Angst about kids these days isn’t anything new, of course, and goes to show that teenagers don’t have a monopoly on such anxiety. As Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character education at University of Missouri at St. Louis, puts it, “There are quotes going back at least three or 4,000 years in which adults lament that today’s youth are the worst, morally, ever.”
In the context of the church, such concern needn’t be expressive of worry about the morality of the youth (although it often is) so much as it is concern about the youth’s connection with established institutions, particularly those that need intergenerational maintenance. In the CRC, for instance, there was a report put out in 1948 under the title “Youth Speaks on Calvinism: A Challenge to the Church.” The pamphlet has a foreword by Calvin College professor Henry Stob, which includes an exhortation that “the church is provided here with an opportunity to learn what a not inconsiderable portion of its young people understand a vital and consistent Calvinism to be.” Contributors of essays include Lewis Smedes, who observed that “We, as Americans, live in a secular society which is becoming basically anti-Christian,” as well as others who would go on to become leaders of one kind or another in the church.
The second half of the pamphlet includes the results of a “General Poll of Christian Reformed Youth,” the findings of which are summarized thus:
In summary, these polls tell of a dangerous estrangement between the leaders and the youth of the church. Youth sees grave faults within the church. Youth is almost 100% for Christian education, and in general favorably impressed by the preaching it hears. Youth reads much, and desires literature of higher quality. It feels that amusements and the problems thereof, are not settled. Politically, youth wants action by Calvinists, though it is not decided on how this should be done.
As Smedes would later write of the reception of the report, “Our humorless church fathers, however, took it as a minor revolution against the tradition and major assault on them personally.” Jim Bratt called such an attitude “typical,” and Smedes elsewhere wrote that “What strikes me now is that even then all of us, critical as we were of our church, made our pitch on the basis of an implicit commitment to that church. At the time, our booklet was something of a sensation. Those of us who wrote it took some minor bruises from the establishment. But to my knowledge not a single member of the group, to this day, has left the denomination for another. Most of us, in fact, are involved, in one way or another, in the ministry of the same church.”
But note the relevance of Smedes’ following observation: “What this tells me is that, maybe, the gift of friendship needs more than a common Christian commitment. As Christian people are swept up in the same cultural revolution that is changing the lifestyle of almost everybody, it may be that only in the context of a Christian subculture, a definable community where tradition and mission and life-perspective all merge into a communal experience, will authentic friendships be possible.”
Nostalgia used to be so much better.