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The Bridger Generation

Book Review

By Christian N. Temple

The Bridger Generation. By Thom S. Rainer. Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, 1997. 190 pages. This book is available from Books-A-Million.

When one begins to read Thom Rainer one is immediately struck by the fact that he is nothing if not thorough. One gets the impression that if he had not been called to the Christian Education ministry Rainer would be quite comfortable as a statistician. In his 1996 book Effective Evangelistic Churches , he proved himself a master of statistical assimilation in analyzing 576 self-named Southern Baptist evangelistic churches. In The Bridger Generation, he moves from assessing the statistics of how Southern Baptist churches are doing evangelistically, to how today’s teens and young adults are doing spiritually and metaphysically.

In this book, he attempts to identify that generation of youth he calls The Bridgers: “A generation of seventy-two million people born in the years 1977 to 1994.”[1] According to Rainer, they are the second largest generation in America behind the baby boomers and are the bridge to the next (now present) millennium. In addition to identifying bridgers’ identity, character and culture, he also attempts to discover the church’s best means of reaching this unique group of people who will shape our future. In doing so he asks how has the church responded to them, and how will it respond from here on out? Thom S. Rainer is the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author of six books and numerous other publications. He holds a Ph.D. in evangelism from Southern seminary. 

When reading Rainer in general, and Bridger in particular, one is immediately impressed with the huge amount of research conducted by the author. As stated above, Rainer can never be accused of being less than painstaking in his examinations. Throughout the pages the reader consistently comes across statistics about the bridgers’ lives, such as the high rate of divorce among their parents, their belief in vanishing gender roles, their preoccupation with “rights,” and their disbelief in moral absolutes.

Rainer spends many pages informing the reader through text, statistics, pie charts and tables, that the bridgers are on the slippery slope of an amoral existence and a Christ-less eternity. The problem is, there is not a lot of new discovery uncovered in The Bridger Generation. In essence, Rainer is not telling us much more than we already know, either from the daily news or personal interaction with bridgers. While reading the book, this writer was found to often think, OK, I know all this, but what do we do with it? We understand that today’s youth is multi-cultural, amoral, self-centered, materialistic, inclusivist, tolerant, and universalistic to the extreme. Tell me what to do about it.

In fairness, Rainer does close each chapter with a section named The Church Responds. In these concluding paragraphs, he mentions what the church is presently doing and what it should strive to do. Much of this recommendation is good, such as when he says “With loving firmness, the churches that reach bridgers in the next century will confront people… and teach that to reject Christ as the only way of salvation amounts to rejecting Christ altogether… The churches that reach the bridgers in the next century will not compromise the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ”[2]. Amen. But while this is assuredly true, it is also assuredly known by those who are targeted by this book—Evangelical pastors and leaders who are ministering to this generation. 

Yet much to Rainer’s credit, while presenting the known truth he rejects the dumbed-down methods of seeker sensitivity so frequently preached today. He does affirm our need to reach the bridgers where they are, and to become all things to all men, that we might by all means save some (1Cor 9:22), but not at the cost of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

The danger in a book like this that makes distinctions between generations of people is the implication that there is a need to alter the gospel for differing generations. By sanctioning the term Bridger Generation, we are setting them apart as a different taxonomy of person, such as was erroneously done with teenagers. While there is some uniqueness to bridgers, they are not all that different from their parents, grandparents, or any generation of people. Jesus called his own generation evil and adulterous (Matt 12:39). The method for reaching the bridgers is the same it has always been for all of mankind: preaching Christ crucified (1Cor 1:23).

Rainer’s best chapter is chapter eleven, The Church: A Real and Present Hope for the Bridger Generation. This reviewer arrived here exalting “Finally!” While it is a solid chapter, it is again somewhat disappointing as nothing in it is really earth shattering or new in reaching the bridgers. Perhaps that is only right, as there cannot be a new gospel? Rainer says, “It is my prayer in the midst of the data, trends and analyses, you have been challenged. I pray you see the urgency of the hour to reach this generation now, not later.”[3]

Yes, the challenge is clear, and of highest importance. Yet one gets the feeling that much of the “data, trends and analyses” could have been pared back, and this would have been an effective pamphlet rather than a full-length book. While Rainer has achieved his goal of identification of the Bridger Generation, and naming methods for reaching them, if the reviewer tackles another Rainer book, he will assuredly read the last chapter first.

If Bridgers meet modern day equivalent of the biblical Jew and Greek, seeking after both experience and knowledge, then Paul’s words ring as true for them as for any other generation: “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1:22-24, nkjv).

The Bridger Generation is available from

[1]  Rainer, Thom S. The Bridger Generation. Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville.  1997. page ix.
[2] Rainer. p. 162.
[3] Rainer. p. 188.

The above book review was posted on this Web site March 29, 2001.

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