by James Chambers
Consider this quote from a millennial speaking to our fellow apologist:
Everything you’ve said so far has come from the Bible – a book that’s been known to oppress people for thousands of years. How can you trust that you really have the truth when others Christians have used it to kill thousands of people – The Crusades, the inquisition, Adolf Hitler, the list goes on. We’d be a lot safer if everyone just loved each other and didn’t claim to have the truth.
The Postmodern Reaction to Modernism
This quote is a snapshot of the underlying assumption of our society today. How did it develop? Over the last 120 years, Western culture has experienced a shift in worldview, namely from modernism to postmodernism. And the philosophy underpinning the values of this generation is due in large part to the postmodern reaction to modernism.
For brevity, I’ll summarize the key differences below, and if you’d like to gain further clarity, I’ll include a link to a free video from our 12-lesson course on Reaching Millennials with the Gospel, where we unpack this in greater detail.
Key Questions Moderns vs. Postmoderns
What do they believe about truth?
- Truth can be KNOWN – there is only one reality that declares what’s true
- Truth is ambiguous – there are multiple realities that declare what’s true
How do they arrive at truth? Rationalism – deductive reasoning
- Empiricism – the five sense declare what’s true
- Social constructs reveal multiple perspectives and give insight to the fact there are actually
What motivates the pursuit of truth?
- Mastery of truth – arriving to a conclusion
- Experiencing & enjoying the process toward truth
What is their approach to life in light of their worldview?
- A moral standard exists morality is relative
How do they view authority? Authority structures provide security as they reinforce the common moral & truth standard
- Authority structures are suspicious because they reinforce a standard that restricts and oppresses other’s explorations of truth.
Four Reasons Millennials Reject Modernism & Embrace Postmodernism
1) Freedom to explore various philosophies
They have a desire to answer the existential question: “Who am I and how can I fulfill my purpose or potential on earth?”, and they can best explore these answers as they are free to explore a variety of philosophies & cultural experiences. So they inherently resist worldviews and claims that unnecessarily restrict their journey in exploring philosophies that may work for them.
2) Life is not so black and white
The internet & social media give us instant access to other cultures’ ideas, beliefs, practices and ideals. The “right way to live” is not so black and white with this kind of exposure. They are left asking, “How can any one person or philosophy be right?” So they’ve opted for a worldview with a larger “grey area” than previous generations.
3) Modernism leads to oppression
They have discerned the link between the modernist’s mastery of a concept and their tendency to coerce people to follow that very concept. Whether it’s in the realm of economics, politics, or religion – they’ve observed that when moderns master a concept, they see it their duty to convince the rest of the world to embrace it.
And if they don’t, they oppress them or condemn them until they do. Postmoderns see this and they hate this bigotry with a passion. This has led them to be very suspicious of authority figures.
4) Pragmatism trumps rationalism
They declared modernism’s bedrock – rationalism – to be insufficient, and they desire pragmatism. The first question is no longer, “Is what I’m considering rationally true?”Instead, it’s “Does it work?” Furthermore, they’re asking, “Does your truth claim about reality work for ALL people or just a select few?”
These shifts in philosophies have everything to do with the way we minister the gospel and do church. Your retiring legacy could be a church that closes after its remaining members go to see Jesus, or a church that multiplies, living beyond its existing membership because it has evolved to answer the longings of a generation that will soon lead it for the next 40 years!
So what are the new values shaping the millennial’s worldview?
1) They are globally conscious & empathetic of the needs of our global community.
2) They are concerned about the whole of society and philosophies that benefit ALL people now, not in the after-life.
3) Millennials prefer collaboration & partnerships in serving communities.
4) They assume their environments will be multi-ethnic, and are ready to learn from, appreciate and honor what these diverse cultures have to offer.
5) They are hungry for spiritual things – transcendent experiences with a philosophical backbone.
Three Questions to Help your Church Reach Millennials this Month
1) What are ways you can demonstrate that your ministry is presenting a gospel that practically works for the whole of society – no matter a person’s background or present subculture?
2) How can you develop a clear pathway for millennials to go from hearing the hope of the gospel to carrying that hope in serving the surrounding community?
• Begin by examining the unique needs of the community around you
• Now move to providing easy on ramps for your congregants to participate in serving
3) Remember, the process for HOW the millennial arrives at the truth claim is just as important and at times more important than arriving to it. So how can you…
a) …help people belong in the community of faith before they believe the truth of the gospel?
b) …help people experience the truth of the gospel before they receive an explanation of its truth?
Resource to Reach Millennials
While this post probably felt “heady” or intellectual, I believe it’s the most valuable lesson we learned that informed the way we engaged with this generation. Before understanding this, it was like we were shadow boxing a big giant and were getting pummeled because we couldn’t see where his punches were coming from. But once we discovered this, we were able to make adjustments that helped us reach and disciple over 4,000 millennials in the last decade!
If you want to expand a more practical picture of what this looks like, click here for a short video from our online course on “Reaching Millennials with the Gospel.” There are concrete stories and examples for how this has played out in our ministry. Plus, we’re giving readers of Gospel Life FREE trial access to the course for 30-days. Go to www.reachingmillennials.info
James Chambers is the Director of “A Faith that Overflows,” which coaches pastors in developing Discipleship-Evangelism cultures so their churches primarily grow by conversion. His seminars have equipped thousands of ordinary believers around the world to more deeply abide in Christ and be confident in sharing him with others. He received a M.A. in Evangelism & Leadership from the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Get social @JamesChambersIV or email firstname.lastname@example.org.