Sunday, December 21, 2008

And on the Eighth Day the Market Said, "Let There Be Youth," and There Was Youth. And the Market Saw That It Was Good.

Continuing his diatribe against what he calls “ecclesial apartheid,” Michael Horton sets his sights on the holy grail of evangelical ecclesiology: youth ministry. In the same way that Madison Avenue created the youth demographic in order to sell stuff to them while they’re still naïve enough to believe the things Madison Avenue tell them, so the “catholicity of the market” pursued by many churches seeks to pander to this demographic in order to lure parents to the churches their kids like the best (advertisers refer to this as the “nag factor”).

The same market forces that drive us to disposable identities and perpetual novelty (planned adolescence) are tearing apart the fabric of genuine covenant community.... Generational narcissism has become a publicly accepted form of self-preoccupation since the 1970s, and each generation is profiled in such literature in the most hyperbolic terms. When marketing and sociology developed the demographic known as “youth,” the church created the “youth group.”
Horton then draws attention to the statistic that half of erstwhile churchgoing college freshmen are unchurched by their sophomore year. He argues that, given the perpetuation of “children’s church” and youth services, “instead of regarding them as having abandoned church, we might perhaps wonder if they were ever fully a part of one.”

We have learned to think as never before in terms of the uniqueness of over-stereotyped generations. Where church divisions used to be lamented as differences over doctrine, they are now celebrated as “megachurch” and “emergent,” as if each generation were an ex nihilo creation.
This gives rise to a couple interesting points. First, what is celebrated as “incarnational ministry” seems to be a prime suspect in perpetuating such market-driven catholicity, and second, this type of approach tends to de-emphasize doctrinal differences (cult) and over-emphasize demographic ones (culture). Hence Christian unity focused on a common confession of the gospel is marginalized in favor of a hegemonic uniformity driven by market forces.

We must reject the divide-and-conquer approach of rival catholicities, taking Paul’s question to the Corinthians—“Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?”—and apply it to the churches of our own day: “Don’t you have your own social networking contexts like work, school, or Facebook to pursue your unique tastes in music, sports, or hobbies?” After all, the in-breaking of the age to come that happens in worship every Lord’s Day relativizes all times and places and jeopardizes our own cherished uniqueness in this passing age.

In a word, the phrase “the church in Corinth” should be read with the accent on the first two words, not just the last two.