In flipping through some old books in my office, I came across this from David Bayles and Ted Orland (Art and Fear):
When Columbus returned from the New World and proclaimed the earth was round, almost everyone went right on believing [it] was flat. Then they died—and the next generation grew up believing the world was round. That’s how people change their minds.
Historically, the Columbus part is rubbish. The explorer did not prove that the world was round. People already knew that. What Columbus proved was that he was wrong about the earth’s circumference, and—more importantly—about Christian ethics.
My interest, however, is in the END of the quotation.
The idea here is that people mostly do not change their minds, even when confronted with new arguments. Instead, we tend to keep believing what we thought before—and then we die. Later on, our kids think differently.
We might call this the principle of GENERATIONAL MIND CHANGE.
For some, the recognition of this tendency leads to a narrative of PROGRESS in which the backward thinking of the past is slowly replaced with enlightenment and freedom. For others, it is tale of LOSS in which the wisdom of the ‘ol days gives way to cultural rot and muddled thinking.
Both are true in certain cases (see here).
My own generation, for instance, is far less likely to excuse, say, racism. But we are also far more likely to follow the Kardashians, or to confuse “tolerance” with full agreement.
Generational tendencies are a mixed bag. And every generation is diverse.
Given this, the point is not that such shifts are usually good or bad, but that (at some broad level) they do exist.
Now for an example:
This week, I watched Russell Moore’s much hailed Erasmus Lecture. entitled: “Can the Religious Right be Saved?” It was a eulogy of sorts for a failed segment of the movement. And it was—in the view of many—brilliant (watch here; overview here).
My new theory is that Moore gives prophetic voice to what many younger evangelicals are feeling on this topic. But because he has the appearance of a 1950s Bible salesman (KJV only!), it is more difficult to dismiss him as “just another millennial” with hemp shoes and a secret love of socialism.
Like Samson, the secret’s in the haircut.
While the whole talk is instructive, Moore addresses a form of generational mind change that has taken place amongst many folks like myself—theologically conservative younger evangelicals (I’m still young, right?).
As he states:
There are no 22 year-old John Hagees. This is not because of liberalization. The next generation of these evangelicals pack orthodox confessional universities and seminaries, are planting orthodox confessional churches with astounding velocity. The evangelicals who are at the center of evangelical vitality are also the least likely to be concerned with politics. Again, this is not because they are liberal but because they keep a priority on the gospel and the mission that they do not wish to lose. The leaders they read and listen to are also often fairly indifferent to politics. … Those who do care about politics, and who lead populist movements, tend to be theologically vacuous, tied to populist ‘God and Country’ appeals that seem simultaneously idolatrous and angry to younger Christians, and often form a kind of “protection racket” seeking to silence Christian voices as “liberal” who wish to speak about such matters as racial justice.
While I might quibble with one or two things here, my overall response is a hearty “Amen!”
As Moore continues:
We must remind ourselves that we are not inquisitors but missionaries [and] that we can be Americans best when we are not Americans first.
The problem, as he argues, is that segments of the Religious Right were never deeply formed by the gospel (the euangelion). Therefore:
One of the assumptions [was] that the church is formed well enough theologically and simply needs to be mobilized politically.
As Moore notes, this is simply wrong. Because when a gospel-formed theology is assumed (even when absent), what rushes in to fill the void is something more pernicious—often the pursuit of money, fame, and power:
As he argues:
The fundraising structure of political activism, left and right, means that often the most extreme and buffoonish characters are put forward. For the Religious Right, the strangeness to the world is not where the New Testament places it—in the scandal of the gospel—but in the willingness to say outrageous things on television. Some would suggest that even broaching this topic is “intellectual snobbery.” And yet, imagine a 1960s civil rights movement led not by Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, but by Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright. King did not simply speak to the passions of his followers but to the consciences of his detractors and to the consciences of those on the sidelines, overhearing it all. Behind that was a coherent set of ideas, grounded in the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.
In the end, Moore holds out hope that Religious Right may be saved, by an overhaul of leadership and by an encounter with more gospel-centered theology.
As he makes clear, his answer is not a withdrawal from the public square. Nor is he suggesting that Christians simply surrender to liberal shibboleths. From his perspective, both quietism and capitulation are copouts. Thus it was interesting to see ringing endorsements of the speech even from segments of the Religious Right itself.
In this way, Moore’s conclusion was all the more jarring because it came from inside the camp of biblical and cultural conservatism. As he argued:
[The current political climate] did not give us this. This is a preexisting condition. The Religious Right turns out to be the people the Religious Right warned us about.
In response to all this, Rod Dreher addressed the question of whether Moore’s speech will change many minds within the old guard.
His answer—with which I agree—is a resounding “No.” That’s just not how these things work.
But in one sense, that point is irrelevant.
Because if Moore is right, the tectonic shift has already happened.
Time does not run backwards.
And for younger evangelicals, attempts to turn back the clock are likely to be about as effective as a robust argument that the world is flat.
 To modify Moore’s quote slightly, I would say, first, that many younger evangelicals do care about politics. They simply reject the preaching of partisanship in place of Christ’s gospel. Likewise, many are frustrated that the old Religious Right has cared about some biblical values while ignoring others (See Moore’s comment about the voter guides which proclaimed a “biblical” position on term limits and the line item veto, but said nothing about racism and the abiding legacy of Jim Crow). Secondly, it may also be that Moore’s claims on the orthodoxy of younger evangelicals are a bit too rosy. My assumption on this point, however, is that his definition of what constitutes an “evangelical” means to exclude herterodoxy from the outset. Thus, he is not technically wrong here, despite the failure to mention the other side of the statistics.