Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hope for young adults: a review of Soul Searching

I have now read several different books on the lives of what Smith and Snell call emergent adults; The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdales, Path to Purpose by William Damon and now Souls in Transition. Now I have just complete Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2009) by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell. This book focuses most directly on the spiritual health of this age group.

I find Souls in Transition to have a flavor of mixed of concern and hope. Spiritually, 18 to 25-year olds are dropping out of the church in large numbers. We have all suspected this fact and the authors prove it is true with an immense amount of data. As youth transition into adulthood they are finds spiritual question and a desire for a certain lifestyle to be a deterrent from attending the religion of their youth. As a group, there is an across the board shift from more religious commitment to less religious commitment.

On the other hand, the authors have some hope. Like every generation before, I have heard older people of faith proclaim that this younger generation is more lost than ever before. Smith and Snell find that perception is simply not true. At least as far as their study goes back (1972), the current emergent adults are not dropping out any faster than previous generations. In fact, there is a hint that current emergents are actually maintaining faith at a higher rate.

I particularly enjoyed the application of the study. In brief, maintain faith through the emergent adult years is not a matter so much of addressing emergent adults, but a healthier treatment of the teens. Smith and Snell describe that as a process of socializing that first starts in the home but is echoed in mentors within the church. Older adults of faith, both parents and church-folk, need to avoid the pitfall of encouraging youth to push away from them. The myth says that youth no longer want adults to participate in their lives. Instead, the authors’ data show that youth want adult contact, but they need it on new terms. Youth that receive a good amount of attention from adults of faith are more likely to maintain their faith into adulthood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I long for thunder

I long for thunder

I long for thunder
Thunder rolling in
The kind I can hear for an hour before the first raindrops fall

I long for thunder
Thunder that when it arrives the house shakes
The dog paces
And I think this is what the end will be like

I long for thunder
The flashing of light
The count down before the CRASH
The search for candles to replace electric lights

I long for thunder
It brings me back to my childhood
To my father telling me "it's all OK"
The comfort I have in knowing
It's much bigger than me

I long for thunder
But alass. It is winter and the rain that comes
Only brings wind, icey pings, and the sound of the heater kicking up

I may long for thunder
But today I'll face the cold rain
Knowing that I'm fortunate enought to have a warm house for retreat
And it is still bigger than me

Steve Johnson

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The uncomfortable Blue Parakeet can make you think

Recently, a good friend complained to me that a particular Bible discussion didn't help to clarify the particular issue in his mind. He said, "I walked a way less sure and more confused." My response was "good."

Over the recent years I have become more comfortable with the idea that God is too big for us to know with clarity. Without a doubt, we are to strive each day to know him better than the last day. We are to study his word (the Bible), listen to expert comentaries, and discuss it in faithful groups of Christians. These are important steps for the follower of Christ and will facilitate spiritual growth.

We cannot expect that Christian growth means that we are less confused, that we know God more perfectly, or that our study will raise much of anything but more questions. Karl Barth (pronounced bart), a Swiss, Neo-orthodox theologian who valiantly battle liberal theology in the early to mid-1900s, called this dialectical theology because he believed that too much of God was paradoxical and unknowable to the human. Barth's point was that the best answer to a theological question was the next best question.

This brings me to my book review on Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet (Zondervan, 2008, 240 pages). (I provided this link for your convenience should you like to read the book. I read the Kindle version.) McKnight is a thoughtful, seasoned Bible scholar who teaches at North Park University in Chicago. In The Blue Parakeet, McKight examines how we should read the Bible, particularly the difficult passages. I'll let you read the book to discover why it is named so.

McKnight, by his own reasoning, is an evangelical scholar. There are many with a more narrow interpretation of evangelical who wouldn't agree, because many evangelicals will only identify with others who subscribe to specific set of doctrine. This doctrine is often narrow in interpretation and broad in scope.

One point that many evangelicals will struggle with the Blue Parakeet and McKnight, is that he is in many way post-modern. He makes a strong argument that the Bible must be read as a story (not a fiction story) and applied according to the context of the reader. He argues that too many want to read the Bible as a list of laws, morsels of blessings, an psychological inkblot, a puzzle, or examples of Maestros. I will let McKnight explain those.

McKnight, on the other hand, believe the Bible is God's story from begining to end, with each book being the author's telling of the story at a particular time to a particular people. The challenge then is to read the Bible with an understanding of that time and people, and learn what that means to today and to the people you live among. This is not easy. It is more work than the other ways we can read the Bible. It also means that two people in two different places may draw different interpretations, particularly with respect to a passage's application.

At this point, I'm sure that many of my Christian friends are getting uncomfortable. That is alright. I was too, and I think that it is that discomfort that drove me to read the rest of the Blue Parakeet with an open, but discerning mind. In the end, discernment is the crux of McKnight's book. Everything in the Bible must be discerned with the Holy Spirit and nothing is settled.

This post is already too long, but there is more I would like to say about these matter. I hope to do so in other posts. Let me just conclude by saying that as I read the Blue Parakeet, I felt uncomfortable. I still do not agree with every point he makes, but I can tell you that I also began asking a lot more questions about my God, myself and my understanding of what it means to know God. I was driven deeper into my Bible, and, while I developed more questions, I believe that the depth of my questions is growing. I believe this book has helped me to grow as a believer, too.