Understanding Millennial Christians: An Interview with Carson Nyquist

By Julie Roys
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Carson Nyquist
Carson Nyquist

Millennial Christians: They’re more likely to accept gay rights, support Black Lives Matter, drink alcohol and get tattoos. And quite frankly, they’re an enigma to much of my generation. So, this Saturday, I’ve invited several Millennial Christians to join me in studio to discuss our differences on Up For Debate. I also interviewed Carson Nyquist, co-author of The Post-Church Christian: Dealing with the Generational Baggage of Our Faith, to get his take on the subject. Carson is the son of Moody Bible Institute President Paul Nyquist, and believes quite strongly that millennials have an important perspective that Baby Boomers and Busters need to appreciate. Here are his thoughts on his generation’s view of everything from Black Lives Matters to Bernie Sanders, and the bridging the generational gap in the church:


In the Post-Church Christian, you talk about some of the differences between Millennial Christians and their parents. And, in this election season, I think we’re seeing just how profound some of those differences are. I know several Millennials, for example, who are voting for Bernie Sanders, despite being raised in conservative homes and espousing to be pro-life. My generation is generally pretty confused and disheartened by this. Can you explain why Millennial Christians are attracted to someone like Sanders, who supports a plethora of liberal causes, like bigger government, abortion and gay rights?


To be honest, I think a lot of Millennials are attracted to Bernie simply because he comes across as a genuine guy. He’s raw, blunt, and what you see is what you get. The rest of politics, Republicans included, have rarely had that reputation and I think it’s a breath of fresh air for many people, not just Millennials.


Race issues continue to divide Americans, especially with the rise of the controversial Black Lives Matter movement. Some campus ministries, like InterVarsity, have openly expressed their support for BLM, showing perhaps a greater openness for this movement among younger Christians. Do you think there is a greater openness? If so, why — and do you believe this is a good thing?


I think Millennials standing up for social and racial issues shows that they care. And that passion is a pulse of our generations’ ability to care for those who are underprivileged and oppressed, something Jesus equally valued.

I do. And I would say most Millennials aren’t just open to supporting a cause like Black Lives Matter, but are passionately backing those causes. I think Millennials standing up for social and racial issues shows that they care. And that passion is a pulse of our generations’ ability to care for those who are underprivileged and oppressed, something Jesus equally valued.


In the three years since your book was published, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to legalize gay marriage, which many legal experts see as an ominous threat to religious freedom. The ruling also seems to have opened the door to further social change, like allowing people who identify as transgender to use bathrooms of the opposite sex. You wrote in your book that Christian Millennials tend to be much more tolerant about the gay issue. Has that attitude changed at all as the envelope continues to be pushed further and further?


Well, I don’t agree that legalizing gay marriage is an ominous threat to religious freedom. =) If anything, that statement feels a bit sensationalized. In terms of the “gay issue,” I know plenty of Christian Millennials who aren’t just “tolerant” of gay marriage or LGBTQ rights, but in fact support them. For many of my friends, legalizing gay marriage, or watching Caitlyn Jenner change into a woman, is not shocking or offensive. It’s simply a sign of where culture has pushed legislation.

The more important issue, to me, is the response of the church when this happens. For many, they simply condemn the world for being sinful. Yet, for others, they push for Christianity to once again climb the political ladder to gain majority. Neither approach is attractive to me or many of my Millennial friends. We’ve seen the detrimental effects throughout history of nationalizing Christianity and we’ve watched the far right stand to the side as silent critics.  


I appreciate the optimism you expressed in your book about your generation saying, “Our generation is coming up with new ideas to engage culture, make disciples, share our faith, do missions, and take care of the poor. . .”  Would you share some of the ways you see this happening today?


Whether in the non-profit or for-profit world, we’re seeing a lot of organizations and leaders make enormous headway in solving social issues, creating value for Christians and non-Christians alike, and even building bridges to people the church has rarely reached. Yet, they are doing these things in fresh ways that explore the connection between enterprise, social action, and intentional living. Sevenly, Qideas, TOMS, Charity Water, Invisible Children, Warby Parker, and StoryBrand are just a few to name.


Have you seen some growth and healing in the church between Millennial Christians and their parents’ generation over in the past several years?  Or, has the situation remained the same, or even worse?


For me, I’ve given up trying to win debates or prove my point. I’m tired of playing that game and it only seems to detract from relationships.

I think in some circles there has been growth and healing. Yet, at the same time, it seems our deep, subconscious values can often blind us from hearing each other. For me, I’ve given up trying to win debates or prove my point. I’m tired of playing that game and it only seems to detract from relationships. So in that way, focusing on people (not issues) has been healing for many of my friendships with both Millennials and Boomers.  


What one thing would you encourage older Christians to do to bless and affirm the Millennials they know and love?


I would encourage them to learn how to learn again. One of my best friends today is a 74-year-old man, who is the best learner and question asker I know. But it’s not because he’s cool or hip. It’s because he’s determined to continue learning and growing and asking questions. And that approach has made him extremely empathetic and curious towards my process and views. That’s my advice: learn how to learn again. Because the day you stop learning is the day you get stuck in your own development and lose your ability to engage with the ideas and paradigms Millennials are so interested in discussing.


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8 thoughts on “Understanding Millennial Christians: An Interview with Carson Nyquist”

  1. This doesn’t make me feel much better. I have two millennial Christian children. His answers were without much substance (“he comes across as a genuine guy”) or any Biblical backing. Talk about guilt and shame, they are neck deep in it. They have become friends with the world. My only hope is that is exactly how I felt before I gave my life to Christ. God will use them in a unique way and I have to trust Him with them.

  2. I am both unimpressed and troubled by Nyquist’s responses. And as the mother of four Christian millennials and friend to others, including several very bright millennialI pastors, I find his responses not representative of all Christian millennials.

    I agree with him regarding Bernie Sanders’ appeal. I think we need more blunt talk from Christians. But somehow I doubt Nyquist would find raw blunt talk from Christians about homosexuality, marriage, maleness, femaleness, sexual holiness, restrooms, and children’s rights as appealing as Bernie’s blunt talk about economic justice.

    Since Nyquist claims to be in favor of passionate support for social issues, does he care about children being intentionally denied either a mother or father? Does he care about minors being given cross-sex hormones, which will leave them permanently sterile? Does he care that elementary school children are being taught that to be compassionate they must deny the virtue of modesty by sharing restrooms with persons of the opposite sex?

    If Nyquist does not believe the legal recognition of same-sex unions poses a threat to religious liberty, if he thinks such a claim is sensationalized, he has not read or thought deeply enough on the subject. I recommend he spend some time reading or listening to Robert George or Rob Gagnon or Ryan Anderson.

    Debating issues of profound significance is not a game. And theological, philosophical, moral, and political issues affect people and relationships in real ways.

    Finally, Nyquist urges that boomers keep on learning, a recommendation with which I heartily agree. I would urge the same of Mr. Nyquist.

    Just some raw blunt talk from a boomer.

  3. First-time listener today, and I cannot express how unimpressed I was with any of the millenial responses, not even one.

    No one ever quoted a Bible verse. Every response was ‘I think this’, or, ‘I think that’. And what they thought was against what the Bible teaches.

    If they’re unable to discern pre-marital sex is wrong means they’re not even close to anything the Bible teaches which does not bode well for them when that day comes.

  4. 2 Timothy 3:5-7 pretty much sums it up. Maybe not all millennials think or feel the same but it seems God’s hatred for wickedness, the authority of the Bible and the power of the Gospel have been disregarded for social and ecumenical causes. The tone is one of being very cautious to not offend. It also makes me wonder what is being taught by the majority of youth pastors in churches today? It’s really concerning.

  5. I listened via podcast and I came away with the impression that Millennials view God as the clay and for the most part were trying to mold Him, into their own image for reasons that seem a bit more obvious now… (not exclusively because of your guest in a personal way ?)
    No the church is not perfect, nor parents…However, Christ is perfect, and His word is perfect according to HIs will not our’s ! Your past programs you had about public schools and also which church can best disciple children was insightful and lent coherence to the program about millennial Christians…

  6. As a Gen Xer I’d just like to mention that there are more generations in the world than Baby Boomers and Millennials. I feel like a middle child between the know it all older sibling (Boomers) and the self absorbed youngest (Millennials).

  7. What about the truth of the Word? What about who God reveals Himself to be in the Bible? What about what Jesus says in His Word? Didn’t see any of that.

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