What Millennials Can Teach Us About Reading the Bible
Insights from a younger generation
There is a lot of buzz about Millennials in the church, and it’s not all good. They lack follow-through. They don’t go to church. They are flighty, entitled and self-absorbed. They want to do things their way or not at all.
At the same time, I have seen Millennials starting their own churches, passionately advocating for causes and integrating their faith in professional sectors. I have seen churches full of young adults incorporating the arts and spending time in each other’s homes. I have seen communities letting Scripture inform how they approach their relationships and day-to-day decisions.
While it is impossible—and often dangerous—to reduce a whole subset of people to a few traits, some observations can promote deeper understanding. In seeking to learn from one another, we can start to bridge this divide between negative perceptions and encouraging insight into what every age group, and person, is uniquely contributing to the body of Christ.
To get started, here are several ways Millennials can help us read and apply Scripture.
Millennials are the first generation to grow up only knowing a digitized world, in a rapidly globalizing economy. Many were raised being told to follow their dreams—and had the opportunities and access to information to make their dreams seem possible. At the same time, this generation experienced the worst of the economic crash just as they began graduating from higher education programs or starting out in their careers. The stock market, retirement plans and other ways of making financial investments suddenly felt unreliable. Many Millennials found that long-term financial security wasn’t available to them. The season of life that previous generations had used to start building toward their futures has been marked for many Millennials by unemployment and school debt.
All of these factors have contributed to an interesting culture shift. Many Millennials aren’t as focused on making money; they want to change the world. They know what’s going on globally and want to be part of it. They have had to think creatively about starting careers in an unreliable job market. Many dream of starting their own companies, being social activists and taking great risks. And since everything is at their fingertips—news articles, plane tickets, networking opportunities—why not follow those dreams and jump in?
The Bible is an agent of change. This ability to dream big, think creatively and take risks offers a dynamic approach to engaging with Scripture. The Bible is not a static book—it continually tells stories about people who take great risks to extend God’s kingdom on earth. Many Millennials can identify with Abram following God’s call and leaving Ur, or Paul setting out on his missionary journeys (Genesis 12:1, Acts 13:2-3). Their awareness of globalization can foster a deeper appreciation of the fact that we don’t read Scripture in isolation. The Bible speaks to people in North America as well as in Uganda and Mongolia. It continues to shape, form and change all of us into God’s people. It unifies us across the globe, calling each of us to participate in its redemptive narrative.
Millennials are quick to remind us that there are no easy answers. When you wake up every morning to a Facebook feed full of school shootings, police brutality, and lawsuits against religious leaders, it is impossible to put things into neat categories. As products of postmodernity, Millennials are ready to ask hard questions and accept ambiguity. They would rather sit with the discomfort than be given simplistic or untruthful answers.
The Bible is full of tensions and hard-to-answer questions. Many passages in Scripture can’t be treated at face value. How do we make sense of the Canaanite massacres or of God rejecting Saul for not wiping out a nation (Deuteronomy 7:2, 1 Samuel 15:23)? What does it mean that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12)? Is the book of Revelation a political document, prophecy or both? Allowing ourselves to ask questions of the text frees us from having to have all the answers. It helps us acknowledge that the fullness of God is beyond our understanding. It leads us to invite God to teach us in deeper—and perhaps slower—ways, rather than hurrying to figure it all out.
One of the catchwords of this generation is “community.” While this is not a new concept, Millennials emphasize its importance. Millennials are one of the most connected generations—people can text their friends and keep up with Twitter updates at any given moment. At the same time, technological oversaturation can create a struggle to stay present. People may look down at their phones and miss out on talking with the person right in front of them. They may know more about the need for water in South Sudan than about the needs in their own neighborhood. Millennials are learning how to navigate these tensions. They are hungry for “authentic” and “intentional” relationships. They are finding ways to use technology to facilitate and foster community—both virtually and in-person.
The Bible comes alive, and is understood, within community. The Bible is a relational document. Even at the time of creation the Spirit and the Word were present with God (Genesis 1:2, John 1:1-3). Scripture describes God’s relationship with creation and the covenants that formed God’s people (Genesis 9:8-17; Genesis 15:18-21; Exodus 24:1-11; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6-13). It is written by a collection of authors to communities of faith—tribes, the first churches and the growing body of Christ. It shows how centuries of people have encountered God and lived out their faith together.
Reading Scripture within community helps us understand the contexts in which it was written, compiled and shared. It leads us out of our individualism (what does the Bible say to me?) to a more communal understanding of our faith (what does it say to all believers, who is it asking us to become, and what actions does it call us to take?). Rather than simply reading about Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, we share a meal together after church. We read Paul’s teaching to the church in Rome and then go on to “be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We begin to see Scripture as a dynamic part of our communities, rooted in a relational history and continuing to come to life in our relationships today.
What are some ways Millennials have formed your reading of Scripture?
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