Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is Human Free Will in Philosophical Theology? (Sin & Salvation: Annihilation, Hell, or Purgatory?)

Free Will in Philosophical Theology

by Thomas Jay Oord
March 4, 2014

[with additional commentary by re slater
edited March 11, 2014]

The majority of great philosophers and theologians have believed in free will. Contemporary discussions of what free will is, and how it might function, however, have not always been clear. In his new book, Free Will in Philosophical Theology, Kevin Timpe takes free will as his central concern to explore theological issues.

Timpe is well suited to write this kind of book. He is a leading force/voice in the contemporary philosophy of free will discussions. He calls his own view of the nature of free will, “source incompatiblism,” and this view is presupposed in this work [an incompatibilist position argues against a deterministic universe composed of a non-free will state of being. - r.e. slater]

Timpe’s goal for the book is to clarify the possible role a particular kind of virtue libertarianism might play in thinking through a range of theological issues that involve free will. He also intends not to affirm anything clearly at odds with the main historical thrust of Christianity [that is, you may expect a classical expression of free will with no open or process theism admitted. However, as a libertarian position it sits as the polar opposite to metaphysical determinism that argues against any kind of free will state or its expression - r.e. slater] .

After an opening chapter and brief discussion on the nature and importance of free will, Timpe looks at the relation between free will and [what he calls] "the good." He argues that an agent’s moral character puts constraints on what actions he or she is capable of freely choosing to perform. When an agent chooses, he/she acts for the sake of some end perceived to be good in some way [a debatable objective but the author here seems to be reinforcing the classical idea of God Himself as the primal source as a moral agent of force, rectitude, and being for "the good." Hence, whatever God is, is that which creaturely freewill will oppose. And man, as formed in God's image, ultimately will choose for "the good" or for "virtue" however deformed or devolved it is from its originating Maker and Presence, as a sinner living in a sinful world. Thus we have the Christian redaction to the Greek idea of "the good" or "virtue" through the lens of all things God. - r.e. slater

And we also have here the beginnings of syllogistic expressions of God in terms of a moral principle or force as versus an evil principle or force as respecting and describing sin. However, as we have cautioned earlier, and stated repeatedly, God is neither a prescribed principle or argument, or metaphysical power or force, but a primal being that who is relational, and who stands in an "I-Thou" relationship to ourselves. That there is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. That the God of Jesus Christ (who is very God Himself Incarnate amongst His creation) is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle, that can be manipulated by human discussion," quoting Emil Brunner. - r.e. slater]

Although recognizing the influence of passions, Timpe argues that passions and emotions do not undermine free will. But they can inhibit the proper expression of freedom. Happily, growth in moral character inclines one to choose the good more often: “An increase in virtue will strengthen the connection between the agent’s passions and the good” (17). [this position reminds one of the Greek position of "virtue." - r.e. slater]

Sin and Salvation

Hamartiology is an important theological issue, especially as it pertains to freedom of the will. Timpe addresses hamartiology in a chapter exploring the primal sin, which is the original – first – sin committed by an agent created by an essentially good God.

The question arises: Why would an agent created as good choose evil? The primal sin, which because it was first was not influenced by previous sins or sinner, is difficult to explain. Timpe argues that voluntarist accounts of the fall are not more problematic that intellectualist accounts. He concludes that there is inexplicability at work in accounting for the primal sin: “It looks then as if a Christian account of primal sin cannot avoid all arbitrariness” (48). [However, this theological position chooses a "creationists" view of the Fall and not an evolutionary position which projects that "sin" as a societal understanding was in a position of nascent development of conscience from beast to man. That is, the conscience of the evolving sentient creature was being formed with greater and greater poignancy between the conscious self and societal members (eusociality) in what was felt to be "sin" and not "sin" as it differed regionally or tribally or by evolving species. The creationist position thus does not account for an evolving conscience but a fully formed one that was at its "height" of development before "devolving" after the Fall. This then is problematic for the evolutionist as conscience is seen in just the opposite state... that of one of evolving instead of being fully formed. As one that is continuing to "evolve" in accordance with evolving eusocial self and societal standards within which "free will" is an expression. - r.e. slater]

Moving from sin to conversion, Timpe takes up the issue of salvation and the divine and creaturely roles therein. His argument in this chapter is that God’s grace is the sole non-instrumental efficient cause of saving faith. But humans control whether they come to saving faith.

In this, Timpe seeks to avoid Pelagianism (the denial of original sin and belief in the freedom of the will to do good by man apart from God), on one hand, and theological determinism (all facts and events exemplify natural laws, or that all events, including human choices and decisions, have sufficient causes), on the other. That is, God’s grace is necessary but not sufficient for saving faith (sic, theological determinism). Timpe hopes also [hopes to] avoid the problems associated with believing God gives grace needed for salvation to only some (e.g., limited election), while also endorsing the belief that grace is the [sole] cause of creatures coming to faith [this latter position will also fit it quite nicely with Thomas Oord's own preferred theologic interpretation of all things God, man, sin and bible known as relational theology. That God does all things as a God of love - from creation to salvation to completion by the expression of His grace and love as a sole motivator, sufficient primary cause, and end objective. A position of which I would chose as well as a relational theist. - r.e. slater]


Two chapters address eschatological issues. The first explores how an individual’s free will affects the condition of that individual in the afterlife. Christianity has historically believed a necessary condition for an individual spending eternity in hell is that individual not choosing to respond correctly to God. A resident of hell does not choose God and is therefore not the kind of person fit for heaven. Persons freely form moral characters in the present life. Negative character formation makes them no longer psychologically capable of accepting God’s offer for reconciliation in the afterlife.

Such persons cannot move from hell to heaven through free choices, argues Timpe, because the person’s moral character becomes set at death. To justify the claim that moral character is set at death, Timpe argues that “whatever reasons one thinks there may be for why it is that death secures the psychological impossibility question, that it does so is established by the Christian tradition” (77).

As far as the redeemed are concerned, Timpe argues they retain freewill in the afterlife and yet are incapable of sinning. This “free but not capable of sinning” proposal may sound puzzling, and Timpe calls it “the problem of heavenly freedom.” Saints do not freely choose to sin when in heaven, he claims, because any temptation to sin suggests that these saints are not in a state of highest bliss. And any place not of highest bliss is not worthy of the name “heaven.” [I take this as a simplistic expression of classical Christian thought but perhaps not the best expression of the eternal state of heaven vs. the improbable state of humanity. - r.e. slater]

Few people destined for heaven, however, have a fully formed character necessary for resisting sin everlastingly. To resolve this problem, Timpe embraces the necessity of purgatory. He is attracted to a sanctification model of purgatory, rather than a punitive/satisfaction model. The sanctification model offers a developmental process whereby human character can be formed fully allowing saints to be free in heaven but unable to sin.

[If purgatory were an option I myself would express it similarly. But as has been stated in earlier articles re "synchronicity," this mortal life is the first, last, and final expression of God's divine grace upon any mortal soul's state of being. That this life in itself - and as it exists or is - is sufficient for God's grace to work itself out in our own lives - however lost or irrecoverable, dissolute or dense. That its extension into a purgatorial state, or hell itself, is unnecessary for God to fully work out His saving grace in this life. That God does not need more time to save are free willed souls. That the mystery is that He has enough time - and all the time He needs - in this life we live now. Not that these eternal states are beyond His grace, but that death is aptly described as a place of fully dying as free will beings, and no longer living. Thus, purgatory or hell are not completing places of salvation but of annihilation as I would read and understand it despite the hopeful projects of God's saving grace beyond the grave.

That it is a most fearful act to reject or disallow God's grace in its fullest achievement in our own lives by our own refusals or dismissals, anger or remorse, disbeliefs or pretensions. And that it's consequences are dire and fixed after death. A state which then lapses into the progressively evolving stages of annihilation till at last what once was created for everlasting fellowship with the eternal God of the universe becomes fully abandoned to self, to others, to creation, and to his/her own God, in four successively completing stages of self annihilation, or spiritual death, by the mortal free will of a being in rejection of God's saving grace.

Hence, hell is not seen as an everlasting state, but as a progressing state towards self annihilation however long that may mean (though I believe time to be both inconsequential and meaningless at this point), in its continuing commitment to rejecting God's grace not only in this life, but in the life to come. Until, at the last, all has died, even very existence itself, in the extinguishing moments of final seal. That our acts in this life are important and do count. And that our crimes here in this life can, and will, predispose us towards death's continuing state of ruin and abandonment from God by our own dark desires and sinful works. That sin does have a judgment to come - and not only for its egresses, harms, and offensives upon others. But that its greatest judgment is its continuing sealing effects upon our hardening our hearts to God's movement in our lives by its rejection of His grace time-and-again. Which very acts then abandon our very selves to sin's ruinous immortalizing death. And that despite our hardening hearts God doth still reach out to us in our final stages of death until He can do so no longer. This is the fullest meaning to human free will - that of its final refusal to its Maker. That it is a will that can reject even its Maker, its primal source of free will, while remaining freed to do so to its own loss, harm, and ruinous end.

However, the grace of God, His power and rule, can come into any situation by rendering any lost heart or dissolute soul unto Himself - even to the point to which we think not by merest request to do so however slight its mumblings or disbelieving hope. That salvation can-and-will-come by this merest hope or prayer - as it ever surrounded us by its presence when we saw it not. That it is a great mercy for any sinful man, woman, or being. And that it comes with the promise and requirement of God's initiating cause of grace unto our souls for its source and presence and inspiration. At the last, it is God's grace that is the primary cause and sole efficient source for man's free will embrace of all things good and inspiring. That God's reach into this singular life that He has given to us does so gravely when knowing of its awful consequences should we so chose against life itself for a death indescribable beyond the meaning and purpose of this life we presently live. That to live life is to live God, His grace, presence, being, and soul, in its goodness and love towards one another. - r.e. slater]

God's Freedom

Timpe closes the book by using his virtue libertarian model to examine the question of God’s own freedom. Despite differences between God and other agents, the considerations for free agents generally apply to God. Timpe addresses those who argue that libertarian accounts of God’s freedom run into conceptual problems if God’s nature is essentially good. As he sees it, a God without moral freedom would not be the greatest conceivable being.

God’s use of freedom differs from creatures in some ways, however. While moral freedom is necessary for creatures to form moral characters, moral freedom is not necessarily for God. God’s moral nature is eternally set, and God is not free to be immoral. God always does what is best despite being free.

In the final section of his chapter on divine freedom, Timpe addresses William Rowe’s work on God’s freedom and choice to create a world. Frankly, this section was the least understandable in what was otherwise a highly readable book. Rowe says that given every possible world, God could have created a better one. Timpe replies that “God could have a reason for picking one from among a set of worlds, even if He could have -- by necessity -- picked a better” (117). Timpe seems to be arguing that God’s perfect nature prevents God from choosing to actualize other possible worlds, and yet God could have chosen otherwise.


The two major areas in which I found Timpe’s proposals unsatisfying pertained to eschatology and divine freedom. I am inclined toward afterlife scenarios in which the damned may eventually be redeemed. This inclination makes me unsatisfied with Timpe’s claim that sinners are psychologically “set” for eternity never to choose God’s gracious offer of redemption. [or, re "annihilation" one who is fully abandoned towards existentless fulfilment as determined by willful choice or moral character in this life. See the topic of "Synchronicity: Purgatory - Yeah or Nay?" in Relevancy22 - r.e. slater]

As far as the state of the saints in the afterlife, I’m attracted to views that allow for growth in grace in heaven (not purgatory). I’m inclined toward proposals that lead to saints developing holy habits inclining them toward righteousness but always allowing for the possibility that even saints may use their freedom wrongly.

The other major area I found unsatisfying may have more to do with my lack of clarity about Timpe’s last chapter (especially his work on Rowe). That is, Timpe’s view of free will seems centered primarily on the “choosing” aspect of libertarianism, or what he calls the “source” of incompatibilism.

I’m inclined to agree on the importance of this choosing aspect, but I also equally emphasize the choices of libertarianism, that is the various options whereby the chooser chooses but could have done otherwise. And this makes me wonder if the God Timpe envisions ever faces genuine options to do otherwise than the one option God’s perfect nature requires. Here our divergent notions of God’s relation to time and omniscience (I’m an open theist) seem to make a difference in how we think about God’s relation to the future and the options (or, apparently in Timpe’s case, option) a necessarily loving God encounters. [here Thomas speaks to both open and process theism of which I would be in great agreement. - r.e. slater]


Although I have different metaphysical commitments than Timpe with regard to God’s relation to time and although by disposition I am less inclined to defend some beliefs in the classic tradition (e.g., purgatory), I often agreed with his proposals. A virtue libertarian with theological motivations like mine and not Timpe’s may have written a little different book. But this book is a strong foray into tackling problems presented free will theists, and it does an admirable job of offering plausible solutions. In sum, this is a strong book on free will in philosophical theology.

* * * * * * * * * *

Conversations with the Damned

Austin Fischer
February 24, 2014

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be responding, directly and indirectly, to some questions and thoughts surrounding the book. In the next couple of posts, I’ll address the (insinuated criticism) that I rejected Calvinism because I didn’t really understand it. I think I rejected Calvinism because I did understand it and I think more young evangelicals would reject it if they did too. I’ll trace this out more in later posts, but here’s a good starting point.

Conversations with the Damned
The decree is dreadful, I confess.” –Calvin, Institutes 3.3.7, 955

My journey out of Calvinism started when I heard whimpering in the basement.

I loved the theological home Calvinism had given me. Smooth, clean lines. Lots of history and detailed architecture. Everything has a place. It put me in my place and God in his place—at the center of the universe. I pictured myself at the great eschatological banquet, enjoying the party and gorging on the food!

But there it was again. A noise coming from the basement.

It was where we Calvinist kept the damned. Following many esteemed teachers, I had told myself they were there because they deserved it and God ordained it for his glory (more on this in later posts). Many people can leave it there, but I’ve always been curious, so even as a good Calvinist, I would peek inside and talk with them.

What I found down there was one hell of a problem, and while it didn’t instantly make me walk away from Calvinism (I’d say Calvinism was my home for around 5 years), it certainly made me lose my appetite for it. I went to Calvin for help and discovered I wasn’t crazy—he himself said God’s ordination of the reprobate to hell was “dreadful.”

To this day, I completely understand why people opt for Calvinism. I just don’t understand how it doesn’t make them a bit nauseous, at least from time to time.

It’s Dreadful

So following Calvin and my own time as a Calvinist, I’d suggest this: if you nuance and euphemism-to-death the doctrine of reprobation to the point that you don’t stand back from it and with Calvin say, “It’s dreadful, it’s terrible”, then you don’t understand it, you don’t get it, you haven’t been honest about it.

In my opinion (and speaking from my own journey and feedback I’ve received on the book), many of the young evangelicals who have signed off on Calvinism have not read the fine print of the reprobate, they haven’t conversed with the damned—they’re too busy enjoying the glory party. They have not faced what awaits them in the basement of their Calvinist home. Their teachers have not been upfront with them. They have not reached the place where they step back and say, “It’s terrible.”

I don’t like telling people what they can and can’t believe, but I’d suggest that if you want to be a faithful, honest, consistent Calvinist, you need to have a thorough conversation with the damned. You need to reach the place where you look at reprobation and say, “It’s terrible.” Before you rejoice in God’s electing mercy towards you, stand before the damned and lose your appetite, if only for a second.

If you can’t do that, then I stand with Calvin:

You really don’t understand Calvinism.

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

* * * * * * * *


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 (www.barna.org). 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.