- Connected Christians: New Practices in Evangelical Spirituality1
Having been reared on Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey and having been home schooled through high school, it was not surprising that Seth wanted his children to grow up to embrace Jesus and to live according to the Bible. Nor was it surprising that this millennial father, and second-generation evangelical, desired to express his religious commitments through a tattoo on his forearm that will read, “Veritology,” a term coined in a Focus on the Family (Focus) DVD seminar. “Veritology: What is Truth?” headlined The Truth Project’s first lesson, a lesson that asked the question that has anchored Seth’s life since he first saw the series two years ago: “Do our actions reflect what we believe to be ?” Seth explained, “you can go back and basically analyze your beliefs, not just the things you say you believe, but what you actually believe, by looking at how you behave. And I think that has been—it’s been both convicting and it’s been amazingly inspirational to me.”2 As Seth interpreted Focus’s question, it licensed his movement away from reliance on traditional Evangelical authorities, organizations, and the material they’ve produced. In this way, Seth reflected the “New evangelicals,” as Tom Krattenmaker calls them: Young “[b]elievers eschewing locked-down doctrinal declarations and political battles to tend to the specific and the local.”3 These young evangelicals might be seen as part of the “emergent church” or Gordon Lynch’s Generation X Christianity, but none of them used those terms or viewed themselves as part of a movement.4 Rather, like many of his generation, Seth shied away from the rigidness of Christian institutions or the labels of broad movements, while magnifying the piece of his tradition that demanded that he be in relationship with others. This emphasis on relationship with God and community has led me to term Seth and his fellow second-generation evangelicals “connected Christians.” In this short essay I compare the religious practices of Seth and twenty other “connected Christians” with those practiced by fifteen of their first-generation co-religionists. Here, I explore how feeling comfortable in their Evangelical tradition and confident in their relationships with both God and the world has oriented the second-generation toward what they perceive to be unique spiritual expressions of faith that have been shaped by, but are distinct from, their parents. [End Page 84]
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Dividing the Generations
Over the course of six years I have conducted interviews with families—mothers, fathers, sons, daughters—who self-identified as evangelical and who had used Focus materials at some point in their lives. As I talked with different family members, met their friends, and fellow churchgoers, I had expected to see trends among the different age groups, but what I found was a dividing line between first generation and second generation evangelicals, almost regardless of age.
It became clear that the many converts with whom I spoke, who came to the church in the 1980s, when they were in their teens and young twenties, had very different attachments to the tradition than did their children. Most of these first generation evangelicals had joined an evangelical church as a way to a better life through Jesus. In this effort to re-form their habits, they found themselves eager to find clearly outlined paths that would help them avoid temptations—typically drugs, alcohol, greediness, or self-involvement. In the early years of evangelicalism’s popularity, however, finding such information meant going to specialized stores and mail-order organizations such as Focus. Their inability to find what they needed within their own neighborhood mirrored the isolation they felt from the mainstream and from their non-Christian family members. The first-generation evangelicals with whom I spoke made it clear that they did not have older family members to whom they could go for advice. Instead, evangelical Christian authorities, such as James Dobson, the Osteens, and Rick Warren filled that parental role, helping them to find their spiritual...