Ten years ago, Robert Webber's book The Younger Evangelicals really seemed to capture for me the state of evangelicalism. I would have told you it was in transition. I would have told you that the twenty somethings who were on a trajectory to become the evangelical leaders of tomorrow were characterized by interest in things like social justice and creation care, that they were interested in less church hierarchy and more "organic," informal ministry, that they couldn't care less about previous evangelical concerns like church growth or inerrancy.
It feels quite different to me today. For example, are we seeing a culture of metrics rise in church hierarchy (as opposed to larger churches and their followers)? It seems like there has been a wave of "crack downs" at various conservative colleges with regard to professors. And given the Christian election dynamics, it sure doesn't feel like the social and environmental concerns of the then twenty somethings are in power.
I wonder if here's what has happened in part. Boomer Christianity is now in its leadership twilight. It spent the last few decades largely inwardly-focused, preoccupied pretty much with its own church and local church growth. But for various reasons Boomers have now taken an interest in the trajectory of the broader church. Perhaps in part they didn't like the rising values of the now thirty somethings. 9-11 also has to play in here somewhere VERY significantly, I think.
Here are my wonderings. I don't think the values of the thirty-something evangelicals have gone away. I think they have gone silent over and against the VERY vocal Boomer evangelicals of these last days. I suspect the election results in part support this hypothesis. Boomer conservatives were shocked to lose the election because they had been so vocal and convinced the silent were on their side. Instead, to some extent, they had apparently created a climate where differing voices felt it was better to be silent.
I think the same dynamics are in play right now in the evangelical church. The values of the thirty somethings have not changed but are lying dormant because of the "Boomers Strike Back" dynamic at work right now. I predict it will be difficult for the Boomers in retirement to see what will happen when the thirty somethings finally come conclusively into power.
But what of the 9-11 generation that follows them? What of the current twenty somethings? I'm no sociologist, but I suspect that the climate of the last 10 years has created a much more "conservative" group of leaders that will follow the thirty somethings, at least in some areas. That is, if they stay Christian. That is the big concern right now. They are conservative now, but they may be on some kind of crash course of faith that will eventually make them look much different than they look now.
So will the twenty somethings who remain Christian push a version of Christianity thirty years from now that is much like the Boomer Christianity of the moment? I think it's quite possible in one scenario. But we are also potentially facing a sharp rise of the non-religious in the next decade, and I predict Boomer Christianity will have little affect on that trend.
Here's what I wonder, will the thirty somethings facilitate a revival once they get conclusively into power in ten to fifteen years? And will the now twenty something Christians who rise from that revival bring a shocking but vibrant and dynamic faith then that will both scare and excite those of us who are still living?