The bad news: Our kids don’t know their Bibles. The good news: They are probably practising it better than many of their elders.
If you take the time to talk with these reportedly biblically illiterate young people, you will find many of them much less materialistic than their biblically literate parents and grandparents, giving much higher priority to relationships than to socio-economic achievements, and living and savouring the present over being driven towards some “success” in the future.
Where did they get these spiritual qualities? Very likely, at some subconscious level, from those success-driven elders, who, although readily reciting the biblical law and wisdom literature, the Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ parables and the instruction of the gospels and epistles, have been distracted with rapid acculturation.
Many of us “elders” were delivered from our religious and cultural pro-vincialism through the excitement of new biblical insights taught by the Jim Reimers, John Howard Yoders and J. Lawrence Burkholders—competent, bright, charismatic teachers and modern-day prophets who radicalized a whole generation with this huge intellectual and spiritual advancement.
So where has all this biblically based excitement gone in the intervening generation? Probably from Wednesday evening Bible study to soccer practice, from the Sunday school hour to Sunday morning hockey tournaments, from Vacation Bible School quizzes to summer basketball camp.
Why should we be surprised with a biblical illiteracy of this generation when the Bible is no longer front and centre, neither as a guidebook for living nor as the spiritual narrative upon which we base our core beliefs as self-identified Anabaptist Christians?
It is not the kids that concern me. They are, after all, a quick study. When they “catch” the excitement of the biblical narrative again from their elders, they will tune in. In due time, they will be tweeting favourite Scripture passages and sending numerous Facebook messages to their friends on a daily, even hourly, basis.
It is their elders who worry me more. Stuck in the new habits of the dominant culture, we might be too entrenched to change our ways, too driven by a success mantra, too embedded in a corporate/professional paradigm, too identified with self-serving political ideologies, to let the Bible speak anew to our day and time.
There are three hopeful remedies appearing on the horizon:
- First, a new spiritual formation is underway in many of our innovative congregations. This movement, more concerned with the heart than with the head-learning of our theology and practice, is focused on training “spiritual directors” to sort through the mysteries of life with people in a trusting relationship.
With the biblical narrative as its textbook, this new discipline combines listening skills, the use of silence and the confidentiality framework of the social science field to help people identify more clearly not so much what they believe, but why they believe, and when and how their beliefs are shaped.
- Second, with new awareness of the cultural wealth of Canada’s indigenous peoples through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, we are being called back to an “inter-relatedness” that we have lost despite our highly developed rhetoric about “community” that often rings hollow in practice.
Our culture has placed a high value on self-sufficiency and individual expression, taking us away from the Hebraic notion of a “called-out people”—interdependent on each other for spiritual health, mutual aid and a prophetic vision that challenges the self-interests of the wider society. The aboriginal belief that each member of society is created to exist for, and benefit from, the community, is bringing us full circle to one of our core beliefs.
- Finally, outside voices such as Stuart Murray and James Davidson Hunter, in their recently published books on the neo-Anabaptists’ role in a nihilistic, post-Christian era, is a clarion call to refurbish our core beliefs and refocus on what has sustained our belief system for more than 500 years. Read them, not defensively, but as students at the feet of these new teachers in the tradition and spirit of Reimer/Yoder/Burkholder.
The Bible is central to all of these winds of change blowing though our circles—the instructive textbook, the enduring narrative that does not change with cultural shifts and new paradigms. It’s for young and old alike.