The Millennials Rising Problem

I am seeing a growing problem in the church that is ready to trap a generation. Alcoholism is on the rise in the church and it is not with the down an out or with the older generation but instead with the young and successful generation known as the Millennials. Now I haven’t done any formal survey but I do have seventeen years experience working with Millennials and after talking to numerous parents and other people I am seeing the problem of drinking rising at an alarming rate amongst this age group. If you don’t think it is a problem read this article by John MacArthur here.

When I say this age group I mean the group of people called the millennials who are just now going into their thirties. There has been much written about this group and I don’t want to elaborate on it. I do want to point out though that this is group of people who really haven’t been denied anything in their lives, which I think is the source of the problem. Think about this for a moment. The group of people that encompass the age group of 34-18 year olds have grown up in a world of instant access. As children they perfected the play date with perfectly arranged times of playing with children who would be a good influence on them. As teenagers they moved in tribes because the nucleus of friends was the most important factor of all. Group thinking and their opinion was elevated above truth or what was best for them. As they entered the workforce this generation demanded a place at the table and wanted their voice to be heard without having to put in the hours of earning the respect of their co-workers. Because of this I think we have a generation that is extremely bored with themselves and thus are finding relief in their drinking because it is the one vice with a Christian loophole, you can drink, just don’t get drunk.

Remember that I said I see the problem not in the down and out but in the young and successful. The area where I see the most problem is with people who are in their late twenties to early thirties, have graduated from college, are married with children, usually own their first home, and have a successful career. They have everything their parents told them they could have. These are people who have grown up in Christian homes and where the church has been and may still be a big part of their lives. So why is drinking on the rise in this group?

I think there are several factors:

  1. They are Bored: I mentioned this earlier but it bears repeating. They have obtained everything life has to offer and have realized that it is empty. It would be easy to blame the parents here for misleading them but that is not the problem. The real problem is that they have been focused on themselves for so long that once they accomplished everything they could they don’t know how to shift their focus.
  2. It’s Their Theology: The most popular theology amongst Millennials is the New Reformed theology championed by people like Mark Driscoll. This new Calvinism emphasizes liberty and license as an overreaction to legalism. They freely talk about drinking beer as part of their missional lifestyle and rage against anyone who might suggest that sanctification would mean they stop drinking. A big part of the equation is also the doctrine of predestination. Their thinking is that “If I am part of the elect then really how I live is of little consequence because I am good with God and I can’t lose my salvation.”
  3. The Wrong Emphasis: One thing that was always said about the Baby Boomers was that they were all about themselves. It was called the “Me” generation. They worked a lot so they could obtain all the things that were perceived as successful. When they did play it was to release from all the stress of their work. The Millennial generation works to play. Instead of working hard to accumulate all the things, they already have the things and hence work has become a means so they can go and play with their things. They are always planning the next event, looking for what their tribe of friends are doing next, and seeing how they can fit another adventure into their work life without upsetting the balance.

Here is the thing, it is progressively getting worse. Ten years ago I saw this group (which most had just gotten out of my youth group) start with the beer. To tell you the truth I got tired of seeing former youth in pictures on the internet (pre-Facebook) holding the infamous red dixie cup. Many of these people were in Christian colleges, who had very clear code of ethics statements forbidding drinking, but in their liberty were living the life. Over the last ten years I have seen the drinking progress from beer to wine to hard liquor. I now see people in their early thirties drinking mixed drinks that only hardcore alcoholics drank and were usually much older.

The scary thing is that this generation gets bored at a very quick pace. They lose interest in things at an alarming rate. My fear is that we are going to see many proverbial train wrecks in the near future. I have a friend who is an emergency room doctor who says that he see people on a frequent basis in their early thirties who are raging alcoholics and are on the verge of losing everything. We need to stop with all of the theological mumbo jumbo about our freedom to indulge in things that we know lead to destruction and start to obey the Lord. It’s not about what we can do but instead about what scripture commands us to do. In a generation that has been given everything and ended up bored it is time to take all of that Biblical teaching they have been given and start to live for Christ. Your life, your marriage, and now your young family hangs in the balance.

20 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Thanks, Chuck. A mature Christian approach to issues such as drinking should emphasize our responsibilities more than our rights. The question to ask is: what does obedience look like? not: what does liberty look like? The ‘liberty’ we enjoy should be in the context of obedience to Christ. Liberty should be enjoyed, not indulged.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Fusco
    Daniel Fusco says:

    Chuck, interesting post. I really think all of the ‘millenials’ stuff is more cultural than anything else. The kids are okay. Every generation has struggled with the younger people. They will find their way (and that way will be different from the boomers, some good and some bad differences). But being raised by Boomers will, no doubt, have a huge impact. Just like the impact that the boomers parents had on them.

    I think it is important to remember(especially in regards to issues of love/liberty) that Luther was right when he said that Christians are like drunks trying to ride a horse, always falling off of one side or the other.

    THe younger generations stance on alcohol is a reaction to the previous generations strongly prohibitive stance. The history of the church is a rehearsal of the church reacting to what happened previously. Reactionary living is almost always non Biblical on some level. We should, instead, live our lives in Christ and for His glory (if there is any reaction, then it would be to Jesus). We are to be proactive in living out the gospel.

    As I always say about alcohol, “Jesus turned water into wine. Many of us have been trying to change it back ever since.” Apply that how you must 😉

    Reply
  3. Chuck Musselwhite
    Chuck Musselwhite says:

    Tim you make some good points about liberty. Thanks for chiming in.

    Daniel I think it is easy to miss the forest for the trees here. Over the last ten years I am seeing an increasing “love affair” with alcohol with the generation. I don’t think you can just brush it off with blaming the over reaction to their boomer parents. Remember many of these boomers were raging alcoholics, which I guess you could take the nurture argument then. In my counseling with Millennials and their parents these are the themes that I see coming out time and time again.

    Reply
    • Tim Brown
      Tim Brown says:

      Yes, Chuck. I agree – this is more than just a theological discussion about who has the right and the liberty to do what. This is much more than who is the weaker and stronger brother. This is more than an intra-mural exegetical wrestling match over a certain passage. This has to do w/ behavior that leads to bondage, and not just behavior that leads to bondage, but to the theological thinking that undergirds it. And these aren’t kids who will be alright, these are adults who aren’t alright. And some of them are pastors for goodness sake! They have been caught in the riptide of an inadequate theology (how’s that for a word picture?) This is more than a theoretical discussion about the slippery slope. This is about casualties at the bottom of the slope. If we exercise the liberty to do XYZ, let’s also utilize the necessary wisdom that will tell us where XYZ are leading.

      Reply
    • Jon Langley
      Jon Langley says:

      While agree with Daniel regarding the cultural aspect, I’ve also seen how it becomes the “love afair” that Chuck describes.

      In my estimation it starts out as a generational/cultural reactionary attitude and then metastasizes into something worse with the constant bombardment of radioactive teachers, books, and other media. Instead of being identified as “a believer” (who, if you know them really well you might find out they have no issue with beer or wine in moderation), they have purposed to champion the identity of “the drinking believer”. I say this as one who has no issues with believers consuming beer or wine in moderation, but who also sees the issue of the “liberty” to drink becoming a god to those who should know better.

      Reply
  4. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    One thing to keep in mind when believers are throwing around the word “liberty” is that Scripture uses it not just to describe “permissible things” but specifically to describe “freedom”. In the New Testament we see the word used to describe things like being freed from prison, being freed from a marriage contract by death, and other less theological uses. But we also find it used many times in regards to Spiritual freedom. For example:

    Freedom from the bondage of sin and death.
    Luke 4:18
    Romans 8:21
    2 Corinthians 3:17

    Freedom from the bondage of works that are never good enough.
    Galatians 2:4
    Galatians 5:1

    In 1 Corinthians 8:9 and 10:29 we read about liberty and often hear theses passages interpreted broadly as speaking of “freedom to do this or that”. In reality Paul is specifically addressing the freedom of the gentile believer in regards to the law and their diet. In general, he is addressing the proper way for a gentile believer to be culturally sensitive to the Jewish believer. But the issue of freedom at the heart of this cultural sensitivity is still freedom from the bondage of the law… from trying to do works that are never good enough and not just “freedom” in general to be and do anything we want.

    Then we are specifically instructed that we do NOT have freedom to do as the flesh pleases.
    Galatians 5:13
    1 Peter 2:16

    And also that there is a LAW of Liberty that teaches us to prefer our brother above ourselves.
    James 1:25
    James 2:12

    I say all of this not to argue the topic of beer or wine drinking. My point is that often the strange trends and practices like those Chuck has witnessed are based on bad hermeneutics. The Bible preaches liberty FROM sin, FROM death, FROM bondage, FROM the law, and then warns against using liberty for the things of the flesh. If believers want to talk about “drinking” then at least get your hermeneutics right and STOP throwing around the word “liberty”! It drives me crazy.

    Reply
  5. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    Chuck, I think you do have some good observations here, but I do have a couple of questions. 

    You said, “[they] rage against anyone who might suggest that sanctification would mean they stop drinking.” While I’ve never had anyone “rage” against me on this topic, I have had the discussion [concerning alcohol consumption] with millennials. The questions/issues brought up in the discussion have actually been pretty good. One of the main things that has come up is the question, in line with what you suggested, “Does the Bible actually teach that sanctification means the cessation of drinking or rather that of drunkenness?”

    Many of the millennials I meet grew up in Christian households and evangelical churches that spoke strongly against drinking, as if that was a sign of spirituality. So the question arises, are we creating a standard for spirituality based upon a cultural tradition or the Bible? 

    I cannot discount the experience you’ve had with millennial’s and their boomer parents. I’ve seen more of what Daniel describes, younger believers reacting to, what may only be perceived as, an over emphasis on the evil of alcohol.  

    Can it be consumed in moderation by the Christian?

    Reply
    • Tim Brown
      Tim Brown says:

      Hi, Miles – I would say, “Yes, alcohol can be consumed by the Christian in moderation.” Exegesis can give one understanding, but not necessarily wisdom. I didn’t hear Chuck questioning the conclusion that Christians can drink in moderation, only the abuse of it by some – mainly spiritual leadership. And as you and Daniel have noted, the abuse isn’t fueled by exegesis as much as it is by a mindset of overreaction. I always have to examine myself as to where I am overreacting.

      Jon, thank you for the reminder that so often the liberty the Scripture speaks of is not so much a liberty to do XYZ, but a liberty from sin and its bondage. A timely reminder.

      Reply
      • Miles DeBenedictis
        Miles DeBenedictis says:

        I recognize that there is abuse of it by some… But I wonder if some of that abuse goes unaddressed because we [can] label all alcohol consumption “sin,” which causes people to hide the fact that they ever do it. Then we’re unable to instruct people in the proper use…??

        Reply
    • Chuck Musselwhite
      Chuck Musselwhite says:

      Miles,

      I don’t think the issue here is consumption or reaction to parents but instead a general disregard for the harmful effects of drinking and their liberty to drink. If you ask a millennial about their drinking the first thing that comes out of their mouth is that it is not a sin, and I agree. When you question their frequency of drinking or the heaviness of the drinks they drink they often resort to pointing fingers back at you.

      My main point is that this is a huge issue with this generation in the church and everybody wants to debate theology while families are in danger of losing parents at an early age because of their excess. The reasons I stated for why they drink are responses I have heard from them. Nobody is debating the fact that is an extremely bored generation who have taken ADD to the next level. What they are debating is if they are allowed to do something or not, because they don’t want to be told not to do anything.

      Reply
      • Jon Langley
        Jon Langley says:

        “…they don’t want to be told not to do anything.”

        I, too, have seen this attitude. It’s in all of us, of course, but it seems to be exaggerated in the “generation” being spoken of specifically in the area of Christian liberty. We had to deal with this constantly in the first church plant I was part of in Santee, CA. We had many well-intentioned, wonderful young men and women who required a lot of discipleship in order to learn the true meaning of grace and liberty. This resulted in them not only learning the Biblical truth of grace and liberty, but also finally changing their heart’s attitude towards the topic (well, most of them anyhow). And not just in regards to alcohol, but just the attitude in general that grace and liberty existed to solely underpin the latest fad they wanted to participate in: tattoos, drinking beer, piercings of various kinds, certain kinds of hairstyles or clothing, etc. None of these things being evil or wrong in and of themselves, but all of them done and overdone with a bad theology based on the catchwords “liberty” and “grace”.

        Reply
      • Miles DeBenedictis
        Miles DeBenedictis says:

        Chuck,

        You may be right… I haven’t come across the same reaction as you are facing. My interactions have been from a different vein. That’s why I said, “I cannot discount the experience you’ve had with millennial’s and their boomer parents. I’ve seen more of what Daniel describes.”

        I’ve found a group of people (millennials and non-millennials) that need discipleship in the area of moderation, and not just with alcohol. Many times their perception of the church and/or their experience in church has been one wherein they are told “__________ is forbidden.” So I’ve found it important to instruct people in the proper use of such things.

        Reply
  6. adam
    adam says:

    Chuck,

    I’ll take issue with it being in our theology.

    There are 2 types of Christians who drink

    1. Christians for whom alcohol isn’t an issue and the local pub is not far removed from Starbucks.

    2. “Christians” who go to church or say they do but are really just living in the world and alcohol isn’t the only thing that ensnares them they know what the bible says about drunkenness and living together outside of marriage and on and on and they don’t care.

    I suppose you could add a third group of those who struggle with an addiction already and want to stop but that’s not the main point of this article.

    If you want to talk about those who know what the bible says about drunkenness and still drink to excess then their rebellion is the bigger issue. Not alcohol

    But if you’re talking to a 25 year old who loves Jesus and a good beer, then why should you be surprised if they react to what is perceived by our generation as the failed legalisms of the past.

    Focus on Jesus, who promised to drink wine with us in the new kingdom.

    Reply
    • Chuck Musselwhite
      Chuck Musselwhite says:

      Adam,

      I think you are missing the issue here. I am not talking about a 25 year old who drinks beer, that was ten years ago. What I am talking about is a generation that is quickly moving past that to something much dangerous. I have been watching and dealing with this for 10 years as I see successful millennials move from college to career and from single hood to marriage and family and the drinking has progressed with it. They moved from beer a long time ago.

      When confronted with their problem they invoke the responses I give in my blog post. The issue here is that the problem of alcohol is growing at an alarming rate an all people want to do is debate if they have the liberty to do so. I never once say it is wrong to drink what I point out is that the drinking is getting out of control with this generation and it is not an overreaction to people preaching against it or even their parents, it is basically the one vice that people can justify in the Bible and so they do it.

      Reply
  7. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    OK, I guess I’ll jump in here a bit… I think the issue isn’t the fine points of theology & distinctions of liberty, although they are valid issues. It seems to me the issue is more about what discipleship to the Lord involves… discipline and submission of our selfish nature to Jesus (Mt 16:24, etc.).

    I grew up in an alcoholic (multi-generational) family, had my own serious problem with alcohol as a teenager, which turned into drug abuse in general by 19. Coming to Jesus was a total change of lifestyle (in ’71), so the issue of liberty wasn’t the question, but more the witness of lifestyle & impact it had upon others (ala Rom 14-15, etc.).

    I think all the points made so far are valid, but what seems to be wrong (imho) is a lack of true, transforming discipleship. I personally have no problem with having a beer or glass of wine. But Chuck’s original point has been overlooked— the millennial mindset seems very self-focused, not self-denying. Self-denial is not about external things, but internal— the surrendering of our self-will to the Lord.

    When it comes to liberty my fallback is Rom 14:23— whatever is not of faith is sin. I may tend to be extreme on the free will issue, and about God’s grace (abounding…), but I believe God’s grace is greater than my waywardness, or tendency to wander. The real question might be— “So you’re free to drink? At what point does it entrap you? At what point does your practice of freedom (free-will) extend beyond the faith (implicit trust) you’ve developed with the Lord? And what is the impact of your expression of freedom upon others, especially non-believers?”

    There’s an old Chinese proverb I learned while doing substance abuse counseling— “The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man.” At what point does the power of the selfish nature (= sin in its truest sense) eclipse the liberty we have in Jesus?

    Reply
  8. adam
    adam says:

    Chuck, I agree with what you are saying but what you are describing there is different than your point in the OP.

    The person you are describing is the religious Christian who sits on the sidelines and doesn’t get in the game and the progression you describe could also be talked about with gambling, over eating, guitar playing and adult baseball leagues (no joke).

    We see the same problem. Your solution is to put up rules (don’t drink) my solution is to seek Jesus.

    In the OP you said that it was in the “new calvinism” of this generations theolog that was used as a cover for sin. I’m very much not a Calvinist but that is a misrepresentation. No self respecting Calvinist would use predestination as a cover. What that is instead is more of a “religious” Christian looking for any excuse: predestination, grace, love, whatever to cover their sin.

    Rules have never set men free. You mentioned an over reaction in the OP. If evangelical churches took a biblical view (beer isn’t bad, drunkenness is) I wonder if we would have that same over reaction?

    Reply

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