Yesterday morning, an op-ed piece went live on CNN by a young evangelical author named Daniel Darling, entitled “Millennials and the false “Gospel of Nice“. Darling piece is clearly written in response to many recent articles by progressive millennials such as Rachel Held Evans’ recent CNN Op-Ed, “How Evangelicals Won a Culture War and Lost a Generation” which argues that many of the leaders of Evangelical Christianity have abandoned the core convictions and teachings of Jesus Christ and instead have leveraged their faith as a weapon to be used against anyone who disagrees with their political and moral principles that they claim are rooted in Scripture.
All of this is very fresh in our minds as news broke on Thursday that Christian relief organization World Vision lost over 10, 000 child sponsorships and received thousands of threatening calls and emails from conservative evangelicals who disagreed with the organization’s decision to begin hiring gay and lesbian Christians who were in committed Christian marriages with one another. To many millennial evangelicals and non-evangelical Christians who have watched this controversy unfold, this is an utter travesty. It seems simply unfathomable that anyone who claims to follow Christ could justify removing support from the impoverished children that they know by name because they disagreed with the organization’s hiring policy.
In his op-ed piece, Darling argues that the cry of many progressive and millennial evangelicals is:
“If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.”
He then continues by saying that:
“embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions: Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace [and] the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.”
When I read these comments in Darlings piece, I was utterly fascinated. Fascinated because as a millennial evangelical, and one who is participating in these conversations on a national and international level, I have never heard a single person call for “evangelical leaders to give up their antiquated beliefs”. I have never heard anyone saying that “the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.” And I happen to know for a fact that “young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.” It was utterly shocking to me to read this short op-ed piece simply because for once, in a very public way, the Conservative Evangelical straw-man seemed to be put on display. When I read Darling’s piece, it became crystal clear to me what the key problem is that is causing so much friction between the “old guard” in Evangelicalism and us millennials.
The old guard has confused Orthodoxy with their political and moral interpretations of Scripture.
I honestly don’t mean that to come across as arrogant or disrespectful. I am not just a millennial punk with a blog trying to stick it to the man. I am trying my best to be a committed follower of Jesus and I have been burned by many in Evangelicalism and have been handed a picture of God that I have begun discovering is radically inconsistent with the Scriptural, historical, orthodox image of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The same could be said, I am confident, of most millennial evangelicals who are, in fact moving away from the version of faith that they inherited in their youth. And the motivation for our exodus is clearly seen by the tone and fallacies contained in Darling’s article.
So what in the heck is “Orthodoxy”? The way Darling has portrayed it in his article, Orthodoxy seems to be one and the same with many Evangelical leaders views on topics like sexuality and abortion. It’s also likely that when Darling uses the word “Orthodoxy”, he is using it in the way that many of the leaders in his own denomination use it: to refer to a heavily reformed, Protestant systematic theology. The problem is, however, that neither of these things are even part of what defines Orthodoxy. For nearly 1, 800 years, the Christian Church has been in near universal agreement on what it means to be an orthodox Christian. In A.D. 381, 150 Christian leaders from around the world gathered together in Constantinople to formulate a simple creed that clearly defined what one must believe in order to be considered an “orthodox Christian.” After much debate and deliberation, the council released to the Church what is known today as the Nicene Creed. Ever since it’s release in A.D. 381, the Nicene Creed has been accepted as the standard for determining a person or movements orthodoxy. The creed reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This has been the generally accepted standard for Christian Orthodoxy for thousands of years. This creed is what determines if someone is to be considered orthodox or “heretical”. And yet, in recent decades, it seems that many in conservative Evangelicalism have forgotten what’s contained in the creed; what the early Fathers of the Church determined was necessary to be considered a “Christian.” And instead, have loaded on to “Orthodoxy” a ton of political and theological beliefs and positions that a majority of Christians throughout the world could not affirm or uphold. It seems that the Fathers of the current Evangelical movement have abandoned the Church Fathers and have created their own unique version of “Evangelical Orthodoxy”, which, if this is true, should be considered heretical because of its additions to the faith passed down to us by the historic creeds of our faith.
I don’t know a single millennial evangelical who doesn’t whole-heartedly affirm every line of the Nicene Creed. I don’t know a single millennial evangelical who is calling for Evangelical leaders to “give up their antiquated beliefs [to] get more in step with the real Jesus.” It’s simply not happening. We’re simply not interested in abandoning orthodoxy. If anything, there has been a staunch increase in millennial participation in more traditional and robustly orthodox versions of our faith. Darling has constructed a straw man of millennial evangelicals that doesn’t even come close to representing who we truly are or what we believe.
The major clash between the generation seems to arise out of the way many millennials are rethinking what it looks like to engage our culture on the most urgent social issues. Many millennials are changing the way we view issues of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. We are rethinking how we should engage with the poor and oppressed. We are placing social justice back at the core of the Gospel message. But none of these changes are coming from cultural pressure. They’re coming from our sincere engagement with the Jesus of the New Testament. It is our interaction with him that is causing our change in orientation towards so many of the issues that American Evangelicals have battled hard for. And when we see Evangelical responses to events like what happened with World Vision last week, we are grieved. Challenged. Convicted. Because for so many of us, it seems clear where Jesus is standing in the midst of that storm. And its not with evangelical leaders and their rigid political perspectives.
What millennials are calling for is for the old guard of Evangelicalism to return to orthodoxy and to stop putting their political and social positions on top of their definition orthodoxy and then using them as a measuring rod to determine who is in and who is out. We are calling leaders of Evangelicalism to repent of making Jesus in their own image by imposing on the Christ of the Scriptures social and political ideas that were completely foreign to him. And most of all, we’re calling the leaders of Evangelicalism to stop demonizing the next generation who is doing our best to worship, obey, and follow Jesus Christ in a cultural context that they know little about. There are unique challenges that face the way millennials live out our faith in this ever-expanding new world that require us to rethink and reform what it looks like to be Christian. All of us truly desire to see our world transformed by the Gospel of Jesus and the way that is going to look for us will be radically different then the way it looked for them.
At the end of the day, I think the unfortunate reality is that many in the old-guard of Evangelicalism are going to continue to refuse to hear out the millennial Evangelicals and continue to perpetuate the myth that we’re just trying to rid ourselves of orthodox theology and embrace hipster, social justicey, teddy bear forms of Jesus. But this opposition should not stop us from pursuing Jesus with our whole lives. I no longer fear being called a “heretic” by more conservative Evangelicals, because I am confident that as long as I am pursuing Jesus as he has been revealed in the Gospels, then I am going to be okay. And it is precisely my love and desire to follow Jesus that is fueling my passion to do justice in the world. To work to un-politicize the Gospel. To work for a better world for all people. Jesus is my motivation. He’s my goal. And I firmly believe that for most millennial Evangelicals, this passion for Jesus will continue to empower and spur us on to a much more robust faith, hope, and love.
May it be.