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The Jesus Gap

The Jesus Gap

Derek Penwell, at [D]mergent writes on the emerging generations and what he calls the “Jesus gap” – the disconnect between Jesus a generally portrayed in US culture and Jesus of the Gospels:

an excerpt

In my work with Millennials and Gen-Xers, among those who’ve dropped out of church, I regularly run into the assumption that Christianity is primarily about saving your own spiritual bacon.

“Screw the planet! Screw everyone else! As long as I get my own heavenly bus pass stamped, I’ve done what Jesus asked me to do.”

Now, whether that’s a fair characterization is another argument. That it is common, however, means the church, if it is to have any hope of connecting with these young people, is going to have to address it. “It,” in this case, is what I call “The Jesus Gap.”

The Jesus Gap

“If you follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do.” ~Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution

There’s a gap. I’m convinced of it. A gap—a Jesus gap.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the traditional view of the church among Millennials and Gen-Xers. This dissatisfaction has any number of causes, which the disaffected would name as anti-institutionalism, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, etc. But there’s one area of vexation that always seems to come up: The Jesus Gap.

People, especially young people, are having trouble squaring the Jesus they read about in the Gospels with the infinitely malleable Jesus they see placed on offer by popular Christianity—Jesus as personal genie, Jesus as chief security guard at the courthouse of private morality, Jesus as a cheerleader for free-market capitalism, etc.

In my work with Millennials and Gen-Xers we often return to the same complaint: “The Jesus I read about in the Gospels doesn’t look like the Jesus I hear about in church.” Whether it’s Jesus as a clearinghouse for heavenly bus passes or Jesus as Affirmer-in-Chief whose primary function revolves around endorsing middle-class American values, emerging generations are having a difficult time making the connection between Jesus-as-he-appears-in-the-bible and Jesus-as-he’s-portrayed-by-his-most-vocal-supporters.

And that’s a horrible shame. Because Jesus, stripped of the layers of religious spackling used to domesticate him, is irremediably subversive.

Subversive. That appeals to me. Of course, I’d like to continue writing clinically, about the religious climate shift underway at the hands of restless “young people,” fed up with a tame Jesus. I’d like to make it sound as though I’m just a disinterested observer of religious trends. But the truth is that I too find myself growing dissatisfied with that image of Jesus.

After all these years of a Jesus who I thought would help make me _______ (holier? kinder? more spiritual? more self-actualized?), I’ve come to believe that Jesus has a more cosmic, more interesting agenda in mind than super-tuning my soul

Read it all here.


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Bill Dilworth

No, Kevin, you’re not alone – I, too, have noticed that the Millenials/GenXers/Whatever-the-trendy-label-generation are, in fact, just like the rest of us. 😉

The Baby Boomers, to which I belong, seem to have started it. It’s not so much self-righteousness as it is self-absorption, the idea that one’s generation is just somehow more *genuine* and *interesting* than previous ones. The Boomers grabbed that and ran with it, and by sheer dint of numbers managed to monopolize the idea for a long time. Every decade we made it clear that we were NOT, in fact, growing older, because “40 is the new 20” or “50 is the new 30” or whatever. Every time we entered a new phase of life the media exploded with stories about it, as if middle age or retirement were some newly discovered phenomenon.

That said, this very topic of a Jesus Gap seems familiar, somehow. Now, when was it that I heard something similar – that the Jesus of the Churches wasn’t the real Jesus, and that the ____ generation had a much better idea of what He was like and what He wanted? Oh, I remember now – every blessed year since 1969.

There truly is nothing new under the sun, it would seem.


I’m reading, back to back, Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution” and Meyers’ “The Underground Church”. They both deal with the subversive nature of Jesus and Jesus’ Gospel, as well as how out of sync it is with a lot of American Christianity. Very interesting and challenging.

May I also add, please, that the, ummm, errr, “self-righteousness”? of the millennia’s/Gen-Xer’s is getting a smidge tiresome?

They talk a great walk, but….well, I haven’t seen a lot of them walk their talk. They spend an awful lot of time trashing the rest of us, but when it comes time to put up or shut up, lots of them are MIA. Organize a ministry to help the poor and hungry, try to recruit the young, and they stay away in droves…like their parents they like to trash. Interestingly, the parents who do show up have kids who show up.

Am I being too defensive here? Or does anyone else notice the trend?

Kevin McGrane

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