Troubled Times

When David Wayne at JollyBlogger added me to his blogroll he placed me in the Culture section. Up to that point I had not really thought of myself as a cultural commentator. His classification made me give the idea some thought and I realized that David had pinpointed my niche rather well. To be honest however, there is something to be said for the idea that any thoughtful person is to some degree a commentator on the culture in which they exist. That said, the problem for a Christian is contained within the admonition of Jesus in John 17:11-19 to be in the world while at the same time not being of the world.

This is a difficult balancing act where we must continually fight against losing our perspective and slipping into becoming one with the world in which we live. I believe the classic example of this failure is Judas, whose emersion in the culture of the liberation movement of his day, the Zealots, prevented him from relating to Jesus on any real level except as the one who would liberate Israel from the yoke of Rome. You can argue that he betrayed Jesus to force his hand, to make Jesus declare his messianic credentials and begin the long-awaited revolution. He was sadly mistaken, for while Jesus did declare that he was Messiah, it wasn’t the deliverer Judas expected. Indeed, it is clear from the Gospels that no one around Jesus saw clearly his role as suffering servant, because they were all, including the rest of the disciples, looking for another David to return and slay the Roman Goliath.

As we look at our own culture and the events occurring around us, we have the same problems as Judas and the disciples. At various time since the establishment of the Church, especially in the last 150 years or so, the Christian Church has given rise to many “prophets” seeing the end of times just around the corner. It has grown to a crescendo despite innumerable predictive failures, so much so that the cover story for the June 23, 2002 edition of Time Magazine, The Bible & The Apocalypse centered on the issue. Christians over the centuries have seen disruptive local and world events and like Judas expected their deliverance to be at hand, only like Judas to be disappointed.

It is axiomatic that most people in every generation have very little or no historical perspective, with the best and worst of times directly related to what occurs within their lifetime. Two important books address this fact and point to how examining the internal understandings of each generation yield important clues to how they interpret the events around them. These books are Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. Both of these books are by the same authors, William Strauss and Neil Howe.

Generations. The basic premise is that there are four generational life phases that interact with the two basic social movements of secular crisis and spiritual awakening (chart p. 73). From this assertion the authors track their premise backward, demonstrating its fit on known history and from there track forward (from 1991 when the book was written) to show various crisis points coming in the near future. Using their model it is possible to predict, at least in general terms, when and of what types of crises will occur, as well as how people will view those issues.

The Fourth Turning. In this book, written in 1997, the authors posit the effect of the fourth phase of this generational view on upcoming events. The guiding quote for the book is taken from KJV of Ecclesiastes 3:15 “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” In this book they postulate that the fourth phase of the current four generation cycle will lead to “events on par with the [American] Revolution, the Civil War, or World War II” sometime in the next 15 or so years.

While most of the people who read these books focus on the predictive elements of th authors’ work (for a good summary and interpretation see the The Foundation of Crisis by Doug Casey), I was taken by how similarly each generation within the cycle interpreted the events happening around them. While there are exceptions and you could easily argue for some sort of bell curve of general acceptance, the lack of objective perspective seems overwhelming. They argue that it is very hard to step outside of your generational interpretive mindset.

For those of you who do not know, my degree is in Ancient History, and research like this always intrigues me since it demonstrates the biblical argument of history as a spiral, that while things are to a degree cyclic and repetitive, it is all still moving forward, progressing towards the future. The historian cannot define that future or point to what that something we are spiraling toward is, only that it exists. The Christian, on the other hand, sees that future something as the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ, which will usher in the culmination of history. That said, that is not my focus. My focus is how our membership in a generation of people affects how we view the world around us and how within that context we interpret the events happening within our flow of history. That has significant ramifications for the Christian Church, its theologians, pastors, and persons in the pew. It can be seen in the current upheavals due to the secularization of the Church, both from the liberalizing of the tenants and beliefs by liberals as well as the effects on the Church of attempts to reach out to the post-modern Gen-Xers by the Emerging Church and its accompanying Open Theology initiatives. They are both, if you accept the premise, significantly influenced by the interpretive dictates of their respective generational phases.

I hope to examine this in more detail in the future, but my purpose at the moment is to expose my brothers and sisters in Christ to this interpretive framework, in hopes that it can be used as a tool to help them understand the underlying influences guiding those who are seeking to assert their will on the Christian Church. Who are the true prophets and who are merely the tools (unwitting or not) of their interpretive milieu?

May God bless all of our efforts to see through a mirror darkly.

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