RESOURCE REVIEW | FAITH FOR EXILES
I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a Mark Matlock “fanboy” (awkward). Mark’s ministry had an incredible influence on my life during my High School years as a new Jesus-follower, an influence that has now flavored and informed my ministry as a Student Pastor for nearly two decades. I have always valued the way that Mark thinks about the mind and faith development of teenagers. For this reason, I was quick to pre-order Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.
Mark co-authored this book with David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group. The solid research from Barna, paired with the ministry and parenting experience of both of these men, creates an informative and accessible read with broad appeal. This is likely one that you’ll be recommending!
The premise of Faith for Exiles is the authors’ assertion that modern screen-obsessed teens are experiencing an exile of sorts in a place they describe as “digital Babylon”. This “Babylon” is a place created by our “complex culture that is marked by phenomenal access, profound alienation, and a crisis of authority.” The book not only attempts to describe the modern experience of today’s teen, it endeavors to identify ways this new generation can follow Jesus despite a culture that makes it increasingly difficult.
The research is based on four groups of “Exiles” identified out of 18-29-year-olds who “grew up Christian”. These four groups include: Prodigals (Ex-Christians), Nomads (Unchurched), Habitual Churchgoers, and Resilient Disciples. The book focuses on deducing what makes a young adult a “Resilient Disciple”, and how the common factors may need to inform the faith formation of children and teens. The book defines “Resilient Disciples” as “Christ followers who (1) attend church at least monthly and engage with their church more than just attending worship services; (2) trust firmly in the authority of the Bible; (3) are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death; and (4) express desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith.”
Faith for Exiles deduces that there are five practices for “resilient faith”: Intimacy with Jesus, cultural discernment, intergenerational relationships, training for vocational discipleship, and engagement in countercultural mission. A chapter is devoted to each practice which includes an explanation of the practice, supporting research, along with some examples of application woven in. Throughout the book, the reader is challenged to see how the ministry approach of the modern church can both help and hinder these practices.
As a Student Pastor, this book gave me a clearer idea of how our modern culture has shaped the childhood and teen experience of those to whom I minister. Unexpectedly, the text fostered a greater sense of empathy in me towards today’s teens for the fact that there are so many hurdles to a life-transforming faith in Jesus for them as compared to previous generations. I would advise having a highlighter and pen on hand as you read this book as my copy is riddled with underscored quotes, notes, and question-filled margins.
Faith for Exiles leaves one with a lot to chew on. The data and trends are easily noted. Excitement is generated by the fact that we know WHAT leads to enduring faith. What may be lacking in the book are prescribed steps on what to DO with the information. However, this may be for the best. One thing is for certain, Faith For Exiles makes it clear that the faith of Resilient Disciples can not be formed solely within the box of church programming. The book challenges me to continue to pursue a ministry that engages, equips, and supports parents to engage their child spiritually. Additionally, the text underscores the significance of a ministry that doesn’t “spoon-feed” everything to teens spiritually, but one that enables them to “self-feed”.
If you love data and research, you’ll geek out over this book! If you don’t, you’ll be challenged by the conclusions of the research. Hopefully, you’ll also be moved to action. I would highly recommend this book to ministers and parents alike so that we, together, might see the next generation return from “exile”.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.