Friday, December 12, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Quitting Church

Recently, I read the book, Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It by Julia Duin (2008, BakerBooks). Duin is the religion editor for the Washington Times. I discovered a stark contrast between Quitting Church and What Americans Really Believe (reviewed below, see post on 12/2). Overall, I found Duin's assessment of the evangelical world much more in keeping with most major polls (some conducted by evangelicals such as Barna-- to whom she frequently refers). I think this is a useful, thoughtful book, well considered and carefully nuanced to match the realities of church life as it is currently reflected in evangelical churches.

A major point that Duin makes concerns the Jesus Movement of the late 60's and early 70's. This definitely caught my attention. I was there, living in community, a part of it all. In fact, my book, Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist: Understanding and Responding to Christian Absolutism, reaches many of the same conclusions as Duin (to read chapters from my book on my experiences in the Jesus Movement and why I abandoned fundamentalism visit http://therecoveringfundamentalist.com). There was something about those days and the community that existed among believers that was healing, real, and alive. Still, we differ in our final analysis. In the end, I believe that fundamentalism/evangelicalism is logically and empirically broken beyond fixing. Duin, on the other hand, writes as an evangelical who still holds to the evangelical faith/practices (except, perhaps, in regards to the status or lack thereof accorded women in evangelicalism). Still, she sees that days of the Jesus Movement as "glory days," just as I often tend to view the Movement as well.

Duin does not see as much ineffectiveness in churches that reach out to the "twenty-somethings." In that arena, the seeker churches and emergent churches have made a real impact. Yet, the model offered by the seeker environment appears shallow and empty to the "thirty-somethings" and baby-boomers. These folks are tired of shallow worship, authoritarian pastors, and the disenfranchisement of women. Many of these folks sense an environment devoid of much spiritual power.

In her research of alternative models of "the way things used to be" (if one may speak in such contradictions), Duin spent sometime at the International House of Prayer associated with Mike Bickle and located in Kansas City. I grew up in Kansas City and was associated with Agape Fellowship, the original expression of the Jesus Movement in the city, living for some time at the communal house. I well remember when Mike Bickle began his ministry in Kansas City in the late 70's. Although Duin seems to see Bickle as an exemplary figure in the Charismatic side of the Jesus Movement, most of us who were there watched as South Kansas City Fellowship (Bickle's original endeavor) went though change after change-- first independent, then a Vineyard Church (with many versions of how that arrangement came to an end), then the "laughing church, Toronto Blessing" phase, then this, then that, and now IHOP. While addressing it to some degree, Duin minimizes the nuttiness of some of the Charismatic/evangelical "movements" as well as the tendency among evangelicals (especially Charismatics) to change almost with the seasons of the year-- always looking for a new way to create a "Spirit high."

Still, her point that the seeker churches bring young folks in the front door, while many long time evangelicals, mourning the "Ichabod" condition, as the glory has departed from evangelical "Israel," are exiting the back door is well taken. She sees some hope in the current house church movement, but notes the tendency to institutionalize even in that environment.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. Really, although her diagnosis of the problem as an internal condition among the evangelical faithful is probably on target (but not for those of us who have abandoned the absolutist position-- our concerns lie in a different direction), her solutions are a bit meager. All things considered, the book is well written, thoughtful, and timely. I recommend adding this book to your reading list.

3 comments:

  1. James - This is Julia - Someone at Baker told me about this - thanks for the gracious review. It is true that I don't have much in the way of suggestions on how to fix this awful situation because I think the situation is broken beyond repair in many places. Re Bickle et al., the few times I've encountered him, he was so much superior to any of the other speakers on stage in terms of depth. Sure he has gone through stages but sounds like he's with IHOP to stay by the looks of it. Anyway, am coming out with a book next year that goes MUCH more into the history (and demise) of the charismatic renewal and Christian community and if you email me some contact info at jduin@washingtontimes.com, I can let you know more about that...

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  2. Thanks for your comments. Hmmm... another book... sounds like it is right up my alley. I'll be in touch!

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  3. Finished this book in a record time since I read many on a changing theology in a non theological society. I read the end with a consideration of the fact that laity in most denominations are not given charge of the program, less they run it. Clergy must today step into the role of leaders of religious teaching and education, to increase knowledge of scripture, where they are less likely to burn out and fail.

    I recommend the book for laity to sense what is happening across Canada after the recent schisms and scandals of faith. These tensions have been over reported by flash media sources, and do not discuss how religious persons of all faith want to remain in communion and community,yet are bored with sermons of blah, blah,. Too many clergy are not properly using time for preparation like teachers who can not do the pre-study to classes they will teach the next morning.

    Julia presents her notions well, but few footnotes on how the reference material was developed. Good studies make better sermons, and effective clergy are better than inadequate church office managers with theological degree's yet no business management training.

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