×
A generational gap in ‘end times’ interest?
Melissa Deming, Baptist Press
January 11, 2010
5 MIN READ TIME

A generational gap in ‘end times’ interest?

A generational gap in ‘end times’ interest?
Melissa Deming, Baptist Press
January 11, 2010

As a 6-year-old growing up at a time when Hal Lindsey’s

“Late Great Planet Earth” was holding sway in Southern Baptist churches, Jerry

Johnson was fascinated by the talk of end times.

He later earned three theological degrees that prepared him

for service at Boyce College, Criswell College and his current role as academic

dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But Johnson still points to

that early interest in eschatology as sparking his own desire to profess faith

in Christ two years later at age 8.

A few decades later co-authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

provided their interpretation of end times through the popular “Left Behind”

novels.

Today, younger generations are exchanging the doctrine of

last things as viewed by novelists and their fundamentalist forbearers for what

some of them prefer to describe as Kingdom-oriented living. Are they reacting

against popular depictions of end times and what some described as the

pessimism of dispensationalism or developing a more biblical interpretation of

what the Kingdom entails?

Unlike their parents, many evangelicals in Generations X and

Y (born between 1965-1976 and 1977-2002, respectively) are throwing their

energies into community projects and Kingdom causes without explicitly

connecting them to the eschaton.

But there is disagreement among those the Southern Baptist

TEXAN interviewed about whether this represents a lack of interest in last

things among the young or simply a rejection of “pop eschatology.”

Anecdotal evidence

One college pastor said students at one of the most thriving

Baptist churches in Texas are instead focusing on other controversial subjects.

stock.xchng graphic by xymonau

“I have had numerous theological discussions with college

students over the past year,” said George Jacobus, university minister at

Central Baptist Church in College Station. “As I recall, none of them have

dealt with the issue of eschatology. There tends to be more dialogue over

Calvinism, the sovereignty of God, ecclesiology and Christian community.”

Despite a revival in missions focus among collegians,

Jacobus said the students do not have a desire to study eschatology.

“I believe (their) interest in missions is not based on

their eschatology but rather stems from a desire to apply what the Bible

teaches. In their mind, missions is everything about God telling us to go — not

about their belief in end times,” he said.

A recent article in “A City Online,” the online publication

of Houston Baptist University, echoed this sentiment. The article explores the

possibility of an eschatological generation gap.

“For younger evangelicals … eschatology is barely worth

considering — unless, of course, we are mocking ‘Left Behind’ among our peers,”

writes the author, Matthew Lee Anderson.

Anderson sees major consequences of divorcing the present

reality of the Kingdom from the cosmic outlook of eschatology.

“For one, it focuses young evangelicals more on the current

state of the earth and the necessity of protecting and preserving our

environment,” he writes. “Creation care … is significantly less important if

the end times will be as ‘Thief in the Night’ depicts them. A devalued

eschatology lends itself to cultural engagement rather than the cultural

escapism that has historically marked evangelicalism.”

Southern dean disagrees

Admitting that the popularity of dispensational theology

dominant in the Left Behind novels is diminishing, Russell Moore, theology

school dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said

interest in eschatology is not dead.

“I don’t think there is a decrease in interest in

eschatology among college students,” Moore said. “I think, in fact, just the

opposite. I think what has decreased is a particular kind of eschatology — pop

dispensationalism.”

While previous generations looked to one-on-one equations

between current events and biblical prophecy, Moore believes younger

evangelicals are instead beginning to view the doctrine in light of Kingdom

matters.

Follow the music

But whether one’s view of last things includes solely a

dispensational outlook or the Kingdom as both “now and not yet,” Anderson

believes contemporary worship music provides insight as to the state of

eschatology in the pews.

“Worship music is one of the best indications of the

declining focus on eschatology,” he writes, adding that popular worship

choruses tend to ignore the future triumph of Jesus. “Any casual trip through

prominent evangelical hymns reveals an extraordinary emphasis on the next life:

There is a Fountain, It is Well, How Great thou Art, Blessed Assurance, and

Amazing Grace all see fit to acknowledge the work that is yet to be done. I can

find no comparable thread in the new evangelical worship songs.”

Ryan Clark, worship pastor at Inglewood Baptist Church in

Grand Prairie, Texas, grew up in a large First Baptist Church that was largely

premillennial. Yet as a Gen-Xer, he said he never saw a large interest in

eschatology among his peers or subsequent generations. Despite a sprinkling of

themes regarding salvation and heaven in hymns, Clark said it is difficult to

find songs that adequately convey both personal and cosmic eschatology.

But the problem of misapplied eschatology runs much deeper

than ill-informed worship choruses, said Gordon Borror, professor of church

music and chair of the music ministry department at Southwestern Seminary in

Fort Worth, noting that correct eschatological teaching also is missing in the

Baptist pulpit.

“Eschatology hasn’t been taught to the church very well with

a lot of very misty thinking about heaven and being ‘with Jesus’ — but not much

real meaty ‘last things’ doctrine is commonly known among the rank-and-file of

Baptists,” he said. “Therefore little call for writing and singing music about

it.”

(EDITOR’S

NOTE — Deming is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of

the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where an expanded version of this

story first appeared.)

Related story

End times: Scholars differ on possibilities