Our story actually begins in the 18th and 19th century Enlightenment era. The Enlightenment attempted to put religion under the umbrella of "universal reason". This became the dividing line in Protestant theology between "conservative" and "liberal" (here, I do not mean those terms in the political sense we use them today). If you were a conservative Protestant, you rejected the notion that everything in Christianity is totally rationalize-able, and therefore one must take many things on his personal understanding of faith. If you were a liberal Protestant, you accepted the notion that everything in Christianity is ultimately rationalize-able because it was Logic (in the prologue to the Gospel of John, "Word" or "Logos") who became incarnate. Conservative Protestantism came to be understood as "Evangelicalism", and liberal Protestantism came to be understood as, well, "Liberal Protestantism" (that's Liberal with a capital "L", because it's an underlying ideology). Here we see the development of some well known one-or-the-other ideas (called "dichotomies") such as faith vs. science or faith vs. reason, person vs. institution or hierarchy, man vs. woman, and most fundamentally, God vs. man.
The list goes on, and it has a very fracturing effect, hence the rampant denominationalism we see today. In fact, it seems that many people have "given up" because of it. There is a throwing in of the towel in regards to orthodoxy and even dogmatic theology because anybody's sliver of truth is as good as anyone else's sliver of truth. The effect? Christ becomes one figure among many, because then he exists, not as God, but as a totally grasped idea within the human mind or emotion in the heart. Once the individual believer attains some sort of knowledge of Christ or emotional attachment satisfactory to his or her liking, the real and concrete person of Jesus can be discarded. The individual believer then becomes the center, not Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is not the center, then what kind of Christian theology is being fostered? This is the dilemma.
Both "conservative" and "liberal" are... Unorthodox?
In the late 20th century, a Christian theologian by the name of George Lindbeck wrote a controversial book called "The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age". This book, while very small for being so important (about 150 pages), placed a large question mark--among other things--in the way that Christianity was to respond to the Enlightenment, especially in Protestant Christianity. His approach (we will look at that in a moment) essentially came to the conclusion that both the Evangelical "conservative" and Liberal Protestant theologies displaced Christ as the center of theology with themselves. That is, that their theology was a "self-glorification" (a phrase by Karl Barth, a Swiss Protestant theologian, who criticized modernist Protestantism and advocated a return to the theology of the Reformers). Lindbeck was the first to construct a postliberal theology. He attempted to get past the "liberal" mindset of both the Evangelicals and Liberals and get to the mind of Christ instead.
The Topic at Hand
What has any of this got to do with "Why Millenials are Leaving the Church" and "Young Evangelicals are Getting High"? The trend in the theological world is upward towards "high church" Protestantism (think Anglican, Episcopalian, older strains of Lutheranism and Presbyterianism, etc), Eastern Orthodoxy, and Catholicism. The impact foreseen in the 20th century is slowly trickling down into the "real world". What does this mean? It means people are tired of watered down theology. People are tired of placing their relationship with Christ on purely the ground of their emotions or of their intellect. Rather than themselves as the center, they want Christ to be the center, and this is a good change. What does this mean, in the approach of Lindbeck? It means that a different perspective of the the Christian Church is arising--one that is founded in the liturgy, in the Church fathers and councils, in a Christocentric approach to scripture, and in sacred Tradition. These are the places that the person of Christ has been passed on from generation to
generation in the Body of Christ.
For those of you who are curious what this sort of theology looks like, I will pull from Fr. Robert Barron's "The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism". Fr. Robert Barron, for those of you who don't know, is the same guy who did the "Catholicism" series and has many, many, many commentary videos on YouTube about various and sundry things. But here is a quote from the above listed book and a video with which I will end this blog post:
The Priority of Christ
"I follow Colin Gunton and John Milbank's suggestion that the modern can be viewed as a sharp reaction to precisely the elements in late-medieval Christianity that I have been highlighting. ...Dupre has remarked the subjectivism as such is not a distinctive quality of the modern, for no one was more subjective than Plato, Plotinus, or Augustine. Rather, it is the claim that the subject is itself the ground of meaning and value [that the individual him or herself can determine the meaning of his or her own life; and that any impeding on that freedom is an offense against the individual. Reality, then, is seen as a power struggle between aggressive, self-contained, and narcissistic individuals]. ... Lest all of this seem to abstractly philosophical, the modern preference for the freedom of the individual is no more baldly and forcibly defended than in the U.S. Supreme Court's judgment in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life." ... In all of this modern assertiveness, we see the reaction of the many against the one, of individuals against the tyranny of institutions and of that threatening Other lurking, acknowledged explicitly or not, behind them. ... Modernity and liberal Christianity are enemies in one sense, but in another sense, they are deeply connected to one another and mirror one another. ... I am convinced that both need to be saved, precisely by that person [emphasis mine] who throws everything off, including and especially the competitive understanding of God and the world that produce the conflict between them in the first place." pgs. 15-16