It is easy to forget that the PCA was conceived, born, spent its youth in a time of societal upheaval. This was the age of Woodstock, Watergate, and Viet Nam; of racial, gender, generational, and moral revolution; to use the language of pop culture observation, of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The youth were “tuning out and turning on,” “making love not war,” and not trusting anybody over 30.
In the midst of this a conservative seminary was sending out young conservative ministers who helped to form a conservative denomination. These men, as students and ministers, were conservative to the core, but they were different from the conservative ministers, ruling elders, and churches among whom they took up their places of service.
These tensions were already present during seminary days. Older men who had come from business to seminary felt a disconnect with young men who did not wear socks. Seminary professors were offended when this youngster showed up to take a final exam in the spring wearing Bermuda shorts and when a current seminary president put his bare feet on top of his shoes in a class. Some tried smoking pipes and drinking beer. They had longer hair, mustaches and beards, weird clothes, and wives in mini-skirts – not only on campus but when they went out to supply churches on Sundays. When there was enough offense among the faculty and enough complaints from the churches, seminary officials began to try to put in the brakes and put the car in reverse.
These men believed in inerrancy, the gospel, and Calvinism. They were even culturally conservative. They voted for Nixon, didn’t take drugs, tried to be chaste, and supported the War in Viet Nam. (They had the advantage of supporting the war while being exempt from the draft as divinity students and then as clergy.)
But, there were tensions in the churches and in the new denomination because of these men. As is almost always the case, theological conservatism was associated with political and cultural conservatism. Why, if they were conservatives, did they “look” like liberals? Couldn’t they cut their hair and shave and stop slipping out to bars General Assembly? What was wrong here, if these fellows were really conservatives?
The one area where there was most tension was race. They were distinctly more moderate and tolerant (liberal) on race than were most of the ruling elders and churches. They didn’t use the N-word. They might say that the N-word was a modern equivalent to raca. They were willing to have Blacks in their churches, though few ever came. They might even say something so radical as that it would be better for a Christian young person to marry a Christian of another race than marry a non-Christian of the same race. They might express misgivings about the all white academies. Add the race issue to issues with the youth, appearances, bold preaching, strong Calvinism, and lack of wisdom and savvy, and you got smoldering fires of discontent and sometimes big explosions.
The fathers, perhaps a majority of ruling elders and a large minority of teaching looked at them and thought, “What are we going to do about these boys? They just aren’t ‘right’.” That’s understandable. Some of these very men who were the boys of yesterday are the old, cranky, conservative men of today, who look at what’s coming out of the seminaries today and ask, “What in the world is going on?” They are the ones who still wear suits to Presbytery, who argue parliamentary procedure, who shake their heads in wonder at things they hear and see.
But there is a caveat. The old men of today were theological conservatives “back in the day” but somewhat more moderate culturally than the people they served. Today they are still theologically conservative and quite conservative in the cultural context. Their complaints about younger men are about cultural accommodation of theology and practice.
This writer wonders if the young men today, who think so little of the wisdom and savvy of the lost generation, understand and appreciate what that last generation endured that may have contributed to the opportunities younger men have and the success they experience today.
He wonders, also, if today’s younger successes are as principled and willing to pay a price for principles as the lost generation. There seem to be a lot more maneuvering, deal making, and politicking today. But, is there as much readiness to suffer? To be thought foolish?
I don’t know the answers. Perhaps the lost generation became lost for good reasons, reasons seen at the time by the PCA fathers and seen today by following generations. But, just maybe, it will be seen they did not labor in vain and, in some way or another, the Lord will establish some of the work of their hands. It’s for the historians and the Lord to judge now.