September 15, 2009
The Gospel for iGens
Wanna reach young adults? McKnight says to just give them Jesus.
The following is an excerpt from Scot McKnight's cover story in the summer issue of Leadership Journal. You can read the entire article at LeadershipJournal.net.
When I saw the title of Alan Mann's book, Atonement for a Sinless Society, I knew he was onto something. The intent of evangelism that focuses on preaching the law and God's holiness, wrapping those two elements into a vision of God's wrath and hell, is to stimulate a cry for salvation out of a sense of guilt over who we are and what we have done. This model still works for some. But it may not be the wisest model for iGens.
One of the most insightful elements of Mann's book is whether iGens feel guilt. For a person to feel guilty, that person must have a sense of morality. But morality requires a potent sense of what is right and wrong, and it needs a powerful sense of what is true and false. Contemporary culture does not provide the average iGen with a profound grasp of what is right and wrong apart from the conviction that assaulting the self is clearly wrong.
Yet deciding to stake one's life on Jesus and the cross requires a sense that we are wrong, that we need Jesus, and that his saving death and resurrection can become effective. Mann claims that iGens are neither moral nor amoral. Instead, because of trends like the self-esteem movement and the impact of relativism, he concludes that iGens are pre-moral. Mann suggests that they do not feel guilt as much as they feel shame for not achieving what they are designed to accomplish.
This realization has helped me see that Jesus is the place to begin with iGens. In fact, we can make this more precise: Jesus as lived out by a credible witness or through a community that makes Jesus real. This is not Jesus as revealed by institutional religion or churches, but Jesus seen in the lives of genuine compassion and commitment to something that transcends the superficiality of modern and postmodern culture.
Dan Kimball wrote in his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations that what turns off iGens about the church is that it's too organized, political, judgmental, chauvinistic, homophobic, arrogant, and fundamentalist. But Kimball's research uncovered that iGens like Jesus. This is solid footing for gospeling iGens.
More evidence for starting with Jesus comes from the "Images of Jesus" personality profile designed by the North England Institute for Christian Education, and is republished in my book, The Blue Parakeet. In the assessment, a person records answers to personality questions about himself or herself ("Do you suffer from the nerves?") and then answers the same questions about Jesus ("Does he suffer from the nerves?"). There are no right answers. The intent is to determine how high a correlation exists between self-image and Jesus-image. Among iGens the answer is a loud Yes! This test shows that nearly everyone conforms Jesus to their self-image. A startling affirmation of what Jean Twenge discovered: iGens—surprise, surprise—have a robust enough self-image to think Jesus is just like them.
If this generation likes Jesus, and if iGens have the chutzpah to think they are like Jesus, then let's start with Jesus. We sometimes forget that the earliest Christian gospeling was telling the story of Israel's history (Peter on Pentecost) or acknowledging God's presence in the world (Paul in Athens) so that it led to the story of Jesus. Sometimes we forget that the first four books of the New Testament are called "gospels" because they are just that. The earliest Christian preaching, the early narratives about Jesus, grew and grew until they became the four Gospels.
Sometimes I think we forget that no where in the pages of the New Testament do we find what many of us heard when we were gospeled: God loves us, we are sinners, God still loves us and sent us his Son to die for our sins, and if we receive God's plan we will spend eternity with him and be empowered by grace for a new life now. I believe every line in that gospel to be true, but no one said it quite that way in the New Testament.
Read McKnight's entire article here.