E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien’s Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012) is a great book. Towards the end of the book the authors talk about the North American church and how Christians may have allowed a self-centred culture to dominate their thinking. Here is what they have to say about the baby boomers, GenXers and the millennials. Note especially their observation at the end regarding why the Bible can be misread.
When the “me generation” became Christians, we baptized this egocentrism. We now felt guilty for spending all our money on ourselves. So we gave it to the church. Mainly to our own local church. The church growth… movement was led by baby boomers and populated with the “me generation.” We built modern cathedrals with children’s ministry spaces that Disney would covet.” (p. 194)
“Take up your cross and follow me” changed into, “Come to Jesus and he’ll make your life better.” (p. 195)
My (Brandon’s) generation is perhaps more self-centered, but we too have our excuses. Many Gen Xers were latchkey kids, which meant they were home alone after school in the evenings because both parents worked full time. In many ways, then, they raised themselves, with the help of afterschool specials that taught them they were special and unique and important. Reared on a steady diet of self-esteem and positive reinforcement, at least at school and on television, they are just as likely to consider themselves the center of the universe. (p. 195)
The generation coming up now, often called millennials, are usually the children of Gen Xers; and because the Gen Xers’ parents (Boomers) weren’t very involved in their lives, parents of milennials tend to over-parent. They’ve been in labelled helicopter parents, because they hover over their kids and make sure they get everything they need all the time. This constant attention means the millennials have a strong sense of self-esteem (verging on narcissism, some would say), a strong sense of entitlement (because they’ve always gotten what they’ve wanted) and don’t take criticism very well. They, as the generation before them, are obsessed with self-improvement, self-actualization and self-expression. (p. 195)
The prevailing model of ministry in the United States for the past generation has reinforced this cultural value. Much preaching is focused on the felt needs of listeners; this style communicates that the value of the Scriptures, and ultimately the gospoel itself, is what it can do for me… If we are encouraged to think about our relationships with God and the church in terms of what’s in it for me, it’s only natural that we approach the Bible the same way. And you guessed it: this tendency can cause us to misread the Bible. (p. 196; emphasis added)