You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church . . . And Rethinking Faith

By David Kinnaman.

Baker Books, 2011.

Review

by Faye Reynolds, Director of Intergenerational Ministries for the CBWC

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church….

Do you now any Nomads?  Prodigals?  Exiles?  These are the categories that the Barna Group has identified as those who have drifted away from faith and the church, renounced their faith entirely or found alternative ways to explore and practice faith.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church….And Rethinking Faith is a summary of the most current surveys conducted by the Barna Group on reasons why those particularly in the age category of 18 – 29 have quit attending church.

Kinnaman begins by identifying three main factors that affect the environment and culture that youth are coming from:  1) access, 2) alienation and 3) authority.  We all have incredible access to knowledge and information including all kinds of religions and practices, scientific theory and discovery, sexual content, health and wholeness advice – the list is endless.  Access to knowledge does not necessarily translate into wisdom and so the challenge to the church today is to worry less about control of information and more about offering wisdom in how to engage with that information.  The church must be less threatened and more engaging.  The second factor deals with the alienation that many youth feel as they engage their vocational callings and culture while feeling disapproval from their Christian communities of their choice; and the third factor deals with the suspicion toward any institution or voice of authority claiming to have the corner on truth.  These three factors greatly affect how youth interact with their world, including their church community.

Out of their surveys, Barna has noted six factors that contribute to the exodus from the local, institutional church.  In quick summary, families have been overprotective of their children leaving them with few skills to truly encounter the “real world”; churches have offered shallow, mass-produced discipleship programs rather than in-depth mentoring; churches have pitted God against science forcing an either/or choosing; the church has disengaged from sexuality rather than addressing issues in honest dialogue; the exclusive claims of Christianity have caused conflict for youth reared in a tolerant society; and lastly, the lack of hospitality within the church to safely confess doubts and ask tough questions.  Although these six factors are specifically gleaned from the perspective of 18 – 29 year olds, I know many peers in their 50’s that have also wrestled with these same issues and have vacated their pews.

As David identifies the various reasons that youth are leaving our churches, he strongly challenges the church to rethink the way we fulfill the great commission to go and make disciples in today’s society.  The last chapter is particularly beneficial in offering 50 ideas that would help the church rethink its calling and ministry.

I would recommend that we as pastors of the denomination all read this book and engage in discussion as to how we better shape the church of this century so that we are truly making life long disciples of Christ.

Divine Commodity

By Skye Jethani.

Zondervan Publishing. 2009.

Reviewed by Dennis Stone, Regional Minister for Alberta & NWT

The Divine Commodity

Here is a feast for the mind.  Here is fodder for pastors and church leaders seeking to understand where the church has been in the past century and where it needs to go.  Added components are useful paradigms and illustrations … but to get this book for your bookshelf for what it can do for you is to miss the point of the work.  This book addresses how Christianity in our Western world has become like a commodity which is marketed, traded, branded, advertised, utilized, packaged, presented, and evaluated.

As I interpret Jethani’s work what the Western Church has become is due to the cultural influences, but much rests upon the powerful economic forces at work worldwide today.   One illustration emphasizing our consumerist mentality in the book is the quote intentionally twisting Rene’ Descartes famous words to say, “I shop, therefore I am.”  This author spends some time developing the fact that our human identity has been manipulated by invented needs of master advertising companies and schemes of profit seeking companies.

In the book an interesting conversation is noted with Jim Gilmore, a noted economist who speaks of the following economic phases: Agrarian, Industrial, Service and Experience.  The reader is led into an assessment of how Christian society has moved from meeting needs and developing structures to servicing wants for a certain type of ‘experience’.  Jethani becomes a critic of churches that overemphasize attendance results and the provision of religious positive-feel Sunday experiences.  Consumerist attitudes toward and by the Western Church are fleshed out with illustrations and applications that give helpful introspection into the season in which we live.

I personally like the intentional playful illustrations to the loss of imagination in our age and the need to see again with new eyes.  One of these is the story of Phil Vischer who created VeggieTales whose firm went bankrupt in 2003.  Phil thought he needed to become the ‘Christian Disney’ to accomplish what God wanted, but is quoted after this experience as saying: “The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded.  I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail – a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream ….”

The ideas of this book are worth exploration by new and seasoned pastors.  The book is full of quotable phrases and clear representations of errors in our popular ways of thinking.  There is substance here for board decisions when planning a second service or change to the worship style.  The book speaks of Jesus not concerning Himself with what was popular.  He showed genuine spiritual maturity by denying Himself and saying, “Not My will but Thine be done.”

We need to return to a worship and walk that is not about us, but about genuinely loving God and loving our neighbor.  I recommend reading The Divine Commodity.

 

What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters

 

By Philip Yancey.

FaithWords. 2010.

Reviewed by Rob Ogilvie, CBWC’s Regional Minister for BC & Yukon

What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters

With most Philip Yancey books, the title usually gives away the theme, and this book is no exception. Trying to understand what good God is, in a world filled with disasters and traumatic events, is Yancey’s quest. He makes this happen by including talks he has given in ten different places around the world from Mumbai to Johannesburg to the campus of Virginia Tech. The chapter that precedes each of these stories gives the background as to how he came to be invited to this place, introduces the reader to some of the people that he has met and outlines the relevant issues these people are facing.

In the Introduction, Yancey describes how polls in the USA show that in 1957, when asked about their religious affiliation, 2.7% of the population stated “no religion” and that by 2009 that number had grown to 16%. However, he goes on to say that two-thirds of those who claimed “no religion” still believe that God exists and he believes that many of these people judge organized religion as hypocritical or irrelevant. As a way of exploring the value of religious faith and wrestling with the question about God’s goodness Yancey says, “I prefer to go out into the field and examine how faith works itself out, especially under extreme conditions.”

I found it an interesting format for a book that could easily be viewed in two ways. The cynical or strictly business approach could say that it can’t get much easier to write a book than this, because half of it was already written from the talks Yancey had previously given to ten different groups, and the other half was him just telling the stories of how he got invited to such places.

The other perspective recognizes Yancey’s ability to tell stories and to help his readers understand that many of the questions they themselves are asking are also being asked by others, and he does so in dramatic fashion. A young woman who survived the Columbine High School shootings accompanies him to Virginia Tech where together they meet with the families and loved ones and attend a memorial for the 32 students killed by a fellow student. He travels to China where he hears firsthand the realities of what it means to be a pastor of a Christian church in the midst of communism. He attends a conference in Wisconsin on ministry to women in prostitution, where he spends three hours dialoguing with former “professional sex workers” and hearing their stories of “degradation and transformation.”

I learn best from stories and for that reason I appreciated this book. It reminds us that God is present, even when we don’t readily see him, and that we, as ordinary people, are called to be examples to the world around us of the hope and assurance of the goodness of God.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

By Nicholaas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Vintage. 2009.

Review by Paddy Ducklow, Erb-Guillison Chair of Marriage and Family Ministries at Carey Theological College

Reading the book, “Half the Sky; Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” angered me, saddened me, but also filled me with a sense of hope that the world might finally wake up to the horrific treatment of women and children within our global village and seriously address the issues.  When I heard Paddy Ducklow recommend the book to a group, I asked if he would share his thoughts.  Perhaps both of our endorsements will encourage you to pick up this book and pray about what God would have us do.

Faye Reynolds, Director of Women’s and Intergenerational Ministries

The abuse of women and girls is abhorrent, especially if you think about it. Some thinking requires a vulnerability to deep hurt in the realization of well-hidden societal harms. Reading “Half the Sky” is more than interesting and helpful. It is a harsh as well as hopeful encounter with a part of our world that most people would prefer to dismiss and deny.

But to ignore generational hatred towards “Half the Sky” (Chairman Mao’s phrase for half the planet referring to women) is to ignore the terrors of kidnapped First Nations girls that are trafficked in Vancouver’s East side and the Chinese “pleasure houses” in soiled apartments on Burnaby’s Kingsway.

But the focus of the book is on other parts of our world where preteens are trafficked as prostitutes, where child brides endure acid attacks and burnings (that is, if they survive the attacks), where twelve year olds suffer genital mutilation (politely called “female circumcision”) and where rape and fistula ripping is used to destroy the structure of family and society.  All in all, not easy reading.

“Half the Sky” is about advocacy for “the least, last, lost, little and nearly dead,” Jesus’ target group and for whom He came to advocate. It is a plea to stand with the hurt and harmed of our neighborhoods and our world.  It is warfare against users and abusers around our very hurtful globe. I recommend this for book group reading in all of our churches, but do be prepared for tears, anguish and anger.

For more information on the “Half the Sky” Movement, see http://www.halftheskymovement.org/.

The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times

By Charles Colson

Worthy Publishing, 2011.

Reviewed by Bob Webber, Director of Ministry for the CBWC

The 2008 elections left moral conservatives perplexed” writes Charles Colson in this poignant book, fully titled The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in these Turbulent Times. “Though the majority of Americans hold views to the right of center, voters elected a government that is more left of center than any in our nation’s history.”

From that beginning Colson’s book explores the current political and spiritual landscape in the United States through 15 chapters that cover such diverse topics as “Confronting Postmodernism” to “Cracking the ethics code in Science” to “Resisting the Tyranny of the Courts.”

It is an easy read that gives us an arm chair front row seat to the “culture wars” as they are currently proceeding south of the border from a solidly evangelical point of view. What are interesting are also the perspectives that come into these essays from Colson’s much heralded work with Prison Fellowship a ministry that he continues to lead seeking to reach prisoners around the world with the gospel and helping support constructive prison reforms.

While most of our information on what is happening in the US seems to come from either the polarized left leaning or right leaning popular media, Colson has a decided more intellectual and rigorous examination of the current situation. He has not lost his legal or political instincts.  He is decidedly to the right as the opening paragraph suggests, but in a very thoughtful and intellectual way.

The book also is written in the personal style we have come to know from Colson. In one instance he admits to being in his home church when the worship leader rhetorically asked “should we sing that chorus again?” to which he bellowed “No!” to the dismay of his wife and likely delight of his target audience.

Never satisfied to simply inform, Colson’s book is also a passionate call for Christians to enter the fray and not shrink back into our own backyards.

The Shack

By William P. Young

Windblown Media. 2007

Reviewed by Ceal McLean, Senior Writer & Editor for the CBWC

The Shack
The Shack

The Shack is a publishing phenomena: a self-published book promoted almost entirely by word of mouth with more than 10 million copies in print and #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks.  The book has become a theological flashpoint. Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus at Regent College, has compared it to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; many others have called it heresy.

How can a book so sluggishly written and so theologically trite resonate so deeply with Christians and seekers alike?

The Shack tells the story of one man’s encounter with God at the site where his deepest pain occurred: while Mack was on a family camping trip in Oregon, his daughter Missy is kidnapped and killed.  Four years later, Mack receives a note from “Papa” inviting him to meet at the very same shack where Missy likely died.  Eventually convinced the note is from God, Mack goes to the cabin and encounters the trinity in bodily form:  the Father is an African American woman named both Eloisa and Papa, Jesus is a homely carpenter and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman named Sarayu. Over the course of a weekend, Mack speaks with the persons of the trinity and receives bumper-sticker answers to all of his deepest theological questions.

The Shack seems to be one of those books that are important to people who read it during difficult times in life, such as the death of a loved one.  With the central core of the book presented mostly as a dialogue between Mack and God, we can vicariously have a face to face conversation with God and ask all of the big questions we have, particularly those long-unanswered questions about how an all-loving, all-powerful God can allow pain and suffering.  All of us can relate to Mack’s suffering and his questions.  Like Job, we all want to know why.

What we get is no whirlwind; just a still, small voice that tries to knock back our preconceptions about God.  For some, the novelty of presenting not only the Holy Spirit but God the father as feminine (and not white) will be an attractive relief.  Similarly, The Shack portrays a God who chuckles.  Incessantly.  The Shack portrays a cloying God who is only what we want Him to be:  all-loving, gentle, kind, ever-patient, forgiving, full of grace, sustaining us in our deepest sorrows and pain.  This is a God who benefits us, hinting that even faith is not really required.  Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God this definitely isn’t.

That Mack’s/our deep questions about everything from suffering to the nature of the trinity and free will get answered in a few pages or even just a few sentences seems not to matter as we move along quickly to the next quick answer.  It is an easy, superficial read.

The universalist theology that minimizes the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and downplays the importance of biblical revelation proves very appealing to those who have experienced or bought into modern media stereotypes of Christianity as judgemental, fear-driven, exclusionary and rigid.   As well, the book is attractive to readers because Mack leaves the shack a changed man.  His questions answered, he can return home to quickly heal broken relationships in his family, find his daughter’s missing body, forgive his daughter’s killer and live a newly meaningful life.  Everything broken gets fixed.

Anyone wishing to be challenged by literary depictions of God and theological questions is much better off reading something well written.  If Milton’s Paradise Lost seems too intimidating, try the stories of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L’Engle.

 

Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids

By Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark.

Zondervan, 2011.

Reviewed by Faye Reynolds, CBWC’s Director of Women’s and Intergenerational Ministries

Sticky Faith

This book, fully titled Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, is a summary of the results from two studies conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute on the dropout rate of college students from their church and practicing faith. Recognizing that almost 50% of students moving from High School to college do not take their faith with them while showing little resistance to the pull of the drug, alcohol and sex scene, it begged the question: what are the factors that help determine whether a faith will “stick” beyond the home and family environment? Two studies, “The College Transition Project” and “The Hurt Project” frame the ideas presented in this book.

Dr. Powell and Dr. Clark have given some very practical tools for helping churches and families provide an environment that encourages a sticky faith. One of the primary keys is an intergenerational approach to faith and practice. Churches that offered more opportunities for multi-generations to interact with each other in worship, conversation and play seemed to have a better success rate in helping youth retain a vibrant relationship with Christ in their college experience. They offer several ideas that can be easily adapted to help kids feel connected and a part of their church family.

The idea that I appreciated most was the reversal of the “One Adult to every Five Children (1:5)” ratio to a 5:1 ratio. The intention is that every child in the church would have at least 5 adults that are aware of him or her, will speak to them, pay attention and take some time to care for them. As I looked back on my own faith journey, I could easily identify 5 adults that were not my parents that spoke into my life within the church. I find this idea very doable and believe it can make a direct difference in a child’s life. The other interesting point is that it invites parents to take an active approach and find the five adults – not expecting the church to orchestrate it as a “program”.

Most of the ideas are geared toward parents, but there are many ideas for a church as well. The book definitely affirms the current trend toward more intergenerational ministries within our churches, moving out of the silo approach to ministry.

This is an American study and written by American authors so their approach may not always appeal to the Canadian mindset, but I believe this quick read offers some practical helps for building strong families of faith.

Come Be My Light

By Mother Teresa

Doubleday Religion. 2007

Reviewed by Ceal McLean, CBWC’s Senior Writer and Editor

Come Be My Light

Mother Teresa’s private letters shocked the world when they were first published in 2007. World famous because of her lifetime of sacrificial service to the poor, she was esteemed universally as an exemplar of Christian love in action. Her extreme dedication to loving the poorest of the poor as she loved Jesus Christ led everyone to believe her relationship with God must have been exceptionally intimate. Yet, as the letters reveal, this was not the case: for 50 years, starting soon after she established the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, she was utterly bereft of the awareness of God’s presence in her life.

The letters, written to Mother Teresa’ spiritual directors from 1928 until her death in 1997, are painful to read. They reveal a simple, uneducated woman who wishes only to love God and know His presence in her life. She had experienced union with God as a young nun, so she wasn’t chasing some impossible fantasy of what a close relationship with God could be like, yet she was never able to escape her spiritual darkness from the mid-1940’s onwards. Despite this, she remained faithful, loving and serving God fully, outwardly manifesting God’s love though she didn’t feel it herself.

This is a remarkable book for several reasons. Rarely do we get such an opportunity to understand such an important Christian figure and have the opportunity to admire her all the more. The letters are also surprising, especially to people with preconceptions about the Roman Catholic faith, because they portray her as someone fully committed to evangelism. Her single-minded desire is to save souls, even offering up her own suffering if that would save just one more soul. Another surprise is how simple and single-minded she was in her devotion, and how unchanging she was throughout her life.

For non-Catholics, the letters are an intriguing window into the Roman Catholic understanding of suffering. In general, Protestants tend to see God as being with us in our sufferings and understanding our suffering because of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. For Mother Teresa, the roles are inverted: she tries to take on Christ’s suffering. Indeed, her attitude towards suffering is one of the most perplexing of the book. Mother Teresa fully embraces suffering, so much so that it would seem a psychological aberration were it not for the fruit borne through her life. As a young nun, she asks for, and receives, permission to make a vow to God never to refuse Him anything, on pain of mortal sin. In Catholic theology, this means that if she is not fully obedient in everything, large or small, she would be condemned to Hell and utter estrangement from God, forever. What normal person in their right mind would raise the stakes on their behaviour in this way? Again and again, she asks God to increase her suffering if this will save souls and glorify God. She seems to seek out suffering as a mark of faith, an attitude that seems psychologically unbalanced. It is disturbing. Equally disturbing is that her spiritual directors, whose responses we know only partially, seem unable to help her.

Mother Teresa wanted all of her letters destroyed. She certainly destroyed her own copies and most of the letters she received from her spiritual directors in response. Fortunately, the Roman Catholic church has preserved them as a window into her interior life. Now, the letters are part of the process by which the church intends to create her an official ‘saint’ of the church. The letters are well worth reading by anyone wishing to reassess one of the most beloved and well-known Christians in our contemporary world. Though she lived in darkness, she displayed the light of God.