Chestertons’ timeless observation about an aging “young” generation

Ninety years ago, G.K. Chesterton remarked about a generation past its prime.

A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young. It was the first progressive generation – the first generation that believed in progress and nothing else…. [They believed] simply that the new thing is always better than the old thing; that the young man is always right and the old wrong. And now that they are old men themselves, they have naturally nothing whatever to say or do. Their only business in life was to be the rising generation knocking at the door. Now that they have got into the house, and have been accorded the seat of honour by the hearth, they have completely forgotten why they wanted to come in. The aged younger generation never knew why it knocked at the door; and the truth is that it only knocked at the door because it was shut. It had nothing to say; it had no message; it had no convictions to impart to anybody…. The old generation of rebels was purely negative in its rebellion, and cannot give the new generation of rebels anything positive against which it should not rebel. It is not that the old man cannot convince young people that he is right; it is that he cannot even convince them that he is convinced. And he is not convinced; for he never had any conviction except that he was young, and that is not a conviction that strengthens with years.

Five years ago, The Anchoress saw this quote as befitting, also, the now aging “Boomer” generation.

It would seem this is a timeless quote because, at nearly every moment in history, there has been that “generation . . . now growing old which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young.”

I recalled this quote yesterday when I pulled from my bookshelf a fading volume entitled, An Emergent Manifesto. Published in 2008, it purported to enshrine the best of that “young generation” of the “Emergent Church” movement that was all the rage at the time. I remember reading the large collection of essays therein contained and thinking, even then, that this would be a movement with a very brief shelf life.

Today, a mere twelve years later, the straggling remnants of the “Emergent Church” cling to the social justice craze of “wokeness” that will, like all of its temporal predecessors, soon pass from the scene. No movement in recent history has aged more rapidly, and less graciously, than the “Emergent Church.”

Chesterton’s observation was true for that aging “young” generation of his day. It is, likewise, true for the aging “Boomer” generation of today. Its timelessness will be apparent once again when it eventually proves true for the generation that tried but (thankfully) failed to take the church down the “Emergent” road.

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