In an age of tolerance — where emergent Christians “refuse to say anyone else is wrong,”Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), 85. while “hipster Christians” focus on being cooler-than-thou and Evangelical mega-church pastors work at meeting people where they’re at — Generation Ex-Christian offers something new. Something helpful.
In this, his first book, Boundless author Drew Dyck identifies the reasons behind the purported mass exodus of believers from the Christian faith. In a helpful format, he categorizes “leavers” into six main categories, provides ways to know which kind of leaver you’re dealing with and — here’s where he offers something fresh — offers suggestions for helping lead them back.
This book is refreshingly honest because it tells the truth. People who are lost need to be found.
Ex-Christian is full of in-depth portraits of people who’ve left the church and the faith. People like Abe, Dyck’s friend from college. They had a life-changing experience together at Promise Keepers, but catching up 5 years later, it’s clear Abe’s left the faith. He no longer believes in reason. Abe is a Postmodern Leaver.
The Christians Katie looked up to as a child were the ones who hurt her. Her dad. Her pastor. They’re the same people who abused her. And when her mom’s new boyfriend — the one her mom was convinced was a “blessing from God” — turned out to be abusive, too, Katie left the faith. Katie is a Recoiler.
Dyck explains: “For a child who suffers some form of ‘sanctified’ abuse, the resulting spiritual damage can haunt that person for a lifetime. Such is the case for many recoilers — they often have experienced some form of abuse in the name of God.”
Dan made the switch from Christianity to atheism when he finally decided, after years of cognitive dissonance, that he couldn’t believe the earth was young — only 6,000 years old. When his belief in science collided with his belief in the Bible, Dan chose science. Dan is a Modern Leaver.
Dyck met Dan during a foray into a local atheists club meeting. This was by far the most amusing part of the book. In the midst of a local atheist club meeting, the not-so-demur Dyck was quickly revealed to be an evangelical Christian — just the sort the club members love to hate. You could hear their beer go flat the minute he opened his mouth.
I had some good conversations with Dan and the other atheists around the table. But I could sense that my presence was disruptive to the regular flow of the meeting. And ultimately, it wasn’t welcomed. Half way through the evening, I was gently but firmly disinvited to future gatherings. They had come to the meeting anticipating a relaxing night of making fun of televangelists and passing around creationist tracts. Having to defend their beliefs against someone from the other side probably wasn’t what they had in mind on that Thursday evening. But the night was not a total loss. I’d met some new friends with whom I promised stay in touch, and I gained valuable insight into the mind-set of a new kind of leaver.
Dyck invited Lisa, his neighbor, to a prayer meeting; it was his wife’s idea. She was certain Lisa would say yes, which she did. And she seemed to enjoy it, even though she’s a Wiccan. But she was mild compared to another Wiccan Dyck introduces in his book: Morninghawk Apollo.
Morninghawk grew up in a family that went to a mainline church on Christmas and Easter. As he grew, he became more interested in comparing many religions and approached them, including Christianity, from an academic perspective. In a window-like moment of self-revelation, he said: “Ultimately why I left is that Yahweh, the Christian God, demands that you submit to His will. In Wiccan faith, it’s just the other way around. Your will is paramount. We believe in gods and serve gods, but the deities we choose to serve are based on our will.”
Lisa and Morninghawk are Neo-Pagans.
Next Dyck tells the story of Andrew Palau, son of the internationally acclaimed evangelist, Luis Palau. Andrew left the faith to have a good time. He spent years partying and sowing his wild oats prodigal-son-style before he made his way back to faith. This is also where Dyck recounts the story of the rebel in his own family: his brother Dave. Like Andrew Palau, Dave is a Rebel.
Jenny is a Drifter. She fits into the largest, and possibly most elusive, category of leavers. She believes in what Notre Dame professor and sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” God as big man in the sky, the one you pray to when you have a big test to take. When you get into a bind, He’s the one who can bail you out. But most of the time, He’s not in the picture. Because life is good. Such is the temptation of our materialistic, consumerist culture.
This is the biggest group of leavers and ones who are beset by themselves. Dyck writes:
In fact the biggest challenge isn’t any dark and gathering force beyond the walls of the church. Instead the biggest danger to Christianity is Christians. It’s nothing external. It’s us! It’s that’s age-old tendency to drift from God, to lose our first love. The biggest threat to Israel wasn’t the Philistines or the Babylonians; it was their fatal propensity to abandon Yahweh. We’re no different.
As fascinating as the portraits of Abe, Katie, Dan, Lisa, Morninghawk, Andrew, Dave and Jenny are, what compels is Dyck’s offer to help them find their way back. It’s unlikely but welcome advice in this age of non-judgmental conversations and journeys. Dyck isn’t just the disinterested documentarian. He cares for the people whose stories he tells. He doesn’t merely analyze the problem; he offers solutions, lovingly and with skill. He wants to help lead leavers back to truth. And Generation Ex-Christian goes a long way to helping us — readers who care about those who wander away from faith — do just that.
While reading I learned that it won’t work to use persuasive arguments and apologetics with a recoiler, but it will with the angry agnostic. Generation Ex-Christian is loaded with practical help for engaging each type of leaver.
Dyck talks about the power of story and need to invite Postmoderns to serve alongside believers. He shows how Recoilers need empathy, not arguments. With Moderns, understanding worldview and apologetics matters. With Neo-Pagans, it’s not about earth science but the earth — shifting from worshipping the created to the Creator by showing care for His creation. Rebels come in two flavors: moral and spiritual. They need help to see we all serve someone or something, and true freedom can only be found in Christ. Drifters notice when we love Jesus for Jesus’ sake. They also need to be around other believers to develop relational connections that can lead to discipleship.
Through his skillful storytelling and careful research, Dyck capably addresses divergent and complex spiritualities, making them understandable. For believers who care about those in their generation, Dyck provides a guide for truly meeting people where they are with the express goal of knowing how to lead them where they need to be.
Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.