Generation Ex-Christian is a thoughtful, well-researched, practical guide on why Generation Y or Millennials (those born after 1980) are leaving Christianity at an alarming rate, how they arrived there, and how to work towards getting them back. Although it includes discussions surrounding doctrine, it is not a characteristically apologetic book that highlights differences between Christianity and other religions (or atheists), while sometimes ignoring ways to reach out to others. While a series of basic theistic arguments are put forward, Dyck’s primary orientation is to provide concrete and contextualized approaches to equip, engage and evangelize those who have left the faith they once possessed.
After conducting numerous interviews with “Ex-Christians” (a term the interviewees used to describe themselves) and analyzing extensive research conducted by other organizations, Dyck began to establish a number of patterns and categories that characterized the participants, those he refers to as “leavers” - the postmodernist, the recoiler, the modernist, the neo-pagan, the rebel, and the drifter. Using a primary interviewee as a case-study in each chapter, he moves into a discussion about their defining characteristics and concludes by offering a way forward.
Post-moderns are those who have embraced at least some of the basic tenets of postmodernism. First, they are suspicious of and very hesitant to embrace any metanarrative that seeks to contain the whole truth of reality and define it for all people. As a result, truth, reason and reality become radically defined. That is, there is a different truth for each person, and experience, not reason, is the means of determining what truth actually is. As a result, morality suffers the similar fate as truth informs and shapes how one lives.
Postmoderns have also embraced the philosophy of Jacques Derrida called deconstructionism. This idea, when coupled with postmodernism, creates an atmosphere of suspicion surrounding truth claims and beliefs.
Finally, postmoderns have a tendency to embrace a more positive value as well - concern for the marginalized. They believe that the lack of concern and care for the disenfranchised among many of us are in many ways a result of our embrace of metanarratives, where less-fortunate people may sometimes be forced to the margins. By deconstructing these narratives, postmoderns are more able to embrace those who are often excluded.
Simply defined, Recoilers are those who have withdrawn from the faith because of the pain they have endured within the church, often through some form of abuse done in the name of God. As Dyck highlights, those who have been victimized, and who associate that with God, will normally tend to experience struggles with their faith. And, though they may sometimes provide a series of intellectual arguments against faith, those same arguments are often used to hide their pain. The result can be emotional atheism, where those who feel wounded by God conclude that God does not exist.
Modern leavers are those who have left the faith for intellectual reasons. As Dyck posits, “unlike postmodern leavers, they love linear thinking, objective truth, and the Western tradition of rational thought.” They also believe that truth isn’t found through revelation, but through scientific investigation and reason. As a result, they is simply no room for belief in anything outside the physical world, including such things as a spirit, soul or the supernatural. In the end, only those things that can be proven through empirical observation are real.
He also found that many in this camp have a strong tendency to be atheists. With this in mind, he surmised that there would be no better way to find out what they believed and why they believed it, then to seek out ex-Christians at a local atheist meeting.
A primary conclusion that arose from that meeting was that leavers are part of what is commonly referred to as the ‘new atheists.’ While their arguments against God’s existence may not be all that new, what is new about them is their confrontational, angry and militant attitude. Headed by highly recognized authors such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), the new atheists have launched a massive advertising campaign against religion that includes the selling of books, tote bags, coffee mugs, T--shirts, and buttons. Dawkins has even included a ‘conversion corner’ on his website where those who de-convert can share their personal stories (or testimonies) about their departure from faith.
Dealing with neo-pagans, Dyck focuses on one of the fastest growing religions in America, and quite possibly, around the world - Wicca. Derived from the word witchcraft, it is a neo-pagan, earth-based religion. They worship a god and goddess, practice magic, worship nature and engage in seasonal rituals. They also believe in a unifying energy in nature that “can be manipulated through magic to bring personal rewards such as love, financial blessing and general happiness.”
Wicca has benefited from a number of cultural trends, the first being feminism. Its focus on a female deity has made it very attractive against a backdrop of patriarchal religion. Consumerism also works in favor of Wicca’s popularity. In terms of spirituality, it doesn’t promote a revealed truth to be accepted by everyone, but each person can create their own version of the truth. “Practitioners are free to pick and choose which beliefs and practices to adopt, making Wicca a religion tailor-made for our consumerist age.” Nothing has benefited Wicca more than the environmental movement. Wiccans worship the earth, so it is very easy to see why it would be very conducive with the concern to take care of the earth. Finally, secularism is another ally of the Wiccan religion. It has often been perceived as a reactionary movement against the prevailing secularism of the West. Realizing that there is more to life than the ‘mechanized culture’ that surrounds us, people turn to Wicca as a means of finding answers to quench their souls.
Dyck includes two sub-categories within the rebels classification. The first are “moral rebels.” This group forsake the faith to indulge in sinful behaviors. Living apart from their parents for the first time, coupled with an increased sense of freedoms and corresponding temptations, “...it’s no coincidence that more people abandon Christianity between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two than during any other four years of life.”
The second category is referred to as “spiritual rebels.” These people do not rebel against the Christian lifestyle, but against the authority of God. This group normally does not respond favorably to arguments for the existence of God because the very idea of a ‘ruler’ of all is simply reprehensible.
Dyck characterizes the final group of leavers as those “whose faith is rooted in shallow soil and is ultimately carried off in the wind.” Rather than leaving the faith abruptly, they usually begin to gradually move away over time. Drifters, he claims, have the greatest numbers of all leavers.
Drifters have acted on a tendency inherent to us all; the ‘prone to wander’ syndrome. This view is substantiated by statistics that conclude that 71% of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds departed from their childhood religion gradually.
Drifters are also not prone to seek out opportunities to argue against Christianity, as other leavers are sometimes inclined to do. However, this can create a whole other set of issues, as they may not be as motivated to open up about their beliefs and can seek to avoid spiritual conversations altogether.
Drew Dyck has written an extremely thought-provoking and helpful overview of contemporary ‘ex-Christians.’ What I appreciated most was that he did not rely exclusively on statistics, but actively engaged people where they were, taking the time to ‘hear’ them in their own words. After conducting numerous interviews, compiling data, and analyzing the results, he provides us with well-researched information, real-life case studies and practical guidelines to more effectively engage the ‘leavers’ in our communities and around the world.
I especially appreciated his contextualized approach in defining each subgroup and for providing an individualized approach that sought to equip us accordingly. Why this approach took a considerable amount of time relative to research and analysis, it was well worth the extra effort. Meeting people ‘where they are’ and determining their needs on an individual basis will equip us to help them with a greater degree of effectiveness. A one-sized-fits-all approach rarely works in the world of evangelism, and Drew Dyck has captured this very well.
I highly recommend Generation Ex-Christian to every youth leader, pastor and parent who requires an informed and well-researched, practical guide to better engage the ‘leavers’ in their lives. Dyck’s book will also prepare its readers to prayerfully and authentically serve as a catalyst to re-connect others with Jesus Christ and learn to walk with them on their journey to spiritual maturity.
Jeffrey K. Clarke