Theology is the Church’s Business

I was reading through some of Paul Tillich’s Systematics stuff today and a part jumped out at me that I felt compelled to share.

“Theology, as a function of the Christian church, must serve the needs of the church. A theological system is supposed to satisfy two basic needs: the statement of the truth of the Christian message and the interpretation of this truth for every new generation.”
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 1.1

Theology as thinking and speaking about God does not belong in the dusty halls of seminaries or the ivory tower of academia. It belongs in our sanctuaries, fellowship halls, youth rooms, Sunday schools, and pulpits. Anywhere people are thinking about God, there must be someone who asks the question of how it affects each new generation. If we fail to adapt theology in very particular ways, it might as well disappear from our discourse altogether.

What role does theology play in your church? How does your church act out its theology? Is it an important discussion point for your congregation?


You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving Church & Re-Thinking Faith

David Kinnaman, co-author of the 2007 book unChristian, has recently released his latest book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.  The book deals with 6 reasons Kinnaman has identified that young people are disconnecting from church during middle to late adolescence. David, backed by research from the Barna Group, offers a great detail of stories and interviews that were conducted over the course of the study that gives a portrait of the faith of young people in America. I would highly recommend this book. It’s a wonderful read. I think it’s certainly worth the time if you are interested in faith and young people. It can get a little technical with the study, and you’ll never want to see the word Barna again, but it’s completely worthwhile. These are the six conclusions that he drew along with a little reaction/debrief from me. The statistics are red-lettered in case you want to skim.

Reason #1 — Churches seem overprotective

A defining characteristic of the modern culture of young adults is that they are the most tech-savvy generation that has ever existed. This can bring about both positives and negatives. One of Pete Ward’s observations in his book Liquid Church, is that many adults see church as a refuge site for their kids to hide them away from the big, bad culture of today’s world. Not only does this not line up with their experience of that culture, but it also paints the church in a pretty bad light. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%). 

Reason #2 — Teens and 20-somethings experience of Christianity is shallow.

I had a conversation with my brother in a Target parking lot once and asked him point blank why he didn’t feel like going to church anymore — not to antagonize him or anything like that, but I was just curious. He told me that it didn’t really add anything to his life. He felt like he could still live a complete life not going to church. In the Barna research, one-third of people surveyed said that “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%). In a very telling sign to the church, many of these young adults surveyed who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%). Whoa…

Reason #3 — Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

It has become a stereotype of a lot of the more conservative Christian groups to be “anti-science”. This tension between faith and science is one deeply felt by young adults. In the research, the most common perception in this conclusion is that “Christians are too confident that they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Ever since the Catholic church wanted to execute Galileo, the church has always seemed out of sync with the scientific advances of modern times.

Reason #4 — Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often overly simplistic and judgmental.

These last three mark a turning point, for me, in the group. These next three really seem to highlight the aversion that young people have to the black-and-white attitude through which some people experience life. This seemed particularly true in the area of sexuality. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly emphasized among 18 to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of every five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.” This black-and-white attitude combines with the perceived lagging behind to create quite a mess that can prevent churches from speaking meaningfully into people’s lives.

Reason #5 — Young people wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity

Religious pluralism has become mainstream for many young Americans, but many churches seem particularly against this new wave of religious tolerance. Particularly in the wake of 9/11 religious tolerance has lately seemed to be lacking. The political arena certainly doesn’t help this cause. Most young adults want to find areas of commonality with each other. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%). These are pretty troubling conclusions and are really a call to change course and quickly.

Reason #6 — The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

This is the final reason Kinnaman gives that also exhibits the black-and-white-ness of a lot of young people’s perceptions of church. The (mis)perception is that church is a place for only the faithful. If you don’t have faith all of the time, you cannot be there. To a lot of people this may seem fairly absurd, but it doesn’t necessarily matter if perceptions are, in reality, false, they are still held by a large number of people. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).

All in all, it was a pretty troubling book to read as a young Christian who happens to be planning on working in the church for a good portion of my life. As a 25-year-old, I can see a lot of these problems. I like to think that I am becoming a pastor to help move through and away from a lot of these problems and perceptions. Hopefully there will be a church on the other side with me.


Sorry this post got so long. I tried to highlight/summarize the best I could to make it readable more quickly.

What is the Theological Turn in Youth Ministry?

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry is the newest book from youth ministry people Andy Root & Kenda Creasy Dean. It’s a combination of different essays written by each of them dealing with a hope for a more robustly theological take on youth ministry. Most of the chapters are articles that have been previously-published, but updated for the book. It’s all fantastic stuff and really worth the time reading, not just for youth ministry, but for all ministry. I think we need a more theological look at the way in which we, as a church and the people who work in it, interact with people in our ministry.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be going through some great discussion points of the book and posting responses and thoughts on the ideas presented there. I’m not going to do a lot of summarizing of the chapters, because it’s kind of a waste of both my time and yours. Read the book. It’s very worthwhile. I think each chapter has different enough ideas where it would be worth it to engage in the conversation in an attempt to develop a more robustly theological (youth) ministry.


So Here’s the Thing About Rob Bell

Last night I, along with 1,400 of my closest friends, saw Rob Bell speak at Wayzata Community Church on his new, and always controversial book, Love Wins. And now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, there are two things that stick with me. And the purpose of this post is nothing more than sharing these things because I’m excited about them. So first, Rob Bell gets me excited to be a pastor. And while that may sound trivial to some, I assure you it is not. In fact, it’s seldom that I get downright giddy about the fact that I get to be pastor. But, for some reason, when I read his books, listen to his sermons, watch his videos, something inside of me gets excited that I get to do that for a living. So that’s the first thing.

There was another thing that became abundantly clear as I was listening to Bell speak last night. As he was answering questions, an anecdote I heard a few years ago crept in my head and I think it definitely plays into this whole controversy over Love Wins. So here it is. For starters, humans generally have three primary things that they believe about God and creation. 1) God is good. 2) God is in control. 3) Creation is good. When pressed, or when we start to question things, we drop one of the three. And it’s a different one for each person. But the crux of Rob Bell’s new book is that when it comes to Heaven and Hell… God is not in control. He drops the second one. That became clear through reading the book and hearing him speak tonight. Most mainline Protestants would do the same, but like I said, it’s different for everyone.

A lot of people who have a problem with what Bell is saying, refuse to give up that second proposition. And that’s entirely okay, it’s just a fundamentally different worldview. In turn, they choose to give up the third position. They believe that God is all good and that God is in control. But we, as creation, are terrible sinners who aren’t worthy of the glory of God. This is where it gets tricky because the key phrase in that sentence is “as creation”. Mainliners believe that we sin and fall short of the glory of God, but that isn’t how we were created. We were once good and obedient to God, but then we fell. And now we’re not… at least not without the whole cross and resurrection thing, but we’ll talk about that next week.

I just wanted to drop a post and share that. Because I do believe that all of the differences assumed in the Rob Bell controversy can be explained by digging deeper into those three core beliefs. Which one do you drop? When you’re stressed and when things keep piling up and just aren’t going your way, which one are you most willing to part with? It’s an interesting question when put in that context, but I think it speaks volumes about what we bring to the conversation.


Church in the Present Tense: Philosophy

What the hell is post-modernism anyway? And how can the church exist in a meaningful way once we decide exactly what our current situation is? These are some of the issues being dealt with in the first two essays in Church in the Present Tense.

Kevin Corcoran has a great essay to open that seeks to get a finger on the pulse of what the new and emerging forms of Christianity are searching for. In it, he discusses the importance of epistemic humility and its place in the church. He writes, “A robust recognition that I am a finite creature, frail and given to self-deception, and that my knowledge of God and the world is thus always partial, fragmentary and incomplete does not lead me to religious skepticism. It leads me to epistemic humility.”

By using this term, he means, essentially, being willing to admit that we don’t have all of the answers, yet are comfortable in moving forward in conversation. Epistemic humility is one of the main things he sees in the emerging sensibilities. So often, we worry that one little slip of disagreeing doctrine is all it takes to thrust us into unbelief. However, this sentiment makes room for us to create an open and honest commitment toward belief without having to risk running headlong into rigid legalism. This moves right into the work that Peter Rollins does in the second essay of the book about discovering a worldly theology that is brought about by these new, emerging forms of Christianity.

He opens with a compelling point on a familiar Galatians passage. When Paul talks about how in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”, it’s tempting to interpret “neither/nor” as “both/and”, as in “everyone’s equal”. But that’s not what’s happening at all. If we truly live into the new community created by Christ, these distinctions of cultural categories no longer apply. It’s an invitation to an entirely new reality, a completely different space of being. For Rollins, emerging forms of Christianity affirm the incarnation event as an invitation to become fully human with and for one another.

Both of these points are significant for coming up with an emerging theology for youth ministry as well. Corcoran’s epistemic humility is something that needs to transcend all ministries, not just the “emerging” ones. These points come up when we realize that we are pieces of a whole, but cannot possibly know the whole ourselves… Or, at least, know it definitively. Because must have this sense of humility before we lead into the task that Rollins lays before us: the invitation.

The invitation into suspended space breaks down all categories. In this suspended space the perpetual categories and social structures that are entirely lived in and conceived within the hallways of the high schools are torn down and a new mode of being is introduced. When we participate in the alleviation of those in this world who are suffering, we help bring this world about. This is the “rubber-hits-the-road” challenge of the opening chapter.

This is the philosophy of the church in the present tense. Tomorrow, I’ll get into the theological chapters by Jason Clark on consumer liturgies and Kevin Corcoran on what an emerging eschatology looks like. More tomorrow.


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