Millennials: They’re So Hard to Figure Out

by Matt Pinson

“We do face a danger, of course, when attempting to group individuals in a certain generation using sweeping generalizations. We risk missing the beautiful diversity of each generation, and the beautiful uniqueness of each person.”  —Jon Nielson

Recently I read a short article on the Gospel Coalition website by Jon Nielson, a 33-year-old campus ministry leader at Princeton University. It reminded me how difficult it is to “peg” the millennial generation, despite how much some people attempt to do so. One of the things the article tries to get its readers to do is to “stop trying to define millennials,” as a recent Huffington Post article urged.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry every time I hear someone in our denomination repeat this old, tired slogan: “The reason Free Will Baptists are losing our young people is because our churches are not cool enough.” The reason I don’t know whether to laugh or cry is that I know all the latest research from serious sociologists like Christian Smith and others belies this well-worn maxim of many in the FWB Baby Boomer set.

The social science research shows that evangelical churches across the board are losing their young people at the same rate—contemporary and traditional, urban and rural and suburban, large and small and mega, liturgical and charismatic—there’s no significant difference in the percentage of young people being lost or gained. Yet we continue to hear the attractional, “only-way-to-reach-Millennials” line over and over again. (For more on this, read another brief article by Nielson entitled “Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up.”)

But I’m kind of like Jon Nielson in the article below: Millennials are a lot harder to figure out than Boomers and Gen-Xers. I work with them everyday, and just when I think I’ve got them figured out, they surprise me.

Millennials want more depth and transcendence and beauty from their religion than many Boomers and Gen-Xers. They’re more interested in theology than just pragmatic “what works” methods—they want methods that actually grow out of theology. This of course doesn’t apply to all Millennials, but that’s my whole point—it’s hard to reduce them to a one-size-fits-all approach, either educationally or religiously.

This was illustrated when I received an article from a Millennial youth pastor friend of mine recently about church architecture. It was a Barna Research survey commissioned by a large church architecture firm. The firm wanted to know what Millennials like in church architecture. They showed pictures of three types of church sanctuaries—(1) the dimly lit “stage set” one (2) the center-pulpit, brightly lit “Baptist-Presbyterian” one, and (3) the formal-liturgical one.

Two-thirds of the Millennials liked the traditional sanctuaries and disliked the modern one. They showed three types of church exteriors that corresponded to the sanctuaries mentioned above. Again, two-thirds of the Millennials preferred the traditional buildings and disliked the modern one.

Now, my point here is not to make an argument about the “correct” type of church architecture. My point is that a lot of our caricatures of the Millennial generation are just that—caricatures. Millennials just aren’t leaving, or joining, churches for the reasons we often hear cited.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this brief but very insightful article by Jon Nielson.

Our Fears Betray Us

by W. Jackson Watts

(this essay first appeared on the Helwys Society Forum on November 16; It has been republished here with permission)

In the days following the election of Donald Trump, thousands of opinion pieces have appeared in newspapers, periodicals, and online news outlets. Such pieces range from the jubilant and finger-wagging to the angry and finger-pointing. Some are analyzing the data gleaned from exit polling, while others are scrutinizing the counties that flipped from Obama to Trump.

However, one sentiment that has emerged since around the midnight to 1am hour (CST) on Wednesday is fear. Such fearful disbelief was seen on the faces of disheartened young volunteers at Clinton headquarters, in celebrities’ tweets, and in pundits’ commentary. Fear is certainly not all that is on display; anger is, too. The anti-Trump protests certainly reflect deep anger toward the president-elect, those who elected him, and the campaign that swept him into office. Fear and anger often go hand-in-hand.

But the fears concerning Mr. Trump are most troubling from the standpoint of our republic, and certainly from a deeper religious perspective. Fear often betrays deeply held beliefs, emotions, and commitments, which may hinder our thriving as human beings and as a nation. Here I’ll focus on two problems that our current fears reveal.[1]

(1) Our Vision of the Presidency

Ever since the Progressive era (circa late 1800s to 1940), a vision of the Constitution arose that viewed it and its signatories as being out of touch with the demands of modern times. Underlying this vision were several beliefs, among them being an evolutionary view of human thought and history. The thought goes something like this: “The founders couldn’t have envisioned the complexity of modern civilization, or intended that the Constitution not occasionally undergo revision or reinterpretation.”

Fast-forward to our present day, and we find ourselves living in the wake of several progressive presidencies (some democratic, some republican), which did much to expand the executive powers beyond their constitutional limits. Our system was designed with a separation of powers, distinguishing the executive branch from the legislative branch, the legislative branch from the judicial branch, and the judicial branch from the executive branch; equal, but separate. Such an arrangement was intended to provide checks and balances against any one branch or leader assuming power that wasn’t properly granted to them— an important reminder Matthew Bracey alludes to in his recent essay.

Why, then, is such fear present not only among ordinary citizens, but also among elites in the media, entertainment, and sports? Certainly wealth insulates some from many of the vulnerabilities typical of middle-to-low income Americans. This fear must be rooted in something besides party affiliation: Many believe we’re about to have a dangerous president.

This fear should first cause some anti-Trump persons to give pause, and remember the manner in which they ridiculed and dismissed the fears of anti-Obama persons over the last eight years. Obama advocates assured their fellow citizens that they were being unreasonable, unfair, and just plain wrong. So there seems to be some inconsistency here. As one journalist recently put it, separation of powers is suddenly en vogue again!

I would be chief among those who would name President-elect Trump’s flaws in terms of character, views, and preparedness to lead our country. However, our political system was designed precisely to protect citizens from flawed leaders. If there was ever evidence in recent history that our vision of the presidency has been compromised, it is the widespread fear. Our views of the executive branch and its power have grown to unhealthy and dangerous proportions. Conservatives have warned of this for years, though in truth, some were less troubled by it when purported conservative presidents were in office.

In 2014, columnist George Will explained the phenomenon of progressive presidential leadership in an excellent PBS documentary on the Roosevelts. He explained that the presidency is like a warm, leather glove. Each president who’s been elected has put that glove on. However, each successive president (at least every few anyway) has a larger hand, and thus stretches the glove just a bit larger.

Most conservatives would agree with these observations. However, Christians in particular should recognize that some who are fearful genuinely don’t know how to process the fact that the newly-elected president has sounded at times like a racist, misogynist, and/or any number of other despicable things. When we encounter such feelings, we should reassure fellow citizens that we’re just as committed to protecting their legitimate constitutional rights as we are our own.

Even assuming that the worst is true of Mr. Trump’s character and intentions, that one man could singlehandedly provoke, antagonize, or do legal harm to citizens belonging to any other nationality or religious group says something much worse than we know. It tells us that the executive branch—and the presidency specifically—has departed from its proper place, that it’s not a co-equal branch of government, that it doesn’t have checks and balances.

Christians have something significant to say to these concerns. We not only should reaffirm the constitutional separation of powers, but we must point to the larger metaphysical claim upon which this arrangement is based: there is such a thing as human nature, and it isn’t good. No doubt the founders’ beliefs differed about some of the specifics of human nature. It’s fair to say that though they weren’t all Reformed, they understood that too much power given to any one individual or institution could and would lead to lawlessness and tyranny. Believers can refine this insight with verses like Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, not even one.”

A strong doctrine of sin is critical to preserving the integrity of limiting mechanisms within our social, civil, and political institutions. These mechanisms ensure that one bad man or woman cannot, in fact, take what is not theirs to take, or give what is not theirs to give (cf. Mk. 12:17).

The Bible has much to say about sin and its attendant components—guilt and depravity. Where we have sometimes failed is by stressing the individual dimensions of sin at the expense of the institutional or structural manifestations of sin, a point that mainline theologians have more often stressed. Biblically, sin is explained as an individual and corporate reality, but the discerning person recognizes that individual and corporate wickedness also manifests itself in the institutions humans create. In fact, such a claim may help explain why many suddenly find themselves so fearful about the presidency: we’ve turned a noble, limited office into a scary, unlimited office.

(2) Our Faith in Men

A second issue surrounding present fears is where the dangerous expansion of presidential power takes us. If we believe the office itself has the symbolic, political, and legal power to do such great harm, it becomes critically important that we have complete faith in the person elected, as well as the populace which does the electing. As many are learning now, hell hath no fury like a Clinton-voter scorn. But it isn’t the usual type of frustration. It is a sense of betrayal: “How could you put America in the hands of this person?”

Voters bear some responsibility for allowing and sometimes encouraging presidents to attempt to fix things that either they cannot fix, or should not attempt to fix. Good intentions or not, the blurring of proper boundaries sets dangerous precedents. That we allow this reveals beliefs we have about people that never serve us well in the end. Whenever one has an unrealistic and unhealthy (not to mention unconstitutional) view of presidential power, it fosters and then reveals a misplaced confidence in political leaders. This is true whenever we weep for joy when our candidate is elected, or weep fearfully when another chosen. We feel vulnerable to the whims of the elected, and the electorate.

Christians are warned of this type of false confidence, notably in two psalms. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9). Then again, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Ps. 146:3-4).

 In both passages, the psalmists warn about the folly of trusting in earthly rulers. These serve as cautions for those Christians who may have unwavering confidence that President-elect Trump will make good on all his promises they liked. If this isn’t enough of a caution, it may be healthy to revisit some of the fearmongering among evangelical Christians prior to the election. One would have thought that Mrs. Clinton’s status as the antichrist (or next to it) rose to the level of biblical revelation for some.


No doubt this was an important election, in ways still unknown at this point. For this reason, Christians still have responsibilities beyond the voting booth. Yet the fears of our current national moment are instructive about human nature, the lessons of history, the problem of double-standards, and the need to trust the one who sits on heaven’s throne, not who occupies the Oval Office.


[1] My remarks on fear in this piece are not intended to apply to an otherwise biblical and prayerful concern that we might exhibit towards our nation and our times. Rather, my focus is more limited to the reaction of many to the outcome of the election and what it reveals.

A Book Worth Your Time

by Randy Corn

J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. By Leland Ryken. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2015. 413 pp. $16.50 ebook

Few would debate the assertion that J. I. Packer has had a profound impact on the evangelical movement. Some will know that Packer was an Episcopal Priest. Many more will know that he spent his life in theological education, impacting thousands of students over the years. Quite a few more will appreciate that J. I. Packer is one of the most widely read evangelical authors alive today. Ryken’s volume puts all this in perspective for the reader. In his introduction he says, “My goal in writing this biography was to enable my readers to know J. I. Packer and to get a picture of his varied roles and accomplishments. It is the man that I wanted my readers to encounter” (10).

To accomplish this, he wrote the volume in three parts. The first is “The Life.” In the second, one meets “The Man,” and finally, “Lifelong Themes.” It is “The Life” which reads most like a traditional biography. You first encounter a shy, bookish lad who suffered a terrible accident and had to literally wear a helmet to protect his fractured skull for months on end. It is also intriguing to hear the story of how this nominally religious young man came to faith and found a calling while in college.

During his college days he discovered his lifelong love for the Puritans. His introduction to them was a biography of George Whitefield. Packer was drawn to Whitefield because, many years earlier, Whitefield attended the same preparatory school which Packer would graduate from. Packer “later called his reading of this biography a milestone in his spiritual development” (45). Ryken concludes, “In summary, then, the first thing to be said about the Puritan influence in Packer’s life is that it was formative. The Puritans did not transform his life; they formed it. Packer without the Puritans does not exist” (272). Like Whitefield, he would be a committed Anglican, but be thought of as a mainstream evangelical. The Puritan theology of Whitefield would be at the core of Packer’s thinking. He eventually wrote his doctoral dissertation on the soteriology of Richard Baxter.

Readers who are broadly familiar with John R.W. Stott and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones will be intrigued to see the interplay between these men. Though a lesser man might have felt slighted by both, Packer seemed to go out of his way to keep their disagreements amicable. In fact, the author devotes an entire chapter to how Packer handled controversy. He was never far from one, and yet he was never spoiling for a fight or unwilling to engage to defend an important principle. In the broader evangelical world this would be an important attribute since Packer would be a major proponent of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

There are times that Ryken gets a bit more detailed than the average reader would like, but Packer has lived a long and eventful life. In concluding this book, I do feel that Ryken achieved his goal; I encountered J. I. Packer.

More Symposium Content

by Theological Commission

Recently we enjoyed another excellent Theological Symposium. For those who weren’t able to enjoy it in person or online, we have more Symposium content we’d like to make available. For a Digest of Papers, please place your order through emailing You can also indicate if you’d prefer a PDF downloadable copy. For direct download access, you can click here and order through our new online store.

In the meantime, below is more free audio content from our event. One is the chapel presentation co-presented by Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts, editors of The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines. The second is a presentation given by Andrew Harrison, a pastoral staff member at the Madison FWB Church in Madison, Alabama. Harrison, a first-time presenter, gave a paper which elicited a great deal of discussion during the Q&A time. We think you’ll enjoy it.

Another Symposium in the Books

by W. Jackson Watts

Last Monday and Tuesday, the Commission for Theological Integrity sponsored their twentieth annual Symposium which explored the theological legacy of F. Leroy Forlines. The event was held on the campus of Welch College and was also live-streamed. We were gratified to have a great turnout (people came from 9 different states), as well as having hundreds of people check into the event online.

The Symposium featured eight presentations given by nine different pastors, scholars, and/or leaders from different walks of life.  We also had a panel discussion to conclude the event in which panelists considered the state of Free Will Baptist theology, and the legacy of Leroy Forlines.

A more extensive write-up of the event can be found at However, the Theological Commission would like to continue to share content from the event with those interested. Hard copies of the Digest of Papers can be attained for the price of $15 (includes S&H). Please send an email to to place your order. Also, in the coming weeks, a digital download/PDF version of the papers will be available for $10. More details to come.

In the meantime, enjoy some of the free audio from the event below. The following is Richard Clark discussing his theological journey to Arminianism through the influence of F. Leroy Forlines.


Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine