By Catherine Segars, Crosswalk.com
Years ago, I heard a lecture from a Vanderbilt professor on the questions that burn in the heart of the three previous generations. At the time, Gen Z was quite young, so we did not know the question keeping this generation up at night. But for Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, the questions were clear.
As I thought about each question, I saw a meaningful connection between grandparents, parents, and children. But I also saw a troubling trajectory, a disturbing trend leading away from a sound Biblical foundation to the spiritual wild west we live in today. This becomes increasingly clear as we factor in Gen Z’s burning question.
To be clear, each generation has a vital central concern. But if we get these questions out of order, Houston… we have a problem. A very big problem.
Baby Boomers are preoccupied with TRUTH.
The generation born in the 40s, 50s, and 60s earned their name from the huge spike in birth rates that came after World War II. Baby Boomers are strong, focused, hard-working, and resourceful—traits they learned from their parents, who lived through the Great Depression.
And, as a whole, Baby Boomers believe in truth based on reality that applies to everyone. In other words, they still believe in some form of universal truth. There is no “my truth” for this generation. There is just “the truth,” whether that is the truth of what actually happened in history, the truth revealed in our biology, or the truth of right and wrong. Truth is a fixed point from generation to generation, not an ever-changing mark you will miss if the arrow takes too long to land.
To be clear, that is not to say that every Baby Boomer agrees on what the truth is, but overall they do believe truth exists, and that it has transcendence.
For Baby Boomers, the prevailing question is:
What is TRUE?
They lose a little sleep over the quest for truth.
How important is truth in the Christian faith?
I had a life-altering epiphany in a video class I took from Focus on the Family years ago called The Truth Project. In it, the instructor, Dr. Del Tackett, asks the following question:
“Why did Jesus come to the earth?”
We talked amongst ourselves and came up with what I thought were some pretty good answers.
Jesus came to save us. To redeem us. To reconcile us to the Father. He came to conquer sin and death and the grave and Satan. “Surely one of those answers is right,” I thought. After all, Jesus did accomplish all of those things on his earthly mission.
But they weren’t his primary purpose in coming to earth.
Jesus makes a rather shocking statement in the Gospel of John about his primary purpose for being born. I needed a double-take to make sure I read it right.
None of our answers were on the list.
In John 18:37, Jesus says, “For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to testify to the truth.” He goes on to say, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (ESV)
Truth is central to Christ’s mission here on earth. It is foundational.
Because unless we accept the truth of who Jesus is, we cannot experience salvation, redemption, or reconciliation with the Father. We can’t conquer sin and death, the grave and Satan unless we first know what is true.
So, when it comes to the primary question burning at the heart of Baby Boomers, they got it right.
Gen Xers are preoccupied with REALITY.
The Baby Boomers beget Gen X, who came along in a time of shifting societal values. They were given this name in large part due to their refusal to be defined. Gen Xers, who were born between 1965 and 1980, are independent, flexible, self-reliant, and critical thinkers. And they are intent on throwing off the confines of previous generations to embrace authenticity.
This is my generation. I distinctly remember the invention of a brand-new form of entertainment aimed squarely at me and my peers called “reality TV.”
The Real World, one of television’s first reality shows, came out in 1992. In it, a group of strangers audition to live together in a house for several months. All of their actions and encounters are recorded and carefully edited to produce a compelling show that gives the air of authenticity, but very little about it is real. After all, we don’t live in a social experiment. And our every action isn’t broadcast to millions of viewers.
Nevertheless, my generation has been obsessed with this type of drama for decades.
So what question does Gen X seek to answer? They want to know:
What is REAL?
That question keeps them up at night.
What is the biblical perspective on reality?
In the field of philosophy, there is a concept called the correspondence theory of truth. Advanced by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell in the early 20th century, the theory states that truth is what corresponds with a fact. In other words, truth matches reality. Put even more simply, truth is what is real.
Scripture supports this theory. In fact, the belief that the Bible is inerrant, or error-free, is based on the fact that truth corresponds to what we see in the natural world, to reality.
“This correspondence view of truth is implicit throughout Scripture, beginning in Genesis,” says Dr. Mark Bird, who points out that the very first lie in Scripture contradicted God’s claim that Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit. The first couple did, in fact, die.
He also observes how the Israelites were encouraged to test the prophets based on the accuracy of their prophecies. If a prediction matched what really happened, or reality, the prophet was true.
And the entire weight and witness of the Christian faith hinges on the resurrection. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our faith is pointless. The Apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 15:17.
“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile…”
Many translations say that without the resurrection, our faith is “worthless.”
The Christian faith places the highest value on reality verifying what is true. But reality reflects what is true. It is not the source of truth. As Christians, we start with truth and allow that to inform our reality, not the other way around. Otherwise, we may find ourselves living a false reality, as fake as reality TV.
Gen X is asking a vitally important question. It’s just not the first question we should be asking. Because in order to know what is real, we must first know what is true.
Millennials are preoccupied with goodness.
Born between 1981 and 1995, Millennials earned their moniker by coming of age around the turn of the millennia. Known to be idealistic and value-oriented, to care deeply about the environment and justice, Millennials are motivated to find their purpose. They especially want to know that their work is contributing to the greater good, and they are willing to put their wealth toward that goal. In fact, doing good informs the culture that they cultivate in the workplace.
So what question burns at the heart of this generation? They want to know:
What is GOOD?
And shouldn’t we all want to know that? That’s a good question.
Jesus said something shocking about goodness.
Jesus tells us that it is impossible to define goodness apart from God. In the Gospel of Mark, someone refers to Jesus as the “good teacher,” and he offers this surprising response:
“Why do you call me good?... No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
Volumes have been written on this statement, but we can clearly see that Jesus points to God for His definition of goodness. As Christians, so should we.
What happens when we sideswipe truth and start with the question of goodness on our philosophical journey?
We don’t have to look far. There are a lot of definitions of what is “good” in our culture. For example, some people think it’s good to affirm whatever reality your child wants to believe. That’s how we’ve ended up with Furries in our schools.
Have you heard of this phenomenon?
Across the country, kids are dressing up like animals and going to school because they self-identify as pets. The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the American Psychological Association insist that we must affirm our child’s chosen gender. That is “good” according to our culture.
We can quickly see the problem in starting our philosophical expedition with the question of goodness. If we don’t first know what is true, we cannot properly understand reality, which leads us to a very contemporary, sentimental and subjective, man-made definition of what is good. Which is different than what was good five minutes ago.
This is not a sound foundation for personal goodness, much less societal goodness.
The question burning at the heart of Millennials has as many answers as there are people who ask the question, because every person has a different definition of goodness.
What question burns at the heart of Gen Z?
That brings us to the current generation coming of age. Born between 1996 and 2012, Gen Z is the most well-educated generation yet. They are also the most racially and ethnically diverse. And they have never known a day without a screen pumping constant information into their forming minds and spirits, which presents some unique challenges along with a very wide generation gap.
As I stated before, at the time of this professor’s lecture, Gen Z was quite young. We didn’t know their central concern.
I think we do now. The question burning at the heart of Gen Z is clear. They want to know:
“Who am I?”
Or even “What am I?”
Gen Z are preoccupied with identity.
Am I a furry little creature who barks or meows? Am I what I feel? Am I what ails me or what I’m attracted to?
Listen to this account of what a middle school student experienced at a school in Midland, Michigan (1:30 minute mark):
"I was also walking down the hallway three weeks ago when a boy wearing dog ears barked at me and my friend as we passed,” she said adding that the boy left the school building on all fours.
Gen Z is on an endless quest to find identity. And that quest will remain endless if they don’t start with the correct question.
We need to teach every generation that our philosophical journey must start with the right question if we want to arrive at the right answer. I say this being fully aware that the post-modern world doesn’t believe in right or wrong choices much less right or wrong questions. Still, we must make the case for starting with truth. Because only truth will help each generation find the answer to the question that burns in their hearts.
Every generation is asking the right questions—but we must ask them in the right order.
We must start by asking what is TRUE—thank you, Baby Boomers.
So we will know what is REAL—thank you, Gen X.
Then we can properly define what is GOOD—thank you, Millennials.
And we will know WHO WE ARE—thank you, Gen Z.
Because truth leads to a proper understanding of reality, which leads to the right definition of what is good, which helps us and our kids to know who we are—our true identity. That is where we find freedom.
After all, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Amen to that.
To learn more about this philosophical journey that leads us to our identity in Christ, listen to episode 69 of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD:
Image Credit: Getty/lucigerma
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and motherhood apologist. This homeschooling mama of five has a master’s degree in communications and is earning a master’s degree in Christian apologetics. As host of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD, named the 2022 Best Kids and Family Podcast by Spark Media, Catherine helps parents navigate through dangerous secular landmines to establish a sound Biblical foundation for their kids. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.