The New Restoration?

Maybe just because I’m a Bible major (now legit with a pair of Chacos which I just purchased today and which were undoubtedly an automatic ticket upgrade for heaven), I am fascinated with the study of how religion changes.

Every few decades, a new generation seeks to establish its own stake in the ground, to seek the truth for itself, to begin a new movement of faith. You see, while the Church is a perfect concept, it is made up of imperfect people. Every new movement, every new denomination, is begun with sincere intentions, but as with everything else in this broken world, decay is inevitable. Motives are forgotten, and we cling to traditions instead. Culture changes. People change. The movement, once so aligned with the truth, begins to shift from the original pattern….

Until up springs a generation of bold young leaders who realize that a change has to be made. It’s time to overturn the corrupted ideal and return to the beginning, throwing out traditions and trying again to find the pure, uncluttered truth. The previous generation sees what’s happening and attributes it to youth’s impulsiveness and self-centered desire for something new and exciting. But I, having grown up in the traditional church of Christ and now on the edge of what I believe is a new restoration, see both sides and understand what the younger leaders are trying to do. We really do want to return to what we see in the Bible. At least, I know I do.

The Christian Chronicle recently published a fascinating article about this paradigm shift, which you can read here. The Restoration of the 1800’s was a movement to return to simple New Testament Christianity which resulted in the churches of Christ. Now, large numbers of young adults are moving away from the title church of Christ and gravitating towards a nondenominational church community. While many church of Christ adherents are alarmed, thinking that they are losing followers, others have a different view of what’s happening. The article quotes Alan Henderson, chairman of the Bible dept. at Greater Atlanta Christian School (affiliated with the churches of Christ): “Churches of Christ should be at the forefront of welcoming this trend toward non-denominational following of Jesus. After all, isn’t that what we have worked for — and prayed for — for generations?”

There’s your basic introduction to what’s going on. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that “nondenominational” has practically become a label and denomination of its own, and a few generations from now I’m sure there will be another movement to fix what’s become broken yet again. But I see a lot of cool things happening within this new restoration that I think today’s young adults are getting right.

When my parents were growing up, they heard a lot of “hell fire and damnation” sermons with an emphasis on works and the narrow path. Then there was a shift toward grace and love — “You can’t do anything bad enough to keep you out of heaven!” But now, this new generation seems to be trying to strike a balance. This generation isn’t separating the OT God and the NT God. They’re realizing that God is love and justice. He is grace and intolerance. He loves us the way we are…but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

This has created a slew of new Christian buzz-words and popular phrases that I’ve noticed. We’re not on the dreamy, romantic side of love anymore. Here’s an intense, passionate, tough love. A few years ago, one of the hottest songs was “How He Loves.” Now the one playing on the Christian radio stations is the Newsboys latest, “Let heaven roar and fire fall, come shake the ground with the sound of revival.” I’ve noticed at Sanctuary (an instrumental worship night actually held at a church of Christ) the language that the worship leader uses when he prays — words like “Crash.” “Invade.” “Destroy.”

Did I say “new” words? Actually, it reminds me of something John Donne wrote back in the 17th century. “That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” What John Donne wrote was actually pretty shocking for his time as well. After all, there’s really nothing new under the sun, is there?

Bestselling books like Radical and Crazy Love point to another defining characteristic of this generation’s religion: we want to be different. We want to overturn society, we want to be loud, we want to change things. We’re not ashamed of our faith. We don’t want to stay in our church building. We’re passionate about social justice in the name of Jesus, and we’re desperate for revival, for revolution. We have a big faith, and we want to move the mountains. We’re not satisfied with traditions. We’re reaching for something more.

This desire to go beyond tradition, however, leads to the controversial slogan, “No religion, just a relationship”, and Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.” If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it below:

This video caused a lot of controversy over the definition of religion. Technically, religion is something one “believes in and devotedly follows.” From context, though, it’s pretty easy to figure out that religion means something different to this generation. Being in youth ministry and following the latest Christian trends, I’m pretty on top of the context. Religion has become a negative term describing something like legalistic hypocrisy or Pharisaical self-righteousness. This generation hates, hates, hates hypocrisy, and more than anything else, we want to be authentic. Even in Jeff’s description of his video he says, “[This is] a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion…at its core Jesus’ gospel…is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.”

I don’t agree with the terminology just because it has created so much tension in the transition, but just know that this generation doesn’t hate the Church. They hate the decay that our imperfection has caused. And that’s why we’re moving back to what we see in the Bible, to the original pattern that we seem to have lost sight of. We just maybe haven’t come up with the best slogans. 🙂 We’re not perfect either, but we’re searching, and I’m excited to see what God is going to do with the passion of this generation.

Anyways, this is just my nerdy Bible major take on what’s going on, so I just wanted to share it with you all and try to bridge the gap a little so you can get an insider’s perspective.


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  1. I’m not a huge fan of Bethke due to sometimes misleading wordcraft, (For evidence of this simply read some of the youtube comments.) but I appreciate his meaning.
    Moving on a little: Truth is truth; interpretation of truth into everyday actions is subjective. Sometimes I wonder if our generation’s shift in ideology is not so much of a shift back to truth, but a shift to a more common generational understanding of truth. The older generations don’t like the shift since we focus on things they didn’t and let some of what they fixed slide. In essence, I think we concentrate on what the previous generation got wrong, often letting some of what they got right slip out with the trash, thus making a wrong for the next generation or the one after that to fix. It’s like our efforts at being the “right” church keep oscillating in reference to the bulls-eye every generation. I suppose our hope is then that every time we get a little closer, like a decomposing sine curve gets a little closer to 0 every period.
    (I apologize for the math-speak. It simply made a perfect illustration.)

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