WHERE’S THE FAITH ?
New series of books tackles questions, issues that challenge young Christians
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/JOHN JAQUES Pueblo author Christian Piatt talks about a series of books he is collaborating on with a variety of authors from throughout the country.
Have you ever questioned the believability of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Ever wondered why, if Mary conceived as a virgin, the Bible traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph?
Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and many others about the Bible or Jesus, but never discussed them with other Christians — and certainly never in church.
That’s what gave local author/editor Christian Piatt and partner Brandon Gilvin the idea for WTF (Where’s the Faith), a series of books that pose such questions to a wide variety of religious, agnostic, social justice and other leaders and thinkers — some of them well-known in religious and spiritual circles. The books are published by Chalice Press. Gilvin is the associate director of Week of Compassion, an international relief and aid ministry of the national Disciples of Christ organization, based in Kansas City, Mo.
The books are aimed primarily at young adults — a demographic that churches are struggling to hold onto as their congregations dwindle in all age brackets.
The first book in the series, “OH God, Oh GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality,” was released earlier this year and provides “honest and open dialogue about the beauty and gift of sexuality while understanding it in a mature way, including the risks and consequences” but without the moral and doctrinal overtones of most Christian books on the topic, Piatt said.
He and Gilvin edited the book, and Piatt contributed an essay about abortion.
Two more books, which address questions that many Christians ponder but rarely explore in depth or among each other, will be published next year — the first, “Banned Questions about the Bible,” in February and the second, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” in August 2011.
All of the books “take a more emergent-church approach. There’s no focus on denominations or creeds so much as on content and providing a variety of information, including other sources to study, to help people make up their own minds. We’re trying to present multiple perspectives so people can choose for themselves. It’s about seeking your own understanding of various issues through prayerful seeking, and trusting that if you take the first step, God will meet you halfway and help you find the answers you’re seeking,” Piatt said.
“Churches are dying everywhere, and I believe it’s because there’s been a disconnect between the lives of most people and what they hear in church on Sunday.
“These books are intended to break down the taboo of ‘We don’t talk about that in church.’ In a healthy church, there should be no boundaries, no limitations about what is explored. We’re supposed to bring our whole, human selves to the church and to our faith.”
Another book due out this August, “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” addresses the interconnectedness of faith and politics and explores how Christians can be part of the process without violating their faith or turning their backs on social justice issues and the political process for fear of conflict. Piatt is a contributor as well as co-editor of this volume.
“You People: Faith and Race,” will follow “Split Ticket.” All of the finished books are available through the Chalice Press website or its catalogs, at Amazon.com or through Piatt’s website. Some also are available by special order online from Barnes & Noble and smaller national booksellers, and all are stocked at Cokesbury Christian book stores nationwide. The works in progress will be as well after publication.
Piatt, who founded Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church six years ago with his wife, Amy, who is pastor there, said the “Oh God” book already has sold more than 1,500 copies — to individuals and to churches that are using them in youth groups and young-adult book-study groups.
“The content is heavy enough that we wouldn’t recommend just throwing these books in a teen’s lap and saying ‘have at it.’ It needs to be navigated with the help of an adult leader,” Piatt said.
Despite brisk sales and many positive reviews in Christian and mainline publications, negative reaction from some conservative Christian groups has surfaced, too, Piatt said, but his response is always the same: “Why is it that sexuality can’t be discussed in the context of faith unless the whole focus is abstinence, which we all know doesn’t work?”
He gets few responses to that question, he said, and doesn’t worry about the criticism because “the people who react that way aren’t the target audience for our books.”
The same critics no doubt will see the “banned questions” books, and “Split Ticket,” as too frank and “not nice,” he predicts.
“But we believe it’s more important to be authentically relevant than it is to be nice. Jesus wasn’t always nice. He challenged the status quo and he didn’t tolerate injustice. He encouraged frank discussion about difficult issues. But some Christians can’t tolerate controversy or confrontation at all, and others only get involved — often in an angry, intolerant way — with all the things they are against.”
Piatt said he and his partner in the WTF series, and authors who contributed responses to questions or essays — despite their widely divergent religious beliefs — “all believe that our responsibility is to get actively involved in these things we’re afraid to talk about” so that younger Christians, especially, will be more inclined to form deeper commitments to their faith and to service than to abandon their church, or religion altogether. They can only do that if they’ve reached their own conclusions rather than having beliefs force-fed to them.
At the end of life, Piatt said, what will matter most is not how many souls someone has “saved” or how many foreign missions were conducted, or how big and beautiful the church is because believers were willing to give cash but not their time.
What Jesus will want to know of every individual, he said, is “What did you do for the poor, for the oppressed, for the imprisoned — for ‘the least among us’?”
Doing nothing, he said, only condones the suffering and injustices that humans inflict upon each other.
“Not getting engaged, not dealing with these issues, is not an option if you consider yourself a person of faith.”
For more information about the WTF series, upcoming books, or past titles by Piatt, go to: www.christianpiatt.com, which also provides links to videos of Piatt and some of the other authors and a link to his blog.