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I found a history book (A History of the Christian Church, Revised Edition by Williston Walker) at my local used book store. It was copyrighted in 1959. Have there been any developments in research since then (new archaeological discoveries, etc) that would be significant enough to motivate me to find a more recent book? How concerned should I be about error or incompleteness in an older history book?
If you are serious about learning the history of Christianity, you should be motivated to find more books period. A single book, especially one attempting to cover a massive subject like Christianity, cannot possibly suffice for anything beyond a cursory read. It will be "incomplete" regardless of how old or new it is, if only because you're fitting thousands of years of history into a single volume.
That said, A History of the Christian Church is a classic that would be 100 years old in four years, and copies are still sold. The author, Williston Walker, was a distinguished theologian at Yale. I would argue there's nothing wrong with reading the book, considering you already have it anyway. You can compare it to later works and see how the perspectives have changed.
As for trusting it and concern about errors: just be aware that not all of this 1959 edition's information will be the most up to date. So if you find conflicting information, you can assess the book's correctness for yourself.
Books on the history of Christianity are inevitably influenced by the author's own religious prejudices. In my opinion the most objective books are those from the end of the 19th century by writers like Wellhausen (Old Testament) and Harnack (early Christianity). At least they treated the subject as a serious historical discipline.
50 Reasons We're Living Through the Greatest Period in World History
I recently talked to a doctor who retired after a 30-year career. I asked him how much medicine had changed during the three decades he practiced. "Oh, tremendously," he said. He listed off a dozen examples. Deaths from heart disease and stroke are way down. Cancer survival rates are way up. We're better at diagnosing, treating, preventing, and curing disease than ever before.
Consider this: In 1900, 1% of American women giving birth died in labor. Today, the five-year mortality rate for localized breast cancer is 1.2%. Being pregnant 100 years ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer is today.
The problem, the doctor said, is that these advances happen slowly over time, so you probably don't hear about them. If cancer survival rates improve, say, 1% per year, any given year's progress looks low, but over three decades, extraordinary progress is made.
Compare health-care improvements with the stuff that gets talked about in the news -- NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell interrupted a Congresswoman last week to announce Justin Bieber's arrest -- and you can understand why Americans aren't optimistic about the country's direction. We ignore the really important news because it happens slowly, but we obsess over trivial news because it happens all day long.
Expanding on my belief that everything is amazing and nobody is happy, here are 50 facts that show we're actually living through the greatest period in world history.
1. U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today. The average newborn today can expect to live an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could.
2. A flu pandemic in 1918 infected 500 million people and killed as many as 100 million. In his book The Great Influenza, John Barry describes the illness as if "someone were hammering a wedge into your skull just behind the eyes, and body aches so intense they felt like bones breaking." Today, you can go to Safeway and get a flu shot. It costs 15 bucks. You might feel a little poke.
3. In 1950, 23 people per 100,000 Americans died each year in traffic accidents, according to the Census Bureau. That fell to 11 per 100,000 by 2009. If the traffic mortality rate had not declined, 37,800 more Americans would have died last year than actually did. In the time it will take you to read this article, one American is alive who would have died in a car accident 60 years ago.
4. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than 1 ton. I wrote this sentence on an iPad that weighs 0.73 pounds.
5. The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51. Enjoy your golden years -- your ancestors didn't get any of them.
6. In his 1770s book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: "It is not uncommon in the highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne 20 children not to have 2 alive." Infant mortality in America has dropped from 58 per 1,000 births in 1933 to less than six per 1,000 births in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. There are about 11,000 births in America each day, so this improvement means more than 200,000 infants now survive each year who wouldn't have 80 years ago. That's like adding a city the size of Boise, Idaho, every year.
7. America averaged 20,919 murders per year in the 1990s, and 16,211 per year in the 2000s, according to the FBI. If the murder rate had not fallen, 47,000 more Americans would have been killed in the last decade than actually were. That's more than the population of Biloxi, Miss.
8. Despite a surge in airline travel, there were half as many fatal plane accidents in 2012 than there were in 1960, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
9. No one has died from a new nuclear weapon attack since 1945. If you went back to 1950 and asked the world's smartest political scientists, they would have told you the odds of seeing that happen would be close to 0%. You don't have to be very imaginative to think that the most important news story of the past 70 years is what didn't happen. Congratulations, world.
10. People worry that the U.S. economy will end up stagnant like Japan's. Next time you hear that, remember that unemployment in Japan hasn't been above 5.6% in the past 25 years, its government corruption ranking has consistently improved, incomes per capita adjusted for purchasing power have grown at a decent rate, and life expectancy has risen by nearly five years. I can think of worse scenarios.
11. Two percent of American homes had electricity in 1900. J.P Morgan (the man) was one of the first to install electricity in his home, and it required a private power plant on his property. Even by 1950, close to 30% of American homes didn't have electricity. It wasn't until the 1970s that virtually all homes were powered. Adjusted for wage growth, electricity cost more than 10 times as much in 1900 as it does today, according to professor Julian Simon.
12. According to the Federal Reserve, the number of lifetime years spent in leisure -- retirement plus time off during your working years -- rose from 11 years in 1870 to 35 years by 1990. Given the rise in life expectancy, it's probably close to 40 years today. Which is amazing: The average American spends nearly half his life in leisure. If you had told this to the average American 100 years ago, that person would have considered you wealthy beyond imagination.
13. We are having a national discussion about whether a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage is too low. But even adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was less than $4 per hour as recently as the late 1940s. The top 1% have captured most of the wage growth over the past three decades, but nearly everyone has grown richer -- much richer -- during the past seven decades.
14. In 1952, 38,000 people contracted polio in America alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, there were fewer than 300 reported cases of polio in the entire world.
15. From 1920 to 1949, an average of 433,000 people died each year globally from "extreme weather events." That figure has plunged to 27,500 per year, according to Indur Goklany of the International Policy Network, largely thanks to "increases in societies' collective adaptive capacities."
16. Worldwide deaths from battle have plunged from 300 per 100,000 people during World War II, to the low teens during the 1970s, to less than 10 in the 1980s, to fewer than one in the 21st century, according to Harvard professor Steven Pinker. "War really is going out of style," he says.
17. Median household income adjusted for inflation was around $25,000 per year during the 1950s. It's nearly double that amount today. We have false nostalgia about the prosperity of the 1950s because our definition of what counts as "middle class" has been inflated -- see the 34% rise in the size of the median American home in just the past 25 years. If you dig into how the average "prosperous" American family lived in the 1950s, I think you'll find a standard of living we'd call "poverty" today.
18. Reported rape per 100,000 Americans dropped from 42.3 in 1991 to 27.5 in 2010, according to the FBI. Robbery has dropped from 272 per 100,000 in 1991 to 119 in 2010. There were nearly 4 million fewer property crimes in 2010 than there were in 1991, which is amazing when you consider the U.S. population grew by 60 million during that period.
19. According to the Census Bureau, only one in 10 American homes had air conditioning in 1960. That rose to 49% in 1973, and 89% today -- the 11% that don't are mostly in cold climates. Simple improvements like this have changed our lives in immeasurable ways.
20. Almost no homes had a refrigerator in 1900, according to Frederick Lewis Allan's The Big Change, let alone a car. Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.
21. Adjusted for overall inflation, the cost of an average round-trip airline ticket fell 50% from 1978 to 2011, according to Airlines for America.
22. According to the Census Bureau, the average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.
23. According to the Census Bureau, in 1900 there was one housing unit for every five Americans. Today, there's one for every three. In 1910 the average home had 1.13 occupants per room. By 1997 it was down to 0.42 occupants per room.
24. According to professor Julian Simon, the average American house or apartment is twice as large as the average house or apartment in Japan, and three times larger than the average home or apartment in Russia.
25. Relative to hourly wages, the cost of an average new car has fallen fourfold since 1915, according to professor Julian Simon.
26. Google Maps is free. If you think about this for a few moments, it's really astounding. It's probably the single most useful piece of software ever invented, and it's free for anyone to use.
27. High school graduation rates are at a 40-year high, according to Education Week.
28. The death rate from strokes has declined by 75% since the 1960s, according to the National Institutes of Health. Death from heart attacks has plunged, too: If the heart attack survival had had not declined since the 1960s, the number of Americans dying each year from heart disease would be more than 1 million higher than it currently is.
29. In 1900, African Americans had an illiteracy rate of nearly 45%, according to the Census Bureau. Today, it's statistically close to zero.
30. People talk about how expensive college is today, but a century ago fewer than one in 20 Americans ever stepped foot in a university. College wasn't an option at any price for some minorities because of segregation just six decades ago.
31. The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today, according to the Federal Reserve. Enjoy your weekend.
32. Incomes have grown so much faster than food prices that the average American household now spends less than half as much of its income on food as it did in the 1950s. Relative to wages, the price of food has declined more than 90% since the 19th century, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
33. As of March 2013, there were 8.99 million millionaire households in the U.S., according to the Spectrum Group. Put them together and they would make the largest city in the country, and the 18th largest city in the world, just behind Tokyo. We talk a lot about wealth concentration in the United States, but it's not just the very top that has done well.
34. More than 40% of adults smoked in 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2011, 19% did.
35. In 1900, 44% of all American jobs were in farming. Today, around 2% are. We've become so efficient at the basic need of feeding ourselves that nearly half the population can now work on other stuff.
36. One of the reasons Social Security and Medicare are underfunded is that the average American is living longer than ever before. I think this is literally the best problem to have.
37. In 1940, less than 5% of the adult population held a bachelor's degree or higher. By 2012, more than 30% did, according to the Census Bureau.
38. U.S. oil production in September was the highest it's been since 1989, and growth shows no sign of slowing. We produced 57% more oil in America in September 2013 than we did in September 2007. The International Energy Agency projects that America will be the world's largest oil producer as soon as 2015.
39. The average American car got 13 miles per gallon in 1975, and more than 26 miles per gallon in 2013, according to the Energy Protection Agency. This has an effect identical to cutting the cost of gasoline in half.
40. Annual inflation in the United States hasn't been above 10% since 1981 and has been below 5% in 77% of years over the past seven decades. When you consider all the hatred directed toward the Federal Reserve, this is astounding.
41. The percentage of Americans age 65 and older who live in poverty has dropped from nearly 30% in 1966 to less than 10% by 2010. For the elderly, the war on poverty has pretty much been won.
42. Adjusted for inflation, the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has increased from $378 in 1940 to $1,277 by 2010. What used to be a safety net is now a proper pension.
43. If you think Americans aren't prepared for retirement today, you should have seen what it was like a century ago. In 1900, 65% of men over age 65 were still in the labor force. By 2010, that figure was down to 22%. The entire concept of retirement is unique to the past few decades. Half a century ago, most Americans worked until they died.
44. From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.
45. The cost of solar panels has declined by 75% since 2008, according to the Department of Energy. Last I checked, the sun is offering its services for free.
46. As recently as 1950, nearly 40% of American homes didn't have a telephone. Today, there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in America, or enough for 5.7 per household.
47. According to AT&T archives and the Dallas Fed, a three-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915, and $12.66 in 1960, adjusted for inflation. Today, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $5 a month.
48. In 1990, the American auto industry produced 7.15 vehicles per auto employee. In 2010 it produced 11.2 vehicles per employee. Manufacturing efficiency has improved dramatically.
49. You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America's poorest are some of the world's richest.
50. Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you're one of them. We've got it made. Be thankful.
Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.
Hispanic Churches, Historically Spanish-Speaking, Adopt More English To Appeal To U.S.-Born Latinos
This article is a part of Faith Shift, a Huffington Post series on how changes in demographics, culture, politics and theology are transforming religion in America. Find out more about it here. Previous articles have covered Muslims, Jews and Mormons and Buddhists.
WEST KENDALL, Fla. -- For 19 years, Vanessa Pardo dutifully followed her parents to church on Sunday mornings, reciting prayers to padre nuestro and studying la Biblia, trying to figure out how the parables of Jesus applied to her life as a member of Iglesia de Cristo en Sunset, a booming Spanish-speaking congregation in this South Florida suburb.
While other kids her age drifted away from the faiths of their childhoods, Pardo was sure she believed in God. But as the daughter of Colombian and Nicaraguan immigrants, she wasn't sure she fully understood him in Spanish, her second language -- and a distant one at that.
So when the Protestant congregation instituted a controversial effort last year that included encouraging youth like Pardo to switch to worshipping separately in English, it immediately piqued her interest. She just had to break the news to her parents.
"It was never a faith of my own, it was 'oh, my parents' religion' or 'my family faith' and I never saw the personal connection between me and God," Pardo, now 20, said last Sunday after a service at Sunset Church of Christ, an English congregation that shares a building with the church of her childhood but has for much of its history operated separately from it. "I told them I wanted to go, but I told them I wanted to go in my own tongue and culture. Not theirs."
As the nation's Hispanic population has grown to 50 million, so too has the Spanish-language church, one of the largest segments of U.S. Christianity. But compared to previous decades, when the growth in the Hispanic population came from immigration, and when many of the nation's biggest Spanish-speaking congregations blossomed, the growth of Hispanics in the last decade has been led by second-generation and third-generation Hispanics, such as Pardo and her peers. The latest national census showed that native-born Hispanics, who tend to prefer English, now account for nearly two-thirds of the group.
While it's become common wisdom that English-speaking churches will shrink as younger generations, who are typically less religious, become the majority, the Spanish church -- known across denominations for its religious fervor -- is battling to keep its youth in the faith. It's having to budge on one of its biggest points of pride and identity, its language, to hold on to them.
Of the thousands of Spanish-only churches in the U.S. that formed decades ago to serve growing communities of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, several began in recent years to expand beyond their traditional culture and tongue as a means of survival, meeting varying levels of resistance and success.
The change is happening throughout Hispanic churches and neighborhoods, from the Mexican-American communities of Texas and California to the Puerto Rican enclaves of New York and in South Florida, where a mix of Cubans, Colombians, Venezuelans and Central Americans make up many of the region's Spanish-language congregations.
Oftentimes, members and pastors are torn: Do they hold on to language and heritage, losing members and relevance? Or do they adapt?
At Sunset, a dual-language, dual-congregation church building that for many years was effectively two churches sharing property, elders, ministers and lay members are grappling with such change.
Like many churches in South Florida, Sunset has long attracted English and Spanish speakers. For 20 years, it's had a Spanish congregation, whose membership has continually grown because of new immigrants becoming more active and younger over the years compared to the English side, which traces itself to a small house church established 101 years ago. While it's going through its own transition today, Sunset is a result of an earlier merger of two churches, one which established Spanish services in 1968 to cater to a growing Cuban immigrant population.
Generally, the church's English side is made of a mix of non-Hispanic whites, blacks and a smattering of members with other ethnic backgrounds. A few Hispanics attend the English services, too, but most end up on the Spanish side. Sometimes, it's out of necessity because they speak little or no English. Many other times, it's because they want to raise their kids not only in the same faith they were raised in, but the same faith in the same language. Together, the congregations have 500 members.
Ministers say that if the youth aren't encouraged and given the option by clergy and their parents to attend church in English, they'll leave for more English friendly Hispanic churches, such as mega-churches that have proliferated in part because of their targeted appeals to specific age, language and cultural-based groups.
"When you walk into Sunset, you have to pick one: English or Spanish. The way our ministries are set up, you can't really (have families) do both," said Jim Holway, a bilingual pastor and professional church planter -- someone who starts new churches. Holway, 53, landed at Sunset seven years ago to use it as a base to coach pastors of new Hispanic churches and congregations in the region and in Central America, but he quickly realized the bulk of his attention was needed at Sunset itself. "I started attending the church and kept on seeing these kids who were becoming teens and disappearing. Where were they going? Sometimes, it was to a church that offered them services in English. Other times, they would just drop out of church completely."
Holway, who was raised in Virginia but spent his adult life learning Spanish as a missionary in Argentina, is one of a core group of ministers spearheading an effort to transform Sunset into a successful multilingual church, where kids can speak and worship in English, parents can speak and worship in Spanish, and, he hopes, "each can grow in Christ and get along."
Ministers, struggling with the changing demographics of their congregations, have attempted a variety of means to attack the language divide. Older, monolingual pastors who separately ministered to different congregations are gone. New, younger bilingual ones have come in. The church has instituted a quarterly bilingual worship service, where hymns and prayers are alternatively said in English and Spanish ("It's exhausting and confusing to people who only speak one language," said Holway). Elders have considered having services in English for everyone, where live Spanish translation is done via headset, ("People think that is unfair to the Hispanics, and if it's in Spanish, the English speakers would be bothered," he said).
The congregations have some aspects in common. Iglesia de Cristo en Sunset uses a Spanish version of the same worship study book throughout the year as Sunset Church of Christ, and both congregations sing their Sunday praise a capella. But there are differences. In the English congregation, a recent Sunday's worship was full of a mix of Negro spirituals and 19th century Protestant hymns, while the Spanish side plucked lyrics from the Cantos del Camino, a popular hymn book that draws from a mix of traditional Christian songs from Spanish-speaking countries. During a 20-minute intermission between classes and worship, when both congregations found themselves in the hallway, and church ministers had set up donuts and coffee to entice the groups to mingle. A few of the Spanish side's members drank Cuban espresso in one corner, while English members across the room chatted over coffee.
Recently, ministers have considered a plan to scrap the church's Sunday schedule, which currently allows both worship groups and their Bible classes to meet at different times and effectively avoid each other. Classes and worship -- now spread over a five-hour period on Sunday mornings -- would happen at the same time under the new plan. That way, ministers say, families would be more likely to send kids to English classes and services while parents go to Spanish ones without extra trips to the church or any lag time spent in the halls.
All that is, of course, if the membership goes along with it. Many younger members, those in their teens through their 40s, are on board. But for those in their 50s and above, the situation is far from settled.
Last January, after years of studying membership patterns, plate collection statistics and participation in youth and Bible study meetings, church leaders pulled their congregations together to explain the new Sunset. They played YouTube videos that had been produced in both languages, and went over a PowerPoint presentation projected onto the auditorium screen usually reserved for hymn lyrics. Called "One Church, Two Languages," it made a two-prong argument. First, South Florida and the nation are melting pots, it said, and churches need to adapt. And in a denomination whose hallmarks include strict, literal readings of the Bible, it said the coming changes were part of God's plan.
It quoted Acts 6:1-4, which describes conflicts between Jesus' Hebrew-speaking and poor Greek-speaking disciples, in which the Greek speakers said their wives were being discriminated against in the food lines. The apostles called a meeting of the disciples, telling them that it would be immoral to stop feeding the poor or favor one group over another. The presentation likened the English and Spanish speakers to Hebrews and Greeks. It referenced Galatians 3:28: "In Christʼs family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ."
Below, in bold letters, it said: "There is neither LATINO nor ANGLO. No hay LATINO ni ANGLO."
In theory, everyone got it. In practice, not as much. Some Spanish speakers were suspicious the church would turn completely toward English, losing any relevance to cultures from their native countries. Some English speakers weren't comfortable with the style of the Spanish congregation, where kisses and hugs take the place of handshakes, and where worship can be a little less formal and a bit more social.
"It may seem like small potatoes. But these are the kinds of things that altogether make a church work," said Jeff Hinson, a church elder, during a recent gathering of Sunset's leadership team. "Some parents want kids to still maintain their identity, and we think they should, but we are not sure church is where that should happen. For us, it's better taught in the home."
"There's some resistance to that among parents," including among those who want their kids to be able to teach the faith in Spanish to newly immigrated children, such as those they would meet in school, he said. "That's good, but how much do we do that anyway? Look back 20 years, how many of our kids still come?
Carlos Carbajal, a 30-year-old ministry coordinator who moved from Honduras a year-and-a-half ago to focus on helping the congregations unite, replied: "It's like everyone has their ideal of what the best church is. But we have to fit it all together."
There are roughly 338,000 Christian congregations in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Researchers say it's more difficult to count the number of Spanish-speaking congregations, but in the National Congregations Study, Duke University sociology professor Mark Chaves calculated that 16 percent of U.S. Christians were part of churches that had services in either only Spanish or both Spanish and English.
According to a recent Pew survey, most are part of Catholic churches, which tend to have separate ministers and Bible study groups divided by language. A sizable minority are among Protestants, though their share is increasing as more Hispanics, traditionally a Catholic group, continue to join evangelical, pentecostal and independent congregations. The Pew survey found that 77-percent of foreign-born Hispanics attended predominantly Hispanic churches, while 48 percent of native-born Hispanics do the same. Researchers such as Rodriguez expect the latter figure to decrease.
As it is among Hispanic communities in the majority of the U.S., the occasional clash between languages and cultures at Sunset is often one of preference, not one of ability. Most Hispanics immigrants either already speak English or learn to speak it. It's hard to get a job with no English skills, after all. Of the 12.6 percent of the U.S. population that speaks Spanish, about 55 percent said they spoke English "very well" and 45 percent said they spoke it "less than very well," according to the American Community Survey, an annual count by the U.S. Census.
"Among linguists, it's sometimes called the three-generation hypothesis. The first generation speaks the language of their country and by far prefers that. The second generation is often bilingual but prefers English. And the third-generation usually speaks only English," said Tom Boswell, a professor at the University of Miami who studies migration patterns. "And that's where some of these struggles come in. Some families think that Spanish church will ensure that their kids and grandkids grow up in their language and culture, but that may not always work."
That same three-generation pattern applies in places such as South Florida, where Hispanics are in the majority, said Andrew Lynch, a bilingualism expert and Spanish professor at the University of Miami. But the trend may be harder to notice because "the cross-generational shift to English is largely masked by the constant influx of first-generation," Lynch said.
If it's harder to notice, it's also more difficult to address.
On the recent Sunday when Pardo attended English services, typical announcements of the season preceded worship: There was an upcoming Christmas party, an advertisement for a "Christians in Action" youth group event, and a quick reflection on the meaning of Advent, among other words. But one piece of news stuck out. The layman at the podium said a guest speaker, a professor named Dan Rodriguez, was coming in late January to talk to the congregation about the church's "top priority:" its kids and its future.
When he's not teaching, Rodriguez, an associate professor of religion and Hispanic studies at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, spends his time traveling the country to help Hispanic congregations and churches develop membership plans for the next generation of Hispanics that will fill their pews. Two weeks ago, he was speaking at a Southern Baptist church in Raleigh, N.C., and sometime after his visit to Sunset, he'll be offering advice at a Lutheran ministers conference in San Antonio, Texas.
"We will always have Hispanic churches and immigrant churches," Rodriguez, who authored the book "A Future for the Latino Church: Models For Multilingual, Multi-generational Hispanic Congregations," said in an interview. "But there are huge waves of change coming. And it's not just in Hispanic churches. This is happening in Korean congregations, too, and among other faiths. But it's the most stark among Hispanics, if because of nothing else than sheer numbers."
"Sometimes, I go to these churches, and I hear the pastor say, 'El diablo hablo ingles' -- the devil speaks English," said Rodriguez, a former Churches of Christ missionary who met Holway at a missionary conference in Honduras. "They don't mean it so literally, but there is a fear out there of change."
In many ways, the shift is an extension of what happened in the Catholic Church, Rodriguez added. No matter where one went, Catholic Mass was once only in Latin. But then-controversial mid-century Vatican II reforms allowed local languages, such as English and Spanish, to be used in services. The church grew as a result. Today, Latin Masses are offered on occasion for those who prefer a more traditional style.
Decades after such changes in the Catholic Church, Rodriguez's book documented more than a dozen Spanish congregations -- many that were megachurches -- that have been successfully incorporated English into services and strategized to hold on to their youth and future leaders.
In his presentations, he points to some of nation's most prominent churches that have transitioned their ministries, such as Chicago's New Life Covenant Church. A Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregation that had 125 members a dozen years ago when its name was Templo Cristiano Palestina, it today boasts 5,000 members among English and Spanish congregations. In reaching out to English-speaking Hispanics, it started offering programs such as school tutoring, and branched out to more established suburbs where native-born Hispanics could be found.
"They become very English-oriented in some ways, but they didn't lose their Spanish side. Of six services on Sundays, four are in English. But the Spanish congregation now numbers at 500. And they're spreading God's word to more and more people," Rodriguez said. "But among a lot of the churches I speak to, there's still fear."
While there are growing pains at Sunset, there's also a realistic understanding about why changes are necessary. The process has been the hardest during Sunday worship services, but at more strictly social events, there's been success. That includes a recent church barbecue, where members who were part of both congregations and spoke both languages came in equal numbers. It also includes the church's annual Day of the Americas festival, which happens around Columbus Day as a way to celebrate the diversity among church members and includes a parade of national flags and traditional dresses. For the first time last year, the festival was conducted in English in addition to Spanish.
As part of exploring ways to change its congregations and structure, Carlos Carbajal, the ministry coordinator at Sunset, commissioned an informal survey of the congregations. In the poll, he asked 169 members from both congregations if they understood the concept of a more unified but multilingual church, if they agreed with changing service times to help families send kids to classes and services that could better serve them, and if they had comments about the changing face of Sunset.
Nearly everyone understood and agreed with the idea of being a multilingual church. A little under two-thirds said they thought it would help to make services for both language groups happen at the same time. Among those who did not think the move would be a good one, more than half were on the Spanish-speaking side. In the comments box, some wrote that the changes would create "distraction and confusion" and a "division of families." But there were also positive words. There would be "more fellowship," members said, and the "youth can attend where they feel more comfortable." It would be easier for Spanish and English speakers to have lunch together without waiting for one another, they said, and more time in the afternoon for family activities outside of church.
The proposed ideas were hailed by people such as Pardo, one of a small number of church youth who have already switched to the church's English side on their own. People like her and their parents, who already see themselves as being part of the future, multilingual face of Sunset, agreed with the concept. It made sense to them. But some of those who were part of the church's old model, one divided by language and often by ethnicity, said they were turned off.
Joseph Hurtuk, a 38-year-old Colombian American who recently joined Sunset, is one of those who replied and said he didn't see it going in the right direction. To Hurtuk, it's not language barriers that are to blame for young Hispanics who have left church. It's lack of outreach to younger generations.
"We have a strong Latin ministry and a good English one here, why would you mess with that?" he said in an interview after attending the Spanish service last week. "It's good to combine our groups once a month (for bilingual services), and it's great to get to know each other. I don't mind English, I speak it. But my wife prefers Spanish and I don't think the language or timing excuse always works. Parents just need to get more involved in their kids lives if they want to keep them in church."
"At my old church, we would go to college campuses and pass out flyers. Why don't we do that?" he said.
Pardo's mother, Alicia, had also just left the same service. It's good for churches -- and parents -- to change with the times, she said. A women's Bible group teacher, she recently began joining her daughter for 2½ hours of English Bible classes and worship each Sunday morning before she attends Spanish service on her own.
"We appreciate when people try to learn our language and speak it to us. English is not my main language and I am not perfect, but I should do the same for my kids," she said. "It's all the same thing we are here for, it just sounds different" in English and Spanish, she said. "But we both come to glorify Christ."
Grace Arrives When You Need It
Grace in the New Testament is not only God’s disposition to do good to us when we don’t deserve it, often defined as unmerited favor — totally right definition — but it’s more. The grace of God is not just God’s disposition to do good to the undeserving. It is that, but now we’ve seen it’s power. Grace is power. Grace moves in and enables me to fulfill a resolve.
If you want to see this confirmed, look at 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked . . .” Many of Paul’s resolves to suffer for Christ, and plant the church, and get imprisoned and endure beatings, they came to reality by grace. Grace did that. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So I would base my whole sermon and life on that verse insofar as life is a dependence on the power of grace to be what we ought to be and do what we ought to do. By the grace of God, I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain, but I worked. But when I worked, it wasn’t I it was grace with me. That’s pretty clear, I think.
Grace is the key: the power of grace, moving into our lives, turning our resolves into hard work that’s free and joyful and satisfying and far from legalistic. Grace doesn’t produce legalism. It’s grace it produces hard work. Christians aren’t lazy, because grace is powerful.
Here’s another thing we need to know about grace: not only is it a power, but it is past and future. Grace has been in this room since you got here otherwise, you would be in hell — sustaining your faith, sustaining your breath. I’m talking about both unbelievers and believers when I say that. No bomb blew up, no poisonous gas has come, nobody has yet, to my knowledge, had a heart attack, and on and on and on the blessings would go. We have been in an ocean of grace in this room for the last hour or so. I call that past grace. That already happened.
And we have a little time to go yet in the service. And my guess is that most of us will live to the end. Maybe not, but we will probably live to the end of the service and maybe some more good will be done. So grace is coming to us in the next five minutes and all the rest of today. All morning long grace is coming.
So I have in my head a picture of a river. So there’s this river of promises, and the water that’s flowing to me with such power is the grace of God. It’s coming from the future, flowing into my life. It falls over the waterfall of the present into a reservoir called past grace. And therefore, the past grace reservoir is getting bigger every day. It’s getting bigger every minute, which means you’ve got more to thank God for every minute of your life than you did before, because the right response of the heart towards past grace is thankfulness, and the right response toward future grace is faith.
This is really fundamental and so simple. As grace is coming to you by promises from the future, what should you do with that? Trust them. Trust it’s going to come. He’s going to help you. He’s saying, “Believe me. Trust me. Every hour of your life, trust me. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I’ll hold you up. I’ve got an avalanche of promises for you. Trust me.”
And as those promises turn resolves into work, and flow into the history of your life, and the history of the church, you look back with an ever-increasing sense of, “You are amazing. I’m so thankful for 33 years of faithfulness at this church.” You would see that as amazing too if you knew how many sins are in my life. How did I survive 33 years? Grace. Total grace.
So the reservoir just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and this is inexhaustible. This fountain, this spring where the river of grace flows to us from the future, it will never ever run dry because Jesus bought infinite grace for us.
Now, let me clarify: it is not wrong to say we trust in past grace. That’s not a meaningless sentence. But I’ll tell you what I mean by that sentence. And when I say past grace, I mean truths like, Jesus died for me. There’s never been a greater demonstration of free grace toward John Piper than when the Son of God died on my behalf. And then about sixty years ago now, I was born again. That’s another stunning grace that’s way back there sixty years, and way back there two thousand years
I said gratitude is the main response to that, but if I say, “I trust that Jesus died for me,” what do I mean by that? What does it mean to use faith language backward? Everybody knows what faith language is for the future: “I promise you I’ll be there.” “I trust you.” And you build your whole day around it. But you would never say to somebody, “I trust that you would be on time yesterday.” But you can say, “I trust that Jesus, when he died, he died for me.” But what do I mean when I say that? I mean that when he died for me, he secured for me infallibly that there will be a river of grace flowing into me forever. I cannot fail.
Power is going to keep arriving in my life forever. His death guarantees my everlasting life, and my moment-by-moment perseverance to get there was also bought back there. So when I say I trust him back there doing that, I mean all of that was perfectly sufficient to secure this where I’ll live my life moment by moment. That’s what I mean.
It’s no abstract historical thing just to affirm that Jesus did something. If he didn’t do what I’m trusting him to have done, I have nothing in the future but trouble on my way eternally. But if he did what he promised he did, namely, die in my place, then maybe somebody in the next ten minutes will be saved in this service, and other wonderful things might happen — and all of it for our good.
One more clarification on what we mean by faith in future grace. It’s power. It’s past and future — faith toward the future, gratitude toward the past, but also a kind of faith in the past because of what it purchased for the future. And now one more clarification: when we say we trust God or believe his promise that he will work for us in the next five minutes or five decades, we mean we are satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus through those promises.
When Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8), he meant, “I embrace Christ as a treasure that is so satisfying by comparison, everything else is loss.” That’s what faith is when it receives Jesus as a treasure.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And he means soul thirst, heart thirst. Which means that believing is an eating or drinking of the beauties and glories and truth and wisdom and love and goodness and justice of Christ so that the soul is satisfied. Whoever believes in me will not thirst. Believing means coming to him and drinking so that our soul thirst is satisfied. So, faith in future grace means trusting in all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ in any one of his promises.
Here’s what Paul said: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Would you accept that content is another word for satisfied? I’m using them that way.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
And those all things include hungering and being brought low. And so, what’s the secret he’s learned? The secret he’s learned is to trust the ever-arriving, strengthening power of Jesus because he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul is saying the secret of contentment, the secret of satisfaction, is trusting the promises, “I’m going to strengthen you. You’re mine. I love you.”
And we believe that truth moment by moment as we walk through life and form our resolves and then trust that promise to come in and empower us to do them. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Commentary: The gaslighting within Mormonism must stop
Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune The holiday lights on Temple Square, Friday, November 27, 2015.
On Nov. 19, the Mormon Church conducted a “Face to Face” event with a group of single adults that was broadcast worldwide. Dallin Oaks and Russell Ballard, members of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, headlined the event and solicited questions for them to answer. When asked what advice the two men had for members of the church with friends who are “struggling with their faith” due to doubt and questions of church history, Mr. Ballard claimed the church has never hid “anything from anybody”.
Some are saying that the church has been hiding the fact that there’s more than one version of the first vision, which is just not true. The facts are we don’t study, we don’t go back and search what has been said on the subject. For example Dr. James B. Allen of the BYU in 1970, he produced an article for the church magazines explaining all about the different versions of the first vision. . It’s this idea that the church is hiding something, which we would have to say as two Apostles who have covered the world and know the history of the church and know the integrity of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve from the beginning of time, there has been no attempt on the part in anyway, that the church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody [sic].
Mr. Ballard went on to say,
. just trust us wherever you are in the world and you share this message with anyone else that raises the question about the church not being transparent. We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth.
This quote shows the narcissistic gaslighting tactics routinely employed by the leaders of the Mormon church. After citing their credentials, asserting their dominance, and shaming the audience for questioning, a bold claim that rejects the skeptical mindset is made. The audience is subsequently directed to simply “trust” those in authority. Such rhetoric is invalidating, discourages exploration and free thought, completely lacks even a shred of empathy, and is thus abusive to active, struggling, and former Mormons alike.
Setting aside the reference to an obscure and hard to find 1970 article in an attempt to claim the church never hid the existence of multiple First Vision accounts, this is a textbook example of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Apparently, in the minds of God’s hand-picked elite, fleeting references to issues that would cause an otherwise believing Mormon to put their eternal salvation in peril, constitutes being open and honest about church history.
Let us stipulate, for the sake of this discussion, that each and every issue in church history that has led a person to abandon their faith in Mormonism has been, at some point, written about in a church publication. Despite this, most ex-Mormons found themselves denying the truthfulness of these issues until they inevitably read it in an obscure publication which they considered to be “approved material”.
The fact that the research department at the Church Office Building can feed Russell Ballard with a 50-year-old reference does not negate the fact that the Mormon Church has manipulated the facts surrounding its own history since its inception.
Even former member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and current executive director of the Church History Department, Steven Snow, knows this. In a 2013 interview, published in Religious Educator, an official LDS publication, Snow said the following,
My view is that being open about our history solves a whole lot more problems than it creates. We might not have all the answers, but if we are open (and we now have pretty remarkable transparency), then I think in the long run that will serve us well. I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation — with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern I think we need to continue to be more open.
When a missionary is teaching an investigator and they recite the prescribed verbiage verbatim, there is no hint at all that they are only referring to one of the versions of the First Vision. As the investigator progresses to baptism and begins their journey through Mormonism, decade after decade, no lesson is given to inform them that there were multiple versions. When the convert then learns of other accounts on the internet, it is hardly fair to reference heretofore unsearchable article from 1970 they’ve never seen and claim they were never lied to.
When a member is taught from childhood that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from plates behind a curtain, the sense of betrayal should not be surprising upon discovering the “true” source of the book is a faintly glowing rock. It is manipulative to suggest that the member should have studied church history more thoroughly when the leadership incessantly obfuscates the source materials. That’s not how honesty and transparency work in the real world.
This conundrum, created by this culture of mendacity, has plagued the Mormon church for nearly 170 years. How do they move forward? Many will argue that it is unrealistic to expect missionaries to air all the dirty laundry to investigator or for the men who speak for Jesus to address these issues in General Conference every six months. Perhaps that is true. The ditch has been dug so deep there is no way to simply jump out of it. But the church can climb its way out.
It starts with admitting mistakes were made. Not Steven Snow admitting it. Dallin Oaks needs to admit it. Russell Ballard needs to admit it. Every single man who wants the world to believe that they speak for God needs to look their followers in the eye and say that mistakes were made. This removes the ability for members of the Church to dismiss the issue and claim that those that doubt have no valid reason to do so.
The next step would be to scrub every single manual. There are manuals right now on lds.org that contain half-truths and, in some cases, outright lies. In some cases it would be necessary to explicitly refute what was previously taught so that the class can be instructed that they should not believe that to be true anymore. This will catalyze future instructional accuracy.
The third step would be to create a web page that summarizes all of the major issues that the church feels it should correct the record on. The recent Gospel Topic Essays can be used as a base, but there needs to be a more simplified format that the information is presented in. A matrix that shows what was taught and what is actually correct. Each item can have a footnote to one of the essays or some other appropriate resource.
The final step is to change the rhetoric. Stop telling people that those that question church history just didn’t pay attention enough to the 1970 article by James Allen. That is insulting to everyone’s intelligence. Recognize and validate the fact that there are real concerns over how church history has been presented over the years. Accept the fact that a certain number of people are going to leave the church over it and that they are not bad people for it.
The culture of mendacity and gaslighting needs to die a quick death. It is our plea to those that are in power to take a step back and engage in some self-reflection. Ask yourselves if you could do a better job with the messaging and then take the steps necessary to accept responsibility and correct the issues. To the average Mormon who may read this, it is our plea to you to take a step back from all of this and ask yourself, have I ever been misled through a church source? If so, it does not mean you must abandon the faith. But demand accountability from your leaders and stop demonizing those that have chosen to move on because of the deceptions.
All History Is Controversial Here's How To Teach It
Does anyone know how to teach history anymore? That's an explosive question these days -- not just on college campuses, but also in town meetings, talk-radio shows, newspapers' editorial pages, Twitter and anywhere else that controversial debates stir people's blood.
Take something as fundamental as Woodrow Wilson's presidency 100 years ago. The passage of time has not made that a safe or dull topic. Oh, no! In the past year, we've seen a furious public debate about whether Wilson should be lionized as a brilliant statesman or vilified as a dreadful racist. Feelings (and evidence) run deep enough in both directions that the argument is far from settled.
Or consider the fateful 1945 Yalta summit, where Roosevelt and Churchill confronted Stalin's ambitions for Eastern Europe. Arguments about the Cold War implications of that meeting persist to this day. The Vietnam conversation is even messier. Even the prosaic task of listing top 20th century thinkers can provoke outrage. How prominently should Rachel Carson rank? What about Milton Friedman?
Yalta's famous sculpture (Photo credit: Yuri Lashov/AFP/Getty Images)
The more we look around, the more it seems as if there's no safe ground in American history. Every topic is controversial. Arguing has become a way of life, making it nearly impossible for agenda-setters to agree on what specific facts should be covered, or how to evaluate how well students are learning anything.
Into this steaming mess, a blue-ribbon gathering of historians offers a surprisingly fresh and effective new apporach. Leading the way are Lendol Calder of Augustana College and Tracy Steffes of Brown University. They have contributed a major chapter in a fascinating new book called "Improving Quality in American Higher Education," In it, they and a dozen colleagues take the traditional definition of teaching history -- and turn it inside out.
History, especially at the college level, can't be successfully defined as a mere "coverage" exercise, they write. There's far too much available knowledge to fit everything into one syllabus, they explain. What's more, history has fragmented into many genres and sub-genres. These exist side by side, proudly independent and highly resistant to being fused into a mash-up of the widely differeng perspectives of feminists, economists, unionists, pop-culture devotees and musicologists.
Dig deeper, Calder and Steffes write, and history "is all about interpretation." The great art of being a historian involves an ability to sift through incomplete or conflicting evidence -- and to make a case for an overview that unifies what's knowable. Only by debating and disagreeing can historians improve their theories and the overall quality of their work.
When undergraduates study history, Calder and Steffes add, the ultimate goal shouldn't be a cram-school mastery of names and dates. Instead, students succeed when they can master the habits of historians, including an ability to see different perspectives, to understand deeply the people and events they are studying -- and to wrestle with the limits of knowledge.
Immerse students in the challenges of assembling history themselves, the authors say, and colleges won't just groom a handful of future academics. Hands-on history builds vital skills for all kinds of real-world jobs after graduation, especially when it comes to "solving problems when definitive answers are elusive."
In recent months, I've been researching a new book about the surprising power of a liberal-arts education in our tech-fueled economy. I've spoken with dozens of history and classics graduates who now work in disciplines ranging from e-commerce marketing to hedge-fund management, user interfaces, and enterprise sales. (Update 3/2017: The book is finished now for a free preview, see www.georgeandersbooks.com)
Guess what! In all these fields, leaders say their successes trace back to the sorts of problem-solving skills that Calder and Steffes describe. A software sales executive with a knack for decoding different customers' needs says he's been mindful of the ways other people think ever since his Berkeley days studying Germany's political factions. A top-tier investor says his eye for spotting crucial details in financial footnotes was honed by his Dartmouth days picking apart passages of Herodotus. And so on.
Given that both academics and employers are more interested in how students think, instead of what they know, Calder and Steffes don't shy from prescribing a different set of standards for evaluating students and course design. Let go of the old-time fixation with defining the syllabus, they say. Take a more open-minded approach to the exact content of each class. Instead, press harder for students to become good at evaluating evidence, interpreting the historical record, figuring out what's significant -- and making sense of complex causes.
Get those habits right, Calder and Steffes contend, and graduates with historical training will be well-positioned to "become civic and workplace leaders who think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems." That's probably true no matter which side of the Woodrow Wilson debate -- or any other controversy -- they choose.
Before You Lose Your Faith
Has anyone ever confided in you, “I’m deconstructing”? Maybe you don’t know the phrase, but you know the phenomenon when yet another social-media post announces departure from the Christian faith. The cause could be sex, race, politics, social justice, science, hell, or all of the above. For many, Christianity is becoming implausible, even impossible to believe.
It might be tempting to leave the church in order to find answers, but the new book Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (The Gospel Coalition) argues that church should be the best place to deal with doubts. Deconstructing need not end in unbelief. In fact, deconstructing can be the road toward reconstructing—building up a more mature, robust faith that grapples honestly with the deepest questions of life.
One of the key concepts of the book is offering disenculturation as an alternative to deconstruction.
“The thing I want to do is grab a hammer and just smash the thing to bits. That’s the temptation,” Jay Kim said in this week’s episode of Gospelbound. “But disenculturation is a much more meticulous and precise process. Rather than the hammer, we take the chisel so that we don’t destroy the stuff of substance, we leave the remnants of true Christian beautiful orthodox faith in place while doing the important work of meticulously slowly, within community, chiseling away at all the excess that doesn’t need to be there and probably shouldn’t be there.”
Kim explained that since we stand on the shoulders of giants over 2,000 years of church history, we know the basic contours of the faith that we must not discard. And with these essentials in place, we can work through details that owe more to our place and time than the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Karen Swallow Prior, another contributor to the book, added that our digital age gives us access to a global village to demonstrate other expressions of Christianity that show what’s necessary and what’s incidental to the practice of our faith.
At the end of deconstruction is a question: Who is Jesus?
“Jesus is my bet, Jesus is my gambit, Jesus is good,” Derek Rishmawy said. “He’s better, he’s holier, he’s more beautiful, he’s kinder, he’s more gracious, he’s more gentle, he’s wiser than any of the select answers I might come up with.”
He is our ultimate hope, even when it feels like we’re falling away from faith.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Has anyone ever confided in you, “I’m deconstructing”? Maybe you don’t know the phrase, but you surely know the phenomenon.
Yet another social media post announces departure from the Christian faith. The cause could be just about anything. It could be sex or race or politics or social justice, science, health or all of the above.
For many today Christianity is becoming implausible, even impossible to believe. It might be tempting to leave the church in order to find answers, but the new book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church, published by the Gospel Coalition argues that church should be the best place to deal with doubts because deconstructing need not end in unbelief. In fact, deconstructing can be the road toward reconstructing, building up a more mature robust faith that grapples honestly with the deepest questions of life.
Collin Hansen: I’m joined by three of the contributors to this book, Karen Swallow Prior, Jay Y. Kim, and Derek Rishmawy. Thanks all for joining me on Gospelbound.
Derek Rishmawy: Thanks for having us on.
Collin Hansen: Well Derek let’s just start with you. Not every listener is going to understand deconstruction, they don’t know where that comes from. They may not have ever heard that term before. Tell us what is deconstruction.
Derek Rishmawy: So I get the easy one to start.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, right off the bat.
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah. So I’ll just I guess I’ll clarify right off the bat that it’s not necessarily if you know the term from literary theory and philosophy with Jacques Derrida at late 20th century developments, it’s not that. It’s not that term although you might trace a lineage of how those things are connected.
But most people are just kind of using that term in a loose sense in relation to the idea of construction or reconstruction. And when I use it in relation to faith, it’s helpful to think about Christianity as it’s often handed to us as a package, as a set of beliefs and a culture and practices that are all bundled together.
And what deconstruction seems to be used as is a process for thinking through kind of taking it apart bit by bit and examining it. And so for some folks there’s no one phenomenon of deconstructing, right? So, if somebody tells you that phrase you don’t automatically know what they mean. So there’s a range, right?
So for some folks you can think of it as sort of a re-situating process where folks are learning to take what we might say the doctrines of the faith being the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and re-situate them within a different framework of spirituality or political engagement or ecclesial situation, right?
It’s not necessarily Christianity is the creed and well the creed might be new to you. But quiet times and certain emotionalism in worship or whatever it is, it could be that and you’re pulling those things apart and you’re disconnecting that from your Republican voting patterns for the last 20 years or something like that.
So, for some folks it’s a re-situating. They’re still hanging on to their faith, they still believe basic core things that they did before, but they’re reorganizing the way that looks.
For some folks it’s a little bit more radical and we might call it a rethinking. So some folks are not just kind of re-situating kind of cultural encasing but actually questioning fundamental doctrines. So what does it mean that Christ died for our sins? What does it mean that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets? What do I think about scripture? What do I think about hell? Are these things necessary to Christianity?
So, 100 years ago, Ludwig Feuerbach wrote the book The Essence of Christianity. And he kind of distinguished the kernel from the husk. So a lot of people are trying to figure out what’s the kernel and what’s the husk and they’re not just doing that at the cultural trapping level, they’re doing at the doctrinal level, right?
So for some people it’s that. And then for some people it goes a little bit more radically in just thinking can I believe the thing at all? Do I need this thing? Is it so toxic through and through, toxic to my faith, to my pursuit of justice, to my own story of just trauma and hurt that the whole thing needs to be tossed?
And so when somebody says that, the first thing I’d say is don’t necessarily assume you know what they’re talking about. People are particular, and they use these terms in particularized ways even though what it generally signals is some reevaluation of the package that they’ve been handed for one reason or another and it’s a process of kind of going through what’s left, what they can hold on to or not. I don’t know if that’s helpful. Somebody pitch in.
Collin Hansen: Well, am I wrong to think that this sounds somewhat familiar to the emerging church of 20 years ago?
Derek Rishmawy: For me this is kind of a continuation. Yeah, 20 years down the line.
Derek Rishmawy: It’s not just familiar, it’s actually I think there’s a lineage from emerging stuff to what was kind of progressive evangelicalism too. And then thing … But I will say that I don’t want to narrow the conversation to just evangelical church, this is going on far beyond it and if you just look at what the thing is, I mentioned Harnack but rethinking the faith and kind of sifting kernel from husk, sifting culture from … That’s been going on for a long time and what we’re looking at is kind of a contemporary super-online phenomenon of this kind of old thing that’s been happening for a long time, at least as far as I can discern, but anybody else pitch in and correct.
Collin Hansen: Well, Karen, you’ve been working with students for a number of years, and what would you say is the most common reason you see for young people when they say they’re deconstructing, what would you say is the most common reason?
Karen Swallow Prior: Yeah, there are a couple of common reasons I think I can boil it down to. And I’ll pick up first on what Derek was talking about. Of course my context is having taught for over two decades in a conservative evangelical environment.
So the young people that I’m working with come from a particular kind of subset of Christianity. And I think for them, for many of them what I’ve seen is what Derek talked about primarily in that category one of kind of looking at how the doctrines of the faith have been packaged in cultural terms, political terms, even just sort of the practices like if you are a good Christian you will have a quiet time every day or you will do this or do that, these things that are very tied to a particular cultural moment.
I’ve seen a lot of students figure out whether or not those things, those cultural markers of evangelical faith are really intrinsic to the Christian faith itself. And that’s actually been a stumbling block for some of my students especially when I get so many students who come from very conservative backgrounds and they come to college like they’re on fire for Jesus and they think that the strength of their faith is measured by the minutes they put into their quiet time or the clothes that they wear and so forth.
And later figuring out that that is not the essence of the faith has been bewildering for a number of them. But beyond … That’s not the most serious deconstruction that I’m seeing although that certainly is one and it can lead down a wrong path.
But primarily I see the most serious kind of deconstruction taking place because of the topic I wrote about in this book and that’s anti-intellectualism. I’m seeing students who whether it’s English majors that I work with a lot or students coming from other majors in my general education classes who experience Christians refusing to answer questions or being afraid to challenge ideas and we’re not talking about the tenets of the faith, we’re talking about other things like scientific discoveries or good literature or just all kinds of questions related to the life of the mind that they don’t feel welcome to ask or that they actually feel they have been discouraged from engaging in.
And so I see a lot of students who are turned off by the anti-intellectualism and then when they approach matters of faith it becomes even worse. And if they find one thing that contradicts what they’ve been taught, then it can lead to a dismantling of the entire faith.
Collin Hansen: You do a great job of explaining there Karen that it would be a mistake for somebody to assume that our book or this book is about picking on or trying to embarrass or trying to point out the flaws of all these young people. Really it’s more of an encouragement to churches to be safe places for young people to be able to work these things out, to equip them as ministers, as leaders, as parents to be able to respond when this is happening so that young people don’t feel as though they have to leave the church to find answers to questions. And that I think really is more of the expected readership of this book in a lot of different ways.
Jay, let’s turn to you now. Derek said something I think was very noteworthy in his first answer. He talked about how this is a super-online phenomenon and certainly that was square with my experience as well and it’s hard to imagine the spread of deconstruction this way without the internet.
And I’m wondering, thinking positively here, what are some practices that you might commend for a healthy discernment for people who are looking for answers, looking to find, process their questions given just such a plethora of podcasts, TikTok videos, all kinds, how is somebody supposed to sift through all that?
Jay Kim: Yeah. Derek also mentioned that deconstruction is also not exclusive to the cultural moment we find ourselves in now. Meaning deconstruction was happening in various forms long before the internet.
I think what has happened with the internet though, the digital age has done two things. One, it has affected the shallowness of deconstruction, and it has certainly affected the speed or the rate in which it spreads essentially because of the digital devices at our disposal.
So yeah, that’s a great question. What are some sort of healthy ways we can engage. The reality is, digital technology is here and it’s here to stay, and there’s actually a lot of good that comes about from it. So we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
But it does remind me quite a bit if you go on the internet and you research or you just kind of Google advertisements for cigarettes in the mid-20th century, you’ll see all these ads for Camel cigarettes and there’s doctors. “Doctors recommend Camel cigarettes because they’re the healthiest.” It was almost coming across like this is actually good for you.
And here we are less than a century later, and it’s laughable, and I do wonder sometimes if we’re going to look back at the rise of the internet and ask those questions.
Now it’s certainly not the same, cigarettes, there’s just very little positive benefit while with the internet there are some real benefits. But I don’t know that we’re aware of its dangers and the sort of visceral ways that we need to be aware of them, meaning I think we sort of leverage these tools at our disposal fairly recklessly because they’re new to us, and we’re not yet fully aware of what it’s doing to us.
So the first thing I would say at a high level is we have to begin thinking about social media in particular but just the internet and digital technology as a whole as not simply being tools for information but actually tools for formation.
So our usage of these digital tools don’t just inform us, they form us and unform us and deform us in many ways. So there’s so much to be said here. One thing I would site is our mutual friend, Brett McCracken, and he’s a contributor to this book as well, and he’s got a new book out on something that he’s been working on for several years, The Wisdom Pyramid, that I’ve found so immensely helpful where he’s sort of taking the classic food pyramid and applying it to our discipleship to Jesus essentially saying at the base of the pyramid is Scriptures, the Bible, that’s where we go to first.
And then there’s the church, then there’s God’s glory revealed to us through beauty and nature and art. And then there are books and then sort of almost the dessert category of the pyramid would be the internet and social media.
So that’s one practical way of looking at it. How do you frame your worldview and the way you think about who God is and what he’s up to in the world. For many of us I think a healthy step would be to invert what is normative, which is to wake up and open up our Twitter feed or some other social media feed and try to get our information there rather to plunge ourselves into the depths of Scripture, to commit to a church community to find God beyond that through long-format reading and the beauty of the world around us, and then to see the internet and social media as sort of small, peripheral, supplemental guides.
Another thing I would say that’s been really helpful for me is from Andy Crouch, he talks about treating your smartphone like you would a young child. Meaning you put the phone to bed before you go to bed and you wake up before that phone wakes up.
I’ve got two young children, and I guarantee you if I went to bed, if my wife and I went to bed before they went to bed, it would be a disaster. And so it is with smartphones I think, to give ourselves that sort of bandwidth and that space to clear our heads and our hearts. So it’s not over-inundated with social media and the like.
Collin Hansen: Man, I have noticed those formative effects of the smartphone, of social media in particular. I’ve just noticed the way Twitter accelerates life. It just makes things move so quickly or the sense that things are moving so quickly. It just gives a sense that things are happening. It becomes its own little self-enclosed world or perspective on everything. It’s very engrossing but also distorting in that as well, and it has that formative effect, and Derek I don’t see you spending nearly as much time on Twitter as I used to there. I don’t know what kind of decisions you made there.
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah, I’m about to have a kid, and I just I just need to lower the anxiety levels right now and just reckon with myself I think to some degree. So yeah I’m off right now.
Collin Hansen: I’ve had to make similar decisions just in terms of what you pointed out there, anxiety levels when life is moving at that pace. There is a sense sometimes I get with the deconstructing process of a loss of control. It just almost feels like things are spinning and I don’t know how to find my place.
I had a friend of mine liken it to surfing when a big wave comes and it just dumps you. And you don’t know up from down or left from right anymore, you don’t know if you’re going to bash your head on a rock, or if you’re going to just sort of get guided onto the sea shore. You just don’t know.
And it’s a very scary kind of experience, and I wonder Derek if one way that people grab on to find something stable is to buy into some of the common deconstruction templates that we see out there because it doesn’t really appear that every story is different, it appears there is even kind of a … It also depends on your medium.
Collin Hansen: Because there seems to be an Instagram type of deconstruction that we see in that template. So, how do you see that kind of, I guess performative deconstruction affecting this phenomenon?
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah, that’s a hard one. I think you’re right to say that it’s not just one template. There are some recognizable templates out there for people telling their stories of coming to a deconstructing point or how they did it.
And there’s probably a couple different reasons for that. One is just because a lot of people are, and we have to reckon with this is a lot of people are having the same experiences in our churches. So, if a lot of people keep saying the same thing, then people need to reckon with the fact that, okay, well maybe our churches aren’t asking these questions properly. Maybe we’re not dealing with our politics properly. Maybe we’re not dealing with abuse properly. Maybe we’re not.
And so a lot of churches have to reckon and ask hard questions of themselves. So if you keep hearing themes, pay attention if you’re a pastor or a parent, whatever.
The other thing that’s not mutually exclusive, you kind of already gotten at, is that stories shape our experiences and we don’t just generate them out of nowhere, right?
And I think about an example, an analogy for my health. So I’ve had chronic pain issues for the last 10 years, and one thing I’ve noticed over time is I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on with me, my discomfort was always real, like painfully real. Like you can’t walk sometimes real.
And over the years though my explanation for what was wrong with me would shift overtime as I either went to a different doctor or different WebMD site or a different whatever.
And I remember even one time where they were testing me for a neuromuscular disease, and the doctor kind of gave me this possible diagnosis, and I was looking at the diagnosis, and it matched some of my symptoms, but it didn’t seem to initially match others. But as I started to narrate my own experience back over the last five, six years in my head, I actually found myself retrofitting some of my experiences to fit the diagnosis because I want an answer for my pain and my pain was real.
And it turned out the diagnosis was wrong, and we’ve moved on since then. But I’m not saying that’s what everybody is doing, but I think there is a certain reach for an explanation when we’re in disorienting times, when we are socially dislocating, and it doesn’t surprise me.
Last year has been just massively dislocating for people. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, a shut down, things are out of whack. People’s relationships are in critical states. They haven’t been in church for six, seven months often. They’re hyper-online, the world is going to end in a lot of ways feeling of things. And so everything is dislocated.
That’s not driving all of it, but that can’t be underestimated as a thing. So often times we reach for narratives that are on offer and there’s a philosopher, I cite him in that chapter I wrote,
Jason Blakely, he’s got a little book called We Built Reality. He talks about the way a double hermeneutic effect takes place where sociologists will put forward an explanation for human behavior in some areas. So 1950s it kind of almost talk about the rational consumer as a way of describing purchasing behavior.
And overtime, as that idea filtered its way out into the culture, people actually started to describe their own behavior increasingly in ways that fit the model that had been proposed. So it was actually like a diagnosis. It’s almost like Shrödinger’s Cat we’re observing it. Actually changes whether it’s there or not and whatever.
But there is a sense in which proposing the diagnosis actually changes whether it’s there or not and whatever. But there’s a sense in which proposing the diagnosis actually begins to create a cultural effect and becomes a self-fulfilling interpretive grid.
So the more people are opposing these, to go back to online, you see one Instagram story that looks a certain way, it creates an intensive effect where more and more people start to interpret their experiences, their painful experiences and discomfort along that same grid and then it just has a multiplier effect.
And so I think that’s not all of it, right? And I’m not saying that you’re just following some cultural trend necessarily, if you’re experiencing these things. But we have to wrestle with the fact that other people stories shape our own understandings around sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, sometimes it can be distorting.
And so just wrestling with that, why these templates, they become memes, right, and memes spread. So that’s I think part of that.
Collin Hansen: Jay, I love the perspective Derek is bringing here because I think it’s so pastoral of helping to understand not only the specifics of each person but also how we’re all caught up in bigger narratives.
And one of the bigger narratives we find is that churches are not a safe place to be able to deal with these things so people can retrofit to say, “Right, there was that one time when this youth pastor said this or when somebody, a pastor said this or something like that.”
Jay if somebody asked, would you say your church is a safe place to doubt?
Jay Kim: That’s a great question. I’m biased so I would say yes. But I have reason for that. Yeah, what Derek said I think is spot on that memology is a real thing. It’s a field of study right now in fascinating ways because it shapes cultural narratives, which then have the power to shape our own personal narratives and then the waters get very murky in terms of trying to figure out what is the anchor, what is the truest story upon which we can sort of build a life and a worldview and all those sorts of things.
So when it comes to our church, and we’re not unique in this, I think many churches take this approach particularly in the digital age. The reason I say I do think we’re a safe place to doubt is because we’ve been trying really hard especially in recent years to promote slow and steady.
We’ve been inviting people to slow down from the pace at which all of the rest of their lives seem to move. Much of it propagated by social media, and we talked about it earlier just this urgency, like you said, Collin, that you feel like you’re wrapped up in this sort of speed that you didn’t …
It was a pace you did not set, it’s a pace that’s been set for you by social media and the digital age. And so we’ve been trying to create really a transcendence space like come, slow down. The goal is not for you to come and sit through an hour and 15-long worship service and then have all the answers. The goal is for you to commit to a particular community and for us together to embrace the slow and steady journey of growth and learning and transformation into the image of the risen Christ.
And so we try to push away as much as possible sort of quick heat, microwaveable answers even though often that’s what people in terms of their felt needs, that’s what people are coming for.
We don’t say the answers don’t exist, we simply say it’s like a really good gumbo, and it’s going to take hours and hours on the fire for us to be able to pull out all the flavors in such a way that it’s enriching and transformative in a meaningful way rather than popping it in the microwave for 30 seconds and there you go, at least it’s hot, that sort of thing.
So that’s been a big part of it too. And I think the challenge for us, as has been the case for probably most churches that we face in that invitation is just the incredible rise of individualism.
In the West this has been going on for a long time. It predates the internet age by a lot, but still the internet age has sped it up. The individualism now is just it is the default worldview of most people. That everything about their life experiences has to be catered to them and that’s just, my best understanding of Scripture, that’s not the way of Jesus.
And so there’s a lot of undoing that needs to happen there. But also real beauty on the other side of it in ways that sort of energize the human being. We’ve seen that with people when they sort of let go of their hyper-individualism. It’s hard, but then they experience the beauty of Christian community and it energizes them in brand new ways.
Derek Rishmawy: On that slowness, I think there’s something really important here also for not just talking to folks who want answers, but also for those who are anxious to give answers. I think a lot of damage is done when folks, pastors, small group leaders, Christian friends who are just concerned for friends who may be asking difficult questions and there is an anxiety that’s provoked in you that you have to provide one right then and there that leads people to just give really bad ones or half-baked ones or actually, and this is something that an embrace of the gospel, an embrace of God’s wisdom and the fact that God is always at work is helpful for you as someone who’s trying to minister to others is taking to God your own anxieties about having the right answer in that moment or in that conversation.
When talking to college students at UCI, I have several where it’s like, “Okay, we got an hour. That’s cool, we don’t have to get to everything, and you’re still cool to come and join, and we don’t really sign it on the dotted line. We don’t have a dotted line for you to sign.”
But giving space for that and recognizing though, and this is also another very important thing with that anxiety, is the way other people’s doubts and anxieties and stories are actually probably provoking and raising some of your own. This is I’m going to go with Charles Taylor again, because everybody at TGC goes to Charles Taylor.
But the thing that he points out about, the fact that everybody’s faith is cross-pressured, everybody’s doubts, everybody’s beliefs, everybody’s remix of their faith or staunch confessionalism or whatever it is. It’s all bumping up against each other and somebody maybe putting that energy out there really strong like they’re really deeply rooted in their confession, they’re really deeply rooted in their anti-belief, they’re really deeply rooted.
And some of that, a decent amount of that is actually posturing to kind of prop yourself up in your … You’re almost hyping yourself up. “I’m definitely not close to that. Or I’m definitely not just about to just walk back into my old Bible study. I’m definitely …?
So recognizing that your own anxiety might be playing a role and dealing with that and taking that to Jesus so that you don’t actually do pastoral damage to others because you’re actually trying to force somebody to land at an answer way too quick because you’re really just trying to quell your own doubts.
This is something you have to deal with otherwise if you don’t actually have that embraced and nailed down for yourself you’ll force other people to arrive too quickly and you’re not helping them, you’re helping yourself.
Collin Hansen: I can see that especially, Derek, for people who are working with young adults, especially college pastors, because most college pastors if they’re in their 20s don’t have everything figured out, they don’t have all their theology settled. And so they are themselves in flux as they’re trying to guide younger people through this process and you can see how a lot of damage results there.
Karen, coming back to you, have you seen someone come through the deconstruction process with a stronger faith on the other side, and I’m hoping you have. And if so, what made the difference in that case?
Karen Swallow Prior: Yeah and of course this goes back to what do people mean by deconstruction. And there are so many elements too and I really appreciate the way Derek laid out the different layers, because I think they all apply.
I have seen a lot. Again, I’ve been teaching for a couple of decades, and I will say that I have seen far too many students deconstruct and not come back. And just generally speaking, for whatever this is worth, and it’s anecdota,l but I’ve taught thousand of students in a conservative evangelical environment, the ones that fall the hardest are the ones that were the most adamant, conservative, secure, confident in those areas when they came to college.
And they really fell hard. But what I have seen, actually there’s a student that I’m actually pretty close to, a former student, I’m pretty close to and had her a number of times as a student, and I’ve watched her continue on with her life and marriage and children and all of those things.
And she went through a particular kind of deconstruction, more of the stripping away of the cultural trappings but that caused her to reconsider the doctrines and her faith. And she seems to be in a very strong place and I’m actually … I threw the question out there on my social media as well, which may have been a foolish thing to do, but these stories are amazing and I’m fine and I don’t know if this …
Derek, I think it was Derek mentioning before. Yeah, he just talked about how when we’re hearing these stories, if we are honest and we are vibrant, our faith is not dead. We’re asking questions of ourselves too, right? We’re asking … So when someone comes to me and says, “Do you think I’m still a Christian because I no longer vote this way. Or do you think I’m still a Christian because I believe this teaching about women?”
Those are some easy ones. But I do have to confess that in the past few years there have been, I know this is not a new thing. I know that these things have been going on as long as, well as long as Christianity has existed and especially as long as Protestantism has existed because of the nature of it.
But in the past few years there are many cultural trappings that are being exposed and yet at the same time there are many Christians out there who would and do say that absent those cultural trappings you are not a believer.
So, as I see more and more people who are stripping away those cultural trappings, deconstructing those and yet do affirm the orthodox creeds and do show fruit in their lives, then I’m asking myself as well, “Well what are the cultural trappings that I’ve assumed all these years?”
And so to sum up my entire answer, I actually having heard so many stories and so many variations of them, I’m ultimately right now hopeful and optimistic because of this deconstruction that’s going on in a variety of ways and because things do move so quickly, even some of the most dire and sad stories that we’re hearing, that seem the most hopeless, things do pass ,and I actually I’m confident that maybe the pendulum will swing the other way and something new and good will come out of it and dare I say maybe even some kind of a new 500-year moment reformation.
So I’m hopeful and optimistic from the stories that I’m hearing about people deconstructing.
Collin Hansen: Well I’m glad to hear that Karen. And Jay this leads straight into my question for you because in this book we’re, as I mentioned earlier, not trying to beat up on people and say, “How dare you?” Not trying to shame people and say you’re supposed to put all these doubts or questions away. No, we’re trying to again bring them to the surface and try to level one another and to help them through this process.
And we also propose in the book that maybe deconstruction is not the most helpful way to think about this but in fact we would invite all Christians to undertake a process of disenculturation.
Jay could you just explain a little bit of what disenculturation looks like and why it’s necessarily actually for all Christians to do?
Jay Kim: Sure, yeah. In the book Hunter Beaumont wrote a chapter about this, and super helpful. Yeah, Christianity like all movements, really, it has a particular language and customs and aesthetics and norms that find their own sort of iterations throughout time and culture.
So, I grew up a child of the evangelical youth group sub-cultures. So I grew up going to Acquire the Fire conferences and listening to DC Talk’s Jesus Freak on repeat.
And so there’s a lot to it that for me when I went through my own deconstruction phase, which I did, which several contributors to this book actually also went though. So there’s a lot of empathy there. There certainly is for me and for so many of us who contributed to this book.
Yeah, that’s essentially what it was, what sort of would probably have been labeled and maybe started out for me personally as deconstruction really ended up being in a much more precise way, disenculturation where I was with the help of some guys who really continued to love me and care for me and pray for me and sort of nudge me toward Jesus again.
I was meticulously going through and parsing out that which was a part of the ‘90s evangelical youth subculture that I grew up in.
Jay Kim: That which was the step of substance, genuine, historic, orthodox Christianity. So for me a way to think about it was, it was essentially sort of doing the hard work of figuring out what is the stuff of substance here and what is the stuff of style, because the styles change, and some of it is helpful for a time, and then it becomes really unhelpful, even harmful.
Some of it is just unhelpful and harmful from the onset as Karen was talking about some of the cultural trappings that are so rampant these days. There’s some of it that you look at and you just say, “Oh, this is not some sort of thing that’s helpful for a season, and it’s going to be dead and gone some day.” There’s some stuff that’s just like, “No, this isn’t actually Christian. This is not the way Jesus. It doesn’t fit within, again, beautiful, historic, orthodox Christianity.”
And I think when C. S. Lewis talks about chronological snobbery, that’s really helpful for me. It’s hard to live outside of the time and space and moment that you live in. It’s just really difficult.
But one of the most beautiful things about Christian faith is that we stand on the shoulders of giants, we have 2,000 years of the church’s history that should paint for us in very big broad strokes what it means to be a Christian, and once we can identify those things, it becomes much more, not easy, but it becomes much more doable to dis-enculturate.
To then say, “Okay, this is the stuff of faith that that has been true since the beginning and all of this other stuff that angers me, that frustrates me, that really wants me, it pulls at me to sort of push away from the church or from other Christians or whatever, it becomes clear that we can sort of parse that stuff out.
That is hard work. I think one of the metaphors I use in my chapter in the book is the difference between hammers and chisels. And I think with deconstruction so often there’s so much emotion laced alongside it, which makes a lot of sense because like Derek said earlier, it’s all shaped by our stories.
So, when you see a particular caricature for example of Christianity and that caricature hits a particular note, a minor note in the song of your life.
The thing I want to do is grab a hammer and just smash the thing to bits. That’s the temptation. But disenculturation is a much more meticulous and precise process. Rather than the hammer, we take the chisel so that we don’t destroy the stuff of substance, we leave the remnants of true Christian beautiful orthodox faith in place while doing the important work of meticulously slowly, within community, chiseling away at all the excess that doesn’t need to be there and probably shouldn’t be there.
And that differentiation I think is really important. And to Karen’s point about her hope, about the future, I’m hopeful too because I’m excited to see more and more people now leaning in that direction and pointing people in that direction.
“Hey, let’s parse this out a little bit more thoughtfully rather than deconstruct, disenculturate genuine Christian faith from all the other stuff that we’ve attached to it.”
Karen Swallow Prior: Some of the most encouraging stories that I’ve heard of deconstruction actually are coming from my former students who have left America to go and serve in other parts of the world, and that’s where it becomes so much easier to see the cultural things.
And we shouldn’t all have to do that physically or literally although many of us should. But that’s perhaps one of the gifts of the digital age as well, is that we are able to, this global village allows us to see more expressions of Christianity that are not confined to our country or our region.
And so … Or we could just read books too, that’s my preference. But yes, just getting, being able to see beyond our own cultural moment in time and place.
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah, I think I’ll just say that it’s helpful to do that in terms of just having a global mindset of just even recognizing that, not to be crass, but oftentimes we shrink. We talk about abstractions about the church and we’re really talking about our youth group and we’re really talking about the last two or three churches that we’ve been in.
And there’s enough of those. You string them together, there’s a lot of failures. But yeah, you expand out the view and you just see a lot more of the glory alongside the ugly and church history is a lot of ugly and a lot of glory that reminds you.
It’s actually the whole thing is only justified by Christ anyways. And so you do have to reckon with that but you get more of the … You get a fuller picture than just kind of being myopic about our North American experience.
Collin Hansen: Well Derek you have one of the concluding chapters in the book and I guess it’s sort of our anticipated Jesus juke chapter, is that what you would say?
Collin Hansen: What are you trying to accomplish in that chapter?
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah. The gist of it is this, if you’re rethinking Christianity and if you’re deconstructing, reconstructing, whatever is it, really the thing is look at Jesus, right? He’s the center, he’s the point. Wrestle with him and we need to wrestle with him on his own terms, right?
Like what did Jesus claim about himself? Who did he say he was? Was he the sinless son of man, the son of God who lived and died and rose again for you? If so, that changes the question of what we’re doing, right? If so, then wrestling with what did he say? I’m wrestling with hell, I’m wrestling with Scripture, I’m wrestling with men and women, I’m wrestling with all these issues.
So go, “Did Jesus have words on this?” I’m not talking about a canon within a canon. I think Paul was inspired, I think the Old Testament is inspired partially because of what Jesus said.
But the thing is just I see a lot of people wrestling with these things or talking about going through this process and oftentimes it’s easy to talk about Jesus in abstractions and not wrestle with the actual flesh and blood person that we meet in the Gospels who said real words about all sorts of subjects like money and politics.
And so wrestling with is my problem with Christianity, is my problem with Christ himself actually, and that changes the question. But my big bet though, my big bet is that you can count on Jesus, right? Jesus is my bet, Jesus is my gambit, Jesus is good. He’s better, he’s holier, he’s more beautiful, he’s kinder, he’s more gracious, he’s more gentle, he’s wiser than any of the select answers I might come up with. I’m going to biff it. I’m even going to biff it probably in my presentation of Jesus because I’m still wrestling with him, and really that’s one of the images that I like with this whole process is Jacob wrestling with the angel, Jacob wrestling with God until he gives him a blessing.
My thing is wrestle with Jesus and you may end up with a little bit of a limp, your idea of who God was growing up and it may lead to some dislocation. You may dislocate churches, you may dislocate political ideology, you may dislocate a lot of things, right?
But you’ll get a blessing because Jesus is the blessing. Jesus is the gospel, Jesus is good. So look at him. If the church sucks, that’s your church. That doesn’t surprise me. Jesus does not though.
And so that … I don’t really care about you continuing to call yourself an evangelical, continuing to go to whatever church up the street that you were raised at. It would be great if you could, if it’s a good one.
I don’t care about a lot of those things, but my thing is are you hanging on to Jesus? If you hang on to Jesus, if you let Jesus hang on to you, everything else will sort itself out in the long run. He will sort it out.
And that’s the thing I love about Jesus. Is Jesus is extremely patient, right, and that’s I think something for pastors and for people walking, for people to look at, is you need to look at Jesus, right?
Has the Jesus you’ve been presenting actually part of the offense because you’ve muted the offense or you’ve added to the offense? Like look at Jesus. Let him be your guide through this whole reconstruction process. Let him examine your heart, let him ask difficult questions of yourself, of your own motives, like why am I going through this, what’s going on?
And I’m repeating myself, but it’s hard once you get a preacher on a roll about Jesus. Really it’s he’s the good news, he’s the whole point, and if not who cares? Really, I could not care less about any of the other questions if Jesus isn’t actually the risen son of God. Like let’s just pack it up and go home.
Collin Hansen: Sounds straight out of 1 Corinthians 15, right there.
Collin Hansen: Probably it would be wise for us to end on that note. But Karen I would like to give you a last chance, let’s talk to parents whose children are walking through this process, let’s talk to pastors young and old, church leaders in general who …
I expect this book will be picked up especially by people who are trying to … They aren’t deconstructing themselves necessarily, but they’re trying to help somebody else who is, either just to read it to understand for themselves or to share it with that person at whatever stage they might be in.
Let’s speak to those leaders here on Gospelbound. What one thing do you wish every church leader and parent knew about deconstruction?
Karen Swallow Prior: I wish that they knew how important it is to not only be open to but actually encourage questions. To be explicit in saying and modeling the ability to ask the questions, to wrestle, to come to someone with questions and then as Derek already said, to be fine with not knowing the answer or not being able to provide it right away.
Just encourage explicitly the asking of questions as a wrestling of questions and don’t ever assume that those questions are not lurking in the back of a promissioners or young person’s or student’s mind, because they are.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, I think one way teachers can model this especially well is to anticipate those concerns, ask them themselves in their preaching, in their classroom teaching and answer them respectfully. Assume that people even as they might be nodding along, might be right there on the spot Googling something on their smartphone or scrolling through their Twitter feed and finding something else out there.
It’s pretty safe to assume, I’d say in light of what Derek was talking about earlier, that we’re in a cross-pressured environment and that all of us come to belief now through doubt.
And so this is not so much a process that we find to be an aberration, but rather one that we expect to be increasingly normative, which is why in the book we’re trying to recommend the process of disenculturation as necessary.
My guests on Gospelbound this week have been Karen Swallow Prior, Jay Y. Kim and Derek Rishmawy. Contributors to The Gospel Coalition’s new book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church. You can pick it up at Gospel Coalition’s online store, store.TheGospelCoalition.org. Thank you all for joining me today.
Derek Rishmawy: Yeah, thank you.
Karen Swallow Prior: Thank you.
This episode of Gospelbound is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Brave by Faith by Alistair Begg. More information at thegoodbook.com.
Collin Hansen serves as vice president for content and editor in chief of The Gospel Coalition. He has written and contributed to many books, most recently Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age, and hosts the Gospelbound podcast. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University. He edited Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor and The New City Catechism Devotional, among other books. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School.
Karen Swallow Prior is research professor of English and Christianity and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.
Jay Kim serves as lead pastor of teaching at WestGate Church and as a teaching pastor at Vintage Faith Church . He’s the author of Analog Church and lives in the Silicon Valley of California with his wife, Jenny, and their two young children. You can follow him on Twitter.
Derek Rishmawy is the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) campus minister at University of California Irvine and a PhD candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He writes a column for Christianity Today and co-hosts the Mere Fidelity podcast. You can follow him on Twitter or read more at his blog.
Why We Wrote This
A tug of war over the teaching of American history and race is playing out in state legislatures. Given the chasm between views on either side, what is the best path forward?
Those in favor of the new laws want more restrictions as classroom discussions and hastily implemented anti-racist lesson plans have taken hold in the past year. Those opposed say rules could have a chilling effect on conversation about racism and race in schools just when it is needed most.
“The debate isn’t about whether there’s been racism it’s about what racism has meant and what it’s done to America. Is it something that’s been progressively overcome as we move toward fulfilling our national ideals, or is it something that’s been a constant force in society, making society itself irredeemably racist?” says Jonathan Zimmerman, author of “Whose America?” “What we need is for each side to have the courage to let that debate happen in our classrooms.”
Kenya Minott and Robin Steenman are both concerned about the national uproar around critical race theory, but for different reasons.
For Dr. Minott, a consultant in Houston who provides anti-racism training, the recent bill passed by Texas lawmakers is a frightening effort to discourage conversations about systemic racism that could lead to better racial justice. It targets what the politicians say are concepts found in critical race theory, a decades-old idea that considers the ways race and racism influence American politics, culture, and law.
“One of the things this legislation and others around the country is causing is keeping the silence [about racism] . and that’s harmful for all of us but most particularly students of color,” she says.
When her father was killed, Elizabeth Gleason LaTorre was a couple of months shy of her fourth birthday.
She doesn't have many clear memories of her father, though she remembers him giving her rides on his shoulder and holding her little sister who had just been born.
Though she thinks about him every day, she has no more memories of John V. Gleason, the Plainfield police officer who was the only fatality in the days of unrest.
Though no formal commemoration of the riots has been planned, LaTorre hopes that what happened to her father will be remembered. There is a memorial to Gleason and the other officers who have died in the line of duty at police headquarters.
"My dad and mom were aware something bad was going to happen that day," LaTorre said. "His last words to my mom was 'I can take care of myself'."
At about 8 p.m. July 16, Gleason, whose father had been a lieutenant in the police department, was directing traffic at Plainfield Avenue and West Front Street at the perimeter of the cordoned-off area. Two white males approached him and told him that they had been threatened and pursued by a black man, later identified as Bobby Lee Williams, who was wielding a hammer.
The officer left his post and followed Williams down Plainfield Avenue toward West Third Street, where Gleason was surrounded by a crowd of 20 to 40 people. Some in the crowd threw items at him as he was trying to arrest Williams. In response to a move made by Williams, Gleason fired his gun, hitting Williams in the arm and stomach.
The group then came after Gleason and he tried to escape up Plainfield Avenue. The crowd knocked him down. As a state appellate court later wrote in a ruling, "members of the mob inflicted a savage beating which continued until he died." Court records say say he was beaten with a baseball bat, hammer or meat cleaver, rocks, bottles, boards, clubs and a shopping cart.
Patrolman John Gleason
(Photo: Courtesy of Officer Down Memorial Page)
Eleven people were indicted in the murder. In the 42-day trial that ended two days before Christmas in 1968, one was acquitted by the judge, the jury found seven not guilty and was deadlocked on one.
Two, George Merritt Jr. and Gail Madden, were found guilty of first-degree murder. There was testimony that Merritt struck Gleason with a meat cleaver while Madden, who weighed about 250 pounds, jumped on the officer and stomped him while he lay on the ground. Then, according to a witness at the trial, as she was walking away, Madden was heard to say, "We killed him."
Merritt and Madden were sentenced to life in prison.
However, the convictions were later overturned in appellate court and a second trial was held in 1974. Both were found guilty again and two years later, an appellate court upheld Madden's conviction but reversed Merritt's conviction.
A third trial was held in 1977 and again Merritt was convicted. But the state Supreme Court overturned that conviction, citing inconsistencies in statements that Donald Frazier, the sole witness who identified Merritt, made to police and the testimony he gave during the trial. A police report, revealed 12 years after the murder, said that Frazier did not initially identify Merritt as part of the mob that attacked Gleason. Because that report could have impeached Frazier's credibility, Merritt's conviction was overturned for a third time.
In 1980, the Union County Prosecutor's Office decided not to bring Merritt to trial for a fourth time and the indictment was dismissed.
Williams was brought to trial and found guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon. Madden was released from custody in the 1980s, LaTorre said.
The Plainfield Police Department memorial to fallen officers, including Officer John Gleason.
(Photo: Bob Karp/Staff Photographer)
The Big Church Leadership Mistake of 2021 (That You Can Still Avoid)
As America and other parts of the world have begun to open again for in-person services, many churches and organizations keep falling into a trap we first identified a year ago.
The mistake? It’s far too easy to step back into the past the moment you step back into your church building.
The biggest mistake most leaders made comes from the emotional rush to get back into a facility, see everyone again, and assemble their teams and get back to ‘normal’. Trust me, I miss it. With COVID surging again in Canada, we haven’t had in-building services for over a year.
That said, it’s just too easy to embrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists.
As many church leaders who have reopened for in-person gatherings have discovered, getting back to 2019 attendance has proved challenging.
That’s because crisis is an accelerator and many of the trends that were already at play before the pandemic were sped up. Chief among them: the rise of post-Christian culture and decentralization. (Here are 8 trends to keep watching in 2021.)
As hard as the last year has been, you’ve learned so much in this disruption that to simply re-embrace what was will destroy what can be.
So what’s the danger as you gear up for full, post-pandemic services in your facility?
Thinking that when you walk back into your building things will be just fine. In other words, you don’t really need to change anymore.
Which is the fastest path to irrelevance.
Things have changed. Radically.
The world has changed. Radically.
Getting back to where you were doesn’t actually move you forward.
By way of reminder, here are 5 things that you’ll miss if you step back into the past when you step back into your building.
1. Your Innovation Curve Will Come to an Abrupt Stop
The coronavirus disruption forced you to change.
I realize that kind of change and the damage the virus has caused has been deeply painful. It has been for every leader in 100 different ways.
But the crisis has shown us that while some churches struggled deeply, others started thriving. In fact, the disruption has shown us three basic leadership approaches: frozen leaders, hesitant leaders, and agile leaders. (See which one best describes you here).
Crisis is also the cradle for innovation.
Most leaders pivoted. Most set up online services, got a Zoom account, figured out how to live stream on YouTube, started shooting more personal videos and got way more active online.
And many leaders saw their online engagement soar, sputter and then settle in.
But walking back into your building can kill your innovation curve if you let it.
It will feel great to see some people again, and to get back on the familiar platform, and see the team, and connect.
And before you know it, you’ll stop innovating. Especially in your online ministry and in distributed gatherings.
Look…I get it. Change is hard. I’m tired too. But don’t waste this moment. Don’t waste the progress you’ve started.
Don’t let a sudden lack of creativity around methods limit your mission.
Crisis is a cradle for innovation. And the future belongs to the innovators.
2. You’ll Stop Pivoting
Closely related to innovation is pivoting.
Almost everyone pivoted since the crisis, and those who didn’t have already disappeared or are on their way out.
But pivoting is probably here to stay for a while (see point 4). If you study the history of change and progress, you quickly realize the future almost always belongs to agile leaders who adapt and change.
Stop for a moment and write down everything good that’s come out of the pivoting you’ve done since the disruption started.
Now think through how many of that traction never would have happened had you not pivoted.
The moment you walk back into the past and into comfort, you lose all that.
So if that’s all the growing you want to do for a while, stop pivoting.
If you want to keep pivoting, here’s how to do it quickly and well to move your mission forward.
3. You’ll See Online as an Add-on, not the Future
As you settle into old patterns, all your energy will go back into in-person ministry.
And don’t get me wrong, a lot of energy, passion, prayer, and effort belong in in-person ministry. The gathered church is here to stay.
Eventually, you’ll look up and realize you haven’t posted much to Instagram or Facebook recently, and that your team is so busy they haven’t really followed up on comments online or checked out who’s new.
Online church will become an add-on again, something you tag onto the most tech-savvy person’s job description hoping he or she will get to if they have the time (which they seldom do).
And you’ll completely miss the future.
And in the same way remote work will become the new normal for many people in the wider economy, online church might become a default option for many people. Hating that doesn’t make it go away. Leaders, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Everyone you want to reach is online. It’s time for the church to finally act like it.
If you see online as an add-on, not the future, you’ll miss most of the very people you’re trying to reach.
Move more actual staff/volunteer effort into your online ministry when you move back into your building, not less.
Staff online as though it’s real because it is (I have more on digital church here).
Just know this: You can’t have a massive impact online when you spend 10% of your staffing resources on it.
4. You’ll Get Crushed by Unpredictability
If only we were going back to normal.
By almost every account, the world we’re stepping into is a new world. A new normal. And a highly unpredictable one at that.
Shopping and restaurants won’t be the same again. Work won’t be. Neither will international travel. It’s not that they’re not coming back, it just won’t be the same, for perhaps a long while. Or ever.
And even viral hotspots will make the future uncertain and unpredictable. You may be able to travel to one city but not another.
The mayor or governor might make one decision this week and a different one the next week.
There may be a fourth wave of the virus down the road (hopefully not, but have you heard about the Indian variant?) My own country, Canada, is now in the grips of the worst of the virus, 14 months after this all started. No one would have predicted that.
While it’s amazing to think about the re-opening as a universal, permanent change, it’s more probable that it will be different than we think, more unstable than we think, and perhaps involve quick changes more often than anyone wants.
That kind of unpredictability will crush those looking for stability. (Here’s a post outlining some predictions for the 2020s: Chief among them, unpredictability.)
But if you keep your agility and are willing and able to pivot, you can thrive.
5. You’ll Miss That Legal Permission is Different than Social Behaviour
A final factor to consider (and last reason not to step back into the past when you step into your building) is that legal permission is different than social behavior.
Example. Let’s assume all legal restrictions for any gatherings anywhere are lifted as you read this post.
Suddenly your church can be jam-packed. Football stadiums and concert venues can accommodate crushing crowds. You can fly anywhere in the world.
Let’s imagine restaurants can have long lines of people waiting to get in for the latest, and you can pack 28 people into your surfer van for a fun Instagram shot.
Question: what if some people don’t want to do that for a while?
Do you want the middle seat on a flight to LA tomorrow (sure, you really didn’t want the middle seat before either, but you know what I mean)? Airlines are re-opening middle seats, but who wants them?
Do you want to be next to the unvaccinated guy at the NFL game who just sloshed his beer all over you and coughed through the second quarter?
Will you want to walk into the crowded bread aisle in the supermarket and stand painfully close to people at the checkout?
One of the interesting trends leaders will monitor as the year unfolds is this: even if people can gather, will they want to? Or at least gather the same way?
Some people are ready to go and still think the virus is overblown, others will be cautious for years.
What’s even more significant, long-term, is that culture shifted.
Many leaders are discovering that there’s a measurable group of people who have simply ‘checked out’. And another group that hasn’t left, but are accessing things online far more often. Even if they’re fine with going to a concert, they’re not as anxious to get back to church. Their patterns and attitudes toward church have changed.
Which toggles us back to all of the other points.
In an uncertain world, online is a life-line. Agility is a super-power.
The more you care about people, and the more you want to reach them, the more true this is.
It’s hard to go back to normal when normal disappeared.
What Do You See?
I don’t want this post to be discouraging…I really believe the future is bright.
But I do think if we just run back into our buildings we can end up running right back into the past.
What other things are you considering as you move into the future?
What’s on your radar, and what are you going to do to keep innovating and reaching more people?
Scroll down and leave a comment!
Carey keeps me sharpened and will always read – though agree about 60% of the time. I am a bivocational pastor in my 50’s in Texas, small church pastor. Those factors alone make me no expert on anything so I am eating humble pie constantly knowing that, LOL.
Nevertheless we have moved – semi-permanently, three in-house ministries: small groups and once a month deeper learning, as well as some meetings. So we are not anti-internet/online anything at all.
Having said that, Covid did not diversify our folks but mainly split the cultural Christians from those who are in a committed engaged walk with Christ. The majority of them (and not all are older) are not pro-only-inside-the-church people. Yet the committed have shown their preference that online is helpful and great tool but not replacing in-house. The nature of in-house is those who desire closer community which online cannot replicate fully: the fist bump, handshake, side hug, presence, etc. In the end it is still just watching something. In-house is fuller, truer engagement, even for some of our younger couples with kids. The complaints are close to what parents say about online education: too many distractions, muting is too easy, constant tech snafus, power or internet outages, etc. In-house does none of these and one is more closely engaged and involved.
Those who tend to watch have manifested a weak walk with Christ and limited service and engagement preference. They won’t be the ones we re-build the church on. Online is not an add-on but a tool that should funnel eventually to what they can’t get online. It isn’t a matter of either/or (online or in-house) but one feeds the next).
I have drifted into thinking at times why didn’t Jesus wait to come now, with all the technology, etc. but came rather at a time of zero online and radio technology. Interesting.
So we will plow on to do online studies, trainings, giving, etc. but keep those things undoable online in-house where its not just seeing but feeling actual presence. In an age studies show constantly we are more connected than ever yet farther from each other more than ever. Another telling side of shifting to “online-heavy or only” is that in a social distancing and online covid culture, suicides and mental illness soar – why? because of no physical presence and touch.
Ok, I’ve ranted enough. Just hope we keep balance – not to fill a building but to fill hearts better and more satisfyingly with physical presence more than online ever can.
God disrupts things in life to make us look inward then outward to whats ahead of us. But sometimes we are so programmed
to what has worked “in the past” we arent open to what is open ahead. Joshua 1:1-12
Change can be apprehensive but with God in the pages of change – IT IS THE MOST EXCITING PLACE TO BE IN.
Every new ministry should come out of vision. Then comes the purpose the values the direction the target audience the agreed results EtcThe new online ministry must be intentional. Just running live feed without intentionality will not produce very much. No staff position should be created without a job description. This job staff position might be called on line minister of assimulation.
Just as Jesus met people at a personal level, so is our call too. The blend of online/building services/in home care/small groups and ministry teams is daunting and chaotic – but we have a mighty God to make our ways within this wilderness. The lessons we can learn here are so many and thank you Carey for pushing this to the forefront. Bravo!