Much has been made of late of the young "evangelical radicals," whose writings and ministries provoke and poke and prod what they view as acculturated, complacent American believers.
My friend Matt Anderson has written a gracious, perceptive article about some of them in Christianity Today, and even Backpacker magazine recently had an article on evangelical "greens" whose passion for "creation care" animates their ministries.
While there is nothing new under the sun, there is also nothing wrong with youthful enthusiasm as long as it is tempered by a (1) healthy dose of humility and (2) sound theology, articulated clearly and carefully.
As a young man, I recall the earnestness with which I read everything from The Post-American (later Sojourners) to the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Ron Sider's book on "nuclear holocaust" and the magazine of the Officer's Christian Fellowship.
As I developed my own thinking about social and political issues, I was impressed by the newness of my insights and the urgency with which they should be communicated. I recall worrying that a mild illness I had at the time would prevent me from completing my graduate thesis (on evangelicalism and the application of the "just war" theory to the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction), in which case unique and important perspectives—authored by me—would be lost permanently.
In case my intended self-deprecation is not obvious, let me make it so: Neither the wisdom I accrued nor the passion I felt were unique. Ideas I formulated likely had been thought by others (and probably in long centuries past) and convictions I developed were shared by many Christians throughout the ages.
It is typical of the young to think that because something has occurred to them, it is the first time anyone thought of it. It is also typical of the young to believe that tradition breeds ennui, that conventionality is defined by dress, décor and the size of a building, that life should be a series of "epic" events, that radical Christian living means an extreme haircut, stylized "casual" clothes and a general contempt for everyone over about 35.
I hope that cranky sarcasm reflects more my age than my heart. For the record, I would rather associate with young men and women committed to the Person and work of Jesus Christ than either their spiritually uninterested contemporaries or the self-consciously urbane, oh-so-moderate voices whose signal hallmark is an unwillingness to say anything dogmatically.
Many of the young "evangelical radicals" are also incredibly winsome, highly approachable, burdened greatly for the needs of a fallen world and, sadly, too theologically uneducated to grasp the implications of some of the things for which they argue (of course, I never fell into that last category ... ).
The challenge for many older and more traditional evangelicals is that we need to have the humility to draw from our younger brethren new reminders of the need to live wholly for Christ. We need to be willing to think through how most effectively to do this, and not immediately reject proposals by the "new radicals" that might seem imprudent or a bit too self-displaying.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on March 19.
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