I’ve been trying to write this for a while but have struggled to find the words; Rachel Held Evans’ recent article about millennials leaving the church has provided me with a bit of much-needed impetus. Like her, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to speak as a millennial, (although I have been amusingly mistaken for one.) but speaking for myself: there is very little about Evangelical culture that I like. There, I’ve said it.
I don’t like soft rock music; I don’t like inspirational quotes passing for wisdom with all the depth and complexity of a bumper sticker; I don’t like uncritical, authoritative-sounding books written by picture-perfect authors with white teeth and whiter faces; I don’t like the feeling that one has to be relentlessly and unmercifully positive about everything; I don’t like Christianity Today or The Gospel Coalition; I don’t like conferences; I basically don’t like stuff Christian culture likes.
But the thing that I really really don’t like is the feeling that these things, which are simply matters of taste and preference, are being taken as normative. What do I mean? Well, it might be fine for me not to like soft rock… but can I worship in your church if I don’t like soft rock? Is it OK for me to think that bumper-sticker theology is, let’s face it, not very good? And is it OK for me to think that, quite a lot of the time, things really suck? Often I don’t feel like it is. By being different from others on these matters of taste, I feel like I’m being a traitor to my friends and my churches.
Evangelicalism is, on one hand, a set of theological principles, some of which I completely agree with and some of which, let’s face it, I think are totally nutty—but either way, I’m prepared to engage with; and, on the other hand, a set of purely cultural boundary markers—if you want to stay within the boundary, you adopt that cultural identity. I have less time for that sort of thing.
And this is where I part company with Rachel Held Evans. When someone suggests to her that the way to retain millennials is to give the music a bit of an update, she bangs her head on the desk and decries the preoccupation with style over substance. I, on the other hand, think the substance actually isn’t all that bad, and am encouraged to hear of a pastor realising that things can be changed, that the cultural boundary markers are not fixed, that we don’t all have to like the same stuff, and that the substance can survive even if the style changes.