With apologies to my Roman Catholic and mainline Protest friends, I don't know how much of this issue is in-house to Evangelical Protestants. I do know that there are at least some analogues, but I also must confess that it is my own experience out of which I am speaking.
But let me take a more reflective, broader shot at this topic of generational Achilles heels and moral formation.
One of the functions of any Christian group is the creation of a particular culture, of a community that normally operates according to certain moral, spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic principles.
My critique of the previous generations of Evangelical Christians, what I'm calling its 'Achilles heel', is that they created a culture which negated one of the most important and proper effects of grace in the life of the believer and in the life of the community. They created a culture that negated the experience of freedom in Christ that should be the outcome of the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
While honestly and sincerely preaching grace and justification (being made righteous), the previous generations too often turned right around and created a church culture of rules, codes and external judgments that enslaved individuals and the entire community to fear, to guilt, to judgment and to condemnation -- to everything they should have been saved from by the all satisfying death of Christ! Because that death should "satisfy" not only in some eternal account book in the sky but in the depths of the human heart and in the experience of the believer in Christian community.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free."
Rather, through the constant particularization and enumeration of social vices, personal stumbling blocks and private interior sins, the Christian churches of the previous generation created cultures in which anyone who didn't want to run risk serious social condemnation and suspicion had to invest tremendous spiritual energy cleaning the outside of their little dishes, whitewashing the tombs of their own poor hearts and wearing their Christian phylacteries as masks they could never hope to let down even for an instant.
"There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," and yet the experience of so many Christians who grew up under that antiquated moral paradigm, young or old, was one not only of perpetual fear of the condemnation of the community but of terrible, ongoing self-condemnation masquerading as 'sanctification.' The very thing, personally, that formed the basis for Luther's critique of the Roman Catholic Church of his day!
As I see it, I think there has been a paradigm shift in the past 20 years or so, at the very least a shift away from oppressive fear, guilt and condemnation. You can see it in greater honesty that is permitted and encouraged, in greater personal freedom and diversity and in a general drawing back from binding prohibitions against everything from long hair on men to beer to R-rated movies. I think you can even see it in the proliferation of the personal memoir.
In this context, have there been abuses of liberty that may have led this generation to develop an Achilles heel of it's own? I have no doubt.
But what is the remedy? Is it to go back to enumerating, particularizing and rooting out social ills and private vices as Pastor John seems to be doing with hip huggers and beer, as the Modesty Checklist seems to be doing with purse straps across the chest and long skirts with slits, and as the Modesty Survey seems to be doing with everything from bikinis to lipstick to the curvature of the calf created when a woman wears shoes with high heels over 4"?
I say unequivocally, "No."
I think it will take a lot of hard work, hard thinking, hard teaching and hard spiritual leadership in the decades to come in order for the Evangelical community to avoid either relapsing into moral fundamentalism or falling over into the libertine abyss. Therefore I wouldn't dare claim to lay out in a blog post any complete program for a way forward on this.
But one thing did occur to me.
"All things are lawful," writes Paul, "but not all things are profitable."
What if, instead of trying to pin down the cultural 'lawfulness' of our behaviors (whether put into those words or not) we started approaching the whole task of establishing a Christian ethical framework differently?
What if, instead of asking whether it is wrong to wear really bright lipstick, drink beer or listen to a song with a 'bad word' in the lyrics we approached the whole thing differently?
What if we first tried to answer the question, "What are the purposes of our Christian community, both in itself and in the world?" Then what if we asked, "What sort of culture is profitable in accomplishing these purposes?" And what if we allowed each individual, in dialogue with other Spirit indwelt Christians, to ask and answer these questions for his or herself in the context of the community?
I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't help at all. But maybe it would be a start.
For those interested in following this up, I strongly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics.
Any other good recommendations out there? Ways to think about this? Ways forward? Objections?