This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 01 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Last issue I wrote about the sexual revolution of the late ‘60s and ‘70s and maintained that it, more than any other single influence, ushered our culture and country into a post-Christian era. The sexual revolution was only one aspect of a larger cultural revolution that was thick in the air among the youth who came of age during America’s participation in the Vietnam War. A large contingent of the Baby Boom generation was committed to overturning the traditional values of the “Establishment,” including the Judeo-Christian ethic described last issue, and replacing them with such countercultural values as “peace, love, and understanding” (read: tolerance) and the freedom to “do your own thing” as long as it doesn’t harm someone else.1
The utopian society that the hippies envisioned never came to pass, and even their own experiments with communal living mostly crashed and burned in short order (no surprise when dozens of people are all “doing their own thing” under one roof!). Nonetheless, their success at importing their hedonistic ethic into the larger culture exceeded what all but the most optimistic flower child could have imagined.2
Now, the cultural revolution did meet with resistance from what might be called “faith pockets” mainly within the Bible Belt, and this launched the culture wars that continue to the present. But the best efforts of social conservatives have failed to “right” the American ship back to its previous course; nor does it seem possible to do so in the increasingly pluralistic culture that characterizes America. Therefore, the children of the flower children—the “Echo Boomers” or the “Millennials”—have grown up in a culture much more “post-Christian” than the one their parents knew. It is a world where there is no consensus on the nature of Ultimate Reality, where each person has his or her own “truth,” and where “everyone [does] what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
As Mark Sayers writes in this issue’s cover feature, “Looking under the Surface of the Millennial Generation,” young people today are often characterized as “selfish, narcissistic, sexually permissive, and technologically addicted.” While there is certainly some basis in reality for this stereotype, it does not do the Millennials justice, who in many ways “echo” the idealism, social conscience, and hunger for authenticity and spiritual transcendence that characterized their parents’ generation at its best. Millennials simply have lacked the advantage that especially the older Boomers had of growing up in a culture dominated by the Judeo-Christian worldview and ethic, for even when Boomers consciously rejected that influence, they still benefitted from it in unconscious ways.
To provide just one example of the greater challenges confronting Millennials, let me point out that for adolescent Baby Boomers, indulging in sexual immorality was usually an option that could be pursued only with difficulty, given the societal constraints on immorality, the relative inaccessibility of pornography, and the resistance of many young women in the 1960s to premarital sex. For adolescent Millennials, abstaining from sexual immorality is usually an option that can be pursued only with difficulty (i.e., firm resolve), given the societal acceptance of immorality (at least in the form of premarital sex, often even among teenagers), the easy accessibility of pornography online and elsewhere, and the encouragement, peer pressure, and actual opportunities for sexual encounters in their social world. Millennials therefore are coming of age in a more spiritually treacherous world than did Baby Boomers, and it is a world Boomers played a significant role in shaping.
The concern here is not to assign blame for the spiritual state of our culture; it is simply to pursue a better understanding of Millennials. The reason for this should be clear enough: with Millennials goes the future, not only of the culture, but also of the church. It is therefore vital for Christians of all generations (including Gen Xers, who may be feeling left out of this discussion!3) to develop ways of reaching this younger generation for Christ.
This will not come easily. It is not primarily a matter of retooling old approaches to make them more techno-savvy. It is a matter of understanding the social, intellectual, and spiritual worlds Millennials inherited and inhabit, how their felt spiritual needs relate to their true spiritual needs, and how we can help them appreciate the central role of Christ in meeting those needs. Mark Sayers’s essay is a tour de force of these very issues. It is an excellent first step toward conveying the relevance of Christ to the children of America’s4 cultural revolution.
- This is essentially no different than the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do what ye will.”
- This assertion is hardly controversial, since people on all sides of the culture wars attest to it, and anyone who lived through the period should be able to confirm it. For a scholarly study, see John C. McWilliams, The 1960s Cultural Revolution (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000). For a Christian perspective, see Steve Rabey, “Making Peace with the Sixties: Reevaluating the Legacy of a Cultural Revolution,” Christian Research Journal 27, 4 (2004).
- It is difficult when speaking of generations to compartmentalize neatly. As Sayers points out, some younger Millennials are children of Gen Xers rather than of Baby Boomers. And Generation X also came of age after the cultural revolution changed America. The change has simply become more pronounced over time.
- This is not to suggest that cultural revolution only occurred in America, or that Baby Boomers and Millennials only exist in America. In fact, Mark Sayers is an Australian. The issues discussed in his article are relevant throughout the Western world. It also should be noted that the term “Cultural Revolution” is more commonly used of a major Communist Party crackdown that occurred in China under Chairman Mao Zedong. This also occurred in the 1960s, but it has nothing to do with the subject of this article.