“Nones” aren’t the only audience for books addressing the exodus from traditional Western religions. Pastors are sweating this trend, too. Religious presses are giving them voice with titles addressing the drivers behind the trend, such as politics from the pulpit, the cultural climate of secularization, and the “unwelcome mat” put out for people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. The twist for these titles is their focus on whether and how to reconnect with the disengaged.
Organized religion has a “permeable border,” says Westminster John Knox senior acquisitions editor Jessica Miller Kelley. “Drawing a hard line between who is inside the fold and who is outside is not really relevant anymore. People have the same spiritual questions and desire for meaning whether or not they claim membership in a church.”
Kelley cites WJK author John Pavlovitz, who, she says, “has been called ‘atheists’ favorite pastor’ because he embodies a Christianity that even nonreligious people recognize as more authentically Christ-like than what they see from many church people.” In the September title If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk: Finding a Faith that Makes Us Better Humans, Pavlovitz writes, “Thou Shalt Not Be Horrible.” He digs into doctrine in belief and in practice and aims to “shape our relationships with God and our fellow humans—and to make sure that love has the last, loudest word,” according to the book.
IVP senior editor Al Hsu says he also sees people leaving the church “because the church has been misbehaving badly and hasn’t lived out what it says it should be.” He adds that “many of the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ are actually ‘somes’ ”—people with one foot still in the church.”
IVP has two titles from introspective pastors and believers speaking to their peers. Millennial pastor Tara Beth Leach (Emboldened) suggests church leaders who would like to blame a secularizing culture should look in the mirror instead. “Our antagonism and enemy-making are toxins that further eat away at our witness,” she writes in Radiant Church: Restoring the Credibility of Our Witness (out now). And Dan Stringer’s Struggling with Evangelicalism: Why I Want to Leave and What It Takes to Stay (Sept.) zeroes in on the tensions around the identity of evangelicalism, given how politicized that label has become, and explores the isolation he’s felt among fellow evangelicals as a biracial Asian American.
“Books like these are less concerned about traditional apologetic arguments ‘proving’ the existence of God and are more of a plea for the church to be evidence of God’s goodness, justice, and love in the world,” Hsu says. “The church has much to repent of, as church leaders have been complicit with injustice and silent about abuses. Authors who are willing to name and lament the faults and also take action to change them will go a long way toward restoring credibility.”
However, one ancient issue still troubles people today, particularly young adults sorting through a spirituality smorgasbord of choices: doubt. A.J. Swoboda, a pastor, professor, and theologian, focuses on young adults who ditched their church identities in After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It (Brazos, out now). His view is that when no one takes young churchgoers’ doubts seriously, they pick apart their faith and can’t figure out how to put it back together, and ultimately leave the church behind.
“Many today find themselves on the road of doubt and deconstruction,” says Brazos editor Robert Hosack. “But Swoboda offers genuine hope, showing that it’s simply part of our natural spiritual journey and that it gives personal and pastoral directions for this population to find their way home.”