Drew Dyck is the author of Generation Ex-Christian. He has served in a variety of ministry roles. Previously the editor of New Man magazine, Dyck is now the managing editor of Christianity Today International's Leadership Journal.
Drew stopped by today to answer questions for today's Friday Five:
Generation Ex-Christian is among quite a few books in the last few years sounding the alarm about the fate of faith in the next generation. What makes your book different?
I'm thrilled by the interest this topic is getting. Each book has had a slightly different approach. Some are written by youth and campus pastors who are witnessing the problem firsthand. Others are from academics providing research on the religious beliefs and practices of the next generation. I drew upon the studies out there, but I approached the issue as a journalist. I was saddened by watching some of my friends walk away from the faith, but I was also curious. What makes someone who grows up in the church, and seems to love Jesus, leave it all behind? So I sought out people who had rejected the faith and had in-depth conversations with them about their decisions. The stories were difficult to hear at times, but incredibly eye-opening.
I'm curious what you think of the analysis by Bradley Wright, who says that some of the more alarming statistics might not be completely accurate? And perhaps the problem is something every generation faces?
Brad is a friend, and I have a ton of respect for him. I think he's provided a helpful corrective to some of the more hysterical claims that we're going to completely lose an entire generation. But I'm afraid I don't share his sunny outlook. He points out that the baby boomers dropped out of church in young adulthood and many of them have returned. From what I can tell, he's assuming history will repeat itself. I'm not so sure it will.
There are three things that make this generation different. First, young adults today are dropping religion at a greater rate than young adults of yesteryear, "five to six times the historic rate," according to sociologists David Putnam and Robert Campbell. Second, young adulthood is not what it used to be—it's much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely. Third, there's been a shift in the culture. Past generations may have rebelled for a season, but they still inhabited a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture. For those reared in pluralistic, post-Christian America, the cultural gravity that has pulled previous generations back to the faith has weakened. So I'm not banking on an automatic return. I think it's a scandal that these young adults are adrift spiritually and missing from our churches.
I love the members of this generation and long to see them return. They need God—and we need them.
In your view, how much is the church and its culture to blame for the departure of so many younger people, and how much is pure rebellion on their part?
In my book I identify six kinds of "leavers." One of those categories is "Rebels." These are people who don't have intellectual hang-ups about Christianity; they leave because they want to indulge in sinful behavior. As some have said, they change their creed to match their conduct. A couple of the twenty-somethings I interviewed were actually honest enough to admit that was the reason they left. But I'm convinced that there are others who hide behind doubt and skepticism when the real problem is more about the heart than the head.
There was a second kind of rebel I encountered, a "spiritual rebel." These are the young adults who place a high premium on autonomy and don't want anyone—especially a superintending deity—telling them what to do. I had one young lady who said that even if Jesus appeared to her in a vision, she wouldn't follow him. "I'd rather burn in hell," she told me. In a case like that, intellectual doubt isn't the issue. It's just naked defiance, a heart-level rejection of divine authority.