SHIFT HAS BEEN happening within Christianity. The way people are talking about, practicing and thinking about the religion of Jesus is changing. You can see the evidence in the numbers. A generation is leaving the Church at a record pace. And many of those who are staying are taking up causes that have been neglected by large swaths of their parents’ generation of believers: The justice gospel has overtaken the prosperity gospel. Preachers and thinkers are asking questions instead of just outlining the answers. Millienials are leaving the Church not because they have a problem with Jesus, but because they feel like many of the churches they grew up in don’t accurately reflect His message as they know it. “I think often they’re dropping out for very good reasons,” says author and pastor Brian McLaren. “They’re not dropping out saying, ‘I want to become a more vicious, angry, hateful, immoral, irresponsible person.’ They’re dropping out saying, ‘I don’t want to be part of a community that hates people of other religions, or makes me more judgmental than I otherwise would have been, or that tells me not to be compassionate to people unless they’re of my background.” People aren’t just rethinking Christianity. They are rethinking the entire message of Jesus. Nowhere has this spiritual migration been more apparent than among millennials, a generation that has seen thousands leave organized faith in favor of claiming “none” on lists of religions. But there may be something behind the rise of the nones. Without going as far as claiming no faith, many Christians are re-imagining what it means to be a believer in the first place. “We’ve all inherited a Christian faith that is a mixture of beautiful resources from the Gospel and cultural baggage and some of that cultural baggage is very, very significant,”
McLaren says. “I think part of what we’re facing now is that this baggage has worked for us in past centuries, but it has now become a problem, and we have to be willing to disentangle the heart of our faith from these elements of baggage.” This shift to a new kind of faith is corporate, in that it’s reshaping Christianity as a whole, but it’s not organized. It’s not the work of an institution. Something very personal is happening to young Christians around the world. And once it takes hold in a person, it changes everything.
A PERSONAL SHIFT McLaren is one of the most influential—and controversial—names in modern Christianity. His books A New Kind of Christian and Generous Orthodoxy fueled the “emerging church” movement a decade ago that led to theological debates and rifts across evangelicalism. To his critics, he is a “dangerous” teacher, willing to pose questions that challenge the fundamentals of evangelicalism; to his fans, he’s a revolutionary. His writings have made him a sort of intellectual mentor to leaders like Rob Bell, and he counts intellectuals including Malcolm Gladwell—who recently referred to him as “one of the greatest preachers of our time”—as fans. McLaren sees this shift because, in many
10/6/16 10:41 AM
Published on Oct 26, 2016