Book Review – Generation Ex-Christian

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  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers (October 1, 2010)
  • Amazon
  • Drew Dyck on Twitter
  • Recent statistics on the religious commitments of young people are alarming. Surveys show that 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claim no religion, and 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22. The church is losing its youth at a disturbing rate. But behind every statistic is an individual story, and Drew Dyck contends in Generation Ex-Christian that most of these “leavers” fall into one of six broad categories: Postmodernists, Recoilers, Modernists, Neo-Pagans, Rebels, and Drifters.

    He devotes a chapter to each, which includes a description of the category, interviews with those who fit the category, and advice for how to reach out to each type of leaver. I found the interviews compelling and appreciated how they brought what could be merely abstract concepts to life. If you’ve spent much time sharing the gospel with different kinds of people, you will quickly recognize many of these “types” of non-believers (though Dyck acknowledges that every person has a unique story).

    I was most interested in the Modernists leavers, who appear for the most part to be new atheists. As part of his research for this group, Dyck attended a meeting of the Wheaton Atheists Group and describes his interaction with the skeptics there. One of the members, a young man named Dan, admitted that he had grown up in the Assemblies of God and had just recently left the faith.

    What had caused his crisis of faith?

    “I always believed the earth was 6,000 years old,” Dan said bitterly. “But now I know it’s not.”

    For years Dan tried desperately to maintain his belief in the young earth theory. He read material from Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics organization, consulted his pastor and people in his church. But ultimately he said he just couldn’t deny what he saw as the evidence that the world was much older than 6,000 years.

    “That’s when I realized that Christianity just wasn’t true,” he said.

    Inwardly I cringed at the false-alternatives scenario that Dan had set up in his mind. For him, one geological question (which the Bible doesn’t even address explicitly) was the deciding factor for faith.” (79-80)

    I cringe as well when I hear those kinds of stories and lament the fact that peripheral matters like the age of the earth are taken to be reasons for rejecting the gospel. But I’m discovering that these kinds of stories are common.

    Another atheist, Shane, had been drifting from his Christian faith for some time. What pushed him over the edge was the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

    “I’ve heard this from people in the atheist community, over and over again. September 11 made us all realize that you can’t be a fence-sitter on this issue. We realized that religion is causing these problems. It’s holding belief in things which are not empirically verifiable. That’s what’s wrong.” (104)

    Dyck ends the chapter with several pieces of good advice for reaching out to Modernist leavers. He encourages listening carefully and asking questions of skeptics, and not assuming common ground that doesn’t exist (e.g., the belief that the Bible is reliable or inspired). Relevant and suitable questions to ask include those that encourage a skeptic to follow the logical consequences of their worldview, including the loss of objective meaning and morality (some skeptics will deny this, but many don’t and readily admit it).  It will likely be necessary to point out the consequences of adopting a non-God worldview.

    Dyck also wisely encourages Christians to confront atheists with the fact that they themselves have a worldview that requires defending and offering good reasons for. In my experience, the majority of atheists believe that their skeptical position is somehow neutral ground that requires no justification to hold. But as long as anyone is making a positive claim of any kind (e.g., God doesn’t exist, Christianity is false, etc.), he or she is under the same obligation as the Christian to provide reasons and evidence for their claim. If someone just doesn’t know, then they should adopt the agnostic, rather than the atheistic, viewpoint.

    The other chapters of Generation Ex-Christian are as good as this one, so I heartily recommend this book, especially to those who need help understanding and reaching out to the leavers they know.

    The first chapter can be downloaded here.

    — Reviewed by Chris Reese.  In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Moody, the publisher of Generation Ex-Christian.

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    8 thoughts on “Book Review – Generation Ex-Christian

    1. I absolutely agree that apologetics/arguments don’t save anyone. I know a lot of atheists, including several who have become believers. Several of those now-believers who were already feeling drawn to faith in God had to “get past” intellectual objections that they had before they could come to Christ. People who try to convince others to reject Christ often use false intellectual, historical, scientific, or moral arguments to create barriers between a person and belief in God; I see the role of apologetics as removing those barriers.

      • That’s well said, Desmognathus. It’s very difficult to have a strong faith when you’re assailed by doubts. It is good to keep in mind that apologetics is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

    2. This may be addressed in the book. But it seems to me this generation of leavers is a direct reaction to the churches overt rejection of postmodernism for the modernism that they were comfortable with.

      And it isn’t happening as a misunderstanding. There are active, prominent Christian leaders that are teaching today that you cannot be a Christian and not believe in a 6000 year old earth.

      I am all for answering questions for people leaving the church and helping them back into the church. But we are not going to argue them back into the church. We are going to have to love them while the Holy Spirit convicts them. (My wife is on the phone right now loving a leaver. It can be hard work. But I am convinced it is the only worthwhile work in the long term. I appreciate the work that apologists put into helping people understand. But apologists will not save people. That is a modernist conception of salvation.

      • Hi Adam,

        I agree with you that apologists or apologetics won’t save anyone, since only the Holy Spirit can do that. But I do think the Spirit can work through apologetics to bring people to Christ. Drew mentions in the book that many leavers say they were shut down when they asked questions or were given trite answers, which weren’t very helpful. We in the church need to make some changes to our outlook, I think, so that we don’t see questions as challenges, but as opportunities.
        I hope things turn out well for the person your wife is reaching out to. It is quite a challenge to do that. I hope the lines of communication stay open. Blessings on your efforts!

      • Adam –
        I’m personally unaware of any apologist who holds to the view that apologetics will save anyone, and I am friends with many of them. As a matter of fact I know far more Christians who think that just reading the New Testament will save a person, and that seems false to me as well. The only thing that will save a person is not listening to the right arguments or reading the right scriptures or saying the right prayer. The Holy Spirit must be involved and it must be responded to with belief in Jesus and His saving work. Outside of that, I know of nothing else that will work.

    3. Good review, Chris. Thanks for posting. “as long as anyone is making a positive claim of any kind (e.g., God doesn’t exist, Christianity is false, etc.), he or she is under the same obligation as the Christian to provide reasons and evidence for their claim.” Funny how it is that believers don’t return the favor when others can’t offer reasons for their assertions, yet cower under this same charge. A denial of anything is itself an assertion.

      • Hi Paul,
        I’ve heard several atheists say that they simply lack a belief in God, but that seems like a cop-out to me. Most of them actually positively disbelieve in God, but they’re at a loss to provide any real reasons for their belief.

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