Written by Jeff Benson
The other day I was having dinner with an old friend of mine, when we began to discuss modern-day high-school students and how they react to certain questions. Since I regularly meet with a group of students at youth group, I was able to add into the conversation some of my own observations regarding the types of questions students have begun to ask, and how this differs from what we previously understood to be the “postmodern generation”. It was through our conversation we both came to a similar conclusion, that we might be beginning to see shift from postmodernism to what some are calling post postmodernism at a rapid pace.
Allow me to shine a bit more of a historical light to how postmodernism came not to exist, but to be recognized by the modern church as a prevalent issue. As early as The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer there are warnings against postmodern philosophy and the danger that it presents to the Christian. What’s more is that since the time of Tozer there have been serious cultural and moral revolutions that have rejected the modernist view of morality.
Beginning in the 1950s the majority of students were given more social freedom and independence, which, coupled with a rise in political strife, began to produce a developing sentiment of individual liberty and the ability to choose one’s own morality. From there those who were students during the developing philosophy of postmodernism grew older and had their own children; these are the current young adults, roughly ages 20-36, termed Generation Y or ‘Millennials’.
Only a few decades later the students who are approaching high school are the children of many millennials and are an entire generation apart from their postmodern relatives. Out of this new generation have occurred several interesting observations that any Theologian, Apologist, and Christian with a heartbeat should be aware of:
- Many of these students are unaware of basic biblical narratives.
- Many of these students come from agnostic homes.
- Of these agnostic students, there’s a large portion that either don’t know or simply don’t care about anything spiritual.
- Almost all of these students crave authentic relationships.
- Almost all of these students respond positively to people who are open and honest.
This so far would appear to be quite different from their postmodern predecessors, who, by and large, have at least the most basic understanding of the stories of Scripture and the moral teachings of Christianity. As the generations progress it would appear that each subsequent generation has rejected a portion of the teachings of the previous. Normally this would indicate a disparity for the modern student who has even less biblical knowledge than their parents. Yet it is possible that this could be one of the most fertile grounds in recent history for Christianity.
If this current generation is post postmodern, then it would stand to reason that this current generation would reject a portion of the teachings of the previous generation. What this means is that the current generation of students has the incredible potential to have a unified set of morality.
Of course I would not be much of a writer on student culture if I did not mention social media as a method of communication for students. Social media, by and large, has been one of the most curious developments to occur in this generation of students, and based on its rapid growth this will be the first generation to grow up in a world of constantly connected media. While this is not explicitly a bad thing, as has been stated by some, it is a phenomenon which has made several false promises that this generation is to be wary of.
If I were to speak candidly I would advocate that social media has resulted in the further separation of students from one another rather than the unification of people groups. Again, it is necessary to reiterate that social media is not an evil product of man in these circumstances, but rather that there have been made several false promises that social media has failed to deliver upon, and as a result has shaped the culture of students significantly.
The response from this wave of social media has been varied across different groups of students. While some apathetically digest a regular diet of mobile apps, websites, and videos, others have seen what can become of social media, and have flown to the opposite end of the spectrum by completely rejecting most forms of Internet communication. Still a third group has taken the middle route, advocating for times to be “analog” in order to curb the effects of rapid social media consumption. This is mostly due to the mental side effects that are being currently researched and understood by students and their parents alike.
Contemporary research has further bolstered the claim that an over-dependence on social media can lead to depressive symptoms in students and can further feelings of loneliness. The cultural combatant to this is students who are valuing face-to-face conversation and are intentionally taking the opportunity to connect with one another in person. While so far students are still shying away from deep-level conversations it will be a step in the right direction if student culture returns to valuing physical interaction as a primary means of communication.
I find it fitting to draw the final distinctions between the postmodern culture and this new and upcoming generation. As they continue to develop and grow into their own generation it can only become more apparent that we are presently witnessing a new movement amongst students. One that lacks any of the prejudices and preconceived ideas that their parents may have once had. It should then be understood that these students are not only impressionable, but also desire to be impressed upon. Their lack of direction makes them some of the most perfect discipleship candidates in decades; if only the mature Christian would step in to teach and share.
The challenge then is passed on to you reader, to observe students in a fresh new light as a generation that is in need of guidance, not criticism. These students are still created in the image of God, and the culture they exist in instills the desire to further seek out what that means. Let us therefore, meet them in this stage of life and point them towards the Lord who provides direction and meaning to their lives, ultimately glorifying Him in this pursuit.