It will be there in decline our entire lives

A lot of the gen­er­a­tional prob­lems I see affect­ing Quak­erism are not unique to us. The val­ues of the Six­ties gen­er­a­tion have become the the new oppres­sive ortho­doxy. In Quak­erism, our “free­dom from” (the past, Chris­tian­i­ty, the tes­ti­monies under­stood as the reflec­tions of faith) has become near­ly com­plete, which means it’s become bor­ing, and sti­fling. There’s a refusal to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for mat­ters of faith and so all truth is judged by how it affects one’s own indi­vid­ual spir­i­tu­al­i­ty (we’re all Ranters now, hence my website’s name). Where Friends once talked about the death of the rebel­lious self-will and the bear­ing the cross, we now end­less­ly share self-absorbed sto­ries of our “spir­i­tu­al jour­neys” (does it real­ly mat­ter, hasn’t Christ got­ten us all here now and isn’t that the point?), while we toss out pseudo-religious feel-good buzz­words like “nur­ture” and “com­mu­ni­ty” like they’re par­ty favors.

I often feel like I’m talk­ing to a brick wall when I talk about these issues (can’t we just all be nur­tur­ing with­out being told to, sim­ply because it’s the right way to be?). For­tu­nate­ly, there are some fas­ci­nat­ing sites from thirty-somethings also see­ing through the gen­er­a­tional cri­sis affect Chris­tians. Right now I’m read­ing Pas­toral Soft­ness, a post from Jor­dan Coop­er, a pas­tor in a com­mu­ni­ty church in Saskatchewan, and this para­graph just hits me so hard:

The mod­ern church is not going to lis­ten to us, it won’t affirm us, or give us any of its resources there is no point any­more in let­ting it get to us. It will be there in decline our entire lives and will prob­a­bly go down fight­ing and wast­ing a lot of lives and mon­ey but to let that define us spir­i­tu­al­ly will be an even big­ger loss. We can’t blame it for being what it is and if we are going to have a long term future in serv­ing God, we need to stop look­ing at our envi­ron­ment and instead in our hearts.

Seri­ous stuff, indeed, and I sus­pect some Friends would elder me for even repeat­ing it. But its real­ly the same mes­sage that Christ gave a young man 350 years ago:

When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had noth­ing out­ward­ly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy con­di­tion”; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my con­di­tion, name­ly, that I might give Him all the glo­ry. (Jour­nal of George Fox)

Every­one knows the first part but it’s the last sen­tence that’s been speak­ing to me for at least the last year. Does Christ make the insi­tu­tions fail us just so He can direct our gaze to the true Source? And isn’t this what Quak­er sim­plic­i­ty is all about: keep­ing our minds as undis­tract­ed as pos­si­ble so we can see the real deal?

Coop­er did an inter­view with Robert Web­ber, an author I know noth­ing about but who’s appar­ent­ly writ­ten a few books deal­ing with the new gen­er­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cals. I some­times stum­ble across peo­ple and won­der if there’s not some kin­dred cul­ture out there that’s just out of reach because it’s sup­pos­ed­ly on some oth­er side of an the­o­log­i­cal rift. Any­way, Web­ber says:

The prag­mat­ic church­es have become insti­tu­tion­al­ized — with some excep­tions. They respond­ed to the six­ties and sev­en­ties, cre­at­ed a culture-driven church and don’t get that the world has changed again. Prag­mat­ics, being fixed, have lit­tle room for those who are shaped by the post­mod­ern revolution.

A lot of these evan­gel­i­cals are reach­ing for some­thing that looks very much like ear­ly Quak­erism (which self-consciously reached toward ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty). I’d like to think that Friends have some­thing to offer these seek­ers and that there could be a dynam­ic re-emergence of Quak­erism. But to be hon­est, most Quak­ers I know don’t have any­thing to offer these wea­ried seek­ers except more of the same hashed out insti­tu­tion­al­ism, with dif­fer­ent fla­vored top­pings (dif­fer­ences of social stands, e.g., paci­fism, atti­tudes towards gays). I know John Punshon’s been talk­ing a lot about Quak­ers’ pos­si­ble inter­sec­tion with a larg­er renewed evan­ge­lism but I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read Rea­sons for Hopeyet. I’ll do that soon.

Update:
Com­par­i­son chart of tra­di­tion­al, prag­mat­ic, and younger evan­gel­i­cals from Robert Web­ber by way of Jor­dan Coop­er. Very interesting.

More Online Reading:
Lead­ing Dying Churches
Jor­dan Cooper
The Ooze
“Indieal­lies” Meet­up to con­nect with local read­ers of these sites