Cover Image: Faith for Exiles

Faith for Exiles

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If there is one book parents and youth/young adult leaders must read this year, it is Faith for Exiles by David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock (Baker, 2019). Based on years of research, the authors’ identify five core practices necessary for developing a deep and resilient faith for living in the 21st century (North American) world.

If you are looking for a fast read to “fix” the religious dropout (nones) issue, this is not the book. While the authors provide valuable illustrative material for the specific issues and challenges they present, Kinnaman & Matlock clarify the issues – and strategies for combatting them – thoughtfully and carefully with precision, theological insight, and necessary nuancing. Pastors and church leaders would also do well to wrestle with the issues and solutions presented and for reasonable ways to address the concerns in a given context.

Especially commendable is the authors lack of “the sky is falling” conversation while still pleading for urgency in their recommendations. The differentiation throughout the book of resilient, habitual churchgoers, nomads, and prodigals is helpful.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer in exchange for an unbiased review by Baker Books as part of the Baker Books Bloggers program.
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Faith for Exiles answers many questions about the spirituality of today's youth. Recommended for pastors and youth leaders.
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While hardly able to keep up with the changes, recent years is starting to see the results of some of the first studies about technology’s impact since the beginning of the internet era. There has been some concern about the effects if technology is not tempered with wise living and the research is suggesting those concerns are warranted. Seeking to address those concerns from a Christian worldview, David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock have collaborated  to release, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.

David Kinnamane is the principal stakeholder at Barna Group while Mark Matlock is the founder of Wisdom Works Ministries. Sifting through vast amounts of research available over the course of many years from Barna Group, they conclude that “Young non-Christians are avoiding Christianity, and young Christians are abandoning church; however by cultivating five practices we can form and be formed into disciples of Jesus who thrive as exiles in digital Babylon.” Dividing people into prodigals (ex-Christians), nomads (lapsed Christians), habitual churchgoers, and resilient disciples, the authors compare and contrast habits, experiences, and expectations of each group in hopes of learning more about what Christians can do be impacted and impact others.

To be quite honest, any time I see a phrase similar to 5 (or insert whatever number you wish) steps to a better Christian life or some variation, I am skeptical. I am not opposed to generating lists of practical attributes and actions of Christians, but to reduce the Christian life to simple steps is a overly reductionistic and minimizes the work of God in an individual’s life.

With that bias noted, a turn through the book shows the author’s intentions. Noting the impact technology is having on the global society, the authors stipulate that Christians are exiles living in the midst of a digital Babylon. Therefore, if behavior is not changed in this generation, they suggest that more from the next generation will fall away from the faith. As a result, they assert the following five principles are necessary to work against five concern:

    To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.
    In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
    When isolation and mistrust are the norm, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.
    To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
    Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission. 

These five points are a summation of common characteristics found in their research.

The amount of research available in this book is extensive and something very appreciated. It is noteworthy that we can have access to some of the information that they present. While they cite much research throughout the book, the back matter includes a lot of the fuller results giving a greater perspective for readers. Their conclusions from this research, that basically the church is lacking in discipleship, is a personal concern of mine for quite some time and to see the research verify this is personally appreciated. Therefore, the observations made (such as how technology allows people to rebrand themselves and that our technology is outdistancing our theology) are complex and need to be wrestled within a Christian framework.

As a result, their identification of the issues facing Christians is incredibly profound, but their solutions (for the most part) lack great depth. Most of their suggestions are simply activities and attitudes of a biblical church as demonstrated in Scripture. This combines with two other concerns. First, the authors at times are very borderline mystical. It could simply be the result of their word usage, which points to a greater issue in the book. Their word usage can frequently obscure their points at readers have to wrestle with what the authors are ‘really’ trying to say. The second concern is the confusion that seems to occur between conversion and discipleship. At one point, the authors assert that in the past disciples could be mass-produced at events like crusades. Regardless of one’s view on crusades, altar calls, etc. it should be agreed that decisionism is not discipleship. Interestingly, the book seems to advocate a deeper and more biblical approach to discipleship, so the initial comingling does not seem to match what the authors believe.

Upon reading this book, I am left with this thought: I am uncertain about where I fall on this book. There are some legitimate concerns. Yet, from a research and analysis aspect, there are areas noted by the authors that Christians should be dealing with. However, there are some areas that personally I am still unsettled by. Some wise counsel is to reserve immediate judgment on a book until one has had time to let everything settle beyond initial reactions and that is what I need to do in this case.

To learn more about this book, click here. If you are interested in more of this area, click the following books which may be helpful and provide some insight:

    12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke
    The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
    The Revenge of Analog by David Sax (secular book)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, my review was not influenced by the author, publisher, or anyone else associated with this book and is the result of my own reading of it.
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This book caught my attention as it’s subject matter deals with discipleship and a new generation of believers. Specifically the authors delve into the problems and possibilities that new Babylon makes for an upcoming generation of believers. Each section of the book deals with a specific issue and a possible solution. Through the research conducted by the authors they propose five basic practices to help guide both the old and the new generation in dealing with changing societal norms. The difficulty I had with the book was it’s lack of a concrete plan for utilizing technology. However, overall the book provides numerous ideas to encourage both young and old believers to help each other stay strong and even grow stronger in their faith. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a better understanding of changing societal norms and practical helps to encouraging one another to stay strong in their Christian faith..
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While I’ve read several excellent books about Gen Z and the millennial generation, the majority of the content has been descriptive, not prescriptive. While I’ve gained a greater understanding of those we long to reach, I also find myself wishing for a “to-do” list. I’ve found it in this book!

Kinnaman and Matlock sprinkle practical ideas through Faith of Exiles that we can implement in our churches to encourage and equip young adults.

As a mom of two young adults that straddle the Gen Z and millennial generation, I have a front-row seat to what life can be like for young Christian adults. The stories shared in Faith for Exiles, reflect what our sons have seen and experienced.

As a women’s ministry leader, I highly recommend this book. Many women’s ministry teams are struggling to reach younger generations. Gen Z and millennials seem uninterested in our women’s ministry offerings. They rarely attend, and our efforts to reach out often fall flat. We may even assume the faith of these young adults is stagnant or lukewarm. Faith for Exiles reveals that’s not always true and offers advice for how we can better reach the next generation.
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David Kinnaman of Barna Group and Mark Matlock of WisdomWorks, wrote Faith for Exiles as a follow up to You Lost Me (2011), which explored some key factors as to why Christian young adults are dropping out of church involvement. Based on new surveys and research, Faith for Exiles now claims that “young non-Christians are avoiding Christianity, and young Christians are abandoning church; however, by cultivating five practices, we can form and be formed into disciples of Jesus who thrive as exiles in digital Babylon.” The authors, in characteristic Barna Group style, offer compelling results and statistics that summarize their social and spiritual discoveries. 

They use the metaphor of Babylon which the Bible characterizes as a culture set against God’s purposes. God sent his judgment on the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and judgment on the southern kingdom to live in exile in the city of Babylon for 70 years in 2 Kings 25. Babylon is also that idolatrous and immoral secular world system hostile to Christ and his rule that was embodied in the Roman empire and universally typified in the book of Revelation. 

Kinnaman and Matlock view digital technology and social media as a core cultural artifact today that colonizes people’s hearts minds to reflect and shape Babylon’s values—especially young people 18-29 years old. They claim that we are all exiles—residents in a postmodern cultural Babylon that is hostile to Christianity and set against God’s purposes. It is pluralistic, accelerated and frenetic, diverse, open sourced, and complex. They argue, however, that many parents, educators, and pastors are trying to prepare young Christians for Jerusalem. As “resident aliens,” Christians (especially youth and young adults who are so digitally oriented) need a faith that can thrive in exile—a counter-cultural discipleship faith. They propose “that the goal of discipleship today is to develop Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit.”

Kinnaman and Matlock explore five core practices for a faith that will thrive in an exilic digital Babylon: 1) To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus; 2) In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment; 3) When isolation and mistrust are the norm, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships; 4) To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship; 5) Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission. 

There is much to commend in Faith for Exiles. The book moves along with sustained energy and concrete take-home ideas. The authors have a good handle on cultural and biblical exegesis and offer many insightful observations and exhortations. In many ways, the content and central ideas can benefit all parents, educators, pastors, and Christians today, not just 18-29 year-old youth and young adults. However, as with many of these types of books, Faith for Exiles is longer on analysis while shorter on application. Perhaps there will be a follow-up workbook that will probe the ideas and applications deeper for discipleship.

“Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.”
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The Barna Group research previously found that young Christians are avoiding Christianity and leaving the church. Rather than concentrating this time on those leaving the church, they focused on young Christians who remained vibrant in their faith. 

Kinnaman and Matlock have distilled their research down to five guidelines for passing on a lasting faith in a culture hostile to Christianity. It was no surprise to me that the first guideline is having a transformational experience with Jesus and establishing a meaningful relationship with Him. Other guidelines include training in cultural discernment, meaningful intergenerational relationships, vocational discipleship, and countercultural mission. There is a need for young people to know how to think Christianly, develop a Christian worldview, have meaningful relationships, and be discerning in this pluralistic culture.

This is a book every youth pastor would do well to read and probably all parents. The authors' writing style is a bit academic in nature but the material the book contains is worth the effort.

I appreciate how they draw our attention to the current culture. A generation ago, the Bible was still recognized as an authority for truth and morality. It is no longer a prominent authority and Christian faith has been pushed to the margins. They describe the current culture as a “digital Babylon.” Just about anything we want, whether information, advice, or entertainment, is readily available. Maintaining a vibrant Christian faith in such a new environment is a challenge.

We are in an era when we can no longer do church and youth discipleship the way we've been doing it for decades. Reading this book will give church leaders insight into a strategy to pass on a vibrant faith to young people.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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"In a time when voices are predicting the imminent demise of the church - this book, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, is a refreshing and encouraging change of pace. This is not the typical “the church is failing our youth” or “the youth ministry experiment has failed” treatise. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock have taken a different tack. This work instead is a hopeful and reassuring approach. Their research based and Biblically centered style is so much different to what else is being written today about the fate of new generations in the church. As David and Mark would say, “We need Exiles”, and this book proves that statement. Seriously, all ministry leaders should devour this book right away."
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This is without a doubt the most user unfriendly tool I have tried to navigate in a long time.  Pages and pages of helpful hints that are anything but helpful.  After two hours of trying to download a book I am giving up.
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