This is a simple, essential observation shared over at Phoenix Preacher since you know who passed recently (and if you don't know who don't sweat it). What this means in that more famous case is that a late-in-his-life revelation reveals a legacy to be tained in a terrible way. Does this mean the overall legacy is only evil? Well ... consider what your own legacy is, or in a more blunt way, if you have one. How do you know? As I have written a few times at this blog God could by some providence kill all your children, destroy your belongings, and leave you with a spouse who sincerely believes the kindest thting to tell you is to "bless" God and accept death. And that's before your friends dogpile you and say it had to have been your sinful ways that caused all the trouble. The recently deceased was not Job so far as I know but if we take seriously the ways in which we err it would be tough to say he was Stalin, too.
We don't even know what our legacies will truly be in the end. Ecclesiastes warns that our legacy in the end is to be forgotten, all our greatest feats, however modest they might be, swallowed up by the passing of time. If that is how it is what is a legacy? Well, a lot of people choose to have a very literally living legacy in the form of children. Then again that's always a mixed legacy, isn't it? Children grow up and then don't always become exactly the person you hoped they'd become. They might change religions (to no religion, for instance).
Or they may not change religions in any official sense but they may change political parties or change in some way that you wouldn't have anticipated or approved of. Maybe a child comes out of the closet in the commonly understood sense. Maybe the kid becomes a Calvinist or the wrong kind of Republican, the kind that concedes that sometimes Democrats are actually not evil incarnate even if you don't agree with them. Sometimes your kid bewilders you by getting into stuff you don't get.
Some kids bewildered parents by getting into rock and roll they didn't like. I put off my parents a bit by getting into jazz and of an old sort they didn't quite appreciate. One of the things I recall about my maternal grandmother from my 20s was that I started getting into the music of Duke Ellington. My parents didn't get the fascination and found it odd. My grandmother smiled when she heard I was getting into Duke's work. She said, "You're starting to like the music I liked to listen to when I was your age." I made a point of trying to relate to people older than me and get some idea where they were coming from. I like to think that liking the music my grandma liked was in its way more subversive and non-conformist than other people in my generation who for reasons I still don't understand, liked Nirvana. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is pretty much Boston's "More Than a Feeling" in a minor key.
Even within a single family a legacy will be perceived differently from one person to another. Were it not for my maternal grandmother I simply would not have become a guitarist. I have occasionally pondered whether in many ways I have taken after my grandmother more than my mother on a few things. It's hard to know how to explain that in a blog entry that I'm improvising. Certainily I am the cumulative result of the parenting methods of my parents and yet during my teen years I got used to extended family scenarios and the most long-standing such scenario was living in a house with my siblings, my mom and stepdad, and grandma.
While it seems the majority of family do not necessarily look back on that period as a very positive one it has been one of the favorite periods of my life. It had it's stresses and troubles but I liked my grandmother. I loved my grandmother would be more accurate, if conventional. She died almost a decade ago and there are times when I miss her, times when I consider she had an ability to get a whole bunch of us who descended from her to have an easier time hanging out with each other. One relative of mine confided to me that with grandma dead it was going to be that much harder to get through some family events because, honestly, grandma was the person in the family he liked most. It's not that I don't love my family members but I could sorta understand how grandma played a vital role in keeping some people in the family on more than the most perfunctory speaking terms.
Years ago when I got one of those patriotic spams about the Greatest Generation it dawned on me that if I had the option of emulating a generation it wouldn't be the Baby Boomers if I could help it. If I were to choose to be like my parents' generation or my grandparents' generation I realized I wanted to be more like my grandparents' generation if that were possible. Not just the bit about fighting the Nazis, either, living with the reality that a bunch of people made stupid fiscal and other policy decisions that all came home to roost. I guess put that way, if the economy tanks as badly as some people fear it may then looking to a generation that weathered the Depression seems smarter than looking to the generation that dropped acid, protested Vietnam, and then became yuppies in the Reagan years. While the Baby Boomer generation would like to accept credit for "changing the world" which generation still had a lot of people in political and social and economic power guiding policy? Hmm ... . Legacies, as the axiom goes, are mixed.
Drew G. I. Hart remarked in the wake of the Rob Bell fracas that the battle between the Piper fanboys and the Bell fanboys was essentially about who would get the 20-35 white boys who will go on to become tomorrow's establishment. I think this was an accurate assessment. I realize it may be terribly cynical to say that but that's what I think, I think D. G. I. Hart is right about that. I also think D.G. Hart is right to point out that in the post Cold War America we have the Reagan coalition has long since fallen apart. Thus we get various Republican sympathizers debating whether or not Ron Paul makes sense of Gringrich makes sense and all that stuff.
But there's something else D. G. I. Hart wrote that intrigued me. He mentioned that despite the rhetoric of emergent generation church leaders there aren't even as many token blacks and other non-white theologians around as from Billy Graham's generation. That's a fair point to raise. In fact it might be a point that Keller made reference to about John Stott's passing. If the Stotts and Grahams did more than the Bells or Driscolls to actually reach out to non-white theologians and thinkers then the "new" generation of evangelicals congratulating themselves on getting things right may be getting some things right at the expense of other things. Neo-Calvinists like to think they're a formidable movement but they are still not growing as fast as Pentecostals, are they?
To make a merely polemical point for folks to think about, what if the older evangelicals had their problems but in their way did not pick the path of least resistence? For instance, maybe Francis Schaeffer was really odd and weird. Yet he seems to have had an influence that goes beyond even just Frank Schaeffer marketing himself as I'm-not-my-dad during election run-ups. Schaeffer's legacy has not been all good but it has not necessarily been all bad and yet the temptation for partisans is to go one way or the other. Just look at his son Frank, who has at various points in the last forty years been a partisan trying to benefit from alternately praising and damning his father's interest in political concerns after shoving him into a sphere he was reluctant to enter.
But what is clear now, decades after Francis Schaeffer's passing, is that he has had an influence. In many cases that influence can be observed in obsessive talk about a "Christian worldview". I've grown tired of that even though I was a huge fan of such talk in my teens and earlier twenties. I left that behind not because I have found it to be of no value but because it is in the end nothing more than a starting point. Unfortunately many Christians use that starting point not as a foundation for actually going out and doing something so much as critique of what others do. It is the treacherous path of the fuzzy line between "engaging culture" and consumerism; between "engaging culture" and a kind of criticism that is either a mercenary attempt to evangelize (which, I suppose, will have its place since Paul did it, too) or a blanket dismissal of something that may shine a light on what is going on with people.
A lot of people in their twenties may not fully realize how much they're copying people in their 40s just as people in their forties may not realize how much they are copying people in their 60s. If we only think of legacy as linear or reactionary or cotninuationist we miss out. There's no reason I can't look to things my grandparents' generation said or did and favor that over things my parents' geenration did. But at this point I'm just rambling and running out of steam.