First question in the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Over the past decade many evangelicals have sounded alarms about low church involvement among millennials (commonly defined as those born from 1982 through 2000). Others say the situation isn’t so dire: With young people marrying and having children later, reattaching to churches will also come later.
Who’s right? One thing to keep in mind: The good old days weren’t always good. Leigh Eric Schmidt’s “Village Atheists” (Princeton, 2016), a history of popular atheism and agnosticism in America, describes how Ernestine Rose attracted 2,000 residents of Bangor, Maine, to an 1855 speech attacking belief in God, and atheist Robert Ingersoll sold out his coast-to-coast lecture tours from the 1870s through the 1890s.
We sometimes think colleges have suddenly gone down the drain theologically, but the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism had chapters on 20 college campuses in the 1920s. “The New York Times” reported a Yale student group’s “platform that the old religion is bunk, that God is a figment of the diseased mind, and Heaven a luscious frankfurter held out on the end of a stick to keep the anthropoid rabble working like the trained dog in a circus.”
Public opinion surveys do not clearly show us how many agnostic-sounding millennials have thought things through and how many are reacting to what they see as church hypocrisy or over-politicization. It’s worth asking: What difference would it make if more evangelicals, before taking positions on particular issues, believed our primary task is to glorify God — and then to enjoy seeing the spectacular things He does?
This brings me to a pre-election dinner I had with three Austin millennial evangelicals who volunteered long hours to make a statement they thought would glorify God. Regardless of your politics, I hope you’ll appreciate their concern for Christian witness in our country.
The three — Paul Hastings, 26; Alex Lerma, 24; and Nathan Webster, 31 — were all homeschooled. They are now business consultants and filmmakers. Four weeks before Election Day they used vacation days from work and gathered a team of volunteer animators, logo designers, web developers, and attorneys. Their goal: to create a website, Faith Trumps Fear, and a video they shot in Alex’s brother’s living room.
Their key theological point: “We are called to holiness. God and God alone will save our country, and we should never cast a vote out of fear unless it is the fear of God.” Two weeks before Election Day the video went live, then viral on Facebook, reaching 1.2 million people in all.
“Viral” these days does not mean “just happening,” with no marketing work involved. The three musketeers emailed friends who emailed their friends. Once the number of page views started growing, they emailed influential conservatives. They also understood how Facebook algorithms work — posts that users share or comment about get improved placement.
All three said their homeschool backgrounds helped: They had learned how to teach themselves, say what they think is right, and not fear how others react. Again, their political judgment may have been right, or wrong, but I’m impressed that they — after growing up amid the biggest entertainment-industrial complex in history, and its corrosive irony and sarcasm — still wanted to rely on God.
Their attitude is very different from that of the millennials who after the election went on rampages or fell into crying sessions. Hastings, post-election, told me he and his associates know that “no matter what may come, God is still in control and we are His people. If we are His people, let us live like we are.” They are praying for President-elect Trump, as should all of us.
In late December many people make New Year’s resolutions, but few keep them more than a week. Chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes says, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
For Christians, only one resolution is crucial: to desire, through God’s grace, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. That means being a branch, as Christ says in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches … for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Reprinted with permission of WORLD. To read more news and views from a Christian perspective, call 800-951-6397 or visit WNG.org.