In the last couple of years, I have noticed a shift in Christianity. My generation, “Gen X,” has grown up and taken its place in church leadership. And this new generation of writers, pastors, and speakers has approached the gospel message with the characteristic Gen X discontent/skepticism, and fearless questioning of the “why” and “why not” of everything.
Our generation has never been content with the idea that we do things a certain way “just because;” we want to know if traditions are valid, or if there’s a better way. In the 1990s, the Gen X way brought emotion back to music after the 80s watered it down to nothing (I may be a bit biased here…). In Silicon Valley, the Gen X way revolutionized technology. The sullen, flannel-clad teens of the late 80s and early 90s have outgrown the terrible Pauley Shore movies, endless video games, and mosh pits of our youth, but we’ve retained our questioning spirit and the desire to throw aside the “fluff” and find out what’s real, and if there might be more to life.
Like I said, I may be biased.
But what I really love about my generation coming of age is what it’s doing to the church. Authors and speakers like Mark Batterson, Brandon and Jen Hatmaker, Lysa Terkeurst, Kyle Idleman, and Priscilla Shirer embody this spirit of asking the tough questions and coming back to the roots of Christianity. I’m not saying our parents had strayed and we’re fixing things; I’m just saying that we’re asking tough questions on a public stage, and finding our answers in the word.
- We’re seeing less prosperity gospel and more outreach (Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God – to paraphrase JFK paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.)
- Less private faith and more global community
- Less emphasis on how things have always been and more emphasis on what “nu thang” God is doing (I couldn’t resist at least one DC Talk reference when talking about the Gen X Jesus freaks!).
In that vein is Brandon Hatmaker’s new book, A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith. (this is the part where I should mention to you that I was given a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review) Hatmaker’s premise is that “discipleship” is not just for new believers. Many of us who thought that ended up with faith “an inch deep and a mile wide.” We should always be disciples and life-long learners in the faith, because “Without depth, the dazzle won’t hold.”
A limited gospel makes life change a discipline. The true gospel changes our heart’s desire to live like Christ. It changes our perspective. It’s not the other way around. We don’t change on our own power hoping to see a glimpse of the gospel. This is a massive paradigm shift for many. A necessary shift.
Chapters in the book cover identity, discipleship/learning, community, surrender, service/living on a mission, justice, and surrender. Everyone can find something in the book to challenge and strengthen their faith journey. In the launch team (the group of us who got advanced copies), the chapter on community was a common challenge, as that’s an area many of us ignore. We had some great talks on Facebook about conviction in that area and things we need to do to restore that vital piece of our faith journey.
For me, the biggest area of challenge was in service and good works. I love to help and be involved in things. I like service projects (no surprise to readers of this blog, I’m sure!). But as a leader, my instinct is to evaluate projects by their results. I keep track of attendance and social media interactions at my museum job. I have a note in my phone for tracking our personal record of boxes packed during a single session at FMSC. I pay attention to what type of blog posts get the most traffic. But Hatmaker’s chapter on justice made me reevaluate my evaluations. His argument is that sometimes service is just about obedience and growing me, not about results.
It reminds me of an illustration I once heard. Two stone masons worked on the same cathedral. The first one had his eyes on his own project, and it was getting him down. “I’m never going to see the finished cathedral,” he complained, “it won’t even be done in my lifetime.” The second mason had the bigger picture in mind. “I’m never going to see the finished cathedral,” he said in wonder, “it won’t even be done in my lifetime. This project is bigger than me, and It’s so exciting that I got to be part of making this happen.”
Sometimes God asks us to serve because it will make a difference for someone we reach out to. Sometimes God asks us to serve because it will make a difference in us – in our obedience and attitude. He sees so much more than we do – through time and space and into the depths of our character development. Faith is not a metric, it’s a lot bigger than numbers and success rates (and all of us who struggled with math say AMEN!).
If you feel like you’re spread thin, with a faith that just isn’t getting deeper, I recommend first and foremost that you start spending more time in the Bible. Nothing compares to hearing straight from the source. Really pay attention as you read. Ask questions. You can trust God’s word, it never fails. Approach the Bible asking God to tell you what to believe rather than using the Bible to defend what you believe. And if you would like to be challenged and guided on your search for depth, A Mile Wide is a good source!