Review: Faith for Exiles

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Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: The results of a Barna study identifying five defining characteristics of resilient young Christians who continue to pursue Christ in our generation.

David Kinnaman has been studying youth culture for some time, especially trying to understand the reasons many young people are leaving the church, detailed in his book You Lost Me, reviewed here several years ago. This book is different. Based, as were his previous books on Barna research, he and his co-author Mark Matlock look at five key practices that help account for a resilient Christian faith amid what they call “digital Babylon” in which are youth are often discipled far more on their screens than in their churches.

The book walks through each of these five practices and the survey data that distinguishes “resilients” from prodigals/ex-Christians, nomads who are unchurched, and habitual church goers. These practices are:

  1. To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus. Resilients clearly identify as Christian, consider Christ central, experience intimacy with God and talk with Jesus.
  2. In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment. They learn wisdom for living faithfully, with those who differ, stewarding their sexuality and their money. The Bible serves as an anchor for that wisdom and resilients spend far more time digesting Christian content.
  3. When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships. Resilients connect meaningfully to a local congregation and have strong relationships with adults one and two generations ahead of them, especially those who genuinely care for them without ulterior motives.
  4. To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship. Resilients are equipped with a robust theology of work and calling and engaged Christianly in their workplaces. There is no sacred-secular divide and Christians are supported and equipped for workplace discipleship.
  5. Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission. Resilients have a strong sense of mission worked out in countercultural practice in their lives. They live as exiles in Babylon discerningly seeking the peace and prosperity of the city. Life is about the big thing God is up to in the world and not one’s personal fulfillment.

The book both explores the practices of churches that have equipped resilients, including a special section on mentoring, and tells stories of many Millennials and Generation Z youth who are living the resilient life outlined in these pages. The book strikes the right combination of stories and statistics, empirically grounding and personally elaborating its conclusions. This is not the book to provide fodder for intergenerational criticism, but rather one that offers hope for what God is doing in the rising generation, and wisdom for those in preceding generations who want to bless, mentor, and release these resilient disciples.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: The Reluctant Witness

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The Reluctant WitnessDon Everts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: One reluctant witness shares personal narrative, helpful principles, and survey data that indicate that spiritual conversations may be delightful rather than dreadful.

Most Christians are reluctant to bear witness to their faith. The idea of this raises images of street preachers, intolerance, arguments, and offended friends. Most of us don’t want to be those kind of persons. We love people too much, and frankly want to be loved by them as well. Don Everts was like so many of us, except for a small problem. He was a campus minister, part of whose job was to witness to his faith, and help others learn to do this.

In this book, Everts shares his own journey of discovery that spiritual conversations can be delightful, not just for the believing person, but also for the other person in the conversation. He also shares Barna research that both offers support for his contention, and a bleak picture that indicates that if anything, there is far more reluctance on the part of Christians to engage in spiritual conversations, even with each other, than a couple decades ago.

First the bad news. We are having fewer spiritual conversations, our level of discomfort in having these conversations has risen, we mention Jesus and the Bible less, even though we know we should have these conversations. Furthermore, these practices find parallels in the general culture. The main reason for our silence is fear, particularly the fear of offense. We also feel far less prepared by our churches. In 1993, 77% felt their churches prepare them well to speak of their faith. Today it is only 57%.

Through various conversations–on a long bus ride, with a neighbor, and others, Everts discovered that these conversations could be delightful, and that some of those he conversed with became friends, and some even changed their beliefs. He describes five myths and how these conversations gave the lie to them for him:

  1. Spiritual conversations take place in special places, at special moments, by special people. The reality is that most belief-changing conversations took place with friends in everyday settings.
  2. Spiritual conversations are serious and sober events. The reality is that laughter and joy are actually a significant part of conversations for both parties.
  3. In a spiritual conversation I need to be able to give the right answer. Actually, what is more important is having the chance to ask one’s questions and responses that are humble and honest, which sometimes means, “I don’t know.”
  4. Most spiritual conversations involve conflict, which ruins everything.  Actually, this turns out not to be a significant factor in the data, and most people expect some disagreement and even think it is healthy.
  5. Spiritual conversations are burdensome duties that are, in the end, painful and regrettable.  Actually, 35 percent of Americans report making a change in their lives because of a spiritual conversation. Among Christians, 38 percent report that someone has come to faith after a spiritual conversation. And only 14 percent of those who would identify as non-Christians said “no” to the statement “I’m glad about my latest spiritual conversation.”

This doesn’t mean that negative conversations never occur. Rather, all this suggests they are far less frequent than imagined, and especially as we grow in our conversation skills. Everts goes into the factors that turn reluctant conversationalists like him into eager conversationalists. He discovered that the difference was that eager conversationalists look for spiritual conversations in everyday life, they pursue and initiate conversations, they are open to share their faith in a wide variety of ways that are sensitive to those with whom they speak, and they gently push through awkward moments.

One thing Everts doesn’t name, although I think it is assumed in his account, is that Christians are genuinely persuaded of the goodness of what they have believed. I can’t help believe that for some, they have at least in part believed a mythical cultural narrative of Christian faith as naive, narrow-minded and intolerant. Sometimes, this is the case despite the transforming work that has taken place in their lives. One of the delightful moments in the book was when Everts admitted in a class where a professor belittled the idea of a chaste lifestyle, both the problems he faced when he previously had embraced the morality his professor commended, and how trusting Christ in the area of his sexuality had made a huge positive difference in his dating relationships.

Beyond all the interesting statistics, the most winsome part of this book was Everts’ own modest example. His story, and the principles he offers are so helpful for those who have a sense that their faith is too good to keep to themselves and want to break through their reluctance. He helps us see that much of it comes down to having good conversations with people, where we welcome questions, listen with respect, and share what we’ve found with honesty and humility. If Everts is right, we might even find ourselves laughing together with our friends. That would be delightful, wouldn’t it?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.