You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2011) Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, reports its findings about why 16-to-29-year-olds are avoiding the church. Being offered only dogmatic, unconvincing answers to their questions is a big reason and one that also motivates many older people to leave or become only minimal, reluctant church participants. Read about this reason and others in the May 2013 Connections.
The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, by Katherine Stewart (Public Affairs, 2012) Journalist Katherine Stewart describes the increasing presence and influence of fundamentalist Christian organizations in U.S. public schools. Their efforts include after-school courses taught by volunteers as Good News Clubs, plus prayer and fellowship groups See You at the Pole and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Stewart also tells about fundamentalist churches that are using public-school buildings as their regular meeting places. Along with urging readers to combat other violations of religious freedom, the March 2013 Connections urges them to read this book to learn what these groups are doing and combat it.
Where My Soul Lives: Being a Christian Outside the Lines, by Ruth H. Judy (St. Johann Press, 2012) Ruth Judy reports on her interviews with self-described “non-traditional” Christians who feel they have been declared outside the lines by traditionalist Christians or the institutional church. Read more about what she heard from them, in the January 2013 Connections.
Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, by Phyllis Tickle (Baker Books, 2012) Tickle reports here on the new forms of Christianity that have been emerging in North America since the late 1800s, part of the most recent of the major upheavals that have been occurring in the Western world about every 500 years. She describes these new forms’ main characteristics and urges Christians to become active architects of what is happening, not just passive observers. You can read more about this book in the December 2012 Connections.
Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement, by Gil Rendle (Abingdon, 2012) Church consultant Gil Rendle urges not only United Methodists but also other mainline church members in North America to help their churches become more like movements, as the early Wesleyan movement and the early church were, rather than more complex, bureaucratic, and rule-oriented. The April 2012 Connectionsdescribes Rendle’s concerns and recommendations more fully.
Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, by Richard Beck (Cascade/Wipf and Stock, 2011) In this compelling book, Christian psychology professor Beck describes how the psychological experience of disgust influences our way of balancing purity and compassion, and how overemphasis on purity often motivates Christians to disobey Jesus’s teaching about love. Read more in the September 2011 and November 2011 Connections. More may follow in future issues, too, about how the disgust response influences our positions on important current church and national issues and about the provision that exists in the church but is not well used, for regulating disgust.
The Future of Faith, by Harvey Cox (HarperOne, 2009) The July 2011 Connectionsquotes what Cox sees as the characteristics of fundamentalism, from this book, but there’s much more to the book, which every church member could gain from reading.
If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus, by Philip Gulley (HarperOne, 2010) Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley suggests ten values that he believes the church would exhibit if it were to focus on what evidently had top priority for Jesus, and he invites readers to appraise their churches in light of these values. Read his list in the May 2011 Connections.
Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches, by Gil Rendle (Abingdon, 2010) Church consultant Gil Rendle compares the situation of today’s church to that of the Israelites whom the Bible describes as traveling through the wilderness in their exodus from slavery in Egypt. He feels that in order to attract newcomers now, the church must focus more on purpose than on relationships and must listen to its “creative deviants.” Read more of his views in the June 2011 Connections.
Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, by Robin R. Meyers (HarperCollins, 2009) UCC pastor and OCU professor Meyers believes we have come to a fork in the road that is Christianity and that we need to take the road less traveled. But he feels that in order to do that, we need to revisit a crucial fork at which Christianity long ago took the wrong road—the creedal road—instead of staying on the experiential road that the earliest followers of Jesus called “The Way.” We’re now so focused on beliefs about Jesus instead of the invitation to follow Jesus, says Meyers, that a new Reformation is needed. It also needs to focus more on politics, meaning the exercise of power and its moral consequences, rather than refusing to “mix religion and politics” as some church members advocate. Read more in the July 2009 Connections.
When Christians Get It Wrong, by Adam Hamilton (Abingdon, 2010) Kansas UMC megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton warns that Christianity may lose an entire generation of young adults if Christians keep “getting it wrong” by acting unchristian, being hostile to other religions, appearing anti-intellectual and anti-science, blaming God for human suffering, and calling homosexuality sin. To read more of Hamilton’s concerns and some questions his views about them raise, see the January 2011 Connections.
Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics, by Adam Hamilton (Abingdon, 2008) UMC pastor Adam Hamilton believes Christianity needs a second reformation—one led by people who can find a strong middle ground. Read more, plus some questions his belief raises, on page 1 of the January 2011 Connections.
Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith Along the Highways ofAmerica (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2007) Eric Elnes, now a Nebraska UCC pastor, left Phoenix, Arizona on Easter in 2006, leading a group walking to Washington, DC. Their aim was to foster conversations along the way, about what it means to be progressive Christians in an age of fundamentalism. They found thousands of people who welcomed them and shared their hunger for relationship and conversation, including many “spiritually homeless” people who identified themselves as Christian but felt so alienated from the faith community that they no longer actively participated in any such community. In the January 2008 Connections and at www.CrossWalkAmerica.org you can read more about what Elnes heard on his 2006 walk and about CrossWalk America , the organization he cofounded to host the walk. It is committed to changing the face of Christianity in America to one that recognizably reflects Jesus’s core values of love of God, neighbor, and self—a more compassionate and inclusive face than the one often shown by news media and some of the most visible Christian leaders.
Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness, by Dan R. Dick (Discipleship Resources, 2007) Dan Dick reports here on a study of more than 700 United Methodist congregations in North America. He discusses the 15 main criteria that he found determined each congregation’s vitality. Read more about his findings in the May 2007 Connections.
Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, by Diana Butler Bass (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) American Protestantism scholar Diana Butler Bass describes her findings from a three-year study of fifty vital mainline Protestant congregations. She found them experiencing new vitality through innovative use of ten traditional Christian practices: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty. Read a discussion of two of these in the February 2007 Connections, and of three others in the March 2007 issue. The March issue also includes a discussion of the way in which she contrasts custom and tradition in an earlier book, The Practicing Congregation (Alban Institute, 2004)
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) Taylor, an Episcopal priest, tells why she has stopped being a pastor of local congregations but has not left her relationship with the church. An important motivation for her move was her continuing to see members feeling pressured to believe official doctrine that didn’t match their experience of God or the world. Read more in the October 2006 Connections.
The Dishonest Church, by Jack Good (Rising Star Press, 2003; reprinted by St. Johann Press, 2008) Good, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, bemoans churches’ failure to let their members know what most pastors know about the Bible’s origins, Christian history and doctrine, and recent discoveries about the earthly life of Jesus. For more about this powerful, easy-to-read book, see the February 2006 and March 2006 Connections.
Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, by James W. Fowler (HarperSanFrancisco, 1981/1995) Fowler describes what he sees as six stages of faith, deriving his theory partly from the findings of other scholars who have identified stages of life based on biological growth, development of moral judgment, and other factors. The November 2006 Connections discusses how each of these stages may need some different ingredients that the church needs to provide, especially in worship services.
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris (W.W. Norton, 2004) Harris, a neuroscientist who has extensively studied Eastern and Western religions and spiritual disciplines, believes our technical advances in weapons have made our religious differences dangerous for our survival, and he finds that unlike other areas of life, in religion we require no evidence to support our beliefs. On page 1 of the December 2005 Connections you can read a brief account of his main points.
Conflict and Communion: Reconciliation and Restorative Justice at Christ’s Table, Thomas W. Porter, ed. (Discipleship Resources, 2006) This is a collection of essays about conflict resolution and restorative justice, which the authors distinguish from retributive justice. The connection between Holy Communion and conflict resolution is much less apparent to me than to these authors, and some of them use more church jargon than I prefer to read, but the book raises very important questions and introduces readers to useful methods of conflict resolution that I was glad to have brought to mind. Read more about the book’s content and some questions and implications it raised for me, in the July 2005 Connections.
Reclaiming the Church: Where the Mainline Church Went Wrong and What to Do About It, by John B. Cobb, Jr. (Westminster John Knox, 1977) Cobb believes mainline churches have become marginal. Read why, and what he suggests we need to do about it, in the July 2004 Connections.
Dying Church, Living God: A Call to Begin Again, by Chuck Meyer (Northstone Publishing, 2000) Meyer, who died in a 2000 car wreck, was an Episcopal clergyman in Austin, Texas. His book is funny, and some Christians will probably consider it unacceptably irreverent. “If you like the status quo, get all gushy over the Atonement and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” says Meyer, “and you think the Church is the one thing that will never change,” this book is likely to make you angry. However, it says some things I believe churchgoers need to hear and think about. Its format and style would make it ideal for a church group to read together and discuss. For more about it, see the March 2001 Connections.
Growing Spiritual Redwoods, by William M. Easum and Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon, 1997) Church observers don’t all agree with all of Easum and Bandy’s conclusions (or with anyone else’s, of course) about what we need to be doing, but these authors’ observations about how today’s church and world differ from yesterday’s, and thus about what this means for whether people are likely to respond to what we offer, seem very important for all church members to be aware of. I could give this book only a quick mention in the August 1999 Connections, but it’s easy reading and definitely worth it.
Kicking Habits: Welcome Relief for Addicted Churches, by Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon, 1997) This is a book whose message I believe every church member needs to hear and help the church to act on. The first step we need to take if we want to start thriving, in Bandy’s view, is admitting that many of our familiar church practices are not required by God. Then, he recommends, we need to use a process deliberately designed to reveal new ways in which God may be calling us to be the church. The process would feature prayer, open conversation within the church and outside of it, and focusing on scriptures that tell about people receiving new insights and callings from God. More about the book is in the April 1999 Connections.
Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs: Saints and Their Stories, by James C. Howell (Upper Room Books, 1999) Howell’s discussion of the church’s misfits was what I found most interesting about this book, maybe because I’m a misfit and not a saint or a martyr. Read about the God-inspired, creative oddballs who threaten the church’s status quo, in the February 2000 Connections.
Waking to God’s Dream: Spiritual Leadership and Church Renewal, by Dick Wills (Abingdon, 1999) After years of trying to persuade God to bless his good ideas, says United Methodist pastor Dick Wills (now a UMC bishop), he finally saw that God wanted him to simply join God in what God was choosing to bless. In this thought-provoking book, Wills describes how he tries to give more attention to the Holy Spirit than to the institutional church system, while still being in the system. More from his book is in the July 2001 Connections.
Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History, by Riley B. Case (Abingdon, 2004) Riley Case, an Indiana United Methodist clergyman and longtime activist in the unofficial Good News movement within the UMC, writes about the history of that movement and what he sees as the UMC’s need to return to the populist evangelicalism of early American Methodism in order to renew the church and reach today’s people as effectively as early Methodism reached the people of its day. See the January 2005 Connections for more about his book.
Effects of cultural change and generational differences
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (Penguin Books, 2012). Historian and journalist Colin Woodard explains that the North American continent was originally colonized by 11 different “nations” — cultural groups whose influence is still apparent today. Read more about this interesting book in the August 2014 Connections. Buy the book online at this link. Visit Colin Woodard’s weblog, and his webpage.
The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle (BakerBooks, 2008) Phyllis Tickle observes that “holy rummage sales” have happened about every 500 years throughout Christian history but that “no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions.” She describes how spirituality, corporeality, and morality have changed through Christian history, and what their current forms may mean for us. You can read more about this interesting book on p. 4 of the August 2009 Connections.
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, by Andrew J. Bacevich (Henry Holt, 2008) Bacevich is a retired U.S. Army colonel who is now a professor of international relations. He believes freedom is the altar at which American worship, whatever their nominal religious persuasion. But the kind of freedom we worship, he observes, is largely self-indulgence and consumption. Our appetites and expectations have grown beyond the capacity of our economy to satisfy, he says, yet we feel entitled to have them satisfied and we expect the world to accommodate our way of life. More about this thought-provoking book is in the August 2009 Connections.
Discontinuity and Hope: Radical Change and the Path to the Future, by Lyle Schaller (Abingdon, 1999) Schaller sees signs of hope in the changes that some church members see as signs of collapse. Find out why in the April 2001 Connections.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999) Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times and was formerly its bureau chief in Beirut and Jerusalem. He is writing about the tension he currently sees, between the ancient forces of culture, geography, tradition, and community, and the new system of globalization that has integrated capital, technology, and information across national borders and created a single global market. He believes that institutions and individuals who keep acting as if today’s global forces don’t exist have little hope of continuing to play significant roles in the world. I’m afraid a lot of our churches are in that category, so I believe we need to give serious consideration to the views he and others are expressing about this subject, whether or not we agree with them. See the October 1999 Connections for more.
Re-Discovering the Sacred: Spirituality in America, by Phyllis Tickle (Crossroad, 1995) Here the longtime Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly writes about the effects of what she calls recent trends toward do-it-yourself spirituality. See the page-one box in the January 1998 Connections.
Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, by Tom Beaudoin (Jossey-Bass, 1998) This book is especially helpful because its author is a member of the generation he’s writing about. A brief excerpt is at the end of the October 1998 Connections.