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
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The Pietist Option | Book Review


American Christianity is in a parlous state. It constitutes a shrinking share of the population. And in terms of worship service attendance, most of its churches are shrinking too.

Regarding share of the population, most Americans continue to identify as Christians, but that number is declining. According to America’s Changing Religious Landscape, a 2015 report from Pew Research Center, 70.6 percent of Americans identify as Christians, down from 78.4 percent only seven years earlier. Over the same period, so-called “nones” — that is, Americans with no religious affiliation — increased their share of the population from 16.1 to 22.8 percent.

Regarding worship service attendance, Thom Rainer argues that 65 percent of churches are plateaued (9 percent) or declining (56 percent) in worship service attendance. That’s better than the 80 percent figure often bandied about, but it’s still not good. Just a little over 1 in 3 churches (35 percent) are growing.

These data are rough metrics of church health, of course, but it’s difficult to believe the American church is doing well when its numbers head south over such a short period of time. What is to be done? How should American Christianity be renewed?

That is the question Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III take up in their new book, The Pietist Option. Gehrz is a professor of history at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Pattie is senior pastor of Salem Covenant Church in nearby New Brighton. Both are members of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination with Swedish Pietist roots.

Pietism arose in late-17th-century Germany as a response to the perceived spiritual coldness of orthodox Lutheranism. Its first advocate was Philip Jacob Spener (1635–1705), whose 1675 book Pia Desideria outlined a Pietist plan of renewal. (The book’s full title is Heartfelt Desire for a God-pleasing Reform of the True Evangelical Church, Together with Several Simple Christian Proposals Looking Toward This End.)

Gehrz and Pattie self-consciously utilize the outline of Pia Desideria in their book. Noting differences between the circumstances of German Lutheranism in 1675 compared to American Christianity today, they nonetheless think Spener’s basic themes were on target. Thus, their proposals for renewal include:

  • A more extensive listening to the Word of God
  • The common priesthood for the common good
  • Christianity as life
  • The irenic spirit
  • Whole-person, whole-life formation
  • Proclaiming the good news

The authors illustrate these themes from Scripture and Pietist history, but they also show how each theme is desperately needed in today’s churches.

Although I am a Pentecostal, not a Pietist, these themes deeply resonated with my heart. The primary reason for this is that they have deep biblical roots. But a secondary reason is that Pietist instincts long ago slipped the boundaries of Pietist institutions and affected the broader Christian world. Moravian Pietists, for example, deeply influenced the spirituality of John Wesley, who in turn formed the spirituality of Methodism and evangelicalism, which in turn shaped my own tribe’s spiritual sensibilities.

A final reason why The Pietist Option so deeply resonated with me is its Jesus-centeredness. The entire program of Pietism, if program is the right term, can be summarized in four words: Come back to Jesus. Gehrz and Pattie write:

… Pietists who live in, with, and for the person of Jesus probably feel his presence more than they think about the idea of Christ. But they also tend to suspect that if we answer the call to “Come back to Jesus,” we’ll soon find that being a Christ-follower is both less and more than we’ve assumed.

Less because if those four words are the call, then there’s a good chance that we’ve made Christianity too complicated. So Pietists simplify. For example, their lists of essential doctrines tend to be short…

More in that answering that call leads to growth, to change so radical that we can only start to describe it with two of the New Testament’s most audacious metaphors: new birth (Jn 3:7) and new life (e.g., Rom 6:4). Pietists fully expect the encounter with Jesus to be transformative …

The Pietist Option is not a full-orbed battle plan for the Christianization of American society. It doesn’t outline a rigorous intellectual apologetic, for example, nor does it detail the shape of the reform of church and culture. It doesn’t necessarily oppose those things, I should add — although “irenic spirit” and “culture war” don’t jibe. But my guess is that Pietism doubts Christian ideas and reforms will work if Christians themselves don’t first and foremost have a living trust in Jesus.

So, come back to Jesus! It’s not the only thing to say about the renewal of Christianity, but it’s certainly fundamental.

 

Book Reviewed
Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III, The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

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

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

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Heath Adamson and I talk about three outcomes for youth ministry: gospel-centeredness, Spirit-empowerment, and personal responsibility. This is episode 92 of the Influence Podcast. If you haven’t checked us out yet, make sure to listen to, rate, and share from our catalogue of conversations with Christian leaders!
  • If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, check out Make It Count. This free downloadable resource is an eight-week development curriculum you can use with your team. It appears in every issue of Influence magazine. The June-July issue is “Eight Keys to Improving Teamwork.” Take a look!
  • We note Allen Downey’s analysis of the CIRP Freshman Survey, which shows that the number of freshmen claiming no religious affiliation has tripled in the last three decades.

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

Review of ‘The Triumph of Faith’ by Rodney Stark


Triumph_of_Faith_350Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith: Why the World Is More Religious Than Ever (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

Fifty years ago, Anthony F. C. Wallace expressed the belief of many Western intellectuals when he wrote, “Belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out all over the world as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge…. The process is inevitable.” Scientific knowledge, it was thought, would lead to material wellbeing, and material wellbeing would lead to a secular society. For mid-century Western intellectuals, the future looked godless.

A funny thing happened on the way to secularity, however. As Rodney Stark writes in The Triumph of Faith, “The world is not merely as religious as it used to be. In important ways, it is much more intensely religious than ever before; indeed, it is far more churched” (emphasis added). To prove this point, Stark takes readers on a whirlwind tour of global religious trends.

Stark notes that secularization theorists “limit the focus [of their thesis] to major, well-organized faiths such as Christianity and Hinduism. Thus, five people who have ceased attending church and say they no longer believe in Jesus are counted in favor of the demise of the faith, despite the fact that they now are devoted spiritualists.” He goes on to carefully define terms:

  • Supernatural refers to forces or entities beyond or outside nature and having the capacity to suspend, alter, or ignore physical forces.”
  • Religion is a form of supernaturalism that postulates the existence of gods, conceived of as supernatural beings having consciousness and desires.”
  • Churched religions consist of relatively stable, organized congregations of lay members who acknowledge a specific religious creed.”
  • “A creed is a set of beliefs to which all members of a religious group are expected to assent, and those who participate in churched religions are expected to do so regularly and exclusively.”
  • “Both unchurched religions and unchurched supernaturalism lack organized congregations and usually lack a creed” (emphasis in original).

With these distinctions in mind, Stark is able to demonstrate, using survey data from the Gallup World Polls, that “a massive religious awakening is taking place around the world.” In many places, this religious awakening is occurring in the adherents of “churched religions.”. He points to the growth of Christianity in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and China; of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa; and of Hinduism in India as examples of this trend.

In other places, it is occurring in the adherents of “unchurched religions” and “unchurched supernaturalisms,” which persist in Europe, Japan, and the Asian Tigers despite their modernization. The proliferation of spiritualities in these places is evidence, Stark thinks, of the truth of the statement often attributed to G. K. Chesterton: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”

The United States has always proven a challenge to the secularization thesis. Though one of the first and wealthiest “modern” nations, Americans have long exhibited high degrees of churched religious behavior. In a series of studies over the last decade, the Pew Research Center has argued that the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans—the so-called “Nones”—is growing at the expense of religiously affiliated Americans. Stark dismisses this as evidence for secularization by pointing out that most of the Nones used to be nominal believers. They didn’t actually change their beliefs or practices, in other words. All they did was drop the religious name. Moreover, many of these people continue to pray, believe in supernatural forces, and even participate in organized religious activities. (Something similar could be said about “secular” Europeans.)

Throughout the book, Stark hints at the reasons why the world is more religious than ever, as his subtitle puts it. He points out that too often secularization theorists have assumed that “the primary social function of religion is to provide people with relief from their material misery.” Karl Marx articulated this so-called “deprivation theory” when he wrote that religion is “the sigh of the oppressed creature…the opium of the people.” Unfortunately, the data don’t bear out such a conclusion. “For more than fifty years, studies in the United States and other Western nations have consistently found that the lower classes are conspicuously absent from the churches on Sunday mornings. Moreover, the major religious movements that have erupted throughout the centuries, in both the East and the West, were generated not by the suffering masses but by dissatisfied elites.”

If not material deprivation, however, what? Stark suggests “spiritual deprivation.” He writes, “The overwhelming majority of people on earth do think about the meaning and purpose of life.” In the conclusion, he writes: “People want to know why the universe exists, not that it exists for no reason, and they don’t want their lives to be pointless. Only religion provides credible and satisfactory answers to their great existential questions. The most ardent wishes of the secularization faithful will never change that.”

By way of concluding evaluation, let me make two points:

First, Stark has identified a crucial flaw in both the secularization thesis and the deprivation thesis that underlies it. The data he cites don’t seem to support either. Supernaturalism and religion, in both their churched and unchurched varieties, haven’t gone away and don’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Second, for Christians, triumph of “faith” is not the same thing as the triumph of the Faith. What we seek is not the growth of generic faith, general spirituality, or non-Christian religions. Rather, we seek more people confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. That is happening, of course, but until Christ returns, we still have a mission to be witnesses for Him “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

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

George F. Will Offers a “Nones” Perspective on “Religion and the American Republic”


George F. Will pens a typically insightful essay in the most recent issue of National Affairs: “Religion and the American Republic.” The unique “angle” on this essay is Will’s identification with the 20 percent of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, i.e., the “nones.” From his conclusion:

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America just two generations after the American founding — two generations after Madison identified tyranny of the majority as the distinctively worst political outcome that democracy could produce. Tocqueville had a different answer to the question of what kind of despotism democratic nations should fear most.

His warning is justly famous and more pertinent now than ever. This despotism, he said, would be “milder” than traditional despotisms, but

it would degrade men without tormenting them….It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood….It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?

So it is that every day it renders the employment of free will less useful and more rare; it confines the action of the will in a smaller space and little by little steals the very use of free will from each citizen….[It] reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Each of us must decide to what extent Tocqueville’s foreboding has been fulfilled. People of faith might well ask this: Does the tendency of modern politics to take on more and more tasks in order to ameliorate the human condition tend to mute religion’s message about reconciling us to that condition? And people of faith might well worry whether religious institutions can flourish in the dark shade beneath a government that presumes to supply every human need and satisfy every appetite.

And those of us in the “none” camp must confront the other side of the same question: Can our limited government and free society long endure if the work of our civil society, which so often is the work of our religious institutions, is taken up instead by the government? To the extent that the politics of modernity attenuates the role of religion in society, it threatens society’s vitality, prosperity, and happiness. The late Irving Kristol understood this. Although not an observant Jew, he described himself as “theotropic,” by which he meant oriented to the divine. He explained why in these words:

[A] society needs more than sensible men and women if it is to prosper: It needs the energies of the creative imagination as expressed in religion and the arts. It is crucial to the lives of all of our citizens, as it is to all human beings at all times, that they encounter a world that possesses a transcendent meaning, a world in which the human experience makes sense. Nothing is more dehumanizing, more certain to generate a crisis, than to experience one’s life as a meaningless event in a meaningless world.

We may be approaching what is, for our nation, unexplored and perilous social territory. Europe is now experiencing a widespread waning of the religious impulse, and the results are not attractive. It seems that when a majority of people internalize the big-bang theory and ask, with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”; when many people decide that the universe is merely the result of a cosmic sneeze with no transcendent meaning; when they conclude that therefore life should be filled to overflowing with distractions, with comforts and entertainments, to assuage the boredom — then they may become susceptible to the excitements of a politics promising ersatz meaning and spurious salvations from a human condition bereft of transcendence.

We know from the bitter experience of the blood-soaked 20th century the political consequences of this felt meaninglessness. Our political nature abhors a vacuum, and a vacuum of meaning is filled by secular fighting faiths, such as fascism and communism. Fascism gave its adherents a meaningful life of racial destiny. Communism taught its adherents to derive meaning from their participation in the eschatological drama of History’s unfolding destiny. The excruciating political paradox of modernity is that secularism advanced in part as moral revulsion against the bloody history of religious strife. But there is no precedent for bloodshed on the scale produced in the 20th century by secular — by political — faiths.

Therefore, even those of us who are members of the growing cohort that the Pew survey calls “nones,” even we — perhaps especially we — should wish continued vigor for the rich array of religious institutions that have leavened American life. We do so for reasons articulated by the most articulate American statesman.

In 1859, beneath gathering clouds of war and disunion, a successful railroad lawyer turned presidential aspirant addressed the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society. He concluded his speech with the story of an oriental despot who assigned to his wise men the task of devising a proposition to be carved in stone and be forever in view and forever true. After some while they returned to the despot and the proposition they offered to him was: “And this too shall pass away.” Only this, they argued, would be true until the end of time. How consoling that proposition is in times of grief, Lincoln said, and how chastening in times of pride. And yet, he insisted, it is not necessarily true. If we Americans cultivate the moral and intellectual world within us as assiduously and prodigiously as we cultivate the physical world around us, perhaps we shall long endure.

We have long endured. We shall endure further. This is so in large part because of America’s wholesome division of labor between political institutions and the institutions of civil society — including, especially, religious institutions — that mediate between the citizen and the state, and so make freedom possible.

Read the whole thing.