“An old, old story…” Changing Generations Part 4

21 July 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

In the previous post, we established that the central need for rising generations is a master story, or “meta-narrative” to provide meaning for life.  The epistemic shift that has taken place has resulted in the fact that young people, more so than previous generations, is characterized by uncertainty.

From this central need we identified five related needs:

(1)   Identity: the need to answer, “Who am I?”

(2)   Loyalty: the need to spell out, “to whom do I belong?”  Who do I trust?

(3)   Values: the need to answer, “by what shall I live?”  What do I pass on to my children?  What would I like to see prevail in respect to the true, the beautiful and the good?

(4)   Power: the need to answer, “how can I protect myself?” or how can I make my way against others?

(5)   Hope: the need to answer, “how can there be a future?”

(these are a modified form of those presented in two sources: Martin A. Marty, “Cross-Multicultures in the Crossfire: The Humanities and Political Interests,” Christianity and Culture in the Crossfire, ed. David Hoekema and Bobby Fong (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1997), 17.  and Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World.  (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999), 22.)

In the next posts, we shall evaluate the way the gospel uniquely addresses these needs.  For now, we’ll look at the master story offered in the ancient scriptures.


George Segal, "Expulsion." media Installation, 1986-7

George Segal, “Expulsion.” media Installation, 1986-7

I realize that not all my readers will agree on the historicity and reliability of the Genesis creation story.  However, I will argue that at the very least, this passage provides an accurate description of the human condition.

Man was originally created in God’s image to share fellowship with the Creator, fellowship with one another, and stewardship of creation.  Man’s rebellion changed all that, and from the day that Eden sank to grief, man has lived under a curse, the final outworking of which is death.

The primary and most pervasive consequence of sin is estrangement.  This alienation is threefold:

(1)   Spiritual separation (man from God): though man was created in the imago Dei (the “image of God”) and designed for fellowship with Him, sin resulted in a separation between man and Creator (man even hid from God to avoid his own consequences).

(2)   Social separation (man from man): though man was intended for fellowship with other humans (husband and wife even forming “one flesh”).  Yet sin drove a wedge between human beings, exchanging their shameless state for a frantically stitched covering of fig leaves and mistrust.  The world of fellowship and intimacy was replaced by mistrust, and where there once was a garden of plenty there is now poverty, war and hunger.

(3)   Environmental/Cosmological separation (nature from nature): though the garden was always intended to be worked, Eden’s curse meant that now there would be “thorns and thistles,” meaning nature would actively oppose man at every turn.  The beauty of creation is now marred by a hostile climate of life-claiming floods and hurricanes, and it may well be that recent concerns over climate change have their roots in the lost paradise of Eden.


If separation and alienation are the effects of sin, then God’s redemptive work is that of putting it all back together again – to reassemble the fragments of a broken world and to make “all things new.”  (cf. Rev 21:5)  And the means that this was accomplished (and will be accomplished) is through the work of Christ in His first and second comings.

It will be my argument that the primary way of understanding God’s redemptive work is through what scripture calls “reconciliation.”  Referring to Christ, Paul writes:

“…God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

If the separations that occurred are spiritual, social and environmental in nature, then it follows that the work of reconciliation that occurs will be spiritual, social and environmental in nature.  We will explore each of these areas in detail in the posts to follow, but for now we must unify this Biblical “metanarrative” with the needs of contemporary culture.


I propose the following as a possible (certainly not only) scheme of unifying man’s needs and the Biblical paradigm.  Each separation is understood as addressing specific categories of need.  Thus, the doctrine of reconciliation satisfies these needs in a way that no other system is able.

(1)   Spiritual separation.

a.      Identity

b.      Trust

(2)   Social separation.

a.      Values

b.      Power

(3)   Environmental separation.

a.      Hope

In the next post, we will pick up with the first category: spiritual separation.  We will evaluate the way that God has reconciled man to Himself, and how this presentation of the gospel is so uniquely powerful with today’s generations.

21 July 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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