Matthew Lee Anderson, lead writer at Mere-O, is without internet access for the moment and asked me, apologetically, to put up a link to his newest article at Christianity Today, “Culturally Focusing on the Family.” As expected, it’s excellent.

A few quotes

Traditional evangelicals and their descendants tend to divide on differing points of emphasis. While our parents’ generation was preoccupied with their focus on the family, my peers have replaced  that focus with a near obsession on objects and structures of culture and how we can engage with and create them. There are some sociological reasons for the transition: Even though most younger evangelicals haven’t experienced the much-discussed dissolution of their own families, we have been witnesses to the cultural decline of family life, a decline that has affected us more subtly than we know. And as younger evangelicals have begun to delay marriage and have continued to uproot themselves geographically from their local communities, it has become easier to emphasize “culture” as a way to find our identity, especially when culture is narrowed to the consumption and creation of artifacts.

[…]

The family might be, in fact, the strongest bastion against the consumerism that pervades American life. While we might choose movies, music, and art that we want to appreciate and understand—and the friends or church we enjoy them with—we do not have the same freedom to choose our family. It is an arrangement formed almost by accident, or as G. K. Chesterton would have it, by magic. In his lively image, the day we are born, we are dropped into a house of strangers we did not choose and forced to learn to love them. The family’s unique power resides in the fact that the ties that bind are not ties we choose—a fact that does not easily fit souls shaped by consumerism.

[…]

The real question is whether hipster evangelicals have escaped the consumerist mindset that they shun. The besetting sin of hipster evangelicalism is self-deception, a problem that we are more prone to than other generations because of our fascination with and emphasis on being “real” and “authentic.”

Check out the entire article.

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Posted by Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

6 Comments

  1. Great points, all.

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  2. I couldn’t get passed the phrase “Matthew Lee Anderson . . . is without internet access for the moment.” How could he let this happen?

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  3. Indeed, great article Matt!

    Andrew, you might want to take a moment and update the article link, it goes to the second page of the article.

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  4. I am not sure I follow the logic of “hipster evangelical” = “consumerist mindset.” Are we to infer from this that anyone who fits whatever descriptive set we use to define “hipster” is that way because they have given themselves over to a formation process dictated by the marketplace? Do you have a specific person or group of people in mind that you are speaking to here?

    Additionally, what if the current fascination with “real” and “authentic” as expressed in Christian culture is in part a reaction to what many perceive as a church overly informed by modernity, which led to the attractional models of church growth that have since been discredited theologically?

    I guess I am hesitant to instantly devalue someone’s quest for something “real” and “authentic” because they look a certain way.

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  5. >> In fact, there is a serious question about how it is possible to escape consumerism other than by withdrawing from the world …

    I suggest reading Ivan Illich to really understand the consumer culture. It goes back way farther and is much deeper than many realize. Would you have to “withdraw from the world” to do it? Yes and no, depending on what you mean by “the world”, and depending on what you mean by “withdraw”. But for Evangelicals that may be going too deep because there is a knowing smugness in use of the special meaning of the phrase for them. There is that “nudge, nudge … wink, wink … know what I mean?” feel about the phrase.

    >> While our parents’ generation was preoccupied with their focus on the family, my peers have replaced that focus with a near obsession on objects and structures of culture and how we can engage with and create them.

    >> The family might be, in fact, the strongest bastion against the consumerism that pervades American life.

    >> The family’s unique power resides in the fact that the ties that bind are not ties we choose—a fact that does not easily fit souls shaped by consumerism.

    >> In that sense, the younger evangelical obsession with culture needs to be chastened by the traditional evangelical focus on the family,

    Something seems wrong with all this. It seems to run dangerously close to a “family as a fix” narrative. Though it is a shame we don’t celebrate life as the ancients did, and we ought to welcome, support, and defend families to the absolute hilt (even and especially counter-culturally large ones), the simple fact is that families are not the antidote to any issues except socio-cultural ones that follow in a straight line from demographics, which are beyond ourselves to have much personal effect anyway.

    You say “our parents’ generation was preoccupied … with family”. Well if that is how you describe your parents, then let me tell you about your parents parents. They were not so self-conscious about their parenthood, or for that matter anything; they didn’t run around saying “Well I’m a father and so I think like thus and so”. It is likely your grandfather rarely if ever said “I’m a father”, let alone used this as a premise for an argument or beginning of a discussion. The fact was rather obvious to him, and I suppose he thought to others, and there didn’t seem any need to verbalize the obvious. No, your parents parents weren’t preoccupied with family, they just happened to have one and did their best for them as a matter of course and didn’t think they deserved any medals for it, and weren’t the self-conscious and preoccupied type. But I digress …

    The Evangelical church is awash with sermons on the family that use often use the term “family first” or lean heavily on sentimental family analogies that often are actually pretty poor theology. I’ll bet we’ve all heard that term in church. What does it mean? When I ask Christians what they mean when they say this they tend to express it in terms of a hierarchal set of priorities, and I find that problematic in itself. And I’ve heard more “learn about God through your kids” or “having kids cures you of selfishness” sermons, anecdotes, analogies and more sentimental mush about families from Evangelical pulpits than I care to. If we learned as much about God as people claimed by having children perhaps the world would be a bit better than it is. After listening to all this stuff one could be forgiven for thinking that to be like Christ is mostly like being a good mom or dad. What happened to the tried and true methods of old to mature people in Christ that Dallas Willard eloquently speaks of? And recall the puzzling words of Christ on the spiritual accrual to his family, and other statements on the family in scripture. Isn’t it a common thing for the family to be seen as an extension of the self? How is it that along with the rise of this “family first” ethic that we see a decline in the benevolent and generous attitudes towards fatherless children outside of the family? Just try it if you don’t think so. The folksy “ties that bind” = one’s nuclear family may be more revealing than it seems. Christians will tell you not to do such things. “Better to be safe you know” nudge nudge, wink wink; “are you spending enough time with your family?”; “shouldn’t your family come first?” As when people love owning homes that appreciate rapidly in value because they feel they can buy stuff for themselves and their home and simultaneously feel they are saving for the future too, people love to be preoccupied with themselves through their families and feel like they are doing their best for God at the same time. It’s a win-win. C. S. Lewis had some very enlightening things to say about the roles of men and women in families as given by God as he saw them and why, and how these roles were in tension and needed to be for God’s plan. Very enlightening. I don’t think people really read him anymore. “The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis” touches on it. Too bad you’ll likely never hear a sermon on that.

    Yes we learn about God through particular loves -inside and outside the family- but I find the claims made about what families can do for Christians to be misguided. The religious analogue to the secular trend of having children to solve a problem. Families aren’t the answer to consumerism, anti-consumerism isn’t the answer to consumerism; it is a symptom rather than a cause anyway, and if you don’t try to understand the issue except in its personal and very recent popular formulations then better not to worry so much about it anyway. Frankly, the issue has been suspiciously fashionable for many years -the Screwtape principle tells me the issue isn’t quite as important as it seems from all the commentary. Have children because you should if you’re married and can and don’t worry about having too many -it’s good for our culture and nation- but don’t kid yourself that it will mature you in Christ (of course the article didn’t say that -I merely take this occasion to say it) or solve any issues you have. It won’t, and it’s a good thing too.

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  6. And aside from the fact that having children obviously doesn’t discourage “consumerism” but rather multiplies it (as any marketing exec knows), consumerism is one of the largest obstacles to having children there is.

    “Consumerism” goes way deeper than the typical anti-consumerist rant allows for … the largest sacred cow in our culture is college education itself. Here is where Ivan Illich is dead on about the dangers and severe limitations with packaging knowledge up in neat little bundles that is then delivered by certified professionals. It limits a student’s ability to learn in any other way -and as a consequence what they can know also. But education has settled around students as “education” consumers and somehow that escapes the typical anti-consumerism halleluia chorus, because they are the ones most highly invested in it.

    Here is a snippet from the article (America’s One-Child Policy) but it is worth the full read.

    “And then there’s consumerism … The real money is in three big-ticket items that the USDA ignores: child care, college tuition, and forgone salary.

    The modern college degree functions less as an educational tool than as a credentialing badge—a marker which gives employers a vague estimate of a person’s intelligence, social milieu, and work ability. The reason employers need this badge is that, thanks to an obscure Supreme Court case, they aren’t allowed to ask for test scores the way colleges are.”

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/america’s-one-child-policy

    The reasons for the explosion of kids entering college in recent decades is the same ground George Will trod in an article last year.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010202098.html

    I am hopeful for a big revolution in education, and I think it is coming sooner than we think. There is an increasing awareness that college education increasingly no longer serves the purposes originally intended. See all the “Is Education the Next Bubble” articles even by professors. I think the answer is “yes”.

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