One of the joys of summertime in campus ministry is that I have more time to read the books that have been cluttering up my desk! In the last week I’ve begun two new books—one for “research” purposes and the other for my own edification! I had skimmed through Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion last spring, but the time has come for me to sit down and really read it. While it reveals some truly fascinating research about the beliefs and demographics of American young adults (which he defines as people age 21-45), it still is a book full of social science research, thus requiring a somewhat methodical pace. I’ve read half of it so far and have discovered several things:
Discovery Number 1: Much of the media’s hype (and the church’s hype, for that matter) about the secularizing of America isn’t quite as “bad” as it is made out. True, fewer people are in worship on Sunday morning (or Saturday night, or Sunday night, etc.), but convictions of Christian young adults about the Bible aren’t drastically different than they were twenty years ago (before the Absolute Truth campaign began in evangelical circles). (See Figure 5.2, if you have the book.)
Discovery Number 2: While folks for millennia have said that Christianity is for the ignorant and for women (I’m loosely quoting an early critique of Christians), the research says otherwise, at least for young adults! True, the number of women in the church does outnumber the men, but generally, the more education a person has, the more likely they are to attend religious services (There is one glaring—and puzzling—exception, according to Wuthnow’s research. Religious participation dropped significantly for women after they earned a graduate degree. This was not true for men. See Figure 3.5, if you have the book.) So, folks…I guess it’s true…you can be an educated person and still be a Christian! Thank God!
Contrast this book with Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People by Mike Yaconelli. This book is a refreshingly honest glimpse into the life of a spiritual leader who confesses that often he didn’t feel so spiritual. I’ve loved reading it because it reminds me that while the Spiritual Disciplines are so important in shaping me as a Christian, more important is my understanding that all of life is spiritual. The message of grace pervades the pages of the book, yet it doesn’t give license to give into the pangs of spiritual practice when they hit (if that was how it worked). I’m reminded that John Wesley wrote to a struggling preacher:
“Fix some part of everyday for [reading and praying]. You may acquire the taste which you have not: What is tedious at first, will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty superficial Preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you…”
So…I read. I read even the tedious and difficult passages that shape and form my understanding of my calling. I read the stuff that inspires and convicts me. I read the Scriptures that orient my mind and heart. And I’m grateful that there are others that read, too.