Genesis and Generation X
Why is it so hard to reach young people today? Why are committed Christians so hard to find? As a college pastor in Dallas, Texas, I struggled with this firsthand. I saw the apologetics of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer failing to reach young people. Even the ones who ‘made decisions’ did not go on to follow our Lord in being actual disciples.
Why? And what can be done about it? I want to explore the world of this hurting so-called ‘Generation X’ (those in their teens to early 30s), then propose a solution which I know works, because when I used it, many young people came to Christ and went on strongly for Him.
The parents of the ‘Xers’, the so-called ‘baby-boom’ generation, grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their parents had experienced WWII, and the evils of Hitler, death camps, and Stalin. Right and wrong were quite apparent, and even most non-Christians had a vague concept of a Creator and absolute standards.
But after the war, evolutionary ‘science’ flourished as never before in the education system and the media. Marxism, a thoroughly materialistic philosophy based on evolution, became very influential. If no one made you, no one owns you, so there is no one to set any ‘rules’. Thus the ’60s ‘revolution’ branded itself a liberation from absolutes, especially biblical ones such as chastity before, and faithfulness in, marriage. Not surprisingly, marriages broke down in increasing numbers.
Thus, most of the ‘GenXers’ come from broken homes and blended families. They were often caught in the middle of parental combat, each trying to win the child. They have learned that love is conditional and selfish. Relationships are fluid, so they trust no one. If they were not raised in a broken family, they had material-driven parents who both worked. Having lacked enough love and attention, they now lead busy, shallow lives, searching for significance and deeper relationships, but committed to nothing.
Through media and clever marketing they are used to receiving the best and believing they deserve it now. ‘Buy now, pay later’ seems sound logic.
Success is ‘god’ — the chief aim of life. But they fear that the government or the economy may let them down at any time. They work only in their own interests, usually just long enough to climb to a level that will enable them to jump into a better position elsewhere. The casualties of this dog-eat-dog, ‘evolutionized’ world are often overcome with fear — ‘There is no way to succeed, I can’t trust anyone to look out for me.’
A very high proportion of all women (and many men) in this generation in the U.S. have been victims of sexual abuse.1 Because of the internal scars, people are understandably more concerned with seeking relief from their emotional anguish than finding ‘facts’, or truth.
They have given up the search for truth (but inside there is a desperate longing for it). In school they learned it didn’t exist: ‘Did O.J. do it?’ they ask. ‘Who really shot JFK?’ Brilliant, qualified people debate on the opposite sides of an issue, and ‘GenXers’ conclude each side is merely cheer-leading for their cause.
Overwhelmed with shame
The Xers’ ‘liberated’ parents went on to become political leaders, teachers, and professors. From these positions of authority, they have taught the current generation that there are no absolutes, and human opinion rules. The results are starkly apparent. In the recent White House scandals, the American people loudly proclaimed truth does not matter.
With right and wrong just opinions, there is not as much guilt as one might think. In its place is shame. Xers have participated in many things that rob them of their respect and honour as human beings.
As a consequence, they feel worthless. They do not know or understand what true love is. They know only selfish relationships which turn out to be an emotional feeding frenzy to quickly acquire the ‘security’ they think the other individual has to offer.
Without absolutes, there is no concept of sin. It used to be true in biblically-based cultures that a preacher could stand up and proclaim, ‘Repent from your sin!’ and many would respond. They had some idea of what sin was: lying, stealing, fornication, etc. Today, most would not understand. Without sin, there is no need for salvation.
A twisted view of God
As immorality has increased on such a foundation, many have become victims of abuse, divorce, poverty, etc., and they blame ‘God’ for their pain. It is a long journey to bring them to the point where they see God as a God of love.
They look at the gruesome and violent spectacle of the lion chasing down the smallest, weakest zebra, and finally ripping it apart. How, they ask, could a loving Creator have made a cruel world like this? Emotionally, they often identify with the weak animal, pursued and torn to pieces. They cynically regard God, ‘if there is one’, as taking pleasure in violence.
Their evolutionary/long-ages upbringing has taught ‘GenXers’ that death/bloodshed has always been a part of life, for millions of years. Thus, it is not the result of sin, and God is cruel.
In summary, the two main problems in reaching Generation X are: their unresolved pain and anger towards God, and their lack of understanding of what sin is.
Compounding the difficulty of reaching them is the fact that Christians have compromised the authority of the Scriptures. I was talking to several Hebrew professors at a world-leading seminary, and asked them, ‘From the Bible it is clear the earth is “youngâ€?, so why aren’t you all willing to boldly stand up and say that?’ One responded, ‘We don’t want to look foolish … we want to fit into the world of academia.’
However, not only is there evidence pointing to a young world, we are meant to be willing to be seen as ‘fools for Christ’s sake’ (1 Corinthians 4:10), if need be. If Christians will not be salt and light, no wonder our biblical foundations have been progressively eroded away. If the church compromises Genesis and holds to millions of years, it teaches that death was around before man’s sin. So it is telling the world that God is cruel, and the author of these terrible things.2 Yet at the same time it says He is a God of love!
Can’t we see the mixed-up message we are telling the world? What is the hope of the Gospel in overcoming death, if death always existed? No wonder our churches are filled with passionless people.
The answer …
Effective evangelism needs to be based on a solid understanding of the basics of the Gospel, as follows in outline:
God’s Word is true, and thus it is the authority in every area of life; there are answers to ‘scientific’ objections to Genesis; God did not make a world of billions of years of pain, death, suffering, and disease. He is the author of life. When God finished creating the world He said it was ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), a Hebrew way of saying it was perfect, complete. Death, disease, pain, emotional anguish and suffering were not there. Animals did not eat each other (Genesis 1:29–30). All these things came about for a reason — man’s sin. This is why mankind is completely fallen and (apart from Christ) without hope; as the Creator, God rightfully demands righteousness. God is completely loving, gracious, and just. There is a real, coming judgment.
When they see that sin is the cause of death and their own hopeless condition, the results are dramatic. Now they have answers to the pain in the world and in their life. Coming to this point can often be a painful process, shaking their whole world-view. But this understanding of their own lost condition is vital before they can understand God’s grace. Through faith in Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin, they can be set free from their bondage.
Because of their incredible amount of shame, when God’s unconditional love is explained to them they will usually respond, ‘Why? I don’t deserve it!’ You can say, ‘That’s right, you don’t, but that is what grace is all about’ (Ephesians 2:8–9). For Jesus said, ‘Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls’ (Matthew 11:28–29).
What we need today
We need to engage those affected by this pagan, evolutionized culture at their point of need, just as Paul did in Acts 17. We need to prepare the ground, removing all the evolutionary and long-age boulders and rocks so that the Gospel seed falls upon fertile soil, and people can accept Christ.
I have seen first hand that through this ‘creation evangelism’ approach (the Bible is true; giving reasoned answers to ‘scientific’ objections; who God is; man is made in God’s image; sin is a historical fact; death and suffering are not God’s fault, etc.) people start to grasp the incredible thing God did for them at the Cross. Today’s needy people, with all their baggage, tend to fall in love with God once they understand this full truth. They are also much more likely to be serious about their walk with Christ, and to become dedicated disciples.
Post-script: I highly recommend Ken Ham’s new book Creation Evangelism for the New Millennium, which beautifully illustrates how to approach our culture, including Generation X, with the Gospel.
Most of this abuse was from members of their parents’ ‘liberated’ generation, with its ‘anything goes if it feels good’ culture resulting from the erosion of absolutes.
Of course, God, as sovereign, is ultimately behind all things. However, long-ages philosophy accuses Him of being content with (or even using) billions of years of death and suffering. And of permitting it without a reason (such as a righteous response to sin, for example). Not only that, it accuses Him of calling all those millions of years of senseless bloodshed ‘very good’.