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