According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, September 30, 2013

Despair and Disillusionment: "It's All Rubbish"

 

... And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet.
And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for
she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”

- 2 Kings 4.27 (ESV)

...Who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that
each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of
the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the
trumpet was beside me.


Is life all rubbish? Is everything that we have striven for, tried, and done, rubbish? Have we found ourselves on a never-ending merry-go-round dancing to the tunes-of-the-day faking content in the masquerade of life's daily grind?

Is there a God? And if so, where can He be found? Can God be found at church? Can God be found in Christianity? How many times have you asked yourself these questions? And how many times have these questions come back unanswered to your complete dissatisfaction? Or, as a Christian, how many times have you heard that God can be found here, at this location, at this place, this time, this event, this school, or in this idea?

Cave of Despair by Benjamin West
Christian disillusionment can be a very difficult thing to face, especially when finally determining there is nowhere to look - neither inwards nor outwards nor upwards - because all is rubbish and filled with deep despair and angst. At first, the erstwhile seeker would flee to wherever God was said to be. But once arriving to belatedly discover that, "No, God was not there at all... at least for me." Misbelieving that to get to the center of something that is "holy and wonderful" is to perhaps find a kind of escape from life's hard questions and even more disturbing ills. Years of hard work - of looking and spending precious time or money, of ministry and helps - may have produced no further insight than what one had begun years earlier. Causing a deep cry of soulful despair believing "All that was done was simply rubbish!"

And maybe it is. Maybe we have been deep contributors to this world's rubbish heap. Building into frail lives hate and despair, suffering and pain, even as we have been in turmoil and pain ourselves. Perhaps the garbage troughs that abound are part of our handiwork to this life which we have misspent and ill-provided for, and now must live with, under its stink and scour.

And so, where is this deliverance? Where are the answers? What did we expect when we thought to ourselves that we had found the answers to life's dilemmas? Or, having found none, and giving up, to escape into those glittery worlds of disillusionment to laugh and drink, to mock and lie, one's problems away as no more than a fantasy dream?

Wings of Despair
Perhaps as a pastor you've labored all your life under the idea of a Christian hope that others would discover the Jesus you know and love, but to then see your ministry lapse and fail against all reasonable effort and prayer? Perhaps as a faithful believer you've given you're blood, sweat, and tears to the building up of God's church by your gifts and ministry, only to find you've been building on the wrong foundations, or misunderstanding your direction and calling?

But like any life that is lived, at the last we must either thank God for it, or repent from it, and trust to His wisdom and grace, however much we may have missed the road signs along the way saying to turn back, do not go down this road, beware of washed out bridges ahead. While we were busy building bigger sheep pens for God, God was busy building that same sheep pen around us. Guiding and protecting us where possible. Bringing us to doubt and futility if necessary. Perhaps stopping us - turning us hard around, up-ending all our fantasies and whims, all our misspent days and intoxications, our misbeliefs and the half-truths we dared not face.

One of the jobs of God is simply to push hard after us until we see Him in all that we say and do. That it was by our own hand that we have chained ourselves to sin and ruin, even as it was by His hand of grace and mercy that would break those hardened chains imprisoning heart and soul. To finally know that all that we are, have, and have done, is His to do with as He pleases. That there is nothing remaining behind the sacred Temple curtain save His love and forgiveness beckoning "Enter into the Holy of Holies, and there abide in My holy presence with Jesus My Son, as unto Myself."

Usually the church is the last place to find God, even as it is the first place to find a fellowship filled with other flawed followers of Jesus seeking meaning to life's questions. Instead of finding holiness and love we meet many like ourselves simply trying to work life out - how to love, how to forgive, how to rest in Jesus' provide. Hoping to find a place where honesty might be present instead of the lies and dishonesty we speak to one another and too frequently live.

And yet, church is a place that should challenge our disillusionments. A place that might fit us around God's faithful presence in our lives. And then, "Push us back out into a world from which we had fled." Knowing its ok to live broken. Knowing that I'm rubbish without Jesus in my life. Knowing that escaping doesn't help. Knowing that God lives in-and-through His creation. Within this very world that we live with all its relationships and interconnectivity. And even within His Church struggling itself with knowing God's wisdom and leadership.

But the radical church also realizes that wherever a person is in their life, even so God is there with him, or her, in that very same life, however it is... or isn't whether church-bourne or not. That God's "Holy of Holies" is this very world in which we live. Here and not later, not there, not some other thing, person, or organization. Not someday when I die. Not in the Heaven to come. Nor in the Hereafter of life. But here. Now. Today. This very hour. Within these very soiled relationships that surround us. That inhabit our being with their presence and challenge, turmoil and strife, beauty and wonder.

Forest of Despair
That escaping from this life to somewhere else, or to someone else, or to something else, is not the answer. But rather, to know that where we are here-and-now is exactly where God is. Who has given to us all that we need to face the things we're not willing to face and are trying to flee from. That it is possible to suffer through the difficulties that we each live knowing God's deep love in the face of evil and wickedness. That we each bear burdens, must make tough decisions, or seek help when necessary, while learning (or providing) patience and forgiveness. Hope and healing. Wisdom and grace. For some, this will never be the case, and it is to those of God's honored martyrs whom we might have been able to help had we been more able to hear and to listen, to seek and to save.

But for many, spared such devastation, even as we seek the mountain tops of life, so must we learn to embrace the desperate valleys lying between those high pinnacles of life. Believing that even in these self-same valleys of unknowing and wander, lies God's blessings, His presence and faithfulness. To accept that all of our life is God's holy, blood-bought temple - from the highs of it to the lows of it - that we might abide within it's perimeters as devout, sacred, holy, precious, fragile, and strong. That we are the church where God resides - even as we must reside in Him. That our failure to find God is the failure of not seeing God within the interior spaces of our lives. Instead of looking out-and-around, here-and-there, running from place-to-place, we have forgotten to look within. For it is this God-in-the-mirror whom we have been looking for all our lives who has been with us as constant companion. Whatever the difficulty, the lie, the grief, the deceit, or dishonor. It was He who was with us, who dwells within us, by His Holy Spirit. Who is present with us along every step of our pride, our sin, our failures, our ill love for self or others. It was this God that we dared not look at within. Who abides with us while ever whispering healing and peace in Jesus' precious name.

Is life all rubbish? More closely, is my life all rubbish? Is there a God? And if so, where can He be found? Can God be found at church? Can God be found in Christianity? The answers are both yes, and no, as you would expect. But it all depends on where you look, upon what you believe, and upon whom you depend, even when you think this God is absent from very life itself.

To simply look at ourselves for life's answers will end in despair. But to look within ourselves at the God who is our Redeemer-ReCreator is to find hope and healing. The journey begins as it ever did with God alone through all the conflict, uncertainty, and doubt, that will arise. Life, after all, is difficult. It is hard. We will suffer. But we are not alone.

The answers to life are provided by a God who works through us - charging us with its remake and recreation. Its reclamation and provide. Even as God does now through us such as we are - through His broken church and flawed people. We are the hope to the world around us whenever Jesus is there to bind up all in God's grace and mercy. The foundations have been set by God in His Savior-Son. And empowerment given through His Holy Spirit. Not in some magical, mystical, extra-supernatural way. But through our fleshly hands and feet - our humbled tongues and hearts - our deep passions and patience - within this hard life that we must live.

Into the Valley of Despair
For it is left to our very selves to redeem a broken humanity for man's holy reclaim and rebirth in Jesus' place, and as His ambassadors, and by the power of His Holy Spirit. However we are gifted. However we are composed. Including all that we are but think that we are not - or are not enough - to be worthy vessels for the Lord's usage. But to know it is we, God's people (as are all people on this Earth though they reject His presence and duty, bounty and provide) who must be God's holy script written in the emptiness of the flesh who must overcome despite our disillusionments and pain, failures and sin. To persevere even as we are God's very example of resurrection into the newness of life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Once wearing rags but now clothed with holy vestments of God's empowering love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and hope. These are no mean cloths to be despised or ignored. But cloths to the newness and testimonies of the power of God in the common man's life who thinks himself or herself to have been forgotten of God and left lying about without purpose or end.

For we are not without help. The same God who created this world will recreate it again through very mankind itself - however broken and sinful. For it is to humanity's deep burden and responsibility that we must wholly shoulder and undertake this godly work. But it cannot begin without Jesus leading its vanguard. And through the Church by whose humble and merciful example and leadership would raise high God's holy banners in truth and justice, love and wisdom, against this world's knowing response. But perhaps, like Jonah the prophet who came unwillingly to sinful Nineveh to preach repentance, perhaps this world does repent of its sins and ills and leans into the mystery of God's goodness and love if even for a time, and times, and half of times.

Even so, let it begin with  God's people today, moved by divine hands and repentant hearts, on bended knees and bowed heads, in prayer, and in unity's soulful fellowship to those broken worlds lying all about. Let us speak forgiveness and help, thoughtfulness and kindness, not forsaking those in need. Abandoned and betrayed. Unloved and despised. And let us speak powerfully in the voice of the Spirit who Himself moves the hardened hearts of men and women. Even we ourselves who were at one time rocks of granite against the Spirit's implore, prayers, and petitions.

Let us learn to build better dams and bridges. To govern and legislate more wisely. To teach and educate the youth of the future. To be better parents, moms and dads, sisters and brothers. To create dreams both lofty and practical. To know the negotiables in life, and how to negotiate them. To write passionately. Live passionately. Love passionately. Seek grace. Build trust. And be of good will and cheer. To learn forgiveness and give grace when we are deeply wronged. And when wronged again, to seek humility and wisdom, knowing we are not alone as martyrs to the cross of Christ, for the God of the universe is ever with us despite our doubts and fears. That at the end, it's only "all rubbish" if we allow it, or think it to be, when beholding life's foibles in our despairs, our hopeless futilities, apart from the Christ of our salvation and rebirth who is very life to our bones, heart, hands, and head. This is a truth. Amen and amen.

R.E. Slater
September 30, 2013

For further discussion on this topic go to -
 Devising a Meaning for David Guetta's, "Titanium ft. Sia"





Saturday, September 28, 2013

Of Dads and Daughters, of Parenting and Love: "Wakefulness in a Night of Fireworks"

Inspiration is as much of theology as reading long words and even longer explanations behind complex and complicated ideas. Let's step back a moment and simply reflect on the wonders of God's creation in this special moment recorded by a dad with his daughter when she couldn't sleep thinking she was hearing fireworks outside her home.
 
R.E. Slater
September 28, 2013
 
 
Tonight You Belong to Me (Cover) - Me and my 4 y.o.
 
 
Published on Sep 17, 2013
She thought she kept hearing fireworks and couldn't sleep,
so we sang to keep her mind preoccupied. In the end,
nothing competes with fireworks.
 
 
* * * * * * * *
 
 
A Daughter Poem
 
A daughter thanks her dad for his love. 
 
A Dad's Love
by Samantha R. Almodova
 
On sunny days and dark nights,
in troubled times and pointless fights,
you've been right there through it all,
you've stood your ground when you could have taken the fall.
Many times my mouth has slipped free,
but you were always there to put it back where it was supposed to be.
You've taught me a lot, and a lot I have learned.
You've given me the tables and many I have turned.
You deserve the world, but only a poem I could give,
but another gift I have given is to learn,
that the life of a father is an awesome life to live.
Thank you dad for your love.
 
 
* * * * * * * *
 
 
The cutest video ever? Quite possibly.
Duet between a father and his daughter
 
by John Jalsevac
Wed Sep 25, 2013 10:08 EST
 
Being a parent has its challenges. But as a young dad with three kids (Four, really. But the fourth is keeping a low profile for the time being.), I know that there are joys associated with parenthood that surpass just about anything else I've ever experienced.
 
It's quite simply impossible to put into words that feeling you experience as you watch your children quietly playing with their toys, or reading a book, or tearing through the house chasing one another amidst peals of laughter, or sleeping peacefully after a long, hard day of play.
 
Non-parent outsiders often see nothing but the diapers, the tantrums in the grocery stores, the insistent demands for food at inopportune moments, and the squabbles, and conclude that parenting is simply hard. Well, it's true, parenthood is hard. But that's not the whole story. What they can't fully understand is the sheer awesomeness of these little people, who give back 1000 times over in love and hilarity whatever they demand from us in energy and patience.
 
Anyway, all that is simply a prelude to this video that is making the rounds on Youtube which, by focusing on one of those awesome moments experienced by one dad as he tried to soothe his unutterably cute daughter back to sleep, has made me feel even more lucky to be a dad, and to be able share such moments with the miracles that are my own kids.
 
 
* * * * * * * *
 
 
Another Daughter Poem
 
A mother writes to her daughter letting her know how much she loves her.
 
As I Watch You Grow
by Kay Theese
 
Do you know how much you mean to me?
As you grow into what you will be.
You came from within, from just beneath my heart
it's there you'll always be though your own life will now start.
You're growing so fast it sends me awhirl,
With misty eyes I ask, Where's my little girl?
I know sometimes to you I seem harsh and so unfair,
But one day you will see, I taught you well because I care.
The next few years will so quickly fly,
With laughter and joy, mixed with a few tears to cry.
As you begin your growth to womanhood, this fact you must know,
You'll always be my source of pride, no matter where you go.
You must stand up tall and proud, within you feel no fear,
For all you dreams and goals, sit before you very near.
With god's love in your heart and the world by its tail,
You'll always be my winner, and victory will prevail.
For you this poem was written, with help from above,
To tell you in a rhythm of your Mother's heartfelt Love!

 
*Written and dedicated to my precious daughter - Tammy in 1990
 
 
 

Discussions in Science and Religion - Week 3: Recap - "The Problem of Evil"

prehistoric-fossil

HighGravity Religion and Science: wk 3 Emergence, Eco-everything, and Evil
http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2013/09/26/highgravity-religion-and-science-wk-3-emergence-eco-everything-and-evil/

by Jonnie Russell
September 26, 2013
Comments

This week we dove into the world of biology, perhaps the most contentious field of Religion and Science interaction. I’m thinking some of my recaps have been a bit much (length-wise), so I’m going to try to be brief here, and lean into the reaction-and-question part a bit more.

Recap:

Philip began our discussion with a look at the aspects and functions that ancient cosmogonies played.  They are our oldest stories–grand narratives that sought to give shape to a view of life and the world.  It is in this context that we presume the biblical creation narrative should be read, as an attempt to flesh out a way to see life and creation. Tripp, highlighted how Augustine (though he’s done his fair amount of damage) got this right, focusing on the figurative force rather than the literal elements of the narrative.

Emergence. This is the frame and terminology in which Philip couches the manifold evolutionary process that unfolds in creation. From proteins to small group primates and beyond, the phenomenon of emergence pervades our reality. Simply defined, emergence can be understood as complexity unfolding. It is a process whereby things that evolve remain dependent on and are influenced by the earlier evolutionary history, but are simultaneously more than the entities/forces they depend on. In this way, they have a genuine newness and novelty that is not fully reducible to or explained in terms of their substrates (i.e. smaller or more simple bits–or more fundamental forces). Philip’s whirlwind 17 minute cosmic story showed the “tremendous emergent structures” we now have. Life, for example, is a radical emergence of certain chemical systems.

A critique often leveled at emergence helps specify a crucial component  for a genuine [strong position of] emergence. Put simply, it’s the claim that the emergent qualities have not top-down or unique causal powers.  A real explanation of what's happening will be explained by the more fundamental parts. [Thus,] nothing new is explanatory going on in life, for example, just more complex combinations of stuff that is causally determined by genetics, etc. So, the definitive need for emergence is genuine top-down causal impact.

The genetic determinism of the “new synthesis” in biological studies in the 1930′s and 40′s proposed to have found the explanatory link between Darwinism’s processes of random variation and selective retention and transitions between generations with the discovery of the gene.  It was the gene, via the structure of DNA, that served to pass the randomly selected (successful) genes on and therefore motor the evolutionary development of reality along. This, at bottom was conceived as a reductive process that causally began and ended with ‘selfish’ individual genes (Dawkins’ famous terminology from the 70′s).

But… this project was flawed because it failed to appropriately think the environment within which the organism exists. In reality, organisms are part of complex environments that they co-create with other organisms around them, and in turn are created by the environment itself.  Ecosystem commingling, systems theory, and a profound reciprocal interconnectivity (remember this term from week one?) are the processes that determine reality…at every level.

Therefore, reality betrays a co-constitution  at every level. We are co-creators of each other and our broader world. As Philip notes, this is ripe ground upon which to think the God/world relation in a participatory and co-creative nature wherein it is not simply God and his human creatures co-creating, but all of the created order in that intertwined way creating and interconnected as a ecosystem– a macro-creational ecosystem that mirrors small-scale ecosystems we explore in the evolutionary process. In other words, whatever God is doing, we are full-fledged participators in (or frustrators of?) the making of the world, and not only us, but all created reality bears a responsibility for our world.

React:

- Tripp raised a great (and very difficult) question about the problem of evil in the context of the evolutionary process.  Why the unimaginable amount of waste, suffering, and massive extinctions? Why this shape of the evolutionary process which seems to contains such egregious evil? Philip alluded to a kind of theodicy response (he might shy away from that term) which essentially says that God wanted the kind of world and relation to it that included this co-creational element, which presumably necessitates accepting the existence of random suffering and epochal extinctions over the universes billion year development. In other words, the suffering and evil we have is an inherent product of having the God/world relation we do.

Now, Philip might want to nuance this or reject that logic as implicit in his argument, but I find it difficult to swallow. It sounds similar to the more classical free will defense theodicy, which argues that evil is the byproduct of the freedom required to have the loving familial kinds of relationships with us (very anthropocentric in its classical construction) God wants to have. The trouble with this logic is that it just pushes the question back a step in the sense that we are told that in Philip’s case, this co-creational, intermingled world has a necessary byproduct of evil that could not be otherwise. So, that reality, that truth, is more fundamental–the arche-truth of the cosmos–than God and the God/world relation? The puzzle is similar to the tired old "divine command vs. divine reason" arguments about morality: is something right because God commands (it issues from God’s will), or does God choose it because it’s right (issuing from some reason God too seems subject to). I’ve always leaned towards divine reason (if forced into the binary), but it creates a puzzling logic of some arche-reality of fundamental logic more binding, more in control, more universally present, than God. Help me here Philip. I’d love to hear your thoughts or a tweak to the way I’m characterizing your response.

-Perhaps this logic assumes a crude form of creation ex nihilo in the sense that I’m imagining God as prior to an order which will be brought into being, but what’s prior to that, even prior to God, is the universal truth that x begets y: a ecosystemic, co-creational world, necessitates incalculable waste and suffering. What might a non-creational ex nihilo account that you might want to chase down do for your reasoning here?

- On a less interrogating note, I am fascinated by the eco-theological emphasis in this discussion, particularly the way it ennobles the rest of the created order with a creational power and genuine relation to God. Ellen Davis recently was at Fuller to give one of their annual lectures and she touched on very similar themes  in the Old Testament.  Her fundamental idea was that there is a covenant triangle between God, Israel/humanity, and the land/rest of creation. Now of course, the distinction might be a bit too strong between humans and the rest of creation, but she points to a profound way in which the land, particular the agricultural world of Israel is profoundly included in the covenantal language in parts of the Old Testament (Joel, some Psalms, Hosea, and other places).  The three points of the triangle hang together in the sense that God has covenanted, created bonds and is committed to, the whole of the world. God is even said to suffer along with the land, something that echos Sallie McFague’s recent focus on land as a kind of “least of these” in our time. In Terrance Fretheim’s language, creation beyond the human form is given a kind of “interiority”, we might say genuine subjectivity akin to our own.

These ideas seem to cohere very well with your ecosystemic thought where responsibility is dispersed to all of us in a genuine sense. I’m not sure if we will get there in this class, but I’d love to hear you flesh out how you think through this kind of responsibility.  Do you consider it a kind of interiority/subjectivity? Is panpsychism or panexperientialism–the idea that the mental or experiential aspects we have, in some sense, go all the way down through lesser forms of complexity in matter–the way to go here?



Index to past discussions -







Thursday, September 26, 2013

Barna Group: Why Do Some Millennials Stay Connected to Church?

 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/635-5-reasons-millennials-stay-connected-to-church#.UkTwGU_D-9J

by Barna Group
September 17, 2013

September 17, 2013 – Everyone has an opinion about why Millennials are leaving the church. It's a controversial topic, one that Barna Group's researchers have been examining for a decade.
 
The topic was reignited this summer when blogger and author Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece about why Millennials leave church. Her editorial struck a nerve, sparking response pieces all across the web and generating more than 100,000 social media reactions in the first week alone.
 
Yet whatever one’s personal view of the reasons behind Millennials staying or going, one thing is clear: the relationship between Millennials and the Church is shifting. Barna Group’s researchers have been examining Millennials’ faith development since the generation was in its teen years—that is, for about a decade. During that time, the firm has conducted 27,140 interviews with members of the Millennial generation in more than 200 studies.
 
And while Barna Group’s research has previously highlighted what’s not working to keep Millennials at church, the research also illuminates what is working—and what churches can do to engage these young adults.
 
The Harsh Realities of Millennial Faith
 
But first, the concerns of Millennials leaving the Church must be understood.
 
Parents and leaders have long been concerned about the faith development of the generation born between 1984 and 2002—and for good reason. First, Barna research shows nearly six in ten (59%) of these young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life. Second, the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population.
 
Third, when asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors. Instead, the most common drivers of spiritual growth, as identified by Millennials themselves, are prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children, and their relationship with Jesus.
 
Culture: Acceleration and Complexity
 
Still, not all is doom and gloom when it comes to faith among Millennials. In contrast to the widespread religious disillusionment marked among so many of their peers, millions of Christian Millennials remain deeply committed and active in their faith.
 
About one-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds are practicing Christians, meaning they attend church at least once a month and strongly affirm that their religious faith is very important in their life. A majority of Millennials claim to pray each week, one-quarter say they’ve read the Bible or attended a religious small group this week, and one in seven have volunteered at a church in the past seven days.
 
These spiritual practices are notable, says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, because the broader cultural trends have not been particularly friendly to faith.
 
“Millennials are rethinking most of the institutions that arbitrate life, from marriage and media, to government and church,” says Kinnaman, the author of You Lost Me and unChristian who has spent the last 20 months speaking nationally about the challenges facing today’s Millennials. “They have grown up in a culture and among peers who are often neutral or resistant to the gospel. And life feels accelerated compared with 15 years ago—the ubiquity of information makes it harder for many to find meaning in institutions that feel out of step with the times. Millennials often describe church, for instance, as ‘not relevant’ or say that attending worship services ‘feels like a boring duty.’
 
“Furthermore, many young Americans say life seems complicated—that it’s hard to know how to live with the onslaught of information, worldviews and options they are faced with every day. One of the specific criticisms young adults frequently make about Christianity is that it does not offer deep, thoughtful or challenging answers to life in a complex culture.”
 
But this criticism is also a sign of hope, Kinnaman suggests, since it means Millennials are craving depth—a need the Church is uniquely poised to meet. In this respect, the research points to five ways faith communities can build deeper, more lasting connections with Millennials.
 
1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
 
The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twentysomethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same.
 
Kinnaman is quick to point out the limitations of such a study: “It’s important for anyone who uses research to realize correlation does not equal causation.
 
“Yet, among those who remain active, this much is clear: the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational. This stands true from the inverse angle as well: Seven out of 10 Millennials who dropped out of church did not have a close friendship with an adult and nearly nine out of ten never had a mentor at the church.
 
“The implication is that huge proportions of churchgoing teenagers do not feel relationally accepted in church. This kind of information should be a wake-up call to ministry leaders as well as to churched adults of the necessity of becoming friends with the next generation of believers.”
 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
 
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
 
A second important ministry outcome for today’s Millennials is helping them develop discernment skills—especially in understanding and interpreting today’s culture. For example, active Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say they “learned about how Christians can positively contribute to society” compared to those who drop out (46% versus 20%). Actives are also nearly four times more likely to say they “better understand my purpose in life through church” (45% versus 12%).
 
For a generation that already laments the complexity of modern life, the Church can offer valuable clarity. Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority.
 
Although, such development must also take care to avoid the overprotective impulses that are driven by fear of culture. Rather, Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world seems to be one of the most powerful motivations of today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way.
 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
 
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
 
A third thing Barna Group’s team has learned about effective ministry to Millennials is that young people want to be taken seriously today—not for some distant future leadership position. In their eyes, institutional church life is too hierarchical. And they’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they’re want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present—not future—tense.
 
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe this kind of give and take between young and established leaders. Kinnaman says, “Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn. One way to think about this generation is that they are exiles in something like a ‘digital Babylon’—an immersive, interactive, image-rich environment in which many older believers feel foreign and lost. The truth is, the Church needs the next generation’s help to navigate these digital terrains.”
 
The research shows few churches help young people discover a sense of mission, though this too is important in cultivating a faith that lasts. Millennials who remain active in church are twice as likely as dropouts to say they served the poor through their church (33% versus 14%). They are also more likely to say they went on a trip that helped expand their thinking (29% versus 16%) and more likely to indicate they had found a cause or issue at church that motivates them (24% versus 10%).
 
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
 
A fourth way churches can deepen their connection with Millennials is to teach a more potent theology of vocation, or calling. Millennials who have remained active are three times more likely than dropouts to say they learned to view their gifts and passions as part of God’s calling (45% versus 17%). They are four times more likely to have learned at church “how the Bible applies to my field or career interests” (29% versus 7%). A similar gap exists when it came to receiving helpful input from a pastor about education (21% versus 5%), though going so far as offering a scholarship (5% versus 2%) was not particularly widespread.
 
“Most churches seem to leave this kind of vocation-based outcome largely at the door,” comments Kinnaman, “unless these students show interest in traditional church-based ministry.” But what Millennials are seeking goes beyond this. Kinnaman calls it “vocational discipleship,” a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to.
 
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.
 
Finally, more than a mere community club helping youth cross the threshold of adulthood, church communities can help Millennials generate a lasting faith by facilitating a deeper sense of intimacy with God. For example, Millennials who remain active are more likely than those who dropped out to say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant (68% versus 25%). Additionally, actives are much more likely to believe the Bible contains wisdom for living a meaningful life (65% versus 17%).
 
“This means Millennials who retain a longer-lasting faith than their peers are more likely to find a sense of authority in the Word of God—both in the pages of the Bible as well as in their experience of intimacy with the God they follow,” Kinnaman says.
 
Of course, many church leaders are already trying to connect biblical authority to a personal relationship with Jesus for their young people. So what is happening to thwart these efforts?
 
Kinnaman explains, “In part, it is a failure of not connecting Jesus and the Bible to the other outcomes identified in this research—relational, missional, vocational and cultural discernment. In other words, the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.”
 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
 
A Handful of Caveats
 
There are several caveats that come with this kind of research, Kinnaman points out. “First, as Millennials are quick to say themselves, life is complicated—there are many significant influences at work in their lives today. These five principles are certainly not an exhaustive list, but it does reflect some of the things our team has learned so far.
 
“Second, parents as well as church and organizational leaders should be open to learning all they can about Millennials in order to maximize their efforts to spiritually engage them. However, they should take care not to idolize this emerging generation and in so doing create a form of age-ism. Millennials should be a priority not because ‘youth must be served,’ but because this generation is trying to learn faithfulness in a rapidly changing post-Christian culture. Millennials need the help of faithful believers from older generations if they are to make sense of it all and move meaningfully forward in their life and faith.”
 
Future Research
 
The Barna team is hard at work exploring additional aspects of Millennials’ life, faith and experience. This includes studies on architecture, the Bible, spiritual practices, liturgy, social justice, youth ministry and more. If you are interested in staying informed about this future research, you can subscribe here.
 
If your organization is interested in commissioning customized research among the Millennials you serve—or even a national poll of Millennials—ask us how we can help.
 
As part of this larger Barna Millennial Project, a limited number of churches can join Barna Labs—a nine-month training and evaluation program to help youth and young adult leaders know their people and their impact. Learn more here.
 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
 
5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church
 
About the Study
 
This article is based on research conducted for the Faith That Lasts Project, much of which took place between 2007 and 2012. The research included a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group.
 
In addition to extensive quantitative interviewing with adults and faith leaders nationwide, the main research examination for the study was conducted with 18- to 29-year-olds who had been active in a Christian church at some point in their teen years. The quantitative study among 18- to 29-year-olds was conducted online and via telephone with 1,296 current and former churchgoers. The Faith That Lasts research also included parallel testing on key measures using telephone surveys, including interviews conducted among respondents using cell phones, to help ensure the representativeness of the online sample. The sampling error associated with 1,296 interviews is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.
 
More can be found about Millennials in the book You Lost Me and the companion DVD.
 
American Bible Society commissioned the data under point five related to the Bible.
 
About Barna Group
 
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
 
If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.
 
© Barna Group, 2013
 
 
 

Barna Group: Are Christians More Like Jesus or Pharisees?

 
Christians: More Like Jesus or Pharisees?
 
Barna Group
April 30, 2013
 
One of the common critiques leveled at present-day Christianity is that it’s a religion full of hypocritical people.
 
A new Barna Group study examines the degree to which this perception may be accurate. The study explores how well Christians seem to emulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus in their interactions with others.
 
The research project was directed by David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, in conjunction with John Burke, author of Mud and the Masterpiece, a book exploring the attitudes and actions of Jesus in all of his encounters.
 
Assessing Christlikeness
 
In this nationwide study of self-identified Christians, the goal was to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees, the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament.
 
In order to assess this, Barna researchers presented a series of 20 agree-or-disagree statements. Five actions and five attitudes that seem to best encapsulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus Christ during his ministry on earth. The researchers did the same for the Pharisees (10 total statements, five reflecting behaviors and five examining attitudes).
 
Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, directed the study. He commented on the creation of a “Christ-like” scale: “Our intent is to create some new discussion about the intangible aspects of following and representing Jesus. Obviously, survey research, by itself, cannot fully measure someone’s ‘Christ-likeness’ or ‘Pharisee-likeness.’ But the study is meant to identify baseline qualities of Jesus, like empathy, love, and a desire to share faith with others—or the resistance to such ideals in the form of self-focused hypocrisy. The statements are based on the biblical record given in the Gospels and in the Epistles and our team worked closely with a leading pastor, John Burke, to develop the survey questions.”
 
Fleshing Out Christ-likeness
 
To flesh out the objectives of the study, a nationwide, representative sample of Christians was asked to respond to 20 statements. They could rate their agreement on a four-point scale. The 10 research statements used to examine Christ-likeness include the following:
 
Actions like Jesus:
  • I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  • In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  • I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  • I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  • I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
 
Attitudes like Jesus:
  • I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  • I believe God is for everyone.
  • I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  • It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  • I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
 
The 10 statements used to assess self-righteousness (like the Pharisees), included the following research items:
 
Self-Righteous Actions:
  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
Self-Righteous Attitudes:
  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.
 
How Christ-like are Christians?
 
Using these 20 questions as the basis of analysis, the researchers created an aggregate score for each individual and placed those results into one of four categories, or quadrants. (Further definition of the way these findings were analyzed is found later in this article.) The four categories include:
 
• Christ-like in action and attitude
• Christ-like in action, but not in attitude
• Christ-like in attitude, but not action
• Christ-like in neither
 
The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.
 
On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.
 
In the middle are those who have some mix of action and attitude. About one-fifth of Christians are Christ-like in attitude, but often represent Pharisaical actions (21%). Another 14% of respondents tend to be defined as Christ-like in action, but seem to be motivated by self-righteous or hypocritical attitudes.
 
 
Evangelicals and Others

Looking at America’s evangelical community—a group defined by Barna Group based on its theological beliefs and commitments, not self-identification with the terms “evangelical”—38% qualify as neither Christ-like in action nor attitude, according to their responses to these 20 questions. About one-quarter (23%) of evangelicals are characterized by having Jesus-like actions and attitudes, which was higher than the norm. About half were a mixture of Christ-like actions and Pharisaical attitudes (25%) or vice versa (15%).
 
Evangelicals are notably distinct from the norms in two ways: first, they were slightly more likely than other Christians to be Christ-like in action and attitude. However, among those in the “middle ground,” with so-called jumbled actions and attitudes, evangelicals are the only faith group more likely to be Pharisaical in attitude but Christ-like in action.
 
Kinnaman explains: “This research may help to explain how evangelicals are often targeted for claims of hypocrisy; the unique ‘sin’ of evangelicals tends to be doing the ‘right’ thing but with improper motives.”
 
The research shows that non-evangelical born again Christians and notional Christians were not much different from one another and not too distinct from national norms among all Christians.
 
Practicing Catholics were more likely than average to have Christ-like beliefs, but to demonstrate Pharisaical tendencies (i.e., they were 10 points above the average in terms of being Christ-like in attitude but Pharisaical in action).
 
 
Who Exhibits Christ-likeness?

Despite their shortcomings in the study, evangelical Christians are the most likely Christian segment to be categorized as having both the Christ-like actions and attitudes (23%) identified by Barna researchers.
 
Interestingly, a similar proportion (22%) of Christians who have a more liberal political ideology claimed both Christ-like attitudes and actions. Non-mainline Protestants with a practicing faith are also more likely than average to be in this top category (19%), as are women (18%) and college graduates (18%).
 
Some population segments that are statistically less likely to have both Christ-like actions and attitudes are Elders, ages 67 or older (6%), Hispanics (6%), Christians with a conservative political ideology (8%), and men (9%).
 
What the Findings Mean
 
Kinnaman has spent more than five years presenting to Christian leaders about the perceptions of Christians, based upon his bestselling book unChristian. “In the research for that book project, our team discovered that 84% of young non-Christians say they know a Christian personally, yet only 15% say the lifestyles of those believers are noticeably different in a good way. This new study helps to explain that gap. It is not surprising that believers miss the mark in terms of representing Jesus, because transformation in Christ is so difficult and so rare. In particular, evangelicals seem to know the right way to behave, but they often admit to harboring sanctimonious motives.
 
“Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns. Perhaps pastors and teachers might take another look at how and what they communicate. Do people somehow get the message that the ‘right action’ is more important than the ‘right attitude’? Do church leaders have a tendency to focus more on tangible results, like actions, because those are easier to see and measure than attitudes?
 
“Finally, the question of authentic faith—is a particularly sore topic for many Millennials—who are often leaving church due in large part to the hypocrisy they experience. Again, no research is a perfect measure, but this study points out a sobering possibility: that the perception so many young people have of Christians contains more than a kernel of truth. Just as the New Testament writer Paul demonstrates in Galatians 2:11-16, the responsibility of the Christian community is to challenge hypocrisy just as boldly as other kinds of sin.“
 
 
About the Research
 
 The OmniPollSM included 1,008 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States. The interviews included 300 interviews conducted by cell phone, to help ensure representativeness of cell-only households. Of those surveyed 718 self-identified as Christians and were included in this study. The survey was conducted from November 11, 2012 through November 18, 2012. The sampling error for self-identified Christians is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.
 
Based upon U.S. Census data sources, regional and ethnic quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of adults interviewed reflected the distribution of adults nationwide and adequately represented the three primary ethnic groups within the U.S. (those groups which comprise at least 10% of the population: white, black, and Hispanic).
 
To assess the results to 20 different questions, a numeric value was assigned to each response option and the results were tallied. A perfect score was 30 points on the action questions and 30 points on the attitude questions. The equal and opposite result represents Pharisaical actions and attitudes.
 
Furthermore, respondents were penalized if they agreed with multiple Pharisaical statements. If they did embrace these self-oriented perspectives, their score was downgraded. This was done because, in many cases, people often got the “right” answer to Christ-like questions, but also harbored some self-righteousness in action or attitude. For example, depending upon one's total aggregate score, agreeing with two or more Pharisaical actions could remove a respondent from being categorized as having Christ-like actions; instead, he or she would be categorized as having Pharisaical actions.
 
The research was commissioned by Baker Books and John Burke, author of a new book, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing yourself and others through the eyes of Jesus. More about the book can be found here.
 
Definitions
 
People are identified as having a practicing faith if they have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life.
 
"Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria (described below) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."
 
"Non-evangelical born again Christians" is defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. These adults are born again, but do not meet the additional evangelical criteria.
 
"Notional" Christians are individuals who identify themselves as Christian yet do not meet the criteria for being "born again."
 
Generations: Mosaics / Millennials are a generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters, born between 1965 and 1983; Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; and Elders were born in 1945 or earlier.
 
About Barna Group
 
 Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
 
If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.
 
© Barna Group, 2013
 
 
 

Barna Group: America's Most Post-Christian Cities Rankings

The Most Post-Christian Cities in America

Post-Christian Metrics:

http://cities.barna.org/the-most-post-christian-cities-in-america/

The level of irreligion in America depends on how you measure it. And the vitality of faith in America is much more than simply how people label themselves. Barna Group tracks the following 15 metrics related to faith, which speak to the lack of Christian identity, belief and practice.
 
Post-Christian = meet at least 60% of the following 15 factors (9 or more factors)
 
Highly Post-Christian = meet at least 80% of the following 15 factors (12 or more factors)
 
1. do not believe in God
2. identify as atheist or agnostic
3. disagree that faith is important in their lives
4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5. have never made a commitment to Jesus
6. disagree the Bible is accurate
7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9. agree that Jesus committed sins
10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
SOURCE BARNA GROUP, N=23,018, U.S. ADULTS, WWW.BARNA.ORG