Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Already Gone: A Review and More
I'll warn you now that this post is going to ramble, and is not going to be the standard book review. Already Gone is written by a fundamentalist Protestant. He looks at why children raised in "Bible Believing" churches leave, and what can be done both to keep them from leaving and to woo back those who left.
I'm Catholic and one topic often discussed on Catholic blogs is why children leave the Church and what we can do to bring them back. Those on the conservative side of the spectrum generally say that the problem is that these children were never taught about the faith. They complain about weak religious education programs and/or teachers who don't support the Church's teachings. They say that many parishes have lost a sense of the sacred and propose more formality (and better dress) at mass and a return to the use of Latin at mass. They criticize the praise and worship music often used at teen masses and encourage the use of the organ and Gregorian chant. Those on the liberal end say that we need to encourage more liturgical involvement by teens and young adults. Our masses need to be more welcoming. Music needs to be more modern and the Church needs to be more open to the lifestyles of its people. As a middle-of-road parent I am left wonder WHAT I can do to keep my kids in the Church. When this book was offered by First Wildcard, I thought it would be interesting to see what the neighbors had to say about what is evidently a common problem.
For this book, the authors surveyed 1000 young adults who had been raised in what they term "Bible-believing" churches, but who did not currently attend church. They tried to determine how these young adults were alike and different, why they no longer attend church, and if they plan to return. The author's litmus test for "Bible-believing" appeared to be whether the church taught the literal truth of Genesis. He came to the conclusion that these kids were leaving their churches in their minds and hearts long before college. Kids who attended Sunday School regularly were less likely than those who didn't to answer questions such as whether they believed in evolution or whether abortion should be legal in the manner the author considered correct. The survey found that 38% of these unchurched young adults planned to return when they had kids.
The basic conclusions of the authors are that children need to be taught the literal truth of the Bible, especially of Genesis, and that they need to be taught apologetics so they can intellegently refute the messages they are getting at school and in other places that promote evolution. Further, they state that parents can't depend on Sunday Schools to pass on the faith--they have to do it. Interestingly they found it made no difference whether the kids attended public school, private schools or were homeschooled. They say that pastors have to firmly preach about Genesis and make preaching the Word the center of their services (rather than music as is now the fashion in some circles).
I don't claim any great expertise nor have I done the research these folks have done. To me, it seems that part of what they are saying makes sense--if kids aren't taught the truth (however you define "truth") there is little reason to stay with a church that claims to have it, especially if that church's teachings are unpopular in the culture (like the authors' beliefs in the literal truth of Genesis or the Catholic teachings on sexuality). If a church is little more than a neighborhood social club there is little reason IMO to make attendance a priority. On the other hand, this book studied a very distinct set of people--those raised in a particular type of church who now no longer attend any church. I'd be curious how the data would look if you surveyed 1000 random young adults who are not now regular churchgoers. What is their background as far as churchgoing? Are certain denominations or styles of churches that do a better (or worse) job of retaining their youth? Are there certain denominations or styles of churches that tend to make churchgoers out of their youth--but whose youth often choose other types of churches?
The book was interesting, though from my perspective, too much time was spent discussing the necessity of a literal view of Genesis and why it is important. For the record, I do not believe much of Genesis is literally, historically true.
First Wildcard will tour this book October 15. Check back then to read the first chapter.