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The ‘new legalism’

"The ‘new legalism’" Continued...

The combination of anti-suburbanism with new categories like “missional” and “radical” has positioned a generation of youth and young adults to experience an intense amount of shame for simply being ordinary Christians who desire to love God and love their neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, missional, radical Christianity could easily be called the “new legalism.” A few decades ago, an entire generation of baby boomers walked away from traditional churches to escape the legalistic moralism of “being good,” but what their millennial children received in exchange, in an individualistic American Christian culture, was shamed-driven pressure to be awesome and extraordinary young adults expected to tangibly make a difference in the world immediately. But this cycle of reaction and counter-reaction, inaugurated by the baby boomers, does not seem to be producing faithful young adults. Instead, many are simply burning out.

Why is Christ’s command to love God and neighbor not enough for these leaders? Maybe Christians are simply to pursue living well and invite others to do so according to how God has ordered the universe. An emphasis on human flourishing, ours and others’, becomes important because it is characterized by a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological, and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design. What if youth and young adults were simply encouraged live in pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, education, wonder, beauty, glory, creativity, and worship in a world marred by sin, as Abraham Kuyper encourages in the book Wisdom and Wonder. No shame, no pressure to be awesome, no expectations of fame but simply following the call to be men and women of virtue and inviting their friends and neighbors to do the same in every area of life.

It is unclear how millennials will respond to the “new legalism” but it may explain the current trend of young Christians leaving the church after age 15 at a rate of 60 percent. Being a Christian in a shame-driven “missional,” “radical” church does not sound like rest for the weary. Perhaps the best antidote to these pendulum swings and fads is simply to recover an mature understanding of vocation so that youth and young adults understand that they can make important contributions to human flourishing in any sphere of life because there are no little people or insignificant callings in the Kingdom.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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