Thursday, April 09, 2009

The 1960's: a reflection

One wishing to identify on which side of the fence someone resides in the American cultural divide needs only to get a reaction to the decade of the 1960's. Talk to a conservative, and that person will likely describe the decade as one of moral and political ruin. On the other hand, liberal attitudes toward the trends and events of that decade range from ambivalence to celebration.

However, there are interesting exceptions to these divergent attitudes among a minority of evangelicals who wrote about the period. These writers lament that baby boomers coming of age in that decade arrived at the wrong solutions, but they acknowledge that their rebellion arose from a correct diagnosis of the problems. Thus, evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl F.H. Henry, in volume one of his massive God, Revelation, and Authority, praised the 60's generation for challenging a "scientism" that suggested that human life could be understood and valued purely in empirical and technological terms.

Francis Schaeffer, writing in How Should We Then Live, offered an even more interesting critique, suggesting that the 60's generation was right to reject their parents' "horrible values" of "personal peace and affluence" as defining the meaning of life. Schaeffer, in this video lecture outlining the arguments of that section of the book, contends that these were the values left for those who had been taught that reason only led to despair. That generation's pursuit of drug use, not as a means of pleasure but as ideology, and leftist political causes eventually fizzled out, and Schaeffer says that he "wept" at the apathy among young adults that was left when the movement effectively reached its end.

Indeed, those baby boomers eventually made peace with finding life's meaning in personal peace and affluence while retaining (with some restraint due to the AIDS epidemic) loosened sexual values. Because personal peace and affluence, even with more sex, are not sufficient to fill the human soul, boomers have needed help in filling those holes, and so Americans now turn to Prozac rather than LSD in order to fill themselves.

The 60's generation also produced an interesting religious movement. Derided by both secularists and many Christians who didn't like their long hair and style of dress as "Jesus freaks," the Jesus movement, while generally conservative doctrinally, challenged conventional churches that they considered too cozy with mainstream American culture, including those values of personal peace and affluence. While the Jesus movement provided energy to the church while metaphorically turning over the tables in the temple, it eventually fizzled out as well due to the lack of a clear doctrinal response to the problems in the church that it had correctly diagnosed. Churches catering primarily to baby boomer Christians have largely made peace with the values of the wider culture, teaching their members how to live well and be successful within it. The other worldly, not to mention countercultural, aspects of Christianity have largely been lost in the process. Boomer churches are identified by their style, not their substance. They have guitars and drums instead of organs, but there is really not anything terribly interesting about their message.

This has created a sad irony. The current severe downturn in the economy has created anxiety for people who have grown accustomed to their comfortable existences. If they are looking for alternative meanings to life, sadly, the contemporary church has little to say to them. Churches that have grown fat by providing a spiritual rubberstamp to cultural values really have nothing to say when the values they have been rubberstamping are shaken.

Modern church marketing reveals this. Many churches, having accepted the values of the wider culture, no longer believe in the things that make them unique. Driving around Fort Worth this week, I passed a church with a huge sign advertising its 1,500 Easter egg hunt on Sunday. Is there anything wrong with a church having an Easter egg hunt for the children? No. However, a church confident in its resurrection message wouldn't lead with something about hunting eggs on its sign. Why advertise plastic eggs when your real message is that The Savior is risen from the dead and that because He rose we also can live forever.

For those who know that The Savior lives, and that we shall reign with Him, personal peace and affluence are not ultimate values. Indeed, while comforts are appreciated and enjoyed, Easter is a celebration of what has been given us that cannot be taken away.


Blogger Lanette said...

It's one of your best posts. While I also am enjoying a life of peace and affluence, a part of me has always hungered to live counter to those ideals without taking on the immorality of those who pursue the counter-culture.
You touched on some very good points particularly with filling the human soul. When one turns from the philosophies and comforts of his parents, he must fill that with something meaningful. Sadly, only those in the Jesus Movement were the only ones had found anything close to being meaningful, and I mourn for the movement's failures. I only hope other young people can take up the banner they dropped by embracing true doctrine and freedom in Christ without being tainted by the wickedness of free love and drugs and bitterness against their upbringing.

8:06 PM  

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