An orthodoxy that breathes
In the book, The Millennials, Thomas and Jess Rainer give a detailed look at the priorities of this generation after surveying 1,200 young people, born between 1980 and 2000. They discovered that only 6 percent of these Millennials could affirm basic statements of Christian orthodoxy, such as believing in the divine origin of Scripture, salvation through grace alone, the sinlessness of Jesus, and the sovereignty of God (p.232). In other words:
94 percent of Millennials surveyed do not consider orthodoxy important.
Now, I know that statistics do not account for every Millennial on the planet. Or even in Santa Barbara for that matter. In fact, I feel as if that percentage increases for the best in the circle of college students I know. But that is not normative. Often good statistics can give us a bird’s-eye view of a generation’s spiritual condition. And the verdict is in: orthodoxy is out.
It may help if I explain what it is first. “Orthodoxy” comes from two Greek words: ortho, meaning “straight,” or “right,” and doxy, meaning “way of thinking.” So orthodoxy means to have a right way of thinking. In Christianity, then, orthodoxy refers to correct beliefs and doctrines. Perhaps you feel your defenses going up upon mentioning words like orthodoxy and doctrine—“right thinking” does seem to sound quite aggressive. Confrontational, really. We live in a culture that is growing more relativistic and inclusive. “Right thinking,” does not help to nurture those cultural values. But along that objection to orthodoxy comes this one: “Why do we have to nitpick every nuance in the Bible? Why can’t we just love everyone?” Well, you can and should! But “loving everyone” sounds incredibly arbitrary unless you know why you are loving everyone. Where do you base your morality? Why do you behave the way that you do? Is it a simple matter of biological evolution? Or is there also a moral law from God written on your hearts that transcends your relativism? If the latter is true (and ancient Christianity would have us believe so), then we better have some accurate views about what God thinks, or to refer again to the Greek word, we better have “orthodoxy.” But why recover “right thinking” about God at all? Let me couch it in an analogy…
Imagine what it would be like if you forgot your anniversary, your spouse’s birthday, and their hair color all in one day.
You would surely cause some turbulence in your relationship after that! Everyone knows that as we spend time with the people we love, we get to know them on a personal level. This entails certain facts about them–birthdays, favorite foods, pet peeves–all of which seem very tedious on paper, but in the context of a working relationship, offer the backdrop for personal attachment and the memories that follow. My wife’s birthday might just be a number in a calendar, but to me, is much more than binary; it is when I celebrate her existence, usually around food and laughter. A birthday takes on new meaning when you know the person. But when those facts remain unattached to a living person, it becomes nothing more than a phonebook of information.
The problem is not orthodoxy; the problem is snobbery.
Snobbery usually comes from people who memorize phone books. They do not have a relational bond with anyone, and memorize facts about random people they don’t know, to impress themselves or others. Maybe this is why we sometimes come across as holier-than-thou with outsiders to the church. It’s only when truth about God (orthodoxy) invades the hearts of people who really know him (faith) that new life surges through their being (salvation). At that point, it’s no longer snobbery, but a love that satisfies. When Brianna and I first got married, we knew each other to a great extent, but over years of marriage, we’ve learned much more. And our relationship has grown deeper because it. You cannot help but learn as much as you can about the one you love and who loves you. That’s orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy is learning who God is on His own terms.
How silly would it be if, on my first date with Brianna, I told her that her eyes were brown? She would reply, “Uh…no, your eyes are brown; mine are blue.” Yet, many well-meaning Christians do this when it comes to relating to God. Barna Group once found that 57 percent of adults who describe themselves as Christians have not read their Bible in a given week. You know what that means? It causes me to wonder if over half the people who think they are followers of God either have no idea who He is, or are filling in the blanks according to their own terms–through what others have to say, through their own experience, through the tradition they’re acquainted with, perhaps through sermons of preachers they’ve never bothered to examine–they are calling brown what is actually blue, and making God into their own image. There’s a word for that: idolatry.
“Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” (Ex 20:4, HCSB).
It turns out that a spiritually-driven, younger generation that longs for God—spending much of their appetites attempting, through virtue and vice, to fulfill these deep cravings—needs a revelation of God. But that’s not all! Our privatized, Western spirituality is notorious for romanticizing God’s words to mean whatever is most therapeutic or personally meaningful at the moment. We don’t just need God’s words….we need a clear depiction of God’s words.
Younger generations need an orthodoxy that can stand through the cultural swells.
Our hope in this life is not to accomodate every wind of change that blows through society and culture (although we are to be sensitive to all the issues we can). We need Someone who can lovingly speak truth to us through the noise of culture. This is the beauty of Scripture, and the orthodox claims of the Church through the ages: God in his loving-kindness, steps down to our level (Phil 2:7), puts on our flesh (Jn 1:14), and speaks in our language (Ps 119:27). And when His Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, God’s word breathes life into us, welding us inseparably to the family of Christ. With millions of young men and women struggling for air in an overwhelming current, we need an orthodoxy that breathes.
“Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” (Heb 1:1-2, HCSB)