I’m a bit late on this because I decided to let it sit for a while before I let myself respond. The trouble is, Brett McCracken is once again suggesting that “searching” young Christians love to hear their own questions bounce off the walls:
“The Search” is the name of my blog, but it’s hardly meant to be a celebration of the act of searching in itself. I’m always searching, not aimlessly or without purpose, but to find answers. To find truth. To see how it all connects and to progress in life.
More and more these days, however, I see “searching” held up as a value unto itself. I see “discussion” and “dialogue” becoming fetishized as the most valuable end, as if the suggestion that they were merely a means to an end was somehow naïve or demeaning. I see my elders patting my cynical, intellectually fragmented peers on the back saying, “great questions,” but not offering wisdom or guidance in the direction of answers or truth. It’s sad, really. …
We are a generation of navel-gazing, pseudo-intellectual youths who enjoy hearing ourselves speak and love sounding intellectual and playing at discourse. We are born searchers, but we don’t know what we are searching for. We like the idea of intellectual discussion. But we don’t trust truth, facts, and answers, and thus prefer to dwell in the land of questions. Furthermore, we don’t have the proper boundaries, foundation, or directional motivation to make any sense out of anything anyway.
That’s why we need guidelines, structure, purpose, a raison d’etre. To set off on a journey without a destination in mind is not to journey; it’s to wander. And in this world—with its collapsing empires, volatile markets, surging unemployment and widespread suffering—we don’t have the luxury of just wandering.
We’ve been over this a few times before, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I find this line of argument not just tiresome in its dogged persistence and demonstrable wrongness, but also in its cynicism. I used to think that writers of my generation who said this kind of thing were trying to ingratiate themselves with “elder” editorial gatekeepers, to gain entry to Big League Christian publications. That was just a guess, and probably an unfair one, because it seems like at least some of them are attacking their own generation in complete sincerity. I don’t understand the motives, and neither do I understand how it can all be viewed so cynically.
The first reason is because it’s factually untrue. I’ll take Brett’s word for it that he probably knows some young Christians who hold up searching “as a value unto itself,” and who are “navel-gazing, pseudo-intellectual youths who enjoy hearing [them]selves speak and love sounding intellectual and playing at discourse.” I probably know some, too. But on the whole, this is not what is coming from the evangelical and post-evangelical generation that has recently become adults. There’s bitterness, disenchantment, uncertainty, sure, and many of them probably go through periods where they are very “into” the idea of being intellectual in an immature way. But give them a break. This is not where they are staying. They are actively, aggressively seeking answers to their questions, not just “wandering.” They are finding new church traditions, finding principled reasons to leave the church altogether, reading difficult books, writing books, doing crucial and fascinating scholarship, making art, and learning new ways that justice and love can be a part of their lives even when church fails to make sense.
The idea that this generation is on the whole “psuedo-intellectual” floors me. I know groups of young evangelicals and ex-evangelicals all across the country, and I wouldn’t describe a single one of them that way. They are vastly more intellectual than the preceding generation, in part because they’ve had no choice. Whether they are working on new theology to defend Christian orthodoxy or to challenge it, there’s nothing psuedo about it. One could say they’re “navel-gazing” if by that you mean having a passion or feeling compelled to apply their lives to studying the tradition that shaped them. Or figuring out how to pick up the pieces of shattered worlds and move forward. But just like always, I’m baffled when Christians who are no stranger to what growing up evangelical can do to a person write this sort of complaint about how annoying the self-absorbed, navel-gazing youths are. Seriously? Maybe they have a lot to think about, a lot of searching to do. Maybe they haven’t been given many acceptable answers. Maybe it takes quite some time to go find those answers for yourself, like so many of have had to do. But just like in his book, Brett sees all of this as a pose—a faddish way of being, a deliberate holding out on just getting down to living like we’ve been told.
Part of Brett’s annoyance with his generation comes from the facts that he seems to be essentially a Biblical literalist, and doesn’t understand why that’s not enough for everyone else. This is what he seems to mean by young Christians lacking “proper boundaries, foundation, or directional motivation” and needing “guidelines, structure, purpose, a raison d’etre.” Very well, but whose? It’s fine with me if he’s hammered out his own, or embraced the ones that were handed down. But the truth is, a lot of people just aren’t there anymore, or maybe they aren’t there yet. Brett says he isn’t looking for “dogmatic assertions of certainty,” but he’s arguing that certainty is required if the search is to lead anywhere. Remember, the certainty has to come from somewhere. If the foundations of certainty are shaken, and many of McCracken’s “youths” believe they have been, they have to be rebuilt, or it has to be decided if they should be rebuilt. And that takes time, work and searching.
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