“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. – Matthew 5:9
According to the schema conceived by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1991 book, Generations, there are now seven generations of living Americans: the “Greatest Generation” that survived the Depression, won the Second World War, and bested the Soviet Union; the “Silent Generation” too young to fight in the Big One and too young to serve in Vietnam; “Baby Boomers” who rode the high tide of post-war prosperity; “Gen X” that trail-blazed a globally interconnected digital economy; “Millennials” inflamed with passion to do good throughout the world, and “Gen Z” born after 9/11 and came of age during the 2008 financial collapse into a world of perpetual terrorist threat, strained race relations, seemingly routine school shootings, and a high-decibel polarized civic discourse. A seventh generation, born after 2008, is yet un-named.
Every one of these generations was born into a world deformed by sin and weighed down by sin’s gravity. Each has born this weight, some in seemingly greater degrees, but the weight of sin is heavy when and wherever it is shouldered. The idea of progress suggests that the load grows lighter as humanity advances, but we doubt that’s true and know that the weight of sin cannot be lifted by human hands, only by a solitary pair of nail-scarred ones. Let no generation of disciples of Jesus Christ boast in anything but Christ, especially not in its own human sturdiness vis a vis that of another. Rather, let us all be dialed-in to the weight of indwelling sin carried by believer and unbeliever alike, young or old.
Students at Bethlehem College & Seminary in this season hail mostly from the Millennial and GenZ generations. There are a few late-blooming Boomer and GenX gospel ministers among us, but mostly they’re youngins from generational cohorts whose stride has been constricted by the negligence and excess—witting and unwitting—of the generations that preceded them. We might add, “As has every other generation that preceded them.” Still, gravity weighs heavy on these emerging generations.
According to The Theft of a Decade: How Baby Boomers Stole Millennials’ Economic Future, new from Wall Street Journal columnist Joseph C. Sternberg, “Millennials face a unique set of economic challenges,” among which is proving to their elders “that we are in economic trouble.” The 2008 collapse caused extended anemic job creation and bolted older Americans to the workforce for a longer period time stifling employment and promotion opportunities for Millennials. Sternberg observes, “In 1950 working men 45 to 54 earned about 4% more on average than men 25 to 34. That gap is now almost 35%.”
Without immediate opportunities for employment, the Millennials headed back to school obligating themselves in the process to more than $1 trillion of student loan debt, hampering their agility, delaying their adulthood, and minimizing their living standards. The fiscal choices of Boomers in both political parties have caused federal debt to balloon to monstrous proportion with 75% of federal spending now on auto-pilot. It appears quite likely that these current students will fund entitlements for their elders that they themselves will never enjoy. Small wonder that so many of them wink and blink at Socialism.
GenZ is now being characterized as the “Most Anxious Generation.” An old Boomer like me might well be inclined to tell these kids to just buck up and shed the self-pity. Then this same old Boomer might remember that these kids were born after 2001. I’m pretty sure that I have shoes older than that, and I know John Piper does. For many, their earliest memories would be of family members at war, parents their losing jobs, houses, life savings, them losing their two-parent families and all of the awful household noises associated with such pain. According to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey, some 54% of workers under 23 said they felt anxious or nervous due to stress in the preceding month. Millennial-aged workers were close behind at 34%.
This might all be met with “Kids, today! Why, when I was their age…”, or it might be met with promises from the One who commands “Do not be anxious”, with a hope of triumph over the sin that has pinned down every previous generation since Creation.
They are here now, these young people. We are teaching and serving them. They are weighed down, as we once were and still are. Chancellor John Piper said it best, “Our great quest is for hearts and minds to see and savor the glory of Christ in all things and spread that experience to the world.” We show them Christ—in all the subjects, class sessions, readings, activities, worship services, conversations, exams, relationships, service opportunities, and missionary trips. In doing so these students emerge, as another graduating class is doing this week, ready in their generation to carry their crosses joyfully into a fallen world, and ready to bear all afflictions as but momentary, for the joy set before them and the greater glory to come.
One other practical thing we do, cognizant of our own generational missteps and as an act of inter-generational peacemaking, is to ensure that they graduate from Bethlehem College & Seminary without student loan debt. No one but Jesus has a yoke sturdy enough to bear all of their grief, but by his grace we offer meager under-yokes sufficient to bear this particular financial burden. These graduates will all receive their degrees during Commencement this week, but not all of the Serious Joy Scholarships have yet been funded. We want you to know of our need for $157,038.65, slightly more than sixteen scholarships, before June 30, 2019. Please pray whether you may be called to meet this need, before we reset and start all over again for the new school year.
Thank you for making these emerging generations a work of your ministry for Jesus Christ. To have a front row seat to witness the miracle of the continuing overflow of your joy in Christ for the sake of his own glory, the nations, and these godly students is the great privilege of my life.
His servant and yours,
Vice-President of Advancement &
Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce & Vocation