Review: Generation Ex-Christian

by Mike Duran · 44 comments

Many recent discussions about demographic shifts in religion seem to have an ulterior motive: To bash evangelicals. The reason Millenials are leaving the evangelical Church, they assert, is because the Church is really screwed up. She’s anti-intellectual, moralistic, overly-political, authoritarian, patriarchal, anti-science, etc., etc. As someone who’s fallen away from the Church and returned, been a staff pastor and a Youth leader, raised four Millenialls (now ages 31, 29, 26 and 24, all of whom are fairly healthy Christian church-goers), disbanded the church I pastored and left the ministry, returned (again) to the Church and the ministry (in a lay capacity) and still live to believe the Church is God’s vehicle to reach and keep the world, this trend — both the one to leave the Church and the one to pin all the blame on the Church for those leaving — deeply concerns me.

Which is why I found Drew Dyck’s Generation Ex-Christian so refreshing. It’s part of a stack of books I’m reading as I begin research for my own book on the subject. Through a series of personal interviews, Dyck, editorial manager of the ministry team at Christianity Today International, breaks down these Church “leavers” into six categories:

  • postmodern leavers
  • recoilers
  • modern leavers
  • neo-pagans
  • rebels
  • drifters

Dyck explains,

“These groupings are not meant to be scientifically precise; their value is diagnostic and utilitarian. In other words, they should help you to determine why people abandon the faith, and then sharpen you to reach them.” (p. 139)

That pattern of diagnosis and approach — why are they leaving and how do we reach them — is the framework for the book. Each section focuses on one type of leaver and concludes with a real-life profile and suggestions for how to approach them.

As I mentioned in my intro, the strength of Generation Ex-Christian lies in its willingness to move beyond the overly-simplistic, knee-jerk “evangelicals are the problem” narrative. This does not mean Dyck avoids putting blame on the Church when necessary. “The biggest danger to Christianity is Christians” (pg. 167), he writes, and points out problematical elements of American evangelicalism throughout the book. Nevertheless, he acknowledges

“Some have overstated the case against the church, pinning the full responsibility of the trend on Christian hypocrisy and flawed ministry approaches” (pg. 148).

I have always been deeply suspicious of those who base their rejection of or defection from Christianity almost entirely on some problem with the Church. In reality, there are myriads of internal and external issues, cultural and personal factors, which lead to ones decision to reject the faith of their youth. We can’t blame any one thing. In his section on Recoilers (those who withdraw from faith as a result of spiritual abuse, disappointment with God and/or Christian authority figures),  Dyck writes,

“…it sounds far more legitimate to leave on intellectual grounds than emotional ones. It doesn’t sound very credible to say that you rejected God because somebody hurt you in His name. It’s much more respectable to cite intellectual incredulity. However, many actually leave the faith for emotional reasons and find intellectual reasons to back it up. The head follows the heart.” (p. 52, emphasis mine)

In 25-plus years of ministry, this has been my experience. When you get right down to it, many defections are the cumulative result of emotional pain rather than intellectual persuasion. Researchers whose motive is simply to pan evangelicalism often miss this, or purposely avoid probing. Truth is: Rather than masking their pain with intellectual objections or slogans, many “leavers” need to own up to their own disappointment, unforgiveness, antipathy, and bitterness toward the Church. It’s made me wonder whether the entire “Bash the Church” industry isn’t driven by this deep-seated resentment toward evangelicals and a desire to foment similar resentment in others.

Once again, this doesn’t let the Church off the hook. In his section on Modern Leavers,  Dyck notes the role that shallow, anemic Christianity plays in shaping “leavers”:

“…many young adults have been turned off by people with poor answers to their most vexing questions. …One study on deconversion found that ‘the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in deconversion was in amplifying existing doubts.’ How did Christians manage to ‘amplify existing doubts’? The study found that deconverts reported ‘sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers.’ the outcome was predictable. ‘These answers in turn moved them further away from Christianity.'” (p. 101, emphasis mine)

Having served as a youth pastor, I can attest that one of the most common ‘negative’ faith factors in a young adult’s life is their parents. Of course, there’s no magic formula to raising Christian kids! Nevertheless, no amount of church or youth camps can undo a lifestyle of negative spiritual reinforcement from parental figures.

“A lot of young people look to their parents and say, ‘You don’t know why you believe this stuff. You don’t have any answers.'” (p. 101)

Perhaps parents are more to blame for the exodus of Millenials than is the Church. We are simply passing on our own anemic faith. Compounding this are church youth programs that lack spiritual bite, where the youth pastor is reduced to a dweeb trying to act cool and lessons void of biblical depth:

“Somehow we thought we could water down the message for young people and make it easier for them to swallow, but it turns out that they’re choking on our concoction. They don’t want cute slogans and serenity. They don’t want pizza and video games. They want revolution and dynamism. They want unvarnished truth. They want a cause to live and die for. In other words, they want the true gospel. When we present that gospel, with all its hard demands and radical implications, we’ll finally be speaking the language moral rebels long to hear” (p. 149-150).

Once again, it’s a reminder that “leavers” can’t be pigeon-holed. There are numerous possible factors and relational links to ones deconversion. Thankfully, the reverse is also true:

“A person’s decision to abandon the faith is inextricably tied to a host of human connections. The same is true of the decision to come back.” (p. 184)

Generation Ex-Christian offers many fascinating, important points, far too many to comment on in this one post. For instance, the influence of postmodernism in paving the way for Millenial defection. Dyck relates the story of a man named Mike who graduated from the evangelical school Biola University here in SoCal, only to drift into religious liberalism and join the emergent village. Books like Brian McClaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” pushed enough against the boundaries of orthodoxy and tradition that Mike eventually wandered away from Christianity into an amalgam of Eastern religions. Post-modernism was the philosophical gateway to Mike’s defection.

I also found the section on Neo-Paganism enlightening. The number of Christians who adopt some form of neo-paganism is staggering. For instance, Wicca is now considered “one of the fastest growing religions among high school and college students” (p. 110). Both environmentalism and feminism — huge causes in the religious Left — can serve as draws into neo-paganism:

“Wicca’s focus on a female deity makes it a magnet for those disatisfied with patriarchal religion. Feminists flock to Wicca… ” (p. 111)

Yeah, a lot of ground is covered in the book. Some of it is cursory, even simplistic, which is both a pro and con of Generation Ex-Christian. For instance, in an interview with The Christian Post, Dyck said that he thinks the hardest “leaver” to bring back to Christ is the spiritual rebel. Spiritual rebels aren’t those who have a hard time accepting the divine authority of God; they don’t have intellectual objections. They simply refuse to give up their selfish ways and follow God. So how do we reach the spiritual rebel?

“The difficulty of reaching spiritual rebels underscores the importance of prayer. Prayer is paramount when it comes to reaching anyone who has left the faith, but when it comes to breaking through to those who shake their fists at God, it’s especially important.” (p. 151)

This could seem cliched. Of course you should pray! But it’s also true. There is no formula for reaching spiritual rebels other than being massively sensitive to God’s work in and for them. If I have a complaint about Generation Ex-Christian it’s that it’s a fairly rudimentary treatment of what is a huge subject. In my opinion, the author goes far more into detail diagnosing the condition of “leavers” than discussing how to best reach them. Perhaps this is the way it should be. Lord knows, we don’t need more formulas! Either way, it left me wanting a little bit more.

In light of the fact that 70 percent of youth are estimated to leave church by the time they are twenty-two years old and 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are twenty-nine years old, we need more books like drew Dyck’s Generation Ex-Christian that are willing to take a hard look at the problem without resorting to bashing evangelicalism and giving free passes to “leavers” who rightly deserve some of the blame. Four of five stars for Generation Ex-Christian. I liked it a lot.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Kessie September 10, 2012 at 7:38 AM

“Somehow we thought we could water down the message for young people and make it easier for them to swallow, but it turns out that they’re choking on our concoction. They don’t want cute slogans and serenity. They don’t want pizza and video games. They want revolution and dynamism. They want unvarnished truth. They want a cause to live and die for. In other words, they want the true gospel. When we present that gospel, with all its hard demands and radical implications, we’ll finally be speaking the language moral rebels long to hear”

This really resonated with me as a moral rebel. If kids can get caught up in political movements and protests and support parades, no wonder they abandon the Bible as namby-pamby! But the Bible’s anything but. To be a real Bible-following Christian, you have to rebel against every aspect of our society.

This sounds like a book I might need to read. :-)

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Jessica Thomas September 10, 2012 at 9:10 AM

The parent in me needed to hear this part.

Well, and they get caught up in those movements because people need a “cause”. They need the meaning the cause gives them, even if that meaning is only temporary. The cause (idol) is a substitute Jesus…environmentalism, feminism, the list is endless.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 9:43 AM

Kessie and Jessica, one of the chapters under the Rebels section is entitled “Rebels Needing a Cause.” The author suggests that at the heart of the moral rebel is often a deep hunger for “revolution and dynamism,” something that youth groups often exchange for sloganeering and chumming it up. Alternately, the radical demands of the Gospel are exactly what some rebels, deep down inside, yearn for.

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Barb September 10, 2012 at 7:41 AM

I read Drew Dyck’s book too and loved it. It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read for helping me understand why people leave the faith. Plus very helpful for knowing how to respond to them. I highly recommend it!

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Barb September 10, 2012 at 7:43 AM

I should also say that in talking to people who leave the faith, one of the things that bugs them the most is when people do the quick 5 minute apologetics “this is why you’re crazy for believing the way you do” thing. This book encourages believers not to do that!

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Bobby September 10, 2012 at 8:15 AM

I’ll tell you someone who can get “spiritual rebels” into church: Mark Driscoll. Why? The guy knows something that 99% of the American Evangelical Church doesn’t: sometimes people, especially hard-headed men, need to be punched in the nose. That’s why his church is full of young men, the least likely demographic to be caught inside church walls. Now, I’m not a Driscoll cheerleader, but when I read that last part about rebels, my mind went to him.

Anyway, you’ve opened about twelve different topics here Mike ?. I agree in that often folks overstate the case against the church. They do so, as you pointed out, for emotional reasons. Ravi Zacharias, an apologist, claims this quite a bit, and I’d wager a teeny-tiny few people (if any) solely leave the church or hate the church because of intellectual reasons.

There are few people who can hold the balance between criticizing the church yet realizing it’s the hope for the world (with Christ as our Pastor, of course).

And the Emergent Church is nothing more than the new religious left. I’ve read books from McLaren and Tony Jones, read Jones’ blog occasionally, listen to podcasts, etc. Mike, you mentioned Jones’ challenge to write about God, and the tepid response. You need no further proof than that.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 9:49 AM

Bobby, I’m with you on Driscoll. I’m not a huge fan, but I think his in-your-face antics could serve an important purpose. It’s also probably why he’s gotten tons of flak from the religious Left. Also, my suspicion of the postmodern, emergent church, continues to grow. That testimony about the guy who openly states that the emergent church paved the way for his apostasy confirms many of my fears about the movement.

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Bobby September 10, 2012 at 1:07 PM

Agreed. Driscoll can be just as frustrating as he is inspiring. One part is the antithesis of the other.

And yes, he is the walking, talking embodiment of everything the Left hates. He is their Darth Vader.

Regarding the Emergent folks, you don’t want to simply dismiss them too quickly. Scot McKnight is right in that they do have a contribution to make as far as critiquing the church, but the problem is they stop there. They just keep criticizing. They have (and admit themselves) no answers or solutions. Thus, their revolution falls right on its face. Sure, you can attack Christianity’s short comings until the world ends, but it doesn’t fix problems in your life. Thus the reason the Left never converts anyone. They never lead anyone anywhere.

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Nike Chillemi September 13, 2012 at 10:11 AM

I’m quite sure I fall into the category of criticizing the church while realizing it’s the hope for the world (with Christ as Pastor, of course).

I’m afraid I don’t have any good answers when people have difficult questions or doubts. I’m really lousy at that. Sometimes I struggle with my own difficult questions or doubts.

I just tell stories about people like me, and maybe like you.

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Jim Hamlett September 10, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Mike,
This is a real problem. (I’ll definitely be checking out Dyck’s book.)

I’m working on an interactive ebook that comes at this problem from a different angle. The working title so far is “Why Your Christian Life Sucks.” I’d love to get some input from you or any of your readers. (jim@jimhamlett.com) Many thanks.

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Jill September 10, 2012 at 9:20 AM

I’m not sure that categorizing and defining people is really helpful, and I’m also not certain about dividing people along generational lines. Although if you do want to talk about “millennials”, I’ll gave you my take on what’s not helpful: being reactionary. So many of our churches have gone into reactionary stances against the predominant culture, and this comes across as judgemental and cruel. I won’t set foot in certain denominations because of this–namely, anything Reformed or Baptist. Reformed Baptist is my idea of a personal nightmare. I’m much more comfortable with the stoic and intellectual, live-and-let-live (when it’s not a 1st-tier issue) stance of Lutherans. I don’t agree with all Lutheran doctrine, but I feel welcome there because of their attitude.

Here is a classic example of what I mean by being overly reactionary: Young woman gets pregnant in high school and is ostracized by her Baptist church. Several years later, she shows up again with a husband, living what appears to be a moral lifestyle, and desiring to be accepted by the people who rejected her. She is very vulnerable. She is like fragile porcelain, and she wears it on her face. She tests the people. I watch her test them. When she applies to be a nursery worker, I’m on the committee, and I insist they need to hire her because she’s asking to be accepted by them. They refuse because they don’t like her. They fail every test she gives them, and she leaves hurt, yet again, never to come back.

I really hate the reactionary attitude. I hate it. I have good friends who are Baptists, but the attitude of the churches is so repellant I will never go back. I don’t, however, have any friends who are Reformed because the attitude of Reformed churches seems to be like a bitter root that reaches deep inside the individual people. Prove me wrong.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 9:58 AM

Jill, don’t you think you’re doing the same thing you criticize — “categorizing and defining people”? In this case, denominations. Denouncing entire movements based on your personal experience is flawed. That’s the same thing many “leavers” do — they have a bad experience in a church and they grow up condemning the whole Church. Don’t you think?

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Except that categorising people with terms you’ve coined yourself is different from discerning characteristics in a pre-existing taxon that people willingly apply to themselves.

I am a Mennonite. If you look at me and say “well, Mennonites tend to be too accepting of sin” then that’s something you’ve arrived at by analysing the Mennonite position and comparing it with your worldview. And we can discuss that. I have placed myself in this taxon willingly. If I cannot defend that, then perhaps I need to reconsider it.

But if you look at me and say “she’s a bleeding-heart heffalump” because you’re trying to be pithy and write an pseudoanthropological treatise, that’s another. I did not willingly place myself in this category; you did. I don’t even know or understand the parameters of this “category” you made up.

Those are two very different things. One is deductive reasoning, the other is inductive reasoning.

Whenever you are trying to discern motives or operations for another person, it’s best to use deductive reasoning. Start with the taxon they willingly claim and analyse the existing characteristics established as the parameters of the taxon.
Suzymae says she a Sneetch.
Sneetches believe in Zorflap and Gumphing. Suzymae believes in Zorflap but not Gumphing, so is Suzymae a Sneetch?

When you use inductive reasoning to categorise a person you are NOT honouring the individual’s primacy. You are not respecting them as a person with automous decision-making powers, goals and actions. You are treating people as specimens and possibly altering the information about them in order to induce them into a category you’ve created.

Jill did not create the religious category of “Reformed”. It has existed for hundreds of years. My personal interaction with Reformed people–including many of those who post here–leads me to believe that they are rigid and unaccepting and dismissive. Reformed people of course are free to argue with me. But THEY CHOSE THEIR POSITION. I didn’t make up a category called “Blabbertyflurbets” and say “you, you, and you are a blabbertyflurbet because I see you behave this way and I have decided all people who behave that way are blabbertyflurbets.”

We all make assumptions about others, and we all have preconceptions. That is unavoidable when people’s brains have finite capacities for information intake and storage. But the least we can do is respect other people by allowing them to set their own personal definitions.

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Jill September 10, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Katherine already beat me to the punch on labels. This guy came up with his own labels for nonbelievers. The labels I used are widely accepted by the believers that follow those positions.

Are you honestly telling me that I can’t learn from my experiences? Do you think human experience and emotion are invalid in argumentation, even regarding spirituality? For the record, I don’t say what I say based off of one bad experience. I make my judgements after a lifetime of exposure to Baptists, as well as reading their doctrines. The same is true of my judgements of Reformed believers. I have read enough of Calvin to make me ill, and heard enough of his modern followers to know I don’t want to be part of it.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 2:09 PM

As the author wrote, “These groupings are not meant to be scientifically precise; their value is diagnostic and utilitarian.” I have no problem with that approach. Of course people don’t fit tightly in any category.

“Are you honestly telling me that I can’t learn from my experiences?” Absolutely not. But experience is limited by lots of things, the least of which is our own troubled heart.

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Jill September 10, 2012 at 4:00 PM

My experience is NOT limited by my troubled heart. Being somebody who doesn’t get upset easily, I would immediately trust my troubled heart, or at least ask why it’s troubled. A troubled heart for anybody, though, is a sign of trouble.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 4:30 PM

“Sinful heart” would have been a better term. Our experiences are tainted by sin, immaturity, etc.

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 6:06 PM

This sounds like you’re discounting personal experience as invalid.

“no, Jesus. God doesn’t forsake people. Your troubled heart is tainting your outlook.”

Like it or not, the Church trafficks in emotion. Its business is the heart. So when you have believers who have sadly collected multiple data points for a faction of the Church and that faction’s attitude toward the heart, I would hope we wouldn’t write it off as unimportant.

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Mike Duran September 11, 2012 at 4:58 AM

No. I’m not discounting personal experience at all. Just saying that it’s subject to many factors that can influence and limit it.

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Jim Hamlett September 10, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Jill, I agree with Mike. While I understand the sentiment of your remark, it smacks of the pot calling the kettle black, and a wee bit reactionary.

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Jill September 10, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Read my response above. I base my spiritual decisions off a lifetime of experience and study. And I’m using THEIR labels, not making up my own. If reactionary means leaving certain denominations and joining another, then I guess your claim is justified. I don’t exactly view that as reactionary. If I were being reactionary, I would picket them or actively seek to change their doctrines.

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Mike, I need to be honest with you (as I always am) and forthright. I need to tell you right now that I utterly despise your use of the term “bash the church”. I understand you have a deep heart for the Organised Sunday Church and a desire to see it return to the cultural significance it held in generations past.

But when you use the term “Bash the church” it automatically puts you in a position of dismissiveness to ANYBODY who has left/is leaving the OSC apparti. Every time I read you use this term I see red and my blood boils. Because while I haven’t left the OSC I have strong feelings about it and its relevance in current society. Yet I feel that any opposition I raise–or others who post here have raised–is ‘pre-dismissed’ by your stance.

You start out with your dukes up. I as a reader feel mocked every time I see it. Yes, you can point me to the 1001 places where you’ve said we’re too soft and need to not mind being offended. I would then say “why do you seem so very offended by any opposition to the OSC?”

I’m especially bothered now that you’ve admitted that YOU got to leave the church and figure things out and come back–all in your own time and at your own leisure–but you won’t show anyone else the same courtesy. “Now that I’ve crossed the finish line, every single one of you–even those who started the marathon decades after me–better get here now or else I’m gonna call you slowpoke losers.” That’s how I perceive it EVERY TIME YOU SAY “BASH THE CHURCH”.

I know you are planning on writing a book, and that’s why I’m telling you this openly, in the early days. Because when that book comes out, if it uses the term “Bash the church” I’ll tell you right now it may sell copies but it’ll be divisive and won’t make you look like an elder statesman. The people who buy it will be the people who are in the OSC and feel hurt about the criticism the OSC receives. They’ll read it to nod along. Few minds if any will be changed. At least in the direction you hope.

I implore you to find a less emotionally-charged term for what you’re describing.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Thanks for sharing this, Katherine. I like to use that term precisely because it does strike ire. And I think it accurately reflects what many do. Would you agree with me that there is a movement afoot to degrade, mock, dismiss, and demoralize the evangelical church? This may be our big point of contention, I dunno. I believe there is a Movement full of disgruntled evangelicals who do just that. In fact, throughout this post I have made clear that the Church has many problems and it should be held liable. So I don’t think I’m being a blind cheerleader for OSM. I understand there are many reasons why people leave the Church and they need grace and time; I also get what you’re saying about tone (my agent reminds me of this a lot). Nevertheless, I can’t apologize for my sometimes strident tone. I’m really not attempting to “look like an elder statesman.” I just think there’s way too many people, like the author of this book points out, who must come to grips with other factors in their leaving, some of them their own pain and stubbornness and unforgiveness. They can’t keep falling back on the “The Church is out of step, irrelevant, and full of hypocrites” line. Once again, I appreciate you sharing your heart on this.

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Mike Duran September 11, 2012 at 5:38 AM

Katherine, in re-reading your comment, I also felt I should clarify something else. You wrote, ” I understand you have a deep heart for the Organised Sunday Church and a desire to see it return to the cultural significance it held in generations past.”

When I was in the ministry, we actively attempted to adopt a Cell Church model. Cell Churches eschew the Sunday AM programmatic format in favor of de-centralized ministry, i.e., a body built around corporate leadership rather than a single, celebrity-type pastor so typical of many mega-churches. I still value this model, think it’s biblical, and have taught and expounded upon it wherever and whenever I’m privileged. All that to say, I have a deep heart for the Church, not the “Organised Sunday Church.” There’s a huge difference. I think most of the criticism / reaction against the Church comes at the level of the OSC. My feeling is that if we come to understand and appreciate the Body of Christ as a whole, we’ll be more tolerant and less offended by cultural expressions of it.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Katherine, not sure I follow everything you’re saying. When someone says “Mennonites are angry and argumentative and way too liberal” based entirely off their experience w/ or w/in a specific Mennonite body or family, you’re saying their personal definition is valid?

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 12:51 PM

Everyone’s personal definition is valid in so far that it is an expression of their experience, and everyone’s experience is valid to him or her.

I’m saying that at least you are respecting the autonomy of the other person by defining them by the choice THEY MADE.

If you hate Mennonites because you were horsewhipped by a Mennonite, that’s valid. You’re still respecting me by allowing me to set the terms by which I am identified.

It’s my job to then convince you of why your opinion of Mennonites may not have included all there is to be known about them.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 3:08 PM

“It’s my job to then convince you of why your opinion of Mennonites may not have included all there is to be known about them.”

Yes! Just swap the word “Christians” or “the Church” for Mennonites and we’re in total agreement.

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Luther Wesley September 10, 2012 at 12:46 PM

I am Reformed, I interact both online and in the RL, and while there are some that are unaccepting it is not true as a whole.

Rigidity in doctrinal essentials? I should hope so as christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc are important aspects of Christian life. Are those in the Reformed camp to be considered dismissive because they do not accept every new fad that sweeps the Church? If so, so be it.

As to the OP, people often leave the church because they have no foundation, no cause to live for within the church, and, in view of the first point- have never been discipled or discipled others.

Good Article and I look forward to getting the book.

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C.L. Dyck September 13, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Hey, Luther. Hope all’s going great at Living’n’Grace. :)

“Are those in the Reformed camp to be considered dismissive because they do not accept every new fad that sweeps the Church? If so, so be it.”

No, I don’t think it’s that. The times I’ve had clashes with Reformed folk online (or even with certain friends), the problem arises from differing epistemics…or, not really, but different application of them.

What I value about the Reformed perspective is its emphasis on the knowability of truth, and of God Himself.

The problems arise when differing perspectives are dismissed with an “I have the truth” complacency, rather than engaging for mutual edification. I mean, I’ve had my blogging referenced in casual mocking fashion by total strangers who are Calvinist. Turned out to be nice enough as people, when confronted with their attitude, but the default attitude is a problem. It goes beyond the bounds of the doctrinal foundation of the knowable and slips into the realm of pride.

OTOH two of my best friends are Reformed, and total theology buffs. Sometimes a few sparks fly, but the conversations are also fascinating and enlightening. I’m more of a non-Reformed person after being pushed by my TULIP-loving buddy, and less of an Arminian. (He and I would both agree that 3.5 points does not a Calvinist make, though mine are different than the usual 3.5.)

I agree with you that biblical discipleship–heart-focused discipleship with a good doctrinal foundation, as opposed to one or the other–is rare, and probably has a lot to do with the current state of the church. Mike’s family life is testimony to the value of good discipleship relationships, parent-to-child.

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Bobby September 10, 2012 at 1:26 PM

A lot of the problem with Reformed folks (I lean Reformed in my theology, btw) is that the focus is placed on intellectualism. Reformers scour the Bible for correct theology and see such meaty doctrines as pre-destination and the Sovereignty of God in an age of flimsy theology and aesthetics, and it can be a boon for a lot of people to see the BIG GOD that Reformed theology offers (I include myself here).

But Reformers strength of focusing on Scripture is also a weakness in two principal ways:

1. Reformers love their weighty theology so much that it becomes the sole focus of their walk with God. If you don’t agree with every minute detail, you’re wrong. If you describe doctrine in a way the person deems incorrect, you may even be a heretic. Love takes a backseat to correct doctrine. It’s tricky because yes, correct theology is needed. But I believe Paul had something to say about correct beliefs without love…

2. The intellectualism creates intended and un-intended side effects. I’ve watched Reformers on the Bible campus I work at treat other students as second-class Christians because they don’t ascribe to predestination. Charismatics and Pentecostals are seen with, at best, suspicion and, at worst, derision because things like speaking in tongues and supernatural healing aren’t in the intellect. Arrogance creeps in as Reformers are convinced their theology is the best theology.

That said, there are lots of Reformers (me among them) who appreciate the meaty theology but prefer to hang out with all kinds of Christians, not just an elite Boys’ Club of those who read copious amounts of Spurgeon and Edwards.

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 1:40 PM

You’ve done a good job of explaining without rancor what I see as the drawback to Reformed believers’ approach.

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Katherine Coble September 10, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Correction: SOME Reformed believers’ approach.

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Bobby September 10, 2012 at 8:31 PM

I know what you meant.

And if I may, this is part of the problem. Once the criticisms toward a group surface, the group grows immediately defensive. People pick sides like soldiers and start firing volleys of rhetoric at each other.

I say this because I’ve seen my defensiveness for a group I commonly find myself in agreement with (Reformers) and I often must remind myself that any individual, group or movement has its strengths and weaknesses.

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J.S. Clark September 10, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Sounds like a pretty good book. I actually found myself zipping past your “emphasized parts” and wanting to read the whole piece. Haha. That’s not a slam on you, just the book sounds pretty good.

My two cents. I wonder if the question of why people leave the church is not backwards or irrelevent. Yeshua at several points in his ministry looked back saw a bunch of people following him and said something hard to thin the crowd. Are two many people leaving the church, or are too many people being tricked into it? Is it a problem of a 90% christian nation dwindling from the churchs which seem to have little sign of their presence in the nation? Or should the question be let the church find the way that it shines the brightest, and let those come who God calls and let those leave whom God has not called?

That’s not to say we should not CARE who leaves. Yeshua was grieved but he did not try to stop the rich young ruler from leaving. But, I see in many of these “interrelated problems” the seed of fear. Why do give trite answers to hard questions? Because we don’t believe God can handle the question, or because we have not sought the question for ourselves and are afraid of the answer? Why do we grasp to hold people in? Because we’re afraid either for them (and what good has it done?) or we’re afraid of the choices that are being asked of us. Don’t look or we might find our faith is just in a man behind the curtain.

I wonder if we were less fearful, as if God was not the one who gives the increase, live as if Yeshua really will not “lose” any the Father has placed in his sheepfold . . . if maybe the problem wouldn’t disappear because we’d be less fumbly desperate to keep people; less uptight about which of our brothers or sisters is to blame for the exodus; and also a brighter shining church because we’d retained less people who weren’t actually there because they were called?

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J.S. Clark September 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM

Addendum: That seemed incoherent. “The book sounds great . . . who cares why people are leaving?”

Clarification: The Why is important because it can highlight weaknesses, which part of truth are we not living. Loving? Liberty? Etc. It’s a diagnostic tool to say what sickness we’re looking at. But we shouldn’t guide our “marketing” by whether people are leaving or staying. Look for the weakness that says we’re not doing God’s work, not the weakness that says our marketing needs retooling. God does not need a 2.0, we just need to find out where our glitches are.

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Jessica Thomas September 10, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Putting in my 2 cents.

The “bash the church” phrase doesn’t bother me so much, maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the church so I had nothing to walk away from.

I think “Sunday church” can pretty much be boiled down to “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 . It means, coming together as a group, teaching, learning, supporting one another, sharing meals, sharing communion, praying…

“Sunday church” (teaching, fellowship) is one part of the Christian walk. Reading the Bible is another part. Prayer (in isolation) is another, etc., etc.

If a Christian comes up to me and says, “I can’t pray (in isolation). I just can’t, because…” I’m not going to tell them…”prayer is not important” in order to make them feel better about not praying. I’m going to say, “God tells us to pray. We need to pray. I understand why you have trouble doing so, given the hurt you’ve experienced. But, ultimately, by not praying, you are missing out on one of God’s important gifts.”

When someone says, they cannot find a group of Christians to fellowship and study with, whether it be on Sunday morning, Friday night, or Saturday afternoon, that’s an important spiritual issue. Study and fellowship is just a *part* of the Christian walk, like I said, but without it, the individual is severely missing out. It’s not something to pooh-pooh.

Last thought (question really, to clarify), is your book going address “bashing the church” or “bashing the Church”? Big difference there, I think, because church is man-made and God allows us to be creative in the ways that we fellowship, teach, and learn.

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Mike Duran September 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM

Jessica, to be honest with you, at this stage the book is still embryonic. I have to finish my current project before I get too involved in that. But at this stage, I’m thinking more memoir-ish, more narrative, than sociological or didactic.

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Jessica Thomas September 10, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Just more food for thought then. You definitely got me thinking.

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Jessica Thomas September 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Well, sorry, I see now that you are capitalizing Church.

Let me clarify what I mean by “Church”: To me the Church is something only God can truly quantify. They are the true followers of Jesus (true in heart), which only God himself can number because only He knows the human heart.

You can go into many churches and have no encounter with the true Church. To me, this is what people are leaving, and I understand why. They’ve never seen or experienced fellowship the way God intended. If they had, they’d have to be an *extreme* rebel to walk away from it.

When a Christian goes day after day in isolation, without encountering the Church, that’s when there’s a problem, and that’s when we need to be honest with our brothers and sisters in Christ and say…”Hey, as much as you might not want to admit it, you need the Church.”

You may be lumping some of the manmade constraints into your capital “C” church, not quite sure. The lines seem a little blurred to me anyway.

Sorry for all the church/Church. Wish there was a better way to articulate it.

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Luther Wesley September 10, 2012 at 4:24 PM

The heart is desparetly wicked and deceitful above all things…so even a troubled heart is not the rule of faith nor the decider of proper doctrine.

I have seen the use of ” their doctrine ” as a perjorative without any specific doctrines being attested to. What article of faith, creed, or confession excludes anyone from the faith ?

That the Church is full of tares and these tares have in some areas apparently overgrown the wheat, is not evidence of a lack of wheat.

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Jill September 10, 2012 at 7:36 PM

I don’t dispute others’ faith, nor do I create doctrine off my troubled heart. I make decisions about leaving a church or joining one based off life experiences, which encompass everything from studying scripture to interacting with people. Some experiences involve *gasp* processing emotions. Yes, emotions and instincts were given to us by God to aid us in decision making. And they really have nothing to do with a “troubled heart” anyway, since emotions and instincts are processed in the mind.

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Caleb Breakey September 10, 2012 at 8:31 PM

Great review, Mike. May God give all of us wisdom, grace, and a passion to live as though our Savior ROCKS. If Christ died for her, the least we can do is love her with all that we are.

Caleb
Following Jesus Without Leaving the Church (Harvest House, Fall 2013)

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Mike Duran September 11, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Looking forward to your book, Caleb. Please keep me up on the details as you go.

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) September 12, 2012 at 2:43 PM

If it isn’t God, I have no idea why any church keeps on going. The stats quoted indicate that everybody leaves the church, yet organized and unorganized churches still exist. Maybe a better question is Why do people stay in a church with so much wrong with it (ie. people)?

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