Review: Blessed Are The Nones

Blessed Are The Nones, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A memoir of a Christian woman coming to terms, with the help of some Catholic nuns, with her husband’s de-conversion.

I was eavesdropping, of all things, when my husband’s deconversion first hit me.

I was sitting on the floor of the guest bedroom in Josh’s childhood home in North Carolina, straining to make out the voices filtering through the hallway–the steady deep timbre of my father-in-law’s voice and the more volatile ups and downs of my husband’s as he explained that he no longer thought God was real.

-Stina Kielsmeier-Cook, p. 1.

Imagine a young couple who met on a mission trip, growing in love, even as they share a deep vision for doing good in God’s word. Their shared faith and love leads them to marry and begin a family. And then one of them can no longer believe.

What would you do when the faith that brought you together is no longer shared? When your spouse would prefer a long run or a hike in the woods to going to church? How do you raise your children? How do you explain your spouse’s absence when you go to church? How do you sustain your own faith when the person closest to you can no longer believe? How do you keep a marriage together when you no longer share what you believe most important in life?

That is the situation Stina Kielsmeier-Cook faced when her husband stopped believing in God. He wished she had stopped believing as well. But she couldn’t, as much as she struggled with her own doubts. This memoir is her account of a journey that went from hoping and praying for Josh to return to faith to learning to live in an interfaith marriage “through which God can move.”

Providentially, she discovers a group of Salesian nuns in her neighborhood and begins to learn what it means to live a life with God without a husband to share it. At first she thinks the answer is “spiritual singleness,” a phrase that comes to her on a nature walk. Turns out the nuns aren’t too crazy about that. There is the pesky thing of vows, theirs and hers. Hers have nothing about “as long as you both shall believe.”

The memoir offers an account of a fifteen month period. As she prays with the sisters, she comes to the place of relinquishing her ideas of how things should work out with Josh, coming to a place of seeing her work as loving Josh. She proposes a “Nuns and Nones” group with the sisters, that takes off, though not with Josh, who prefers an informal group of interfaith couples who talk about their experiences over good food.

There are the moments of hope, where Josh joins Stina for communion at her church that practiced an open table. At one point, he acknowledges that he loves God, by which he means “The Mystery.” She talks about the pain Josh experiences when Josh’s father speaks with deep love about being saddened that Josh would not share eternity with him. She comes to a place where she leaves such questions to God. As she becomes a Visitation Companion with the sisters, she not only learns of new practices, but of women saints who also become companions on the journey.

This is a finely written memoir. It does not neatly tie off the loose ends of Josh’s deconversion. Josh still doesn’t believe. It’s honest about the differences, yet also moving in the embrace of love for the other both embrace. Josh goes on a picnic with the nuns, and Stina goes mushroom hunting with Josh’s grad school friends and takes the family to cheer him on his marathon race. One of the beautiful things about this book is how well Stina portrays Josh. I found myself at many points saying, “what a guy!” For those who find themselves in a similar situation, this is an honest yet hopeful book for how two people can continue to love each other even when they no longer share what they once thought the most important thing in life.


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: Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z, James Emery White. Grand Rapids: Baker 2017.

Summary: The book profiles the generation born since 1993, describing them as the first “post-Christian” generation, and what the church in the US must do to reach this generation.

I was a boomer. During my years in ministry I’ve watched books come and go about ministering with boomers, X-ers, millenials (my son’s generation), and now generation “Z” (those born after 1993). It’s tempting to get a bit jaded with this succession of “generation” books, but the contentions of this book, which I’ve seen on the ground, persuade me that its message is worth heeding.

Fundamentally, White argues that what distinguishes this generation is that it is the first truly “post-Christian” generation in the U.S.  He notes the research that the fastest growing religious affiliation in this age group is “none.” This is a group that is marked by the Recession of 2008 with an entrepreneurial spirit. They are wi-fi-enabled, multiracial, and sexually fluid. They have been “under-parented” (compared to the helicopter parenting of millenials) and robbed of childhood, growing old younger. Pornography has a pervasive presence in their lives and is wreaking havoc. (I will vouch for this. When I meet young men, I assume that pornography is an issue in their lives and am surprised when it isn’t.) And the church has lost its voice by and large, caught up in the politics and culture wars of a past generation. He likens this to a verse from the calamitous twelfth century speaking of “when Christ and his saints slept.”

White devotes the second half of this book to how a church awakened might engage and reach the rising generation. He argues that the church must recover a sense of its own identity as a distinctive counter-culture, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and shaped by its mission to call a deeply fallen world back to God. The answer is neither withdrawal or efforts to grasp political influence, but “to pioneer new ways to bind ourselves to Scripture, to our traditions, and to each other…. ” In short, his call is for the church to recover what it means to be Christ-like.

What does this call for in our efforts to engage generation Z. It means recovering a voice of evangelism and a prophetic voice that does not veer into heresy. It means translating the gospel without transforming it. It means re-thinking our communication for a generation with eight second attention spans, who think in terms of texts and tweets. It means using the awe and wonder of both art and science in our apologetic. And fundamentally, it means developing a church that says, “it’s about them” — hiring staff from this generation, reaching its men, welcoming their children, developing an invitational culture, and providing for the discipleship of those who follow Christ.

The book concludes with three messages given at the author’s church that model the kind of communication he believes is necessary. One is on gay marriage, one on the spiritual world, and one appealing to science in an argument of why believe in God. The style is both engaging and direct, and unapologetic about Christian beliefs on any of the questions engaged, but also in touch with prevailing concerns.

What’s fascinating to me is that I think White is simply commending the work that the church, if it is to remain vital, must do in every generation, while applying that very specifically to the context of this particular generation. Yet if White is right, it is also the case that this may also be a singular moment. He writes at the beginning of the book of Christopher Dawson, and the six ages of the church, where the church rose to the challenges of transition to a new epoch. He considers us at another one of these moments. White articulates how he is seeking to lead his own church to rise to this moment, which he considers one of both great peril if we miss it, and great opportunity if we will seize it.

So what will it be?


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.

Review: Losing Our Religion

Losing Our Religion

Losing Our ReligionChristel Manning. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

Summary: Qualitative sociological research on the religious category of “nones” exploring the different types of “nones”, the influences of time and place, and the parenting choices around religion “nones” face in raising their children.

Some observers would argue that the category of “nones” as in “none of the above” in a list of religious categories is the fastest growing group on the religious scene. This work extends the growing body of work on this group in two important ways. One is to more finely define the different types of “nones” that fall under this category. The other, and motivating interest in this research, was to explore how “none” deal with the question of religion and religious identity with their children.

The author, who describes herself as one who was a Spiritual Seeker at the beginning of this study but a Philosophical Secularist by its conclusion, confronted the question of how parents who are “nones” raise their children. To explore this question, she began by exploring the demographics of the “nones”and what they believe. Most significant in these first two chapters is a fourfold classification that brings added clarity to the different kinds of people who fall under this category: Unchurched Believers, who identify with one faith but avoid any institutional connection; Spiritual Seekers, who believe in some form of higher being or spiritual reality, often cobbling together various beliefs into their own personalized worldview; Philosophical Secularists, who subscribe to a material view of life and often are highly motivated by ethical considerations; and Indifferents, for whom religious or ultimate questions are irrelevant to the lives they live.

Time and place are significant factors in “none” experience. Many who were brought up in a religious tradition abandon this during college years for a variety of reasons. The critical question is how these decisions are reconsidered when people marry and begin to have children. Do they return to the religious institutions they grew up in, identify with new communities, or make a more deliberate choice to not raise their children in any of these traditions. Some of this is determined by the kind of “none” one is. In some cases this transition forces a clarification of where one stands, as it did for the author of this study. Likewise, some parts of the country, particularly New England and the Northwest are friendlier to those who are “nones” The South is a more difficult place, as are parts of the Midwest.

In her exploration of the parental choices of “nones,” the issue of choice emerges as quite important to understanding the decisions these parents make about raising their children. Just as they have defined for themselves their worldview, often departing from that of their parents, many also believe it wrong to define these choices for their children. While some, particularly the Unchurched Believers return to institutional expressions of their faith, for many, they choose exposure to multiple religions as well as philosophical secularism and allowing children to choose their own path. She also addresses the question of the often touted benefits of raising children religiously, demonstrated signally in the work of sociologist Christian Smith. She argues that the comparisons are often between more and less religious youth and do not considered those brought up in principled secularist backgrounds.

At this point she reveals her anti-religious bias. Generally, I appreciated her openness about her own point of view rather than a pretended neutrality. But here, it seems she sets up the worst examples of religion, and particularly Christianity, against the most commendable examples of secularism and atheism. Anyone can play that game. I could argue that Christians built hospitals, cathedrals and universities, while atheist Marxists built Gulags, colorless tenements, and brutally genocidal cultural revolutions. I think this mars otherwise fine work and indulges in the anti-religious caricatures common among academic elites. But I get that some people really experience these things and don’t want to believe in such a god or practice such a religion. I would not and do not either!

What is valuable in the work is something I’ve long contended, that we should assume at least the same level of thoughtfulness in those of different religious persuasions than ours. This is equally so with “nones” and this extends to the thoughtfulness of their parenting choices. I do wonder if “nones” just as much as the affiliated religious subtly encourage, or at least model the choices they have made, even while upholding choice. I wonder how “nones” would feel if their children embrace a strong religious affiliation, such as fundamental forms of Islam or Christianity or Orthodox Judaism. Time will tell whether, in fact, the religiously affiliated and “none” parents in fact have more in common than they might admit. That could make for interesting conversation!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”