Faith for Exiles | Book Review


Many Christians in America feel alienated from their culture. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock explain why when they describe changes happening in North America and elsewhere as a transition from “from faith at the center to faith at the margins.” Moving from the cultural center to the cultural margin is a profoundly disconcerting experience.

No wonder, then, that so many of us look to Biblical stories about the Babylonian exile to formulate our response to an increasingly post-Christian America. This includes Kinnaman and Matlock, whose new book is titled, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. Kinnaman is president of Barna Group, a leading research company; Matlock is principal of WisdomWorks, a leadership consulting firm.

According to them, digital Babylon describes America’s “accelerated, complex culture that is marked by phenomenal access, profound alienation, and a crisis of authority.” This definition draws on Kinnaman’s earlier book, You Lost Me, as well as subsequent Barna research. The earlier book asked why young adults raised in church were leaving the faith. Faith in Exile asks why they’re staying.

Kinnaman and Matlock focus on the experience of young Americans, ages 18 to 29, who grew up Christian. They offer a fourfold typology of these young adults:

  • Prodigals “do not currently identify as Christian” (22 percent of total);
  • Nomads “identify as Christian but have not attended church during the past month” (30 percent);
  • Habitual Churchgoers “describe themselves as Christian and…have attended church at least once in the past month, yet do not meet foundational core beliefs or behaviors associated with being an intentional, engaged disciple” (38 percent); and
  • Resilient Disciples are “Christ followers who (1) attend church at least monthly and engage with their church more than just attending worship services; (2) trust firmly in the authority of the Bible; (3) are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised form the dead to conquer sin and death; and (4) express desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith.”

The authors believe that the goal of a church’s discipleship ministry today is “to develop Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit.” In other words, the goal is to develop resilient disciples.

Faith in Exiles drills down on the quantitative and qualitative data that underlies Barna’s research and identifies five practices that characterize resilient disciples. They are:

  1. To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.
  2. Ina complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
  3. When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationship.
  4. To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
  5. Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission.

Though the five practices emerged from Barna’s research, Kinnaman and Matlock show they are consistent with Scripture and illustrate them with anecdotes from everyday life.

As a parent and as a Christian minister, these five practices resonate with my own experiences and goals. One of the tendencies I have noticed among my fellow Christians is a tendency to retreat behind the barriers of safe, institutional Christianity. Somewhat ironically, the most vibrant, effective Christians I know resist this tendency. They are “in” the world, but not “of” it, to borrow language from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17:16, 18. If our children or church members never venture beyond the four walls of the Church, they will never develop the spiritual, intellectual, and missional muscles that Christ exercised and expects His followers to develop.

So, who should read this book? Pastors and other church leaders, of course, who are charged by Jesus Christ to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). I also think Christian parents could benefit from reading the book, however. I know I have.

Book Reviewed
David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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The Reluctant Witness | Book Review


“There is something delightful about spiritual conversations,” writes Don Everts in The Reluctant Witness. Scripture seems to agree. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15) is the way Paul puts it, quoting Isaiah 52:7. Can anyone not smile in response to a friend saying, “I have good news”? I doubt it.

And yet, spiritual conversations strike many Christians as “pesky, painful, awkward things,” as Everts puts it. He defines a spiritual conversation as “any conversation about spiritual or faith matters (including doubts) with anyone.” That broad definition includes, but is not limited to, evangelistic conversations. It is those conversations that many find pesky, painful and awkward.

In The Reluctant Witness, Everts considers why this might be the case and shows how spiritual conversations, including evangelism, can be more authentic. The book is based on research conducted by the Barna Group in cooperation with Lutheran Hour Ministries, which Everts serves as content manager. It is the first of three collaborative projects focused on “how Americans are expressing their faith.”

So, why aren’t Christians engaging in spiritual conversations? Everts points to “the silencing effect of fear,” specifically, the fear of giving offense. “Our culture is increasingly secular (less and less colored by our Christian heritage) and more and more relativistic (looking down on exclusive truth claims),” he writes. “In this postmodern context, the idea of attempting to convert someone else to your own faith is seen as religiously extreme by most Americans.”

More is going on than just fear, however. Christians also don’t engage in spiritual conversations because they subscribe to a number of myths about them. Spiritual conversations, so the story goes:

  1. take place in special places, during special moments, by special people;
  2. are serious and sober events;
  3. require that the Christian be able to give the right answers;
  4. involve conflict, which ruins everything;
  5. are burdensome duties that are, in the end, painful and regrettable.

If that’s what evangelism requires, it’s no surprise that the average American Christian chooses to be a “reluctant witness,” in the words of the book’s title.

Here’s the crucial point, however: Neither spiritual conversations generally nor evangelistic ones specifically have to live down to the myths. There is a better way to talk about spirituality and share the Christian faith.

“Eager conversationalists,” as Everts calls them, practice four habits on a regular basis. First, they “look for and expect spiritual conversations in everyday life.” They look for “God moments,” in other words, defined as “a moment when we see God actively at work in the people around and sense God is opening a door for us to be a part of his work in their life.”

Second, they “pursue and initiate spiritual conversations.” Everts denies that this means “awkwardly inserting Christian non sequiturs into conversations,” giving this example: “Speaking of your new car, if you were hit by a bus tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” It’s a good question, but a canned one, one that feels inorganic and unauthentic. Instead of making hard, awkward transitions like that, eager conversationalists explore “tentative, hopeful moments in a conversation,” such as when people begin to ruminate about larger issues and deeper feelings.

Interestingly, these conversations are impactful. Thirty-five percent of “all adults in America claim they have personally made a ‘big change’ in their life because of a conversation about faith,” according to Everts. Fear silences, but genuine spiritual conversations help people change.

Third, eager conversationalists are “open to sharing their faith in a wide variety of ways.” This openness takes into account whether our conversation partners’ spiritual posture is “unreceptive,” “receptive,” or “seeking.” In turn, our “prayerful response” to them seeks to “gain a hearing,” “give good news,” or “guide toward faith,” respectively. Depending on the relationship dynamic, our conversation may take one of six forms: “chat,” “relate,” “share,” “connect,” “explore,” or “clarify.” Lutheran Hour Ministries calls this dynamic the “Spiritual Conversation Curve.” (See figure below.)

Finally, eager conversationalists “gently push through the awkward moments” in spiritual conversations. The deeper a conversation goes, the more likely “tension or conflict” will surface. It is tempting to bail on spiritual conversations (or on any other deep conversation) when this happens. As Beau Crosetto has pointed out, “right after some of the initial tension is released, some kind of breakthrough comes, whether in the other person, in us or in the conversation.” So, keep talking!

The Reluctant Witness is a short book that can be read in a single sitting. But Everts uses words wisely, quickly and memorably addressing why Christians don’t engage in spiritual conversations more and how they can do so better. Its advice is data-driven, Bible-grounded and road-tested, and well worth reading if you’re a pastor or church leader, or just a Christian interested in better sharing your faith.

Book Reviewed
Don Everts, The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

The Challenge of Sharing Faith in America Today | Influence Podcast


“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong,” reads the headline of a storyabout a new report from Barna Group. Titled Reviving Evangelism, that report details the erosion of support for evangelism among next-generation Christians. In Episode 169 of the Influence Podcast, I’ll be talking about this report with David Kinnaman.

David is president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including Good Faith,You Lost Me, and unChristian. He and his wife live in California with their three children.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted form InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Understanding Generation Z | Influence Podcast


Over at InfluenceMagazine.com, I interview David Kinnaman of Barna Group about its new report, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation. In my opinion, this is an excellent report for pastors–especially youth and KidMin pastors–and parents who want to understand the water in which their Gen Z kids swim.

You can follow Barna Group on Facebook and Twitter. I always find its research to be thought-provoking and helpful.

Episode 125 Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction of podcast topic
  • 00:32 MEGA Sports Camp ad copy
  • 01:10 Welcome to David Kinnaman
  • 01:47 Why pastors and other church leaders should pay attention to generational research
  • 04:00 Demographics of Generation Z
  • 07:18 Big themes of Barna’s Gen Z report
  • 12:10 Nominal Christianity vs. biblical worldview
  • 15:51 Diversity of race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality
  • 21:22 Materialistic values
  • 25:04 Best practices for ministry to Generation Z
  • 27:55 Gen Z and Barna Trends 2018
  • 29:04 Conclusion

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey gives sound advice to church leaders who are hiring new staff. “When hiring personnel, consider more than just their obvious talents, ” he writes. “Look at some of the intangibles that a person won’t acquire through training alone.”
  • Kristi Northup makes a Pentecostal case for diversity. “I am all for fair legislation and pursuing justice through the legal system, but racial and ethnic divisions are as deeply rooted as original sin can get. The issue is massive. It is everywhere, on every continent and in every nation. Only a Holy Spirit visitation can heal us of this deep wound.”
  • We note a Barna study about Americans’ practice of prayer. “Nearly 8 in 10 American adults (79 percent) surveyed said they had prayed at least once in the past three months, Barna said. Of those who pray, a vast majority are most likely to do so alone (94 percent) and silently (82 percent).”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘The Tech-Wise Family’ by Andy Crouch


The first computer I ever owned was an Apple Macintosh Classic II. Released in October 1991, my Mac Classic boasted a 16 megahertz CPU, 2 megabytes of RAM and 40 megabytes of memory — 80 if you splurged. It weighed 16 pounds. I felt privileged as a graduate student to have such computing power on my desk. Some of my peers had to make do with word processors or, even worse, typewriters.

Today, my iPhone 6SE weighs 4 ounces, has a 1.85 gigahertz CPU, 2 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of memory. It wakes me up in the morning, tracks my diet and exercise progress, and handles all my emails, texts and social media. It takes pictures, shoots video and streams movies, TV shows and music on demand. It stores books and magazines that I read, including the Bible. When my kids get bored — or, to be honest, when I get tired of paying attention to them — it entertains them.

My Mac Classic was a tool. My iPhone is (almost) my life. And that’s a problem.

All of us know how useful technology is. We can do things with it that we cannot do without it. In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch points out what many of us fail to see as we use technology, namely, that it is changing us and our families, and not always for the better.

To understand his point, think of what technology is and what families are for.

First, according to Crouch, the defining characteristic of technology is that it is “easy everywhere.” Think of your smartphone. It is easy to use (my 3-year-old has it figured out) and it can be taken everywhere. Twenty-six years ago, I had a phone (landline, not mobile), a camera, a video camera, cassette tapes, a boom box, a TV, videocassettes, a VHS player, boxes of books, stacks of magazines and a computer. Together, they filled a small room and weighed several hundred pounds. Now all those things are accessible on a four-ounce device that fits in my pocket.

Second, although families have many purposes, Crouch suggests that its key purpose is “the forming of persons.” This has less to do with “being” (what we are) than “becoming” (who we can be). Becoming a person is a matter of virtue formation, and Crouch focuses on two virtues in particular: “wisdom and courage.” Wisdom, he writes, is “knowing, in a tremendously complex world, what the right thing to do is — what will be most honoring of our Creator and our fellow creatures.” Courage is “the conviction and character to act.” Forming these virtues requires loving relationships: “If you don’t have people in your life who know you and love you in that radical way, it is very, very unlikely you will develop either wisdom or courage.”

Anyone with a family knows that long-term, emotionally intimate relationships are the exact opposite of easy everywhere. The phrase, “There’s an app for that,” applies to many routine tasks, but not to cultivating intimacy with your spouse, rearing your children to be responsible adults, contributing to the wellbeing of society or leaving a legacy for your descendants. These require hard work at specific times and in specific places. Technology and family, in other words, point in different directions.

The question Crouch seeks to answer in The Tech-Wise Family is how to put technology in its proper place. How can we use it without our families being overcome by it? Crouch offers 10 principles that his family has tried to live by — not always successfully, he admits.

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So, we fill the center of our homes with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” [i.e., age 10] at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have each other’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

To be honest, I found many of Crouch’s suggestions radical, especially when compared to how I and members of my family actually use technology. Crouch jokes that he’s suggesting people become “almost Amish.” He also insists that his family’s commitments need not be your family’s commitments. Still, these commitments and the rationale behind them should spark some new ideas in you, your spouse and your kids, hopefully leading to a chastened use of easy-everywhere devices and a wiser, more courageous home.

 

Book Reviewed:
Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.S.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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