Early in his final illness, Francis Schaeffer told a New England audience that Europe already had become post-Christian, and America soon would be if its people did not return to God.
A decade later I am reminded of his prediction. There is a special report in Christianity Today (September 12) entitled, “Reaching the First Post-Christian Generation.”
Becoming “post-Christian” is a process in which Christian influence is replaced by prevailing voices which reject the truth of the Bible and oppose its expression in any form—in education, government, media, and arts, and personal morality. Coupled with this is a “radical reaction” which says mat people can know truth not only through their minds, but also through their emotions and intuition. This means that truth can be anything to anyone or any group. There is no objective way of knowing. Reality and truth, set forth in God’s Word and lived out in Christ, His Word made flesh, are being replaced by sin-flawed human perceptions and experiences.
In this kind of post-Christian society 38 million young Americans born between 1963 and 1977 are reaching their twenties. They are called Baby Busters, in contrast to the forty-ish Baby Boomers who preceded them, or Generation X because they are looking for their identity, or a variety of other names. Books and articles are being written about them.
What are they like, this new generation? Andres Tapia in the Christianity Today article summarizes what is said about them. They exist in great variety, but they have in common that they come from broken homes—50% of them and from homes where both parents worked. To many of them “family” means pain and abuse. They distrust organizations and authority figures, expecting them to be corrupt, exploitive, flaky. They resent the wealth of the workaholic Baby Boomers and deplore today’s job outlook and grim national debt. Unwilling to risk commitments, may postpone marrying; their average age for it is now 26 and rising. AIDS, violence and pollution worry them. Hungry for relationships and community, they are sometimes judged to be lazy about working, As a group they are described as apathetic, disheartened, disillusioned, depressed, cynical, ignored, misunderstood. Color them grey, dark grey! Yet 25% of college undergraduates among them volunteer an average of five hours a week in community service.
What are Baby Busters looking for? Tapia reports on a consultation of evangelical leaders trying to minister to this grey generation. Busters are attracted to authenticity. They want people to be honest, vulnerable about their own struggles. Easy answers and plush settings turn them off.
Busters want community. They seek genuine acceptance and trustworthy relationships often missing in their growing up. They are attracted by seeing Christ’s love in older people. Busters dislike dogmatism. Doctrine and rules for behavior have little appeal but stories and parables of Christ feed into their heart needs.
Busters focus on the arts. Music and TV control their lives. If they worship, they want music—their kind of it—to predominate. Busters also feel strongly about diversity. Reconciliation between races and acceptance of all kinds of people is high priority for them.
These are the Baby Busters, the first generation to search for a place in post-Christian America. They are all around me. The music beat from their car speakers rocks my car at a stop light. I struggle to understand them. They impact my grandchildren and the college students on our summit mission programs who are part of that generation. Nothing in our culture will introduce them to Christ, but I have that responsibility, and so do you. I want to understand them in order to reach out to them without surrendering what I believe the Bible teaches me.
Several things Baby Busters seek are what the Bible counsels Christians to be. Busters seek honesty and vulnerability in others. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love, to avoid the Pharisees’ showiness and boasting, to confess our faults to one another. Baby Busters are looking for genuine acceptance and trustworthiness in others, Jesus is the only perfect source of such love. He accepted us while we were still sinners and His promises are guaranteed for this life and eternity. We are the conduits of what He has given us. How interesting that Busters find such acceptance and trustworthiness attractive in older people, of whom I am one!
Baby Busters are big on diversity, on the value of all races and kinds of people. What could be more Biblical and Christ-like? Remember Jesus with the Samaritan woman, the thief on the cross, prostitutes, and a tax official. Think of the Ethiopian eunuch and the Book of Revelation throne where people of every race, tongue, and tribe will be gathered. Who more than we should be working for reconciliation and living examples of it?
I am less than optimistic about relating to Baby Busters’ form of music and the arts, I want my worship music to be joyful but reverent, my Bible study to be exegetical as foundation for the emotional. And I like my other music to be classical or at least tuneful.
Andres Tapia thinks “Jesus would have felt very much at home” with the Baby Buster generation, His simple lifestyle, community of twelve disciples, ministry to the outcast, anger at institutions and regulations of the Jews, parables from daily life, and forthright teachings—all these can speak to the heart cries of the first post-Christian generation,
Jesus speaks to my life, too. I need to be more obedient to Him in my lifestyle and relationships, and then more ready to speak of what the Lord has done for me.
Maybe, as one of those “older people,” God will use me as a bridge to some Baby Busters, whom I am trying to understand.
Reprinted from Missionary Monthly, Number/94 with permission.
Mrs. Thea B. Van Halsema is the wife of Dr. Dick L Van Halsema, retired President of Reformed Bible College and current President of I.D.E.A. Ministries. Mrs. Van Halsema has written several books; she has taught at Reformed Bible College and currently contributes monthly articles to the Missionary Monthly.