The Gospel-Epistle Generation Gap

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One thing I heard several times at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures was that young people want to keep getting back to the life of Jesus as reflected in the Gospels while older generations are more drawn to the epistles. I think in some ways, broadly speaking, this is probably true. When I meet a young person who really wants to study the Bible I have to figure out where to send them. Ten years ago I would have probably sent them to Romans. Today I send them to Mark or John. Why? Because you can get the point across quickest and easiest by having them watch the movie itself rather than have to piece together what a movie was about by reading what different reviewers had to say about it. Make sense?

They identify with narrative. One narrative they are seeking is on that offers them approval and acceptance. They find that in Jesus. He brought in the most unlikely people and gave them a place at the table. While the epistles contain truth it is often about elaborating on various concepts that are embodied in the events of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They would rather read the story and gather the relevant lessons rather than read someone else play-by-play of what it all means, even if the play-by-play is being done by Paul (I know that is not true for all…just speaking in generalities here).

Jesus also captures the heart before he captures the head. When people left Jesus was it usually due to his actions or his teachings? When people were drawn to Jesus was it usually because of his actions or his teachings? Jesus’ actions weren’t confusing. Sometimes his teachings were. Even the disciples were confused some times but they never doubted that he loved them and not just because he told them so but because he lived it. I am not emphasizing Gospels over epistles here. I am saying that to young people the life of Jesus speaks more clearly and directly to them than Paul’s trouble shooting problems in the churches of his day. Both have a place. Both need emphasis. Both have to inform our faith and practice.

I am speculating here but I know that the times I found Paul most useful when I was younger was to win a debate. Jesus’ teachings weren’t always so useful because first they would point out he was under the “old covenant” and second because you had to overlook things like loving your enemy to really pound the other guy in a good vigorous debate. But you can proof-text Paul all day and “win” an argument. I am not saying our older people are unloving or that those who are drawn to Paul are unloving but I do wonder if the older generation is drawn to Paul because they matured in their faith at a time when doctrinal differences were more concerning to people and where do you turn to solve matters in the church and find out who is right? Paul.

Do you see a generation gap on this? If so, why do you believe that is the case.

Related Link – Christianity Today – Interview of Scot McKnight on Jesus vs. Paul

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