Generational Achilles Heels


I honor Pastor John Piper. I respect his wisdom. I have learned from and highly value his winsome presentation of the Gospel. I admire his passion and his courage.

I have learned a great deal from him intellectually and spiritually in my almost 15 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I would never belittle or lessen what he has taught me or the debt I owe him personally.

But I have to take exception, at least in part, with this:

It's a little under 4 minutes, please listen to it first if you want to read what I've written in response.

Here's the problem.

If there is something in what Pastor John says here about the Achilles heel of this my generation, it has to be understood in a much more important context.

He addresses a discontinuity between this generation's admiration of the majesty of God and "big appetites for beer ... the lure of pornography ... the carelessly attended, default weekend movie ... hip huggers and plunging necklines." I'm certainly with him on pornography and taken to a certain extent I am with him on the others.

But there is something behind the tone and the level of concern in light of other concerns that could very well be coming from what was and remains the Achilles heel of his generation - a discontinuity between a verbal, emotional and real admiration of the grace of God and an attachment to a culture of moral fundamentalism that makes that grace all but null in the practical life of the Christian, a discontinuity between an admiration of what Christ did on the cross and a near complete failure to apprehend the freedom for which we have been set free by that very work of our Savior.

None of us is less than a product of his or her generation. Hopefully we are each of us more, but none of us is less. And if what Pator John is saying here is significantly influenced by something wrong with the culture of his own generation, that must be taken carefully, wisely and humbly into account when thinking about how to respond to his admonition.

Personally, at this point in the development of Evangelical culture, I fear far more things like the "Modesty Checklist" put out by Sovereign Grace ministries (C.J. Mahaney) or the "Modesty Survey" done by the kids at Rebelution than I do of a whole pitcher of Guinness or a double matinee of The Dark Knight and WALL-e. Both of the former have circulated at our church and very little of the latter.

No matter how you cut it or qualify it, projects such as the "Modesty Checklist" and "Modesty Survey" are oppressive in practice if not in theory. They de facto help sustain a fundamentalist culture in the Evangelical church, a culture of timidity, fear, and pseudo-morality to which our hearts are as wrongly bent as they are to overindulgence and perhaps more dangerously so. I've seen and felt this since the "Modesty Checklist" was passed out a couple years ago at our church. You can't walk into church without sub-consciously looking for 'violations' in the back pew. Read some of the text responses to the "Modesty Survey" and look at the ages of the individuals responding and then ask yourself, "Is this what we want our men, young or old, thinking about and dwelling upon?" Personally, I find it almost repulsive. It was not the leaven of the tax-collectors and prostitutes against which Christ warned his disciples.

So, yes, there may be some truth to what Pastor John is saying in this clip. And if you are an overindulgent, do-nothing loafer from Gen-X or Y or whatever the next Gen is, then you should repent, get up off the couch and start working for the Kingdom.

Nor am I accusing my Pastor of being so attached to that old culture of moral fundamentalism as to be an enemy of the gospel - though I think some who are more significantly attached are just that (see the passage below). In fact, though a vigorous teetotaler himself, Pastor John was responsible for taking that requirement out of our church covenant - for which I thank him.

I realize, also, that there is a place for preaching that highlights the transforming work of Christ in the individual such that we can "no longer live as the Gentiles do". Properly understood, that is the outworking of being indwelt by the Spirit and endowed with freedom and power from on high.

But I can't escape the conviction that Pastor John is speaking with at least a few toes in the older American-Christian moral framework into which he was born, in which he was raised and out of which he has come to some extent but to which I will never return even in part.

I've been there. I've experience that culture's degradation of grace and diminution of Christian liberty. I could never walk back in without betraying all Christ has graciously taught me in the past 15 - 20 years.

I've talked to several elders at my church and to Pastor John himself about this. It's a huge concern to me. This issue, what the Evangelical Christians of the so-called Generation X and Generation Y decide to do with our moral framework, will have a serious impact upon the future of Christianity.

Will we become enslaved once again to an old legalism that suffocates the practical implications of grace? Will we become libertines and so give our elders something at which to exclaim, "See, we told you so"?

Or can we find a way to praise God and pour another pint at one and the same time?

I would be curious to hear what others have to say in answer to this question.

Galatians 5:1-12

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11 Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!


The Six of Us said...

I agree with you....

And yet....

That is all I have to say for now. I am still thinking how to word my thoughts.

JPB said...

Well, you certainly don't have to respond. But I had to write it. At a certain point one is conscience bound to put something out there.

Make sure you take my qualifications into account, though. And understand that all three of my questions at the end are serious.

I'm not saying there is not a place for that clip, in a certain sense. I'm saying that the battle for the spirit of the next generation of Christians can't be waged by campaigns against bra straps, hip huggers and micro-brews.

Anonymous said...

You might want to check out the following websites on some of the dangers of Sovereign Grace Ministries:

Hope this helps.

The Six of Us said...

I want to respond and you have brought out a fact that I have come close to realizing, but without putting it all together with a generational perspective.

How to approach my generation...that is the question. I also agree that there must be a different approach than pointing to things as you mentioned.

One of the concerns I have seen is the attitude behind the actions of young people. When swearing is done with a snicker behind it. "hee hee...I swore." Or when drinking and movie watching is done hiding from other Christian friends...a double faced sort of mindset.

Yes, I see that this comes from our previous generations swing towards legalism. I still don't like it.

I don't would you suggest we address this with my/our generation (are we in the same one?)

Maybe it would be better discussed over a pint. Wish you were still here.

Travis said...

I couldn't agree with you more!

Does our generation spend time and money at the theater and in front of the television because we've got "some loose wires dangling," or is it because we no longer have a family/community that values spending time together telling stories around the campfire?

I think the things Piper mentions are societal disconnects rather than (personal) moral disconnects. For most of human history, people lived with the people they worked with the people they worshipped with the people they dined with. Then came the telegraph and the automobile and the telephone and the highway system and the cell phones and the Internet.

Ours is a culture trying to come to grips with the societal impact of these technologies: they allow for (and in fact encourage) greater breadth of human interaction, but at the expense of depth. I think many of the things on Dr. Piper's "list" (such as binge drinking, lewd clothing, etc.) have at their source a desire for community which isn't being met in the Church or in the home. If there's people in my life who are a joy to spend time with who don't drink to excess, I probably won't bother drinking myself into the emergency room trying to get the frat boys to like me. Does that make sense?

As with the anonymous commenter above (I assume), I recently came out of the Sovereign Grace Ministries movement and can attest to the lack of grace and Pharisaical attitude which almost inevitably results from encouraging people to change the symptoms instead of addressing the true problems. A side effect is that those who could benefit most from spending time with "church people" are disgusted with their nit-picking and legalism, and run in the opposite direction.

Paul & Beth said...

ok...I am commenting but keep in mind, I am not so put together in writing, so this may be a little scattered. Also, I am not totally sure what you're getting at, Jon. My question is this...are you talking about how to REACH non-Christians? or about INSTRUCTING/encouraging Christians in Godliness? With the latter being a concern toward legalism?

We can't expect to see changed lives without God changing hearts first. If we are coming at non believers with clothing issues, drinking, movie selection...we are not addressing their need for Christ. It isn't really about changing their morals...there are very moral non believers...going to hell.

On the flip side, there may be many believers in general that have a tendency to be very heavenly minded and “Godly” on Sunday, and excuse a lot of ungodliness the rest of the time. And how many of us ride the fence of "freedoms" in hopes to show the world we are not so can have Christ and keep your old life too. Our freedoms in Christ do come with a responsibility to not be a stumbling block for other believers and non believers.

On the other hand, legalism in believers focuses on keeping rules...more on looking Godly than BEING Godly. It can kill the Joy in the Journey. I don't think that is what God intends for us.

As to your final question, "Or can we find a way to praise God and pour another pint at one and the same time?"...
This may be too simplistic of answer but I would say it all depends on your heart and attitude. 1 Cor. 10:31 says "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Are we drinking to our "freedom"...with the attitude of "just because we can, so there"? Our first priority should be to glorify God...we are called to be holy as He is holy. 1 Peter 1:15-16 "be holy in all your conduct." That is a really tall order, but should obviously be our goal because that is what God calls us to. Of course we have the help of the Holy Spirit, we are not left alone.

Looking forward to more of you comments on this and clarification.


J.J. said...


With your qualifications, I couldn't agree more.

Janine the Bean said...

This is a great conversation. I'm enjoying reading it and just choosing not to take part in the dialogue as of yet (or maybe not at all). I need to think more.

Paul & Beth said...

I may regret commenting...and not just reading the comments of others. I feel a little like a midget when i get done reading, and I don't exactly know what was said! =/

JPB said...

OK, I've written a fuller development of this, because I think it is important. I think it's critical, in fact, to where the church goes from here in its building of the Kingdom of God.

But in the meantime I'll reply to some things.

To anonymous: Though I know there are always at least three sides to any story and can't comment on the particulars of SGM lest I be guilty of inadvertent slander based upon second hand knowledge, I will say that based upon my limited exposure to SGM I am not surprised at some of those testimonials. I pray that they are not embittering to you.

To The Six of Us: I also don't like the snickering. I think we should live in both confidence and freedom. But like you say, I do think the snicker has a context.

Travis: I like what you say about community and I would like to think that through even more, but it will be a part of my longer subsequent post.

Beth: Please don't feel like a midget. I understood perfectly what you said, though I think any response would require the context I will give in the next post.

To everyone: Pray, pray, pray. We've got to get this right.

J.J. said...


I'm pretty sure David Wells talks at length about the effects of mobility on community near the beginning of his book No Place for Truth.

This is a fascinating (and deeply disturbing) topic. What can be done about it?

Anonymous said...

This post makes me think about a lot of things. One of them is that I grew up in the opposite culture that you are talking about. Nothing was a sin. We could watch anything, listen to anything, drink, smoke--all of that--which influenced me so badly--and nobody thought there was anything sinful about any of it. So when I became a Christian and saw that there were people who didn't do any of those things, it was refreshing, not stifling. I would never want to go back to that "freedom," and I'd never want church to become a place where anything goes.

Also, I'm glad that people don't judge me for going to movies, as I hear was once customary. Yet I'm concerned about the number of great films (The Notebook, the Bourne trilogy, The Guardian) that display such courage, loyalty, commitment, so many good qualities, yet send the message that premarital sex is no problem.

aj said...

tip of the iceberg - so many more generational things not addressed (environmental also). great post.