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October 10, 2016, 3:35 PM

Nones and Dones

  The “Nones” and the “Dones” are growing faster than Christians in America.

    “Nones” are people who profess no allegiance to any religious group.  Some are atheists or agnositics, others claim to be “spiritual” in some vague sense.  Many “Nones” still go to church because they fear being condemned or rejected by family and friends.  But, many eventually join the “Dones.”   The “Dones” are people who may have lost their faith, or whose faith has been so bruised by churches, that they cannot bring themselves to participate any more.

    The Nones and the Dones make up approximately 25% of the American public as a whole (75 million people) and about a third of those under the age of thirty.  Their numbers are growing faster than any religious group.

     The church is failing to reach these people, and failing badly.

     Simply telling them to “read the Bible” does not help. I know atheists who are more biblically literate than many Christians.  Richard Dawkins, one of the most outspoken critics of religion today, advocates for the Bible being taught in schools because he says no other book has led more people to atheism!  They find a book filled with contradictions (and yes, they ARE there).  They find stories of God commanding genocide, condoning slavery, and oppressing women.  They see stories that are disproven by science. 

     I’ve been reading a powerful book entitled, God in the Waves by Mike McHargue, who grew up as a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who was steeped in a literal interpretation of Scripture. He was a deacon in his church and taught Sunday School.  But, after reading through the Bible several times, he actually lost his faith.  His rigorous training in science and logic crashed into his church’s view of biblical interpretation.  The Bible didn’t survive the impact, and God “died” in the wreckage.  At least, that’s how it felt to him.

     He lived for years as a convinced atheist.  But, then an utterly surprising and overwhelming spiritual experience left him feeling that there was a deeper truth at work in the universe for which the word “God” seemed the only adequate term.  But it was not the God of his earlier life, and this God, though more mysterious, he actually found in science as well as Scripture.

    These days, he gets attacked by both atheists and Christians for not being sufficiently orthodox.  But, others find hope in his story.  I think it is an astounding book and I highly recommend it.  (By the way…he is now a United Methodist.)

    Ironically, both fundamentalist Christians and outspoken atheists insist that the Bible only be taken literally.  They insist that if you read it that way, you surely become a believer…or a non-believer. 

     The church is going to have to find a better way to make its case.  Certainly not by disposing of the Bible, but by presenting it in a way which honestly admits and confronts its vexing issues and problems.  There ARE ways to do this, but it involves shucking off a lot of old thinking. We also need to understand the perspective of people who don’t believe, have never believed, don’t see a reason to believe, or whose belief was so abused that they are too afraid to believe.  That perspective can be painful to hear, but it’s the first step in reaching them.

     For churches filled with people who have marinated in belief all their lives, and often can’t remember a time when they didn’t believe in God, Jesus, and the Scriptures, this is very hard.  Many church people want to hear the old, old story told in a with which they are familiar and comfortable. It’s an understandable desire. But, if the church only caters to the believers already in it, it will never win any non-believers outside of it.  Right now, the church is clearly failing in this regard.  Yet this is the primary mission of the church! 

     The purpose of evangelism is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ so that everyone might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).  Our task is to proclaim freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18).  Our task is to share and live out a message which is life and world transforming.  Our task is to share a message which liberates us from the selfishness and self-destruction of sin and gives us a new life.

     Too often, the church comes across as a dispensary for guilt and fear and not really that different from the rest of the world.

     Maybe these societal assumptions about the church are wrong and unfair.  But they are out there, and we will have to challenge them to get our message across.  The only way we can do this is to confront hard truths.  For as Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

     I am working on ways to reach out to the Nones and Dones.  This will involve preaching and teaching in ways that are different, at times.  Because the old ones just aren’t doing the job. I ask for your prayers, and hope for your support and ideas.  

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