By Bill Dahl and Ron Cole
On October 24, 1945 the U.N. was formed. Today, the United Nations is comprised of 193 member states. The U.N. was chartered to make the world a safer, peaceful place, and to coordinate the efforts of all nations toward that end. In other words, it is an organization developed to support the universal premise that every nations counts….despite our differences.
What if you couldn’t count? You probably wouldn’t have any use for the words you take for granted like countless, counter, countdown, Count Dracula, or catchy little nursery rhymes your parents taught you as a child. You probably wouldn’t have much use for numbers either. Yet God created each and every one of us to count. We’re all created to count for something. God says we shall be accountable for this, as the Bible says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” [i] It seems as if counting is important to God. The term Everything includes everyone. It sounds like you can count on it. One thing is perfectly clear; God is counting on us…
People typically don’t have any problem counting money. Yet, when the equation involves human beings, that’s when the math gets murky. Unfortunately, we have developed a tendency to forget or overlook how to include people in the accounts of reality we manufacture throughout the human experience. In some cases, counting some folks means discounting the existence of others. On other occasions, it really boils down to counterfeit counting or, counting only the folks that somebody defines as worth counting – the ones that truly matter. The figures we throw around depend upon the position we are attempting to support. This is what we refer to as arbitrary arithmetic or arbithmetic: the rules for counting change depending upon the reason underlying your count. Whether people count or not is dependent upon some pre-defined subjective definition that somebody makes up. Unfortunately, this is as true within the subculture of Christendom in North America, just as it is with any count that takes place within the broader cultural context. That’s what this book is all about: providing an account of a specific segment of the uncounted. We refer to them as The ChristiUNs.
Counting might sometimes be considered, cold, cruel and calculated. When we immerse ourselves in this routine activity, we can become desensitized to the essential compassion required of the character of one who claims the name of Christ as Lord and Savior.
- II. The ChristiANs?
For Ron Cole and Bill Dahl – Admittedly, we’re two unconventional followers of Jesus. We realized that we had many things in common…despite our differences. During our dialog, we realized that we had fallen prey to arbithmetic, as characterized by the following:
“The first step is to measure whatever can be easily counted. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that which can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that which can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.”[ii]
People like us are not easily counted – not easily measured. Our kind deserves more than to be ascribed an arbitrary quantitative value or deemed not really important or nonexistent. To continue to be overlooked in this fashion became unacceptable for us. Preeminent author and esteemed social scientist George Barna has said: “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned after thirty years of studying both religious and secular organizations is that you get what you measure.” [iii] We wholeheartedly agree. In fact, if you don’t measure, you get nothing. Thus, we began looking into this phenomenon.
First, we took a look at ourselves. When we examined our similarities, we found the following:
1. We consider ourselves to be “followers of Jesus.”
2. We can affirmatively state “Jesus is my God.”
3. We do NOT currently attend a church – due to our choice – rather than circumstance (incapacitating illness etc.)….and are NOT “church shopping” at present.
4. We do NOT currently work for a church or a faith based organization.
5. We do NOT currently receive any monetary compensation whatsoever from a church or faith based organization.
6. We are willing and able to articulate the history of our respective faith journeys, current relationship with Jesus, and how this translates into how we live today.
7. We are NOT currently enrolled in seminary or formal Christian education program in any capacity whatsoever.
8. We do NOT tithe to a church or any faith based organizations.
9. We are NOT – IN ANY WAY – involved in the “religion business.”
10. We consider ourselves to have “moved beyond” traditional institutional Christianity.
11. We are able to articulate what “Live Like Jesus” means to us today.
12. We are people who can articulate what “Just Jesus” might mean to us at this stage in our lives.
13. We believe there are multitudes of others – who possess the same sort of characteristics we share in common.
14. We both have an earnest desire to care and account for the currently uncounted.
15. We cherish our relationship with Jesus and deeply desire to continue to be transformed by Him.
16. We know that we count just as much in the heart of God as those who are routinely counted and characterized.
Next, we turned to the literature and research. This is where we identify what we refer to as the Apparent Noticeables. When one examines the books and social research that have been published in North America regarding characterizations of the Christian, you find the following:
The vast majority of the published work focuses on those who inhabit the subculture of institutional Christianity – primarily – church goers. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the authors, researchers and cultural (sub) observers who have examined the Christian, are insiders – people who have a vested interest in some aspect of the subject they are observing/researching. Next, you find works that focus on what outsiders think of the insiders. The most noteworthy investigation of this subject was published by David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, and his colleague Gabe Lyons entitled “unChristian – What A New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters,” (2007).[iv]
Other authors who have examined the Christian from this viewpoint (outsiders being examined by insiders) include Campolo, McLaren, Kimball, Barna, Henderson, and a number of others. As one begins to examine the current characterizations of the Christian, the following becomes apparent:
Captives and Casuals (Nominals) and UNattached:
- George Barna has likely completed more work in this arena that any other single author/researcher. Barna is the author of 42 books on virtually every aspect of Christianity, the Church and Christians in the U.S. Barna has a myriad of characterizations for Christians. He is a committed conservative, evangelical. The two most notable he refers to as Casual and Captive Christians. He defines the Casual Christians “people who profess to be Christian but are notably lax in their beliefs and practices.” [v] This group has also been referred to as nominal Christians. Barna indicates that two out of three American adults comprise the Casual Christian characterization. Captive Christians, according to Barna comprise about 16% of the U.S. population, including 7 out of 10 self-described evangelicals. According to Barna, they are those “whose consistently biblical beliefs and Christlike behavior validate their commitment to being followers of Christ.” [vi] Of course, exactly what those biblical beliefs and behaviors are defined as are seminal to being included in this characterization. Barna’s recent work has used the terms unattached, intermittents, homebodies, blenders and conventional to describe various components of the demography of faith engagement.[vii] Interestingly enough, Barna describes the Unattached as “spiritually inclined but have lost interest in the church experience.” Furthermore, his research indicates that more than 75% of this group used to be “consistent church attenders” and 59% consider themselves Christians.[viii] Barna suggests that to reintegrate this unattached group back into belonging (“a titanic challenge”), insiders should invite and accompany them to a church event, anticipating only the blessing that may emerge for them (the Unattached).[ix] We respectfully disagree. More on that later.
Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles:
- Barna’s former protégé David Kinnaman (now President of The Barna Group) has most recently published a book (Dec. 2011) entitled, “You Lost Me – Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church – And Rethinking Faith.” [x] Like Barna, Kinnaman can be characterized as a committed conservative, evangelical. In this treatise, Kinnaman categorizes young adults who have dropped out (or lost from) of the institutional church as nomads (spiritual wanderers – stop attending church and distance themselves from the Christian subculture), prodigals (those who leave their childhood/teen faith entirely),[xi] and exiles (young adults who grew up in the church although currently disconnected from it yet – maintain a desire to lead “God honoring lives.”[xii]). Kinnaman also attributes an impetus to the exile phenomenon he characterizes to “modern day North American parallels with Babylon.” [xiii] Finally, exiles share a common desire to transform the world around them and “caught between the church as it is and what they believe it is called to be.” [xiv]
Separatists, Cultural Christians and Restorers:
- Gabe Lyons Kinnaman’s co-author of unChristian, takes the characterization of the Christian even further in his book, The Next Christians – How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith (2010). [xv] At his own admission, Lyons is an insider today and experienced growing up in a Christian bubble.[xvi] Lyons labels Christians as follows (whose definitions are self-evident); insiders, culture warriors, evangelizers, blenders and philanthropists. He further defines “Cultural Christians” as the label that includes the blenders and philanthropists. The insiders, culture warriors, and evangelizers comprise what Lyons refers to as Separatists. After synthesizing the five components of the two categories identified above, Lyons adds one final characterization of the current day Christians: the Restorers. Rather than blending in or becoming separate from the cultural context in which they find themselves, Lyons observes a common denominator among restorers; they “thoughtfully engage, following God on the move, in every aspect of their lives, every day of the week.” [xvii] These are those who are committed to “God is in the restoration business;” participants in the restoration of God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, as the central driver of their belief systems and lifestyles. Yet, as one reads this book closely, those profiled by Lyons are distinctly insiders in terms of their ongoing attachment to the Christian subculture ( paid pastors, persons deriving their primary source of income from a vocation dedicated to serving others, attend a church regularly, hosting small group gatherings, receiving financial support from Christians – and are all attached to a rather mainstream Christian portrayal of their purpose, beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles.
Although now considered by most observers of the currents within the sea of faith & culture that lap the shores of North America, to have receded into the post-modern horizon – we recognize that the emergence of new forms of faith have been around since the inception of man’s/woman’s mind to imagine the same. It always will be, in our view. We hope so as well.
The characterizations of the emerging church, those considered emergent, emerging, emerged, submerged, diverged – or whatever – are more abundant in the North American literature of the last decade than one can honestly imagine. To attempt to enumerate them all here would be both boring and burdensome. However, several are notable.
The clear leader in literary contributions to the emergent conversation is former pastor and theologian/activist Brian McLaren (whom we both respect and admire). Mclaren’s former protégé Tony Jones has made significant contributions to the field both through scholarship, and via his role as the former Executive director of the on-line community, Emergent Village. Jones’ friend and colleague Doug Pagitt is a formative contributor, along with Spencer Burke, Barry Taylor, Dan Kimball, Rob Bell, Samir Selmanovic, N.T. Wright, Eddie Gibbs, Ryan Bolger, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, and Jim Henderson (ALL people we hold in high esteem). Yet, the aforementioned all have one thing in common; they are all insiders – either earning their primary source of income through speaking, teaching or writing about the religion business to interested insiders – or those who have been former pastors.
- III. ChristiUNs:
From the above, we hope that you can see what’s missing – writings by outsiders about outsiders – the ChristiUNs – those who don’t necessarily fit conveniently or completely into any of the popular Christian characterizations, currently portrayed above. Yet, we’re out here – millions of us – very much alive and well thank you! Obviously, ours include the uncounted, the unaccounted for, those who are considered unimportant because we live under the surface of organized religion. Many of our kind are writers, thinkers, bloggers, creators, caregivers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, siblings, sons, daughters and innovators – unknown to most – as the industry that publishes to those interested in religious fare in North America remains unwilling to take a risk on the experience and perspectives of unpublished outsiders. Yet, we remain unswerving in our dedication to realizing the dream of a vastly more transformative faith experience than the choices institutional Christianity currently has on its menu. In this sense, we are the unherd – scattered across the landscape of affiliation, location, occupation, socio-economic status and vocation. ChristiUNs remain unaddressed in the mainstream narration, misunderstood as to an accurate explanation of the genesis of our causation. Ours are oftentimes treated as aberration or mutation – akin to an unholy, unwelcome, distant, familial relation. Some, unable to contain their frustration, pray for our damnation – that through our separation – we might succumb to some form of well-deserved, self-inflicted annihilation – or a revelation of the need for our repentant rehabilitation.
Ours include the freed – those who have escaped confinement within religious institutionalization. We celebrate our daily liberation – for we have been there and done that. We are the sheep of reclamation – adored by a Shepherd who rejoices over those he has led from their incarceration, as He attends graciously to our restoration.
Ours include the broken – those who suffer from the effects of years led by those crowned with ordination, whose unintentional mutilation has victimized our kind. Ours are those who accepted the invitation, came forward to receive their gift of salvation, informed by one dimensional expectation – we succumbed to doctrinal, dogmatic suffocation – seeking solace off their reservation.
Ours include the inspired – those who are learning a new form of respiration – supplied by the realization – that our years of painful suffocation became the route of relocation – to a place of liberation – where our God-given gifts might once again, flower and blossom, through a form of germination that had never been contemplated by our imagination.
We are a diverse lot – For those paid to deliver the religious talks, we’re the ones who don’t fit within their box. The absence of easily identifiable traits of citizens of our nation produces consternation – devalued by unspoken indignation – by leaders of the church’s congregation. For all our differentiation, we remain the cherished children of an Almightier God.
We are the citizens of the nation who comprise the population known as the ChristiUNs. We are the uncounted, the unaccounted for, those heretofore considered unimportant, living under the surface of the seas of organized religion, unknown to most, — we are the unherd – our stories remain untold by us and unaddressed in the mainstream – we are often labeled as the mistaken. We remain misunderstood.
In her most recent book, Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, scholar, author and historian Diana Butler-Bass writes:
“But unlike the old religious Right, this new movement has no name. The media, sometimes, and rather unimaginatively, refer to it as the religious Left. “Spiritual progressives” may be closer to the mark, but that moniker does not fully capture its essence either. Whatever it may be called, it is the end of the Fourth Great Awakening, version 2.0, the America part of the Great Global Awakening: a generative spirit, a creative and innovative openness, a sense of hope-filled realism, of pragmatic idealism, of an interconnectedness of all things, of urgency and wonder, and of experiencing the divine in the here and now.”[xviii]
No, we are not suggesting that the term the ChristiUNs is the name of the of the “no-name” movement Butler-Bass so insightfully identifies. What we are suggesting is that the ChristiUNs are a vital component comprised of those who possess a generative spirit, a creative and innovative openness, a sense of hope-filled realism, of pragmatic idealism, of an interconnectedness of all things, of urgency and wonder, and of experiencing the divine in the here and now.”[xix]
We are the ChristiUNs – this is an introduction to our untold story – told by us and ours. We are the uncounted, discounted, Unknown Nation of God who reside in North America – we count….despite our differences with both the churchgoing citizens of Christendom – and amongst our own cohort.
Stay with us…Ron Cole and Bill Dahl
[ii] Handy, Charles The Age of Paradox Harvard Business School Press © 1994 p. 221
[iii] Barna, George Maximum Faith – Live Like Jesus – Experience Genuine Transformation, A joint publication of Metafaormation, Inc., Ventura, CA and Strategenius Group, LLC New York, NY Copyright © 2011 by George Barna, p.190.
[iv] Kinnaman, David and Lyons, Gabe unChristian – What A New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters, BakerBooks – a Division of Baker Publishing Group Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2007 by David Kinnaman & Fermi Project.
[v] Barna, George The Seven Faith Tribes – Who They Are – What They Believe and Why They Matter, BARNA – An Imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Copyright © 2009 by George Barna. P. 16
[vii] Barna, George Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World, BarnaBooks Ventura, CA Copyright © 2011 by George Barna, p. 159-160.
[x] Kinnaman, David You Lost Me – Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church – And Rethinking Faith, BakerBooks – a Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2011 by David Kinnaman.
[xv] Lyons, Gabe The Next Christians – How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith, Doubleday Religion – an imprint of Random House, Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Gabe Lyons.
[xviii] Butler-Bass, Diana Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper-One – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Copyright © 2012 by Diana Butler-Bass. P. 247.