Monday, July 31, 2006

About My Generation: Everything is Fluid

Yesterday I talked about the need to understand that twentysomethings place a premium on honesty. I'm focusing on something tangential today. Honesty is so important primarily so few people and entities of the current day are perceived as honest by my peers. In short, everything is suspect to today's youth. Everything.

This is especially important for Christians to remember because we are, if anything, a convinced people. We place presuppositional faith at the top of the list and work down from there. Our lives are a continual process in which we add truths to our minds, much like a shopper at the grocery store. We work through salvation, and add either Calvinism or Arminianism to our cart. We work through eschatology, and become pro-Israel, though that takes on radically different meanings according to one's position. We do this over and over in our lives, continually adding (to use another analogy) rooms to the structure that is our philosophical and theological home. As we do so, we assume that this is so for everyone. But it is not.

Sure, there are some of Generation Next (or X, or whatever you want to call it, I don't care) who do rigorously work through their beliefs and principles. Certainly, some engage in such a program. But many do not. Many of my contemporaries live by a loosely structured code composed of inherited beliefs, favored teachings picked up along the way, and a firm commitment to not pick up many more. Yes, that's right. Many people today do not want to define their beliefs. This seems shocking to the Christian--in fact, it's downright unfathomable. How can one not strive for certainty and then live by what certainty is found? It seems incomprehensible, and in fact it is. But this is the way that many people live, and this is the way that many people want to live. They're not there by accident. Some are genuinely confused, but many simply want to live, in true postmodern form, according to the dictates of their whims, impressions, and tastes. These guides change according to the day. Unlike the life of your average Christian, my peers live an unstructured, fluid, come-what-may, play-it-as-it-lies kind of life. And they like that. Everything's easier and nicer that way.

Which is why the emerging church appeals so much to my generation. It's not fixed or firm or fastidious about doctrine. Yes, there are vague commitments. There's a Nicene Creed here and a church covenant there and an apoliticism here. But by and large, theological fluidity dominates. Many of the movement emphasize the mystery of the Bible and downplay its absolutes. Not surprisingly, such an attitude attracts my peers, who are used to its secular ideological cousins. This makes things a bit tricky for those of us who do emphasize absolutes (it seems conservatives and liberals simply differ on what they emphasize--the former, absolutes, the latter, mystery). We cannot make the same moves as the emergent folks. We are tethered to our belief in absolute truth. But we can be helped by knowing this trait of my generation. We can speak truth more winningly when we realize that those we talk with evangelistically likely don't have twenty reasons why they believe in atheism, like we do for Christianity. We will approach conversation less like a debate and more like a conversation, albeit one in which we declare truth unapologetically. So that's the second thing about my generation: everything is fluid. May we stand firm in response.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

What You Should Know About My Generation: We Prize Honesty

I think that this could be a mildly useful series for pastors and people whose life work is ministering--or trying to--to my generation. I don't know much, but I know a few things about what makes a Nexter tick. I want to take a few days and think this through, especially in light of the emerging church movement that is drawing so many young people. I want to ask two questions, then: first, what makes my generation tick, and second, why does the emerging church draw it?

The first thing you should know about my generation is that it values honesty. Genuineness of thought and expression is extremely important to my contemporaries. Think back on the backdrop of our lives. We've grown up in an age of great political corruption, which followed an age of political corruption, and so we've learned to distrust both from our own experience and our parent's. Our heroes fall on seemingly a daily basis. Floyd Landis cheats and forfeits his medal (maybe), Barry Bonds breaks the home run record (via steroids, probably), Bill Clinton messes around twentysomethings (and lies), Stephen Ambrose plagiarizes (and so do lots of other prominent authors). Do you see this? Corruption is everywhere. It's not just stupid jocks or movie stars who use drugs and who abuse the privileges of fame. It's everyone--boring historians cheat! What kind of age is this?

Now, this is not to say that my peers have a theologically couched moral objection, or some such thing, against such behavior. They don't. Along with distrust, they inherited postmodernism from their parents, and so while they may feel uneasy about cheating and scandal and so on, they don't make much of an effort to condemn it. But that last sentence is important--they do feel uneasy. You can't suppress your conscience entirely. But that's another day's topic. For now, just know that the flip side of this disposition--the opposite of distrust--is that my generation values honesty, or at least respects it, even if they don't say that openly (it's not cool to do so). In our outreach to my peers, then, know that you if you desire to reach them, you need an uncamouflaged honesty, an unproduced genuineness, a realness, to use a silly colloquialism, that will show that you are not hoodwinking them. This generation has a deep distrust embedded in its genetic code. If you violate this trust, you will lose whatever audience you may have had, and said audience will be worse the wear. So speak honestly about yourself, show vulnerability, exude genuine-ness, and don't worry about trying to put on airs. We can sniff them out, and we're not impressed by them. We prize honesty. That's the first thing you should know about us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Article on 9Marks: Book Review

I've got a book review up on 9Marks of John MacArthur's The Book on Leadership. The Christian leadership book market is fairly depressing these days, with most authors simply copy-and-pasting from the secular business world. MacArthur comes out with a broadshot in his text, advocating with unequivocal conviction that church leadership must draw on biblical principles for its content. The book, which searches Paul's letters and Acts for material, is typical MacArthur: bold, clear, and convictional. It's also helpful. Spiritual leadership should take its cue from the golden streets, not Wall Street. Good book to buy if you are interested in Christian leadership of most any form.

I hope the review itself is helpful and encourage you to check it out here. I'll give you the teaser just for good measure.

"Do you remember the MacGyver television show from the 1980s? MacGyver was the guy who, with fifteen bad guys bearing down on him, could take a piece of gum, a pipe, and a sock and parachute to safety. He could take the wrong tools and make any task work.

I know what it feels like to have the wrong tools for a difficult task. Facing the prospect some day of leadership in the Christian church, most books on leadership I have read have only filled my ministerial toolbox with hiring advice from Wall Street, management tips from Fortune 500 CEOs, and growth programs from business school professors. Undoubtedly I will be able to use some of these tools in ministry, but finally they leave me ill equipped for much of what a pastor does. Leadership in the church is a spiritual task requiring spiritual tools."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Enough Seriousness: Funny Teddy Roosevelt Stuff

The last week has been pretty serious in Consumed land. I'm happy about that; maybe it's sparked thought (among one of the six of you who reads this). Thanks to Jed and Richard for their insightful comments.

But enough of pleasantries. Let's deal with something pleasant. In the course of my research work, I ordered a book entitled Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, an engrossing, amusing bio of Teddy Roosevelt. It's quite a historical biography, which happens to be quite a genre. One of my four favorite, with basketball books, theology and war history. The book has a ton of great information and many fun excerpts. The following was so good I had to pass it along. We learn a bit about how nutty old TR was. He had a strong, zany personality, and it comes through in this hilarious exchange.

The exchange is between TR and his son, Quentin, who was 10 at the time. With several playmates, including future President William Howard Taft's son Charles, Quentin was engaged in mock warfare at the White House, and was sprayed by Charles with a water hose. He promptly found a fire-ax and chopped the hose in half. As Morris writes, "His triumph was forestalled by a stentorian shout from the West Wing, and the President came charging through the Rose Garden, coattails flying." He then engaged in the following dialogue with the guilty Quentin:

TR (panting heavily) Too late! Too late, by George! Quentin!—I mean Georgie Washington—come here with your i-n-c-r-i-m-i-n-a-t-i-n-g hatchet! In the heat of battle, many acts, which would not c-o-u-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e-d at other times, may be excusable—or at least, subject to sym-pa-thet-ic in-ter-pre-ta-tion; of course you understand that, boys?
Q Sure. You mean that’s the reason why I did it? I did it, because something had to be done, immejit-ly—
TR That’s e-x-a-c-t-l-y it! The point is always to do something quickly, because if you don’t, the other fellow will.
TR You may be wrong—you were here—but you have, at least, i-n-i-t-i-a-t-e-d action. When the action is wrong, you must admit it, and correct by some further action—
Q (Looking at the severed hose) I don’t see how this can be corrected.
TR Only by an entirely new garden-hose. It was Government property, still is, but also, is no longer. You cannot imagine the difficulties involved, and the things required to be done, in order to replace it. It will even cost money, part of that which I am earning—or was earning, when interrupted by a dispatch regarding the progress of this war, and left hurriedly for the field—
Q Well, of course you’re right; but we’ve learned our lesson, you know—
TR We? Don’t you mean yourself? And what you have learned?
Q Not to cut up garden-hoses.
TR And not to use fire-axes on anything but a fire—
Q (with a touch of wistfulness) We’re not so likely to have a fire.
TR Not with all this water around! You escape, Quentin, only because of the extenuating circumstances arising out of the heat of battle.

Funny stuff, if you appreciate zany humor.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Shifts in Popular Culture: "For Tomorrow We Die"

Here's another phrase that has received an unconscious editing by the culture-at-large in the current age. As schoolchildren, we learned in World History about the Epicureans, who lived by the motto "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The Epicureans were renowned for this mindset because it marked them as a people who lived only for the moment. Yet their watchword reveals that while they lived only for now, they had an eye on later. They knew tomorrow was coming, and that it could well bring their end. They suffered from no delusion on this matter.

Not so with modern-day culture. I would propose that many of my generation live by this motto, yet with the apodosis, the second clause, missing entirely. In other words, the phrase as emended today now should read: "Eat, drink, and be merry." There are countless people among us who live Epicurean lives, reveling in pleasure, without any mind to the future. Such folk give no thought to death or the cessation of existence. They have no grim reminder of such things about them--or at least they try not to. Through plastic surgery we falsely prolong physical youthfulness. Through unchecked sexual expression we delay the onset of maturity. Through a life of self-gratification and amoral pleasure seeking we avoid emotional progression. My generation, in a sentence, is relentlessly working to stave off the advance of time. They do so because when you stave off time, you push back (you think) your mortality. It's all a ruse, though. It's all a sham.

Someone put the Epicureans on notice. Their phrase has been changed. We don't give any thought to death anymore. We don't party anymore with our mortality in mind. We party today as immortal gods and goddesses, servants to noone, tethered to nothing, especially our mortality. For much of today's generation, it's simply "Eat, drink, and be merry." Nothing less, nothing more.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Shifts in the Cultural Sea: "Shackin' up" and "Hookin' up"

Here's something I've noticed lately. Occasionally I'll hear a person from the Boomer generation speak of a young cohabitating couple with the description "shackin' up." You've probably heard this expression, particularly if you're a Boomer. A generation ago, it was the most common description of a couple enjoying the pleasures of sex outside of its proper context, being marriage. It was likely that the couple had not simply enjoyed sex once but had in fact moved in together. Years ago, this was quite scandalous. Nowadays, it's called a healthy relationship.

Now we all know things have changed. The cultural scene is sexually super-charged these days. The same narcissistic morality that toppled truth in the academy has removed it from the bedroom. We know this, if we have a cultural pulse. But it's interesting--fascinating, even--to see the shift in sexual behavior as expressed in colloquial speech. It's always fun to study cultural changes through language, and this matter proves no exception. Noone made a top-down decision that "Shackin' up" was outmoded. My generation simply adopted this language and discarded the old phrase, with good reason. Fewer people of college age or post-college age move in together than in years past. Extra-marital sex is not limited to just one person for many of my peers. Those who so limit themselves are in many cases the exception. They have "settled down," a term that used to describe marriage.

The youth culture of today knows little desire for "shacks" or shared quarters. They momentarily come together, joining their bodies for little less time than it takes to dance a waltz, and then they are off again. They hooked up--briefly joined together--and then they breeze away, having enjoyed bodies without entangling concerns such as the other's welfare, spiritual state, or responsibility to God. The language is appropriate. One hooks one's coat for a little while, and one hooks a sexual partner for a little while. Easy come, easy go. With the change in behavior comes a change in language. Less people "play house" these days. One wonders what the next change in behavior, and language, will mean for society.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hell is Meant to Be Evangelistic

When we shirk our biblical obligation to speak of hell to this world, we not only dishonor God, we take off the table one of the chief means God uses to convert sinners. In our age of quivering consciences and ginger conversations, we have forgotten that speaking of hell does not hinder people from coming to Christ--it brings them to Him! It was intended to be so. The news of hell makes the gospel, the truth of Christ's atoning work, good. It also makes it necessary.

We do this often today, I think. We think that it will be bad if we speak of hell because people will be afraid and offended and hate us. Well, there's some truth in such thinking. Those who are not elected to eternal life will likely respond with vitriol. But this is their response not simply to hell but to most everything Christian. They don't like much of anything about Christianity, and hell is no exception to that rule. But those whom God intends to be saved will respond to the news of hell with soberness, fear, and repentance--exactly as God intended it. God is not all smiles and sunsets and roses. He is Love, surely, and that is beautiful. But He is also Justice. He is wrathful, and man needs to be afraid of His justice. We need to see that our sin and His wrath are not disconnected but are linked by a cord that, we might say, takes the shape of a noose around our neck. Our sin begets His wrath, and that means an eternity in hell for us. Makes you jerk back a bit, doesn't it? It's such a forceful doctrine, and it needs to be. Otherwise, would any of us really notice the gospel, or treasure it, or respond to it? I doubt it.

So in your own life, Christian, speak of hell. Don't go around trumpeting it, don't overemphasize it, and don't speak callously of it. Be sensitive and wise in delivering the news of it's existence. That said, speak of it. God has intended that news this bad would push us to consider our fate and to turn from our sin to Christ. Do not be afraid, and do not rob your evangelism of biblical strength. Be faithful to the Bible, declare the fullness of the gospel message, and leave the rest to God. Hell, you see, is meant to be evangelistic.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Necessity of Speaking About Hell, Part One

Back from the honeymoon, which was wonderful. Please do not in any way associate this blog with my experience as a honeymooner.

It has occurred to me that many evangelicals today, even the conservative, the-Bible-is-inerrant kind, don't speak much about hell. Have you noticed this? I'm not talking about people who have difficulty believing in hell. I'm talking about people who affirm with certainty that the Bible and its teachings are true. Many of us struggle even to utter the word "hell" in conversations with non-Christians. This is a troubling phenomenon.

I suspect that it is what D.A. Carson would call "hard postmodernism" that has led us to this point. That is to say, we evangelicals have been so battered by those calling us intolerant for our belief in absolute truths such as hell that we have begun to believe them, if only a little bit. We start to tell ourselves that maybe there is a shred of intolerance in our doctrine of hell. Hell is, after all, the most forcefully troubling aspect of life in this world. There is nothing bright about it, nothing to commend it, nothing to ease its way into a softened conscience. By its nature, hell is prickly and horrid. And yet it is also unquestionably real. Hell is real. People have gone, are going, and will go, there. And we evangelicals are sadly too often bundled up in questioning whether we ought to talk about hell to actually talk about it. All those caricatures of fire-and-brimstone preachers have worked. We evangelicals have in many ways lost our nerve when it comes to talking about hell.

Let me make a suggestion: don't joke in any way about hell. Don't laugh about fire-and-brimstone. That may sound silly, and overly wooden, but I would suggest that there is nothing about hell that should be dulled. There is no aspect of it that should become familiar or friendly. It is a horrid place. It is the resting home of countless people around us, including our family members, our friends, and our coworkers. We do God a mighty disservice by trivializing it. There is no biblical record of any joke or trifling remark when it comes to hell. The biblical word is sober, saddened, and piercingly clear. So should our speech be.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Thoughts on Marriage: Last Night Alone

Here's my final post for a while. I'm getting married tomorrow, and will commence with the honeymoon shortly thereafter. Blogging, like a good many things, will then be far from my mind. You understand.

A few scattered thoughts just came to me as I drove through the night to my apartment. I had just left Bethany's home and was generally quite tired from the day's events. Yet even after errands, a rehearsal, and a rehearsal dinner, I still had a little brain space left over for some solemn contemplation of the moment. I realized then that I was driving for the final time away from Bethany. From here on out, I'll be driving to her. Instead of a conflicted goodnight, I'll be making my way to the smile of my wife. In place of separation, I will join her. Instead of a bleary-eyed drive home alone, I'll face a bleary-eyed drive home with her. What great changes these are, and how welcome.

I am writing this as a single man. This is one of the last things I will ever do as a single man. I have had my final Friday as a single man. I am now completing my final night as a single man. Though I left long ago, I am now officially leaving my parent's family and creating my own. I am still my father's son, still my mother's hijo, still my sister's big brother, but all is changed. I am on my own now. I am the leader. I am the provider. I am the protector. I am pledged to, taken, and covenanted with. I have traded a lifetime of autonomy for one of commitment. I no longer will go to Maine alone to visit my family. I no longer will have my own bank account. I will not spend Friday nights as only I wish to spend them. Everything, everything, everything is changed. This is glorious stuff. It is also weighty. After all, it's not often a man's life changes overnight.

My bride and I now take on the responsibility of representing the mysterious union of Christ and His people, the church. We picture this relationship to the world in a way that neither party can fully grasp but all can see, if they only look. These are awesome days, awesome responsibilities, awesome privileges. I feel slightly daunted by the task but fully desirous of it. Can it be that I, the goofy rapper, am taking a wife, and making my own family? It can. I am.

Such were the thoughts that came on a midnight drive home, the last one I would ever make alone. With the summer night, my singleness slipped away into the dark, a friend I had long known and now bade a lifelong "goodbye." On went the car, and on went my life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thoughts on Marriage: A Concentrated Love

My generation thinks that it is best to be free of any moral or ethical responsibilty when it comes to romance. The ideal among my peers seems to be that one derives the most enjoyment and love for oneself from a variety of partners. Thinking mathematically, that may seem to make some sense. When one plays this idea against common sense, however, it falls far short of any mark of sensibility.

Ask a married person, perhaps one who attracted a good deal of attention from the opposite sex, whether they prefer single or married life, and they will laugh at you. The question is a no-brainer. That seems crazy, I know, but it's true. Why on earth would they respond in such a way? How can it be overwhelmingly better to have the love of one person, who one never ceases to see, whose body changes and not for the better, who grates over time, than many? What could possibly be better than having the attention of many, the affection of multitudes, the passion of a plethora? Well, the look on the married person's face tells us. Marriage to one person of the opposite sex could be better. Crazy, ain't it?

But it makes sense if you think it through just a little. When you covenant, or agree to, love just one person, and do so with the promise of unconditionality attached to that love, you are giving that person an incredible gift (and they you). You are saying that you will love them no matter how they smell, what they say, and how they act (to a great, great extent). You are giving them an iron-clad pledge of commitment, and that brings a startling amount of security and contentment. Over a lifetime, that contentment becomes a settled joy. Take a look at your grandparent's faces, those who are married happily for many years, and then look at the face of your average Gen Next club-hound. There's no comparison. One experiences cheap thrills and passing pleasures. The other experiences faithful love and unconditional happiness.

Saying yes to marriage is saying no to a life of teased emotions and broken hearts. The life of those dedicated to messing around with as many people as they can may look glamorous on tv, but it sure doesn't feel that way. It's all very conditional, and uncertain, and pressured. That's why such people spend way more time cultivating their body than their heart. They know that their hopes for fulfillment, however fleeting, depend on their looks, and so they give their attention to them. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, grandparents bemused with the little joys of life sit on the porch. Rocking, they contemplate a lifetime of concentrated love and settled affection. I am happy to join them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Thoughts on Marriage: Responsibility

Now three days from wedded bliss, I am conscious that I am walking toward responsibility. It is right and good that I, a 25-year-old man, take a woman to be my wife. As I do so, I am aware that many of my peers do not share my conviction.

It seems that the default setting for my generation is "do whatever you want to do." Responsibility does not really enter into things for my peers. Why would it? There is no ethical engine which might produce such a category. Marriage is simply one choice among many that one may make if one thinks it will make one happy. Until one is so moved, then, one is free to sample whatever flesh one likes, to break whatever hearts one wishes to break, and to scorn whatever conventions one wishes to scorn.

It is not so with the biblical view of things. Marriage is not presented in the Bible as one choice among many that man may make. The Bible says that there are some who will not marry, and that this is good. Those who do not will undertake more work for the Kingdom of God. But the vast majority of mankind is instructed to leave father and mother and join with a person of the opposite sex in marriage. This unit is to produce children if possible, enjoy the gift of sex, and glorify God by a shared life. Such is the plan for most of humanity. To choose another way is to rebel.

I don't think that I'm some super-spiritual guy for getting married (hopefully). I think that God has worked in my heart and made me want to obey Him, and so I am by getting married. What an interesting concept for this generation: marriage as a matter of obedience. So often we think of how people today rebel by pornography, alcoholism, adultery, lying, and so on, but we don't often think about more basic, quiet forms of rebellion like refusing to marry. The Creator has given us His plan. We have chosen to walk away from it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thoughts on Marriage

I am now four days from being married. Those are some surreal words to write.

Life these days is a combination of slowed-down and sped-up. It seems incredible that I'm four days from leaving the "Singles" ranch. In one sense, I'm amazed that my departure is so close. At the same time, I feel a bit like someone has hit the slo-mo button on my life. I notice each hour that passes, and bid it farewell as I would an acquaintance after a hurried encounter. Work today was slow; not the type of slow that dreadfully grinds away, but the type that is fueled by excitement, such that one glances at the clock entirely too much. Here I am, hurtling on a speed train to my future, and I am doing so in slow motion. The mix is strange and strangely pleasant.

More than anything, I'm noticing my mortality these days. On the cusp of experiencing marriage, one of God's greatest gifts to mankind, I'm almost eerily aware of my own mortality. My wedding is not simply on the calendar. It's not written in with surety. It's written with pencil. By all accounts, it is quite plausible that the marriage of Owen Strachan and Bethany Ware will take place on Saturday, July 8th at approximately 1:45 p.m. But this is in no way certain. The Lord Christ may return at 1:35 p.m., or a car may veer into my path as I drive on some mindless errand this week. For the Christian, mortality is not distant. It is not a loosely held reality, or a future event of great probability, but a certain certainty. It does not meekly shadow; it looms. We may also say that it is not grim or horrible for the Christian; it is actually rather sweet. And so even in such heightened moments as this, when I look forward to the one lifetime event that lasts for all my days, I am aware of death. Odder than this, perhaps: I am ready for it. I am not troubled by it, or bothered by it, or angered by it. It is my strong wish that I might marry Bethany, the only girl I've ever loved. But it is my strongest wish that I might glorify God, whether by an entrance into holy matrimony or an entrance into the land of last rest.