I'm writing with a bit of conflict in my heart as I try to sort through all this talk of the 20-something lately. First it was the now widely circulated New York Times article which attempts to label the lack of taking on responsibility as "emerging adulthood." Jeffery Jensen Arnett, a psychologist who coined the phrase, says that this phase of life is much like the emergence of adolescence 100 years ago due to several sociological factors.
Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.These "cultral" factors naturally lead to the question, "is emerging adulthood a bad thing?"
For Mark Driscoll the answer is unequivocally yes. In a recent Washington Post article he wrote,
The New York Times Magazine ran a story this past week called "What is it about 20-Somethings?" looking at the new life stage of emerging adulthood. The article echoed what other recent studies are showing and something we've been saying at Mars Hill Church for awhile: The world today is filled with boys who can shave.His response was not to call these "boys" "emerging adults," but rather "childish consumers" or, for those in the church, "cowards and complainers." They are marked by boys in mens' bodies who still live with their parents, have a part-time job to support their video game addiction that keeps them from ever having a steady relationship with a real woman. They can shave, but they either don't have money for a razor or, if they are hipsters, they choose not to shave at all.
I've been shaving since the age of 15. That doesn't necessarily mean I needed to shave at that age - I think I only did it about once a month - but I remember thinking that shaving signaled a transition in my life from boyhood to manhood.
At that age I wanted to be a man. I wanted to be the man that no man had ever been in my life because my dad was never in the picture and no one ever really stepped up to fill that void. At that age I had worked a few part-time jobs, but my main income was allowance. At that age I was a fairly young believer in Christ with no real spiritual support in the home. At that age I not only discovered girls, but girls discovered me, making for some very poor decisions. At that age I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I loved computers and thought that might be my track. At that age I felt misunderstood and left out of the most important social circles. Though there were some definite memorable moments in high school and though I am still good friends with a few from those years even today, I would much rather forget them. However, I do remember wanting to be a real man.
Fast forward to today. I will be 28 years old next Monday. I have been a believer for 16 years. I have basically supported myself since I left home for college, working mad crazy odd jobs and raising financial support through Campus Crusade for Christ and my church. I am now surrounded by excellent community. I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a solid believer who is a part of The Line, our small church plant here in Chicago. I finished college with a degree I didn't use, worked for Campus Crusade for four years, one year in Italy, three at the University of Florida, and now I am back in school getting my Masters of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I start my third year in two days and I finish in December of 2011. I will be 29 1/2. Today I am admitting more than ever before in recent years that I have no idea what I'm going to do when seminary is over. Contrary to popular belief, seminary is not about getting answers, folks. I have more questions now than I did when I entered (not faith questions) as I wrestle with my calling before God. I will have no substantial debt when I am done thanks to countless supporters. But at this rate I will also have no real home, no real job, no real marriage and no real kids (I won't have fake ones either). Does this mean I'm not a real man?
Confused, Conflicted & Confessing
After reading both articles I am left confused. Has the category of "adolescence" been helpful at all or has it just screwed us all up, leaving us unprepared for adulthood? Is this idea of "emerging adulthood" legitimate on any level or is it just another educated human excuse for our sinful rebellion against God resulting in complacent cowards afraid to step into the roles He has created for us? I'm still wading through these, but admit I side more with Driscoll.
Moreover, I'm conflicted about my own life. I respect Mark Driscoll a ton. God has done amazing work through his preaching both around the world and in my life. Mars Hill has been a beacon of light in a very dark part of this country. His church planting network, Acts 29, is exploding and our church is being birthed out of it. Yet every time I read his articles or hear his sermons on this topic I struggle. I always feel like I'm second rate, like I'm not a man and I'm not worthy to even be consider one until I have "a marriage and a mortgage." This also goes for any kind of leadership in the church. I could never counsel a married couple because I just wouldn't know what I'm talking about. I could never be a pastor or be an elder because I'm not married, don't have kids and thus do not fulfill the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Being conflicted leads to confession. I'd like to believe that Driscoll is overstating his case to try to bring the pendulum to the middle. He's always been controversial and I think it's calculated because, in a culture known for such realities as the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky, Passion of the Christ, and Jersey Shore, controversy brings out our passions and convictions and for some it persuades them to believe something they didn't before. So I want to take what he writes with a grain of salt, but I have to confess that I think he's both right and wrong. My confession begins with God. In that He is revealing that I am at a stage in life where the core of who I am is being exposed like never before, where the Spirit of God is leading me to see the gospel in profound and fresh ways. He is revealing that in many ways I am not a man I want to be, yet in many ways he is shaping me into the man he wants me to be. I ask "why" a lot to God, but I also say "I trust you" more. I am learning that I am not just a believer in Christ, but also a son of God and co-heir with Christ forever. I am learning that my life is not about my manhood, but Christ's. Whatever great men there have been over time, Jesus is infinitely the greatest (and he had no marriage, mortgage, or munchkins). He who needed no beard took on a beard for us so that we who do have beards could be called true men of God.
I can shave, but I like the stubble. It's the intentional appearance of indecision.
By His Grace.