God and the Generations

God and the Generations is the latest report to emerge from the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE) and is an analysis by a diverse and gifted working group of the issues of youth, age and the contemporary church.

Given the crisis in discipleship among the youth generation, few would argue that such a report is misplaced. However, there might be many who would question whether yet another publication to add to the plethora of writing on this subject in recent times would have anything new or constructive to add. The report is conscious of this possible response and in its first chapter sets out its belief that a double deficit exists in previous literature on the subject.

Firstly, previous publications have been inadequate in putting such work into a biblical theological framework and have capitulated too much to inherited secular models. Secondly, former research has been lacking in both socio-historical and scholarly contextualisation. At the start this report asserts boldly: ‘In this book we seek to advance understanding on both fronts, and to relate the one to the other’.

After slight initial scepticism that God and the Generations would manage to fulfil such an ambitious stated objective, by the end I was left thinking that the report had fulfilled its objectives to a remarkable degree, both in its theological engagement with the issue of generations and it its engagement with available scholarship, Christian and secular, on the topic.

One of the things that stands out from the report is the sheer scope of the data it manages to contain within a comparatively limited space. Starting with an assessment of previous literature, it proceeds with a lengthy biblical exegesis of the issue of generations (which is not simplistic but acknowledges the intrinsic complexities) and moves on to a chapter-by-chapter sociological analysis of five epochs of generations, which at times reads like a lightning tour of post-war history, something akin to Forrest Gump. In particular, the last of these chapters, on ‘Millennials’, an analysis of those born after 1982 and thus the ‘lead generation’ of the new millennium, is particularly fresh and interesting. All this is done with a liberal use of quotations from sources as diverse as Douglas Copeland and Bob Dylan, to stop the whole exercise from becoming too bookish or dry.

Given all the above, I would suggest that the report is an excellent reference for anyone wishing to get an overview of the issues involved. As a historical tour of the subject, its comprehensiveness would be difficult to improve on. Another thing I appreciated about the work is its suspicion of the pragmatism that governs so much of contemporary thinking and a desire to think theologically about the topic from a biblical worldview perspective. This it succeeds in doing to an impressive degree. The report is a welcome and innovative contribution to the complex issues which it seeks to address and, as such, should go a long way in fulfilling its objective of stimulating study, discussion and constructive response within the wider evangelical constituency.