by Gary Corwin
One of the greatest spiritual achievements of the Builder generation has been its ability to see clearly, and respond so effectively, to the issues of first import.
It wasn’t the acceptance speech Bob Dole had planned for January, 1997, in Washington, D.C. Instead of being sworn in as the country’s 43rd president, Dole received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from his erstwhile rival, the recently reelected President Bill Clinton. The president was giving Dole a well-deserved expression of generational appreciation.
Dole’s generation, sometimes referred to as the Builders, accomplished a great deal. It won the Second World War and built the most prosperous, magnanimous, and powerful nation in the history of the world.
This generation was no less significant in the enterprise that sits at the center of human history, the building of Christ’s church among all the peoples and cultures of the globe. Somewhat typical of the generations that followed them, however, Builders’ achievements in that sphere have been far too little acknowledged and celebrated.
As I have reflected on this, the faces of scores of seasoned saints have flashed across my mind’s eye, men and women God used to make the gospel a living reality in the lives of thousands and thousands around the world. They are all heroes, and they should all be celebrated. Some of them are suffering the physical ravages of age, or caring for spouses who are. Some have recently retired, while others have been out of action for a while. Still others are already enjoying the presence of the Lord.
One of the greatest spiritual achievements of this generation has been its ability to see clearly, and respond so effectively, to the issues of first import. It has done remarkably well in keeping the main thing the main thing, whether one is speaking of the necessity of faith, an inerrant Word, or the lostness of the lost. The loss of certainty and clarity that has accompanied the curtailing of this generation’s influence is almost palpable.
As I see the heroes I have admired for so many years now stepping down from key leadership positions, and see the War babies and my own Boomer and subsequent generations taking over, I feel a significant sense of loss and apprehension. People in my own generation seem like such lightweights compared to these heroes. It’s hard to imagine how we will ever measure up, and yet I hold out some hope that perhaps that is how every succeeding generation feels about itself.
The Builder generation has had its faults, too, of course. One of the most pronounced has been the tendency to legalism. Accustomed to seeing issues in black and white, the evangelical segment of this generation has generally not been reluctant to boil things down to a few easy-to-remember standards of holy conduct. As part of the generation that grew up under the “unholy five,” it has not been difficult to react against this with a certain sense of smug superiority. This too may be a mistaken notion, however. The increasing demolition of standards of almost any kind shows rather poignantly that inconsistent or even hypocritical standards may be superior to no standards at all.
Some of the greatest contributions of the Builder generation have come in the character realm, rather than in the achievement realm. Having been molded by the harsh experiences of the Great Depression and World War II, this generation has generally been characterized by an extraordinary level of personal integrity. Duty, honesty, and sacrifice have never been foreign ideas to this group. Builders have built their lives on it. The five Auca martyrs four decades ago in Ecuador have become, in fact, archetypal symbols of these words.
This generation has also provided a bridge (to use Sen. Dole’s analogy) back to a simpler, more wholesome time. It both lived and appreciated significant history, and sought to build upon the genius of previous generations rather than to develop every new method or strategy ex nihilo. Subsequent generations have been far less kind to the wisdom of the fathers, and have been far more arrogant about their own status.
Organizationally, too, this generation built great enterprises to achieve great purposes. Whether Lockheed-Martin, Merck Pharmaceutical, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Wycliffe Bible Translators, or scores of other outstanding groups, it was usually the entrepreneurial and organizing geniuses of this generation that made it happen. They put a man on the moon, largely conquered childhood diseases, made evangelism a global mass media phenomenon, and spearheaded a great and ongoing movement to bring the Scriptures into the heart languages of all the peoples of the earth.
They also incarnated the gospel for millions, and they deserve the gratitude of us all.
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