Life, the Universe, and Everything, from the Outside In

The Billy Generation

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The “Boomer Generation,” also known as the “Love Generation,” and the “Beemer Generation” among others, born between 1946 & ‘64, has done the most, good or bad, to shape the contours of America-as-we-know-it. This generation has written the schoolbooks, movies, sitcoms, and newscasts, and shaped current social trends and Government policy. According to recent polls, nearly 80% of Americans acknowledge a “born again” experience. By all rights, this should be the most authentically Christian nation anywhere, and any time, in history. Yet in the past thirty-five years over fifty million lives have been violently extinguished by abortion, more children nation-wide are growing up in single-parent homes, chronically neglected by absentee fathers (or sometimes mothers) as they learn to esteem the “thug life” as honorable, and homosexuality is being pushed as a new normality,

What has gone wrong? We can go into particular causes for a lot of that stuff, but the root to it all is going to be the way we see God, our world, and our selves (that is, our belief system or “dogma”), and how we live that out. We have already found that a large majority of Americans share a Christian experience, so what is that experience?

If we look back into the 19th Century, we see cities and towns being transformed by a wave of revival being carried by Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterian evangelists. This was a message of hope, that entailed a renewal- a “holiness of heart and mind” which transformed lives, saved homes, and founded a growing nation (somewhat) a basis of righteousness. This movement seems to have been centered largely in the South, among the poorer and journey classes, before the “Unpleasantness.”

After the great debacle of the 1860’s came a new kind of evangelist. Dwight L. Moody, a shoe salesman who had been raised a Unitarian, later joined the Plymouth Brethren. J.N. Darby, one of the Brethren luminaries, had been a Church of Ireland priest who created some interesting new doctrines in his day- among them, apparently, was that of “Eternal Security.” Moody’s sermons marked a step in the process, which we will examine later, from preaching a whole-life obedience to Christ to a one-time “step of faith” to gain salvation. Moody’s successor, Billy Sunday, took it a notch farther. At one meeting he is quoted as saying, “The best thing that can happen to you is to get saved tonight, and then go out the door and get run over by a bus.” (A short tract given to all those who went forward in his meetings read, “If you have done your part, (Christ) will do his part.” Another key point with Sunday’s preaching was a strong stand on prohibition. These emphases would live on in that century’s growing Baptist movement. Gone was the earlier preaching on a holy life, of God’s grace cleansing and transforming from within. At about this time C.I. Scofield published his Scofield Bible which shifted many Christians’ focus from issues of the Inner Life and service to others to deep speculation over the “new insights” of Eternal Security, Dispensationalism, and Christian Zionism Scofield had picked up from Darby. As in previous centuries, right opinion was replacing right belief as the shibboleth of “true faith.”

The previous generation of Methodists had begun to invest in colleges and social respectability, and so had signed on with the new Darwinian theories, much to the hurt of their credibility with the general population. Following Sunday, the highest-profile evangelist through the Great Depression was Aimee Semple McPherson. She preached a strong message, and drew thousands across the country, but the long-range credibility for herself and her “Full Gospel” message suffered greatly when her reported kidnapping appeared to have been a flamboyant cover for a lovers’ tryst.

The stage was then set, on the close of WWII, for a new figure. Tall, photogenic, silver-tongued, Billy Graham stepped forth with everything the previous decades had left him: The crusade meeting style, an attractive, bare-essentials message, and the expectation of a world ready for a change. From 1946 onward he would preach to ever-larger crowds, while becoming the darling of an increasingly secular media, and a favorite of Presidents. If the 80% in the US who claim to be born again are polled, most are sure to credit their conversion to one of Graham’s crusades or to another evangelistic effort informed by the same theology. Like Billy Sunday, “If you have done your part..!”

America, if we’ve done our part, then God forgot to do His. Is our part a simple prayer and a handshake, or is there a whole life on the other side of that first step that nobody seems to remember anymore?


Written by Robert Easter

Monday, 1 September, 2008 at 14:59

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