As I read Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own I asked, “Why do younger Christians read the Bible so differently from my generation?” Jonathan Merritt correctly believes that they have “reflected on the Bible” and take it very seriously. This seems very odd to most older evangelical leaders in my generation. Merritt writes that these younger Christians “approach the Bible with fresh eyes, as each generation must” (129).
When Christians like me, from a modernist generational background, read the Bible we are often influenced by rationalist methods and approaches. Like Merritt, I too grew up on this method, indeed I taught it for decades. If you wanted to know what God says you simply study the Bible and find the answer and there it is, the case is closed. This offered so much certitude and closed all new inquiry, to a greater or lesser extent.
Jonathan Merritt concludes:
But rising generations–perhaps as a result of the influence of postmodernism–are falling in love with the Bible’s overarching narrative. That’s why so many people today talk about ‘the story of God’ or the Bible’s ‘grand narrative.’ Not that they are rejecting the idea that the Bible holds propositional truths or are fleeing biblical literalism–they aren’t–rather, they want to enter the Bible, wrestle with its full message, and try to embody it daily (129-30).
What is the point to all this? Merritt’s answer is nothing more or less than classical Christianity if the reader follows what he is actually saying. He believes that such a reading sees that the Bible clearly has a climax and that this climax is in the person of Jesus! “Everything in the Scripture points to Christ and everything speaks of Christ” (130). I have been saying this for at least three decades now. My generation, on the whole, will not listen. They cling to moralism as if this was the biblical message. But the paradigm is very clear–Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the beginning, the middle and the end of all knowledge and life. Put another way, this taking very seriously the “follow me” Jesus issued to his first followers. Jesus changes how we live, “even down to our advocacy in the public square” (130). Quoting Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians, the future of American Christianity is that the gospel “is the foundational assertion of the Bible–the driving motivation for everything we do.” (132). And this gospel must be integrated into our entire life; i.e. how we consume goods and services, spend our leisure time and pursue our vocation. When we apply the gospel to every aspect of life, “their perspectives and priorities change” (133).
In one of most succinct statements about the impact of this way of thinking I have encountered Jonathan Merritt concludes:
When Christians realize that the gospel is central to the Christian mission and begin applying it to every aspect of life, perspectives and priorities radically change. The culture-warring Christian, for example, rushes off to fight the “war on Christmas” and force employees at Target to quit saying, “Happy Holidays.” A gospel-centered Christian says, “Christmas in American has little to do with the incarnation of Christ anyway. Let’s focus our energies on what’s really important.” The former believes we must forcibly change society to give us hope for a better future; the latter realizes that the only path to a better future runs through the good news of Jesus Christ (133).
The central difference is that today’s Christians have decided to stop separating from culture, to stop condemning it and to begin to engage with it. To my generation this looks like compromise. To the millennials this looks like mission.