seeds that fell on rocky soil: sun scorched and dried up.**  We propel ourselves towards busyness and furiously doing, leading to exhaustion (and for many, frustration and discontent).

3. Looking at Scripture, I cannot help but think that it was the longings of the people that caused the OT prophets to be mistreated abused, and ignored, caused Saul to persecute the Church, and even sent Christ to the cross.  In the OT, the people of Israel longed for good news, to hear that they would continue to prosper and grow in power.  Thus, to hear the prophets calling them to repentance or exile was an insult and was not tolerated.  Likewise, Saul’s zeal to persecute the Church was fueled by a longing to see it eliminated (for it was perceived to be blasphemy).  Finally, the Israelites were longing for a Messiah who was vastly different than Jesus.  Not only that, but the way Jesus went about His earthly ministry flew in the face of the prevailing structure and longings of many (in particular, the Pharisees).  And the result, praise be to God, was His crucifixion by which He satisfied God’s just wrath against our sin.

In each of these examples, the people’s desires were one thing, and their real need something entirely different.  Likewise, I believe that while I, and my generation, long for many things, our real need is different.  Appealing to our longings may temporarily satiate our desires (until something new comes along) or make us feel better, or more connected, but I believe it is all for not.  Why?  Because our deeper need, and the one with the real power to satisfy us, to heal us, to change us, and to bring us into close-knit fellowship, is the one that will be ignored in all of this.  That need is for the Gospel.  We need it to save us and to lead us.  We need it to be declared righteous before God, and to be made righteous before God (Justification and Sanctification).  We need it to govern our minds, hearts, words, deeds, and churches.  We need the Gospel in the whole of life.

I do not write this to create controversy, to start “theological nitpicking”, or to hurt my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I write it because of the second principle I laid out at the beginning of this post.  I believe in the dignity of every human person, and therefore, I believe that we, Christians, are bound to do what is good and right for people based on this.  In light of that, I believe what is right for my generation is not an appeal to our longings; to fix the symptoms of our disease at the expense of the root cause.  Rather, we need to proclaim the Gospel message in all its beauty, revealing its many facets so that real change can take place and real action can flow out. We need to engage in deep, compassionate, intelligent conversation regarding humanity, God, redemption, and life.  We need to honestly and graciously acknowledge and address sin.  We need to create a healthy foundation for walking in the good works God has prepared for us, and support each other as we seek to be and do these things.

In these ways, perhaps, God willing, my generation can get the help that we need.



*With that being said, I am not one to say that there is no middle ground.  I am merely stating that the idea of upholding one’s convictions in a pragmatic, pluralistic society is frowned upon.

**The Reformed understanding of vocation is helpful here.  Understanding that God is glorified in all vocations and service rendered to others (as well as to the stewardship of creation) enables Christians to work and serve without the need for their local church to have a hand in everything (from work programs to social justice initiatives and everything else).  Individual believers can serve in organizations/groups–Christian or non-Christian–that seek to accomplish these things (and do a better job at it). In doing so, they glorify God in loving their neighbor and doing good unto the Lord.  This enables the church to focus on its primary goal: to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.


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