Friday, October 07, 2011

Book Review: "Jaded"

TITLE: Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But Not on God
AUTHOR: Angela J. Kiesling
PUBLISHER: Baker Books, 2004.

Tired? Burnt out? Feeling like wanting to quit Church? Meaningless Church going? These are questions that this book tries to address. In this honest to heart book, Kiesling writes about a state of 'divine discontent,' a 'weariness with institutional church,' desire for more spiritual connection rather than mundane church going, recovery from failed expectations from church, as well as a need for some spiritual renewal.

The main concern in the book is to recognize the presence of a 'divine discontent' in people, the many faces of 'spiritual fatigue,' and an openness to consider both revitalizing the old church, as well as to join new forms of church, like the open, the house, and the organic church. There is hope for BOTH kinds.

In "Rock-Bottom Believers," the author acknowledges that believers of all ages do reach a state of rock-bottom feeling with regards to church at some point in their lives. The hope is that at that point, there is only upside for things cannot get any worse.

In "Call Me Ishmael," Kiesling reminds us that believers in general feel the 'divine discontent' because they are still searching for God, and also searching for themselves. When the Church they are attending fails any or both of these search efforts, they feel jaded. She ends with two stories of hope. The first story of a young believer, cheated by a believer, learns to grow in terms of discernment and spiritual maturity, and to learn to distinguish between God, and the people who claim to live in God's name. The second story tells of God meeting the needs of the weary traveler, just like the biblical character of Ishmael.

Chapter 3 is a fascinating description of why people stop going to church. Firstly, researchers has earlier predicted statistical decline of church attendance, where church growth is less a case of new believers but more a case of people moving from one church to another. Secondly, the McDonaldization of religion essentially creates a consumerist mindset that Churches are hard put and ill-equipped to fulfill.  She quotes these observations by the Methodist minister, Benjamin Sharpe, that consumerist Christians (39):

  • "Want lots of choices from a menu of programs that appeal to our personal tastes and preferences."
  • "See ourselves as individuals who have no intimate relationship with others in the body of believers."
  • "Believe the reason for the church's existence is to meet our felt needs, providing a product or service."
  • "Leave when we don't feel like we are getting our money's worth or proper service."
  • Create a personal motto of 'Ask not what I can do for God, but what the church can do for me.
  • Base our loyalty on whether our felt needs are met."

Thirdly, there can be practical differences such as 'theological differences, personality differences, worship preferences, and other criteria.' (41) Fourthly, Kiesling suggests that people leave churches depending on which of the 5 generations they are in. She breaks down the generations as:

  • Seniors (1926 and before)
  • Builders (1927-1945)
  • Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Busters (1965-1984)
  • Mosaics (1985-2004)
Of the five, seniors and builders are most supportive of traditional churches. Boomers tend to stay on the fence. Busters are more sensitive to issues that are relevant and practical. Mosaics are like Busters except that they are more ready to quit when things do not happen their way quick enough. The hope is that even though some people leave churches, they do not necessarily leave God.

In Chapter 4, Kiesling goes into what Church means in the midst of a multicultural, complex, and eclectix mix of expectations. She is particularly interested in the 'home-church movement' that manifest these 14 'traits': (55)

  1. from serving God to knowing God
  2. from a gospel of 'easy believism' to the gospel of the kingdom
  3. from the efforts of man to the works of God
  4. from insecure, wounded people to people made whole by Jesus Christ
  5. from being told by man what to do to learning to hear God's voice and doing what he tells you to do
  6. from clergy-dominated services and programs to mutually participating communities of believers
  7. from one-man leadership to team, servant leadership
  8. from being meeting-oriented to being relationship-oriented
  9. from gathering in church buildings to gathering in homes
  10. from looking inward to looking outward
  11. from big, expensive programs of evangelism to the simple, Spirit-led witness of 'the little people'
  12. from the subjugation of women to the release of women as equal partners in the kingdom of God
  13. from financial sloppiness and cover-up to financial integrity, accountability, and disclosure
  14. from denominations to 'the church of a city'

That is not all. There is an increasing interest in finding religion online. This confirms people's continued desire to search for God, expanding the domain from offline real world to the online digital world.

Chapter 6 is a great chapter that touches on good Christian people dedicated to do their best in serving the Church. As people jumps from Martha to Mary, and back again, they can find fulfilment and joy in service. Realistically, she reminds readers that there are potential 'spiritual sinkholes' like John Bunyan's description of the Slough of Despair that all servants need to be aware of. The positive hope is that God is guiding the believer.

Chapter 7 deals with the issue of spiritual abuse. While recognizing the pain some believers go through, hope is found in growth, maturity, and a renewed faith in God's grace and rest. Before she ends the book, she suggests some paradigm shifting proposals.
  • that sometimes it is good to take an occasional break from church, and to be free to do it without feeling guilty
  • Despite the many criticisms, there is still a lot of good in the institutional church
  • Focus on mentoring
  • Parents to volunteer in Sunday School, rather than 'abdicating' their kids to the system
  • Being church is not necessary in a church building, but at a gathering of believers like a coffee shop conversation.
  • ....

My Comments

This book is about hope for the weary Christian. Kiesling does a great job to describes the different reasons why people feel jaded about church. She also does well to point to hope amid the deep levels of despair happening in the church. Not only does she encourage jaded believers to try something new elsewhere, she also urges them to be open to doing something new INSIDE the existing church. The general thrust is that Christians can still grow in maturity and in faith with or without the traditional church building. After all, church is not built on rocks and concrete, but people.

I appreciate the manner of understanding the author has communicated to many a jaded believers. It started very well in describing why people has lost hope on the church. Unfortunately, the strong beginning is betrayed by a rather weak ending. It is also unfortunate that the final stories of Luther, a friend called James, and the Apostle Paul revolves around individuals more than talking about the home communities that Kiesling is so passionate about. The author will do well to share of some community success stories. If one is 'jaded' about church, and church is a community of believers, will it not be better to share more stories of jaded individuals finding joy in Christ through unjaded communities?

Ratings 3.5 stars of 5.


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