Book Review – Post-Church Christian by J. Paul and Carson Nyquist

I recently had a conversation with a Boomer friend…my “grandfather in the faith,” who helped my parents become followers of Jesus. He was at Moody Bible Institute’s Founder Week and heard a seminar by Dr. J. Paul Nyquist and his son, Carson, on generational differences and the Millennial generation’s trend of leaving church. They co-authored a book together called “Post-Church Christian.” Being a Moody grad myself and enmeshed in the post-Christian and missional conversations, I want to offer my thoughts on this book. This book will likely be an important one for “bible church” backgrounds entering into the post-Christian dialogue.

Post-Church Christian is written to help foster dialogue between the Boomer and Millenial generations. It’s not primarily a book about Millennials, but a book to Millennials. The conversations assumes some knowledge of the generational trends in books like unChristian and You Lost Me, building on that research and offering an insider look into conversations between the generations. It’s personal, written by a father and son who are wrestling through their differences.

2054_ThePostChurchChristian_SharableImages_FacebookCovers scaledPart one is written by Carson and outlines most of the common feelings that Millennials have about churches. It’s important to note that Carson mostly describes Christians Millennials who are “church kids” — even bible college or seminary trained. These are not folks who grew up far from God and the gospel. There are several struggles that Millenials have with the Boomer-led church. First they struggle with lack of authenticity and vulnerability. They feel people in the church just don’t share their real selves, but hide behind a sanitized version of Christianity. They also struggle with the Boomer inability to have relationship with people different them, whether spiritual beliefs, political views or even sexual practice/orientation.  Boomers have a hard time with doubt, questioning and dealing with real, everyday stuff, and they aren’t generally open to new ideas and creativity. Carson says that Millenials “need the freedom to fail”…implying that boomers have a difficult time ‘staying in there’ with Millenials as they fail or ask hard questions.

Millenials also struggle with the “us versus them” mentality of the Boomer church. Millenials are much more likely to be ‘socially liberal’ (my term) by drinking alcohol, getting tattoos, and associating as friends with those that are far from God. They want to be in bars and places that are taboo for Boomers, making friends and embodying the gospel in those “third places.” They often hold “right doctrine,” but aren’t quick to break a relationship with someone just because their friend doesn’t. Within the church, they want to be able to express the pain and realities of evil, taking off the rose-colored glasses that they feel Boomers often wear.

Part Two is Dr. Nyquist’s response to Carson’s chapters. He begins by directly addressing the trend of Millenials leaving the church. Many Millennials believe that they can continue on as Christians and leave the church. They shouldn’t leave because the church is “the institution [God] commissioned to take the gospel to the whole world.” (p77) Some Millennials say that their bible study and friendship group can be their church. But Nyquist describes a church as a group who recognizes that they are a church and does what the Bible says a church is to do. God says a church is to 1) regularly gather, 2) appoint qualified  leaders, 3) observe the ordinances, and 4) maintain disciples and protect the church.  Anything less than this is not a church and Millennials need to be connected to an actual church.

To the Millennial critiques of the church and feelings of being hurt, Nyquist points out that while the church is “God’s institution, not man’s”  (94), it is flawed and often gets stuck. This is just the reality of church history, but there is always hope. Even if Millennials were running the church, what they would create would eventually have flaws and get stuck too.  He calls Millennials to forgive boomers, thank them for the good work they have done, and engage them for their wisdom.

One of the key practical differences between Millennials and Boomers is around the issue of Christian liberty (especially as it relates to alcohol, tattoos and smoking pipes…although I might have just added the pipe part :). Nyquist gives a standard teaching on liberty based on 1 Corinithians 8:13 and not causing another believer to stumble.

Part three ends with last words from father and son. Paul Nyquist points again to the changing culture and how the church will need to change in order to get back to the “front lines” (p125). He specifically calls the next generation to stay grounded on the uniqueness of Jesus and to be careful to not be immersed in the culture they are hoping to reach.  Carson calls his fellow Millennials to forgive and not just critique, to offer their creativity and gifts to the church.

My thoughts:

To start, I really enjoyed this book because of it’s personal nature. We have many good books on cultural trends and stats already.  If I’m honest, behind a lot of the critique of the Boomer church is an underlying Millennial pain. I think I personally felt this pain a bit with the brief story Paul shared of not bringing up Carson’s tattoo, but waiting for Carson to mention it first. I often think for Boomer’s, the direction of intentional relationship is from the younger to the older, and from the outsider in, instead of from the older to the younger, from the insider to the outsider. This is a whole discussion in itself for sure.

But for me this also touches on Dr. Nyquist’s call for Millennials to forgive. This is definitely true and “biblical.” But in relationships, someone feeling hurt has a difficult time hearing a call to forgive from the one they feel has hurt them. There needs to be wisdom here and a gentle call to dialogue, forgiveness, and patience from Boomers if there is to be reconciliation. And how we all long for reconciliation!

Second, at the core of many new expressions of church among younger generations are honest differences in Ecclesiology. Paul Nyquist’s definition of a church is so much better than those that define a church as a place, a pastor and a program. (Although I wince at calling the church an “institution”). However, it is missing missio Dei and focuses on the internal matters of the community. I don’t believe that Millennials should just get a few friends together and call it a church. That’s not the answer either and I’ve seen too many former campus ministry students who have left church and ended in a spiritual mess.

I want to offer a third option. Why doesn’t the Boomer church invest it’s time, money, resources and energy into relationally discipling and developing the next generation of Millennial leaders whether or not they are part of their churches? Teach them to make disciples and start churches that are well led, focused on doing the things a church should do, and are “biblically sound.”

Of course when I say “church,” I’m not talking about a building, preaching pastor and program, but a community (small or large) of Jesus’ disciples, extending his ministry (in his ways) in a local context. I’m convinced that the passion and missional energy of the Millennial generation could be unleashed in great ways if we could figure out a stable relational connection between the generations. Perhaps Boomers could view these new churches as they do “church plants” in another culture or place. Again much more to be said here, but my gut feeling is that in the end, we’d come up with something better than either generation could imagine.

This was a good book and a great introduction for the bible –church backgrounds to the post-Christian and Millennial tremors. The book offers two options for Millennials: Stay or Leave. I suggest we find a third option…and perhaps it would start with “Stay (relationally connected) and Start (churches)!