A Christian worldview and a generational challenge
Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series on a Christian worldview. This series is not meant to be an exhaustive study of a Christian worldview, but merely as a launching point for further study that will provoke thought, generate feedback and hopefully decisive action.
A demographic tsunami is hitting the United States, presenting an unparalleled opportunity for Christians to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the importance of choosing a Christian worldview as opposed to secular humanism, Marxism or Islamo-facism. Generation Y, those born since 1985, are arriving – 100 million strong – and by the time they are all here in 2010 they will be the largest generation in the history of America. If we are obedient to God by being “salt and light,” and as 1 Peter 3:15 says: “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,” then it is vital we understand how the changing generations impact our lives and how critical it is we live-out and teach them a Christian worldview.
Kenneth Gronbach, a respected expert in the field of demography and generational marketing who counsels both Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, has written a new book, The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm, that is gaining considerable attention. Released this summer, it is fascinating to read his predictions, among them: that President Bush will be the last conservative president for a while and the government’s foray into the sub-prime mortgage world would explode into an economic crisis. I recommend his book.
Gronbach maintains that every 20 years or so, the United States produces a new generation. Each generation is bound by similar wants, needs, motives and events. He likens it to a parade moving through time, but instead of marching, the parade is aging. Those at the front of the parade – the oldest – are already disbanding (dying). The youngest in the back of the parade are just now forming at the fairgrounds.
The generational sections vary dramatically in size. What he calls the GI Generation, a generation of about 56.6 million people (most recently popularized by Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation”) born 1905-1924, are disbanding. So is the Silent Generation of about 52.5 million people, born 1925-1945, though they are not dying at the rate of the previous generation because of medical advances. For example, heart bypass surgery, now a frequent and successfully used procedure, was unthinkable during the GI Generation years. Then there are the gigantic “Baby Boomers,” 78.2 million born 1945-1964. They are followed in the parade line by Generation X, those 69 million born 1964-1984. Finally, back at the fairgrounds forming up, is the newest – and largest – generation, those born since 1985, commonly called Generation Y or “The Millennials.”
The GI Generation, now down to about five million, amassed tremendous personal wealth – some $11 trillion. They were savers who did not live above their means. They remain influential, holding corporate board seats and high positions in government. Because of their wealth, they tend to get the best health care. But as they have died, they have bequeathed much of their wealth to the Baby Boomers. It is reasonable to assume they are among a church’s most generous givers and are strong supporters of missions and charities.
The Silent Generation, now those aged 64-83, present a unique challenge to the church. Because there are fewer of them than the previous generation, the Church must be careful not to overlook them. Why are they called The Silent Generation? Gronbach’s explanation: “The only thing Silents didn’t have in common with the GI Generation was the fact that they didn’t fight in World War II. World War II is a defining event of the past 100 years, and it wasn’t given to the Silents. They listened to stories; they couldn’t tell them. This made them Silent.” While they are aging, they are living longer as well because of medical advancements.
The Baby Boomers, or so-called “war babies,” are products of the GI and Silent Generations. There were more births in 1957 (4.3 million) than in any year in the history of America. The Boomers, now aged 44-63, wanted to change the world. Those of us who follow Christ have wanted to bring about that change through the transforming power that only comes with a personal relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, too many Boomers have taken a different, more radical path.
Forty years ago too many Boomers wanted to burn down our universities. Today they run them. This is having a profound impact on public education and government. Boomers are intolerant, especially those who lean to the left. You may find this surprising, but Barack Obama is the first Boomer president (Bush was the last of the GI and Silent generational presidents backed largely by oil money).
One final point on the Boomers: they did not have many babies (the feminist movement and the exploding number of abortions have had an impact). “America’s Baby Boomers didn’t have many children on average, and as a result, our country faces a gray dawn. Even our currently high immigration levels haven’t made up the difference,” said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute. He warned that the aging population will produce a dangerous imbalance between those who produce and those who are dependent on them.
The Xers are products of the Silent and Boomer generations. They are your latch-key kids, but perhaps the most important thing to understand about the Xers is that there are nine million fewer of them compared to the Boomers. They have taken advantage of increased educational opportunities, attending college at the rate of 500 per thousand compared to the Boomers 250 per thousand. When the Xers went through the public school system, many schools closed their doors because they had fewer students, but enrollment in colleges rose dramatically. Because of their high level of education and the fact that generations in front of them are dying off, means no shortage of employment opportunities for them in the short term. Yet they will not consume at the level of Boomers because there are fewer of them. This is going to cause revenue problems for government, which will garner less tax revenue. This is why some are predicting that Xers will lead the charge to end private, shared-risk health insurance and Social Security. Some have theorized that President Bush’s lax approach to immigration was linked to this issue; the argument being immigrants will help increase tax revenue and keep programs like Social Security solvent.
Some theorists say because too many Xers come from broken homes and have been spoiled by over-compensating, multiple parents and grandparents, they come across as arrogant. Consider this assessment of the just-past election by an Xer blogger called Media Lizzy: "Gen Xers are ready to lead. The 2008 election is the election where Generation X assumes control of the Republic. Despite my policy differences with (Barack) Obama, this may be a chance to finally cut ties to the past. American voters don’t care how the Baby Boomers feel any more.” Exit polls showed those under age 30 (the youngest Xer is 24, voting age Yers are 18-23 years old) voted for Obama, about 66-32 percent. Something else important to remember: as voters age, their needs and views change. Some of the Boomers who, as young people, strongly supported the ultra-liberal Democrat George McGovern for president 30 years ago, are now in their early 60s and helped elect conservative Republican George Bush in 2004.
But Generation Y, “The Millennials,” may well reverse America’s leftward drift. They will have an appetite for consumption (just look at their toy boxes now) and will recognize a need to create a new world for themselves because of their massive numbers and the inadequate infrastructure left behind by the numerically smaller Xers. There will not be enough jobs and like the Boomers of the 1970s, it will force Generation Y to start a plethora of new businesses. Look for the government to slam the brakes on immigration and for new manufacturing operations to surface. It stands to reason that crime will increase as well, just because of the sheer numbers.
Now that we have a thumbnail sketch of what Christianity in America is facing, we need to look a little deeper at some troubling characteristics of the Boomer, X and Y generations that the Church will encounter as it shares a Christian worldview with them. Because these three generations are among the most educated, they unfortunately have been bombarded with unbiblical worldviews. This has occurred in large measure because many have been taught that absolute truth does not exist. As Allan Bloom wrote in the first sentence of his 1987 landmark book, The Closing of the American Mind, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of; almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Noted literature professor and Christian apologist Gene Edward Veith, Jr., explains the chaotic process in which such thinking plays out: “Postmodernists (Boomers, Xers and Yers) base this new relativism and the view that all meaning is socially constructed on a particular view of language. This set of theories, along with the analytical method that they make possible, can be referred to as ‘deconstruction.’” In other words language cannot render truths about the world in an objective way. Words are nothing but a mask, not something to be objectively understood, but rather unmasked to discover what it is hiding. Skepticism runs wild and subjectivity reigns, causing moral principles to disintegrate (if a baby is just a fetus, then we can kill it, so the reasoning goes). Religion becomes a coverup for something else, paving the way for man to be the measure of all things. Universities once obsessed with seeking what is true, beautiful and good, now grope for pragmatism and are governed by ideologues and political correctness. Abraham Lincoln’s observation that “The philosophy in the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next” should concern us. This is Satan’s latest challenge to God’s children on Earth.
The rampant skepticism now prevalent with our younger generations gives them a longing for authenticity and answers to the hard matters of faith. This gives us an opportunity to connect and offer an answer: the Gospel. For those who have been converted, that glorious fact presents a different challenge for the Church: How can we help younger generations of Christians who are willing to stand for truth without equipping them to do so? This is where teaching a Christian worldview comes in. It will show younger generations how to live out their lives in a way that honors God, while providing them with the means to foster community, encourage involvement in ministry and connect with mentors – or older generations to learn from their experiences.