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
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, March 9, 2014

PostModern Millennials Require a Gospel of Connection, of Solidarity

Over the years I have tried to temper my enthusiasm for a broader gospel message with the occasional revisit to my past (and still current) evangelical background once composed of a more restrictive biblical message and charter (and thus, become more of a post-evangelical faith in many ways). For myself, I find it difficult to write about good theology when I see or hear so many bad examples of  biblical doctrine being expressed so passionately (but wrong-headedly) by well-meaning Christians expressing messages of biblical ignorance, injustice, impertinance, injustice, or irresponsibility, through capricious acts of discrimination backed by a general callousness (or neglect) towards their own community of people burdened or oppressed by their words. Good doctrine must always be expressed by a loving and winsome spirit otherwise it becomes in itself a restrictive sectarian or cultic faith wishing to defend itself, its ideas, its idiosyncrasies, rather than one built upon Christ her Lord.

Hence, when seeking to minister to postmodern millennials the church's missional banners too often seem closed to this generation's broader mindset and spirit with its openness and tolerance towards all things unlike themselves. And one expressing at all times a genuine goodwill towards humanity in general as is seen in concurring examples of generous social work, thoughtful benevolence, and communal caretake of this good earth. Connection is the key word in a millennial's vocabulary. Connection of science to lifestyle and social media. Connection to this earth with its resultant focus on protection and preservation. Connection to one another as to society itself. Connection of belief with acts of humanitarianism and social good works. Thus, a church message that wishes to disconnect millennials with their very self is a church message that will not attract, and ultimately be withdrawn from by this generation of introspective socialists (in the best sense of this word).

Hence, though the Barna study below is a mere 2-1/2 years old, it seems to me that little has changed since its publication within the church's rhetoric expressing its own fracturous messages of individualism over social (or communal) solidarity. A material gospel built upon barriers of discrimination as opposed to one seeking to remove those barriers so all may gain access to the gospel of Christ. Or a message expressing sectarian or cultic values that center on group differences or withdrawal rather than on one that re-evaluates its own Christian faith with the expressed intention of engaging in this world in a meaningful way. Hence, I have become singularly unimpressed when hearing doctrine shouted over good works. Or biblical godliness mandated over bigoted statements and obfuscation in party politics. I do not find this Christ-like but actually worthy of Christ's condemnation. If anything, Jesus showed to us a spirit of love and tolerance to those outside the family of God while reserving His harshest words to those intolerants within the family of God.

Succinctly, how many times have I heard that the homosexual man or woman is living in sin when the better reply would be to say that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change? Or that there really are biblical theologians who believe in scientific evolution without feeling any compromise to their faith or the Bible? Or that today's environmental concerns are real and legitimate and that we should be doing everything possible to protect and preserve our planet's resources for the generations to come? Or that idle faith without works is dead rather than beating about the air contesting what is, and isn't, good doctrine and dogma when perhaps a correspondent amount of time should be spent in serving one another in love, peace, and goodwill?

Of course, survey data is only one way of exploring the stories of evangelical Christians. Another is to read of their personal displacement autobiographically as has been done by Jonathan Dudley in his book Broken Words. As Fred Clark has said in his Slactivist blog, "Listening to other people’s stories and reading other people’s stories is often a good way to learn about other people’s stories. Listening to other people’s stories also tends — anecdotally, at least — to make the listener more inclined to regard those people and their stories as legitimate, worthy of respect and not just something to be dismissed because people and stories lack a sufficient number of digits after the decimal point. Listening to other people, in other words, is one way to avoid being a tedious pedant."


R.E. Slater
March 9, 2014

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September 28, 2011 - Many parents and church leaders wonder how to most effectively cultivate durable faith in the lives of young people.

A five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman explores the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in a new book by Kinnaman titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.

The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

 Three Spiritual Journeys of Millennials

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Turning Toward Connection

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

“Consequently, churches are not prepared to handle the ‘new normal.’ Instead, church leaders are most comfortable working with young, married adults, especially those with children. However, the world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.”

The research points to two opposite, but equally dangerous responses by faith leaders and parents: either catering to or minimizing the concerns of the next generation. The study suggests some leaders ignore the concerns and issues of teens and twentysomethings because they feel that the disconnection will end when young adults are older and have their own children. Yet, this response misses the dramatic technological, social and spiritual changes that have occurred over the last 25 years and ignores the significant present-day challenges these young adults are facing.

Other churches seem to be taking the opposite corrective action by using all means possible to make their congregation appeal to teens and young adults. However, putting the focus squarely on youth and young adults causes the church to exclude older believers and “builds the church on the preferences of young people and not on the pursuit of God,” Kinnaman said.

Between these extremes, the just-released book You Lost Me points to ways in which the various concerns being raised by young Christians (including church dropouts) could lead to revitalized ministry and deeper connections in families. Kinnaman observed that many churches approach generations in a hierarchical, top-down manner, rather than deploying a true team of believers of all ages. “Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body – that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”

You Lost Me
Buy: the book
Download: free excerpt

About the Research

This Barna Update is based on research conducted for the Faith That Lasts Project, which took place between 2007 and 2011. 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 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.

The online study relied upon a research panel called KnowledgePanel®, created by Knowledge Networks. It is a probability-based online non-volunteer access panel. Panel members are recruited using a statistically valid sampling method with a published sample frame of residential addresses that covers approximately 97% of U.S. households. Sampled non-Internet households, when recruited, are provided a netbook computer and free Internet service so they may also participate as online panel members. KnowledgePanel consists of about 50,000 adult members (ages 18 and older) and includes persons living in cell phone only households.

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. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

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 ( Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.

© Barna Group, 2011.

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Most evangelical college grads have a story like this one

by Fred Clark
March 5, 2014
Here’s a bit from the first chapter of Jonathan Dudley’s important book Broken Words. He’s describing his time at Calvin College:

"In my freshman biology class, I sat riveted as the professor explained why scientists believe in evolution (I had never learned about the subject in high school). The summer after my first year, I pored over a summer-school psychology book by an evangelical professor, who argued (shockingly, to me) that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change. Over the course of my second year in college, I learned why scientists think there is an environmental crisis. And during my last year of college, a bioethics professor argued against popular evangelical thought on abortion. I was surprised to find out during an office visit that many other evangelical scholars shared his view, though not surprised when he said they would rather not speak up about it due to the avalanche of protests it would generate from college donors.… 
"My bioethics professor reinforced a conclusion I had drawn from my undergraduate and seminary years: There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture (which is the only part of evangelicalism with political muscle) and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars.'
Most evangelical college graduates have a story like the one Dudley tells. They can relate to the trajectory he relates there — the shock of new ideas as an underclassman and then, later, the candid conversations during office visits in which a professor explains what is and is not allowed to be said and how it differs from what is and is not true.

That office visit conversation usually only comes after the professor has learned that the student is headed off to graduate school (Dudley was on his way to Yale for seminary). On arrival at grad school, such students will be ill-served by what Peter Enns describes as:
… "The same apologetically driven, and inadequate, answers to perennially difficult questions [that] keep being repeated in the classroom. Once students leave the environment where such apologetics is valued, they find that the old answers are often inadequate, and in some cases glaringly so."
That’s from a post last fall in which Enns describes the desperation he’s heard from many, many academic colleagues in evangelical institutions:
"I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.
"I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not. 
"I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs."
Yep. That. It’s pandemic.*

And it’s not just in academia. I’ve heard similar stories from clergy, journalists, musicians, missionaries and aid workers — all wrestling with the conflict between what they know to be right and “institutional expectations” shaped by the threat of an “avalanche of protests” from donors with political muscle. Not healthy. Not good.

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Loneliness and the Sacred Web of Life

Sufi teacher and author
Posted: Updated:
Recently Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Sanjay Gupta instigated a "Just Say Hello!" campaign as a way to combat the deep loneliness that pervades so many people today. Dr. Gupta speaks of the heartbreaking sense of isolation, a toxic, brutal, and even physical pain. Our increasingly connected society has a shadow side of loneliness, as if our technologies are missing something essential to our human nature -- the simple human exchange. In only a few centuries we have moved from a communal culture to a landscape of individuals, in which it is only too easy to feel isolated and alone. I grew up in a London in which it was still safe for the local children to play together unsupervised in the city streets, and living near Notting Hill in my teens and 20s, I remember the women gossiping in the Portobello market, everyone called "love" or "dearie" -- a sense of community never found in today's shopping malls. In our contemporary affluence we rarely realize the true price of our discount goods; instead there is a felt hunger for ordinary companionship -- which we are often too busy to fully acknowledge.

But underlying and echoing this loneliness is an even deeper isolation that runs unrecognized through much of our lives. In our material progress we have cut ourselves off from the sense of the sacred that used to nourish life with a quality of primal interconnectedness and belonging. Collectively, we rarely feel part of a living world rich in meaning and wonder -- "Where the violets bloom in springtime, where the stars shine down in all their mystery." Instead, our culture has made us more isolated and alone than we dare to realize. In previous cultures everyday activities were a part of a rich tapestry of sacred meaning, supported by rituals that connected us to the whole web of creation and its roots in the divine. An example is the way food can nourish us on many levels, our souls as well as our bodies -- to quote Vandana Shiva, "Food is alive: It is not just pieces of carbohydrate, protein, and nutrient, it is a being; it is a sacred being ... Food is not just our vital need: It is the web of life."

How can we feel lonely if our daily life speaks to us of so many connections, with the Earth and our shared sense of the sacred? And yet we now live in an increasingly alienating culture, held together by technology and its image of progress, but having lost something essential. We are more and more like the Buddhist figure of the hungry ghost, whose empty belly can never be filled. Always hungry, always empty, it images the dark side of consumerism. And most tragically, this man-made isolation, this separation from the sacred, is mostly unrecognized -- instead we are bombarded with more and more distractions and addictions to keep us from calling out what our souls know -- that the emperor has no clothes, that our outer abundance holds a terrible secret. No longer nourished from the core of life, our soul is no longer fed by its sacred nature. And so we are left stranded, with a deep loneliness, an ache in the center of our self.

The unspoken poverty in our culture is a poverty of spirit, a real hunger for what the West has forgotten: that not just individual life but all of creation is sacred. This connection to a sacred Earth always made us feel and know we are part of the great mystery of creation, of its rivers and winds, its birdsong and seeds. How could it be otherwise? And how can we now regain this simple but forgotten element, this ingredient as essential as salt?

First we need to recognize that this connection is missing, that there is an ache, a loneliness, within our heart and soul. And from this there will come a grief for what we have lost -- because our soul remembers even if our mind and our culture try to make us forget. We are not "consumers" needing only more stuff, but souls in search of meaning. And from this grief, this sorrow, can come a real response that can return us once again to what is sacred within our self and with our life. As the Buddhist environmentalist Joanna Macy explains, our pain is evidence for a deeper interconnectedness -- otherwise we would not feel this loss. It reawakens our care for each other and our love for the Earth. Our heart knows what our mind has forgotten -- it knows the sacred that is within all that exists, and through a depth of feeling we can once again experience this connection, this belonging.

We are not here on Earth to be alone, but to be a part of a living community, a web of life in which all is sacred. Like the cells of our body, all of life is in constant communication, as science is just beginning to understand. No bird sings in isolation, no bud breaks open alone. And the most central note that is present in life is its sacred nature, something we need to each rediscover and honor anew. We need to learn once again how to walk and breathe in a sacred universe, to feel this heartbeat of life. Hearing its presence speak to us, we feel this great bond of life that supports and nourishes us all. Today's world may still at times make us feel lonely, but we can then remember what every animal, every insect, every plant knows -- and only we have forgotten: the living sacred whole.

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