I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. [1 John 2:12-14]
So much of what pulls at the church is a generation gap of sorts among John’s children, young men, and fathers.
Children in the faith are concrete, literal, and need a lot of reassurance. Many evangelicals resemble children in this way. (I can say this; I am an evangelical.)
On the other hand, young men in the faith have applied their ideals to life, and life has helped them sort through their theology. Young men come out of their trials with a stronger, deeper faith – one that is more practical and flexible than a child’s. Young men often find themselves in an unexpected transition phase, and they may take a new, hard look at the church that raised them.
(Many people switch churches because many churches accommodate only one spiritual age group. It’s part of this generation gap. A church may have a nursery, a youth program, and a seniors’ ministry while still excluding an entire spiritual generation.)
Fathers have lost some of the strength they had as young men. They may weep more than they did when they were children. Their faith is upside down and often apophatic. They’ve always known, but now they’ve known from the beginning. (Apologies to my students to whom I recently taught past perfect.) There are a lot of fathers in more liturgical denominations. (I can say this; I am a traditionalist.)
In her short and well-documented book Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, Nancey Murphy argues that the rift between fundamentalist and liberal churches resulted from the different responses two philosophers – Thomas Reid and Immanuel Kant – had to David Hume’s arguments calling into question John Locke’s “positive theories of both scientific and religious knowledge.” Ms. Murphey’s book is fascinating and, for me, very slow reading.
I wonder if the problem is at least as generational as it is philosophical. Perhaps a lot of the sons never grew up. Perhaps a lot of the fathers never had a childhood.
Perhaps we need one another.
Posted June 2005