Faith / Spirituality

THE HINGE GENERATION: Millennials and the Future of the Evangelical Church

Some people and some generations stand out.

Tom Brokaw celebrated those Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America in The Greatest Generation.

Millennials have not faired as well in the popular press. Books about the rising millennial generation are filled with a combination of handwringing and finger wagging: entitled, narcissistic, lazy, absorbed in their technology, and uncommitted are the common judgmental refrains. They serve as the cultural anti-hero to their grandparents.

Researchers refer to those who reached adulthood around 2000 as millennials. Currently, they are the largest single grouping of Americans and the most powerful consumer group with purchasing power that will exceed boomers’ this year—approximately $1.3 trillion in direct spending. At 24.7 percent of the U.S. population, millennials are 84.4 million strong. Compounding their influence, this generation will receive a trillion-dollar wealth transfer from boomers over the next twenty years. Because of this, they have been the subjects of extensive market research. The cultural significance of their values and frame on reality cannot be overstated.

To view them correctly, think mindset rather than age grouping. Millennials are carriers of a new social imaginary or cultural narrative that is poised to reshape our understanding of human society. They represent the first post-Enlightenment and post-secular generational cohort. Their perspective potentially overturns 300 hundred years of institutionalized assumptions. Carriers of this new mindset we describe as New Copernicans, modern explorers who embrace life lived off the edge of the map. Not only are their perspectives different, in my opinion, they are better, a corrective to reductionistic and dehumanizing tendencies of left-brain thinking, which is so characteristic of the Enlightenment. Their views are messier, less fully formed, and at the same time more real and authentic. These cultural black sheep have something important to say to the church.

The chronic negative perception has given rise to the millennial generation rejecting the very term “millennial.” The #hatemillennials is trending among millennials. Rarely has a generation been more unfairly maligned and misunderstood. The facts do not justify the negative stereotypes being parodied in “The Great Indoors,” a primetime, family friendly CBS sitcom being launched this fall that’s attempting to capture the workplace dichotomy between the growing millennial workforce and older workers. More than a stereotypical list of characteristic behaviors, millennials represent an entirely new mindset. The Charles Schwab TV spot, “Father and Son,” captures their expectations perfectly.

A father and son are sharing a meal together making small talk when the father asks his son if he’s investing, now that he’s making some money. The son replies that he has done some research, only to have his father tell him that he should introduce his broker. When the son asks how much he charges, the father replies that he doesn’t know. The son becomes a little inquisitive and asks if he receives any fees back if he’s not happy. The father chuckles and tells his son that the world doesn’t work that way, only to have the son respond that the world is changing, a little grin appearing on his father’s face. Millennials expect that the assumptions of the future will not be the same as the past because they “Think Different.” They expect that the world will change.

Millennials may not be the “greatest” generation, but they may be the “hinge” generation, those Steven Jobs’ 1998 Apple ad spoke of: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in a square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things; they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Because they “think different,” millennials are the hinge to the doorway to a very different world.

Here we will examine the mindset that animates millennial behavior, the why behind the what. Most surveys only examine discrete behaviors or consumer choices, but fail to grasp the unique mindset that they hold. This shift in the social imaginary, the taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of the good life, stems from three macro-cultural factors: the disavowal of the Enlightenment project, the acceptance of hyper-pluralism, and the ubiquitous acceptance of technologically-driven social media.

Millennials are the carriers, not the cause, of this shift, which means that this shift involves far more people than a particular age cohort. For them, life is spherical. It is lived in 3D. It is better understood from lived experience than from abstractions. It is messy, provisional, and intrinsically relational. They reject seeing reality through abstract binary categories: sacred vs. secular, left vs. right, or conservative vs. progressive. This is one of the reasons that they are so alienated from the political process. Millennials assume the priority of experience over abstractions, friends over institutions, and community over individuals. Their life experiences do not fit into clean categories or neat systems. Instead they embrace the cross-pressured nature of contemporary life where faith and doubt are held together, because they embody the existential experience of pluralism. All beliefs are now held with a measure of contingency and humility. They reject either/or categories in favor of both/and thinking. They are also decidedly post-secular, refusing to accept the closed reality of metaphysical naturalism and the general assumptions of the secularization thesis (accounts that explain “the secular” as merely the subtraction of religious belief).

Here then are seven characteristics of this emerging social imaginary, characteristics of those I describe as New Copernicans. New Copernicans are secular, open, cross-pressured, experiential, relational, authentic, and haunted.

New Copernicans operate with an immanent frame that is they assume that their lives can be lived successfully within a natural order without reference to the transcendent. God is not an operative part of their day-to-day assumptions. Philosopher Charles Taylor says that the word “secular” has been used in three different senses:
• Secularism1 – medieval, one-dimensional perspective (1D)
• Secularism2 – Enlightenment, two-dimensional perspective (2D)
• Secularism3 – contemporary, three-dimensional perspective (3D)

What we are suggesting is that the New Copernican frame shift is the move from Secularism2 (Enlightenment) to Secularism3 (post-postmodern). In this view, all perspectives and institutions beholden to an Enlightenment-derived “either/or” perspective and its aspiration for cognitive certainty are both suspect and passé. This is especially true of American institutional evangelicalism. Rather than thinking of a “secular” age (secularism3) as synonymous with unbelief, Taylor suggests that it is now best understood as a different, contested ways of apprehending reality. No belief can be held as axiomatic. Every belief is up for debate with a weakened sense of plausibility.

What New Copernicans experience in Secularism3, rather than an antipathy toward unbelief, is a renewed openness and explosion of many modes of believing, all of which are contested and held with a greater sense of contingency. Bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin captures this attitude when he notes in his blog, “In a world where nuance, uncertainty, and shades of grey are ever more common, becoming comfortable with ambiguity is one of the most valuable skills you can acquire. If you view your job as taking multiple-choice tests, you will never be producing as much value as you are capable of…. Life is an essay, not a Scantron machine.” This also explains why there is so much misunderstanding around the idea of “religious nones.” First, this is a descriptor that is totally rejected by millennials. Second, it is a descriptor that is typically misunderstood by the media as being evidence of secularism2 when it represents instead the new frame of secularism3.

So a Secular3 age does not entail the rise of atheism and unbelief but instead the rise of cross-pressured belief, where belief and doubt are fused comfortably together. There is openness to an “inter-cosmic mystery.” One hears this “sloppy” but deeply felt conjunction in the opening lines of Julian Barnes’ novel Nothing To Be Frightened Of: “I do not believe in God, but I miss him.” It is also seen in Frank Schaeffer’s Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God. New Copernicans operate within an immanent frame, but one that is at the same time open to the transcendent.

New Copernicans reject the Enlightenment notions of certainty, and the assumption that they have a corner on truth. Father Thomas Halik, Czech philosopher priest and 2014 Templeton Prize winner, has described the New Copernican shift in social imaginary as the shift from dwellers to seekers. Halik stated in the New York Times, “I think the crucial difference in the church today is not between so-called believers and nonbelievers, but between the dwellers and seekers.” Dwellers are those who are happy where they are, who feel they have found the truth, while seekers are still those looking for answers. Anyone can be an explorer: a Catholic, a Muslim, even an atheist. Halik believes that those in the community of seekers actually have more in common with each other than do seekers and dwellers from within the same faith tradition. The shift is between those who have a closed and an open mindset, between those who have it all figured out and those who continue to learn. This shift makes a great deal of difference in tone, and is a defining cultural fault-line. Settlers whether religious, philosophical, or political will be increasingly culturally passé.

New Copernicans are the poster child of seekers because they hold an open mind, adopt a provisional attitude toward belief and reality, and long for more. They embrace epistemological humility (the starting attitude), follow the scientific method and the explorer’s quest (a process of open inquiry), and maintain a curious metaphysical openness to the laws of life wherever they may be found. They are opposed to what sociologist Peter Berger called “a world without windows.” Their seeker perspective is open to the transcendent. They celebrate the journey, the exploration and the quest for new discoveries. They adopt the posture of a humble pilgrim or a courageous explorer rather than an arrogant teacher or know-it-all theologian.

Cross Pressured
New Copernicans hold all convictions in a cross-pressured manner. This is the inevitable tension of embracing seemingly competing opposites: faith and doubt, immanence and transcendence, community and autonomy. The unifying conviction is that reality is more complicated that either/or thinking, or black and white categories. It consists of multiple shades of grey. But this both/and perspective while a more accurate assessment of reality is at the same time one fraught with existential cognitive dissonance. It is messy, lines are blurred, unease a normative constant. While the cross-pressured nature of belief should not be taken as a disavowal of absolutes, it is the recognition that the experience of absolutes in practice is always experienced in alloyed forms. Doubt and faith are inseparably fused. Acknowledging this fact is an essential aspect of authenticity.

It is also important to recognize that there is an “explosion of options for finding (or creating) significance.” This means that the New Copernican social imaginary “has opened space in which people can wander between and around all these options without having to land clearly and definitely in any one. In the wars between belief and unbelief, this can been seen as kind of no-man’s-land; except that it has got wide enough to take on the character of a neutral zone, where one can escape the war altogether.” It is only fundamentalists whether religious or atheist who fail to acknowledge this cross-pressured experience, this neutral zone that is the common assumption of most people. Ignoring this sensibility will automatically illicit an eye roll and a skeptical disregard. This cross-pressured messiness has a price, but it is also lauded as a kind of superior cosmopolitan knowing. Cross-pressured belief is the secret handshake of the New Copernican sensibility.

New Copernicans place a priority on lived experience over theoretical abstractions. Rather than easily accepting a theoretical model or philosophical worldview, they would rather muddle through based on their own life experiences. The existential and the phenomenological take precedent over abstractions and theory (worldview instruction has limited value to them). They don’t take their views from books but from experience, not from authorities but from life. New Copernicans assume an active role in the social construction of their reality. Identity for them is not derived, discovered, but designed. For them life is a perpetual summer road trip, where street smarts is more valuable than book smarts. In practice this means that they would rather muddle through facing a series of uncertain twists and turns rather than having life neatly mapped out at the outset. It is seeking from below rather than from above, where actual life lived trumps disembodied theory. It’s my story over your worldview.

One can think of this as the opposite of Enlightenment assumptions, where cognition takes precedence over embodiment, principle over practice. Learning within the Enlightenment project is typically head, heart, and hand or observation, interpretation, and application. New Copernicans reverse this order: hand, heart, and head. Experiential learning is their priority. New Copernicans process reality by living it rather than talking about it or worse reading about it. Theirs is the posture of the pilgrim wanderer, the active coinsurer of meaning.

This experiential priority is shaped by a preference for relational companionship. If there is muddling to be done, it is best done in the company of others. “Hanging out” is never just hanging out, but the means of identity formation and exploring together onramps to meaning. This is where technology and social media come in. They are not an end in themselves, but the means by which to facilitate these connections. YouTube is not merely a technological distraction, but the storytelling channel by which life is experienced and curated. “Selfies” are not evidence of narcissism as much as the currency of relational experience shared on social media. There is a strong communal relational context to the New Copernican mindset.

Even here there is a heavy dose of cross-pressured drama. New Copernican relationships are fraught with conflict. The ambiguity and confusion of the “hook up” culture sets the stage for longing and loss. Here relationships are messy, and idealism frequently shattered on the altar of broken promises. Lena Dunham portrayal of Hannah Horvath on the HBO TV show Girls, is a cultural narrative where existential confusion and muddling through is personified—where unemployment, STDs, gender confusion, and serial relational humiliation are de rigeur. What we will find in each of these characteristics of New Copernicans is a messy blending of conflicting sensibilities: faith and doubt, longing and loss, secularity and transcendence. What we don’t have here is a sensibility that is neatly tied up in a bow, with clear lines and expected closure. A cloud of uncertainty and insecurity and self-medicated nihilism hangs over this mindset.

It should not then be surprising to find a jaded attitude toward simplistic solutions and institutional promises. 3D people are not too amused by 2D perspectives, particularly those found in the church. Having been overhyped, a New Copernican’s first instinct is to see most traditional organizations, cultural ideals, and political promises as steeped in “bullshit.” The counter weight to their latent skepticism is the celebration of authenticity as a premiere relational value. But authenticity is earned at the local level, from shared experiences, and limited to relational proximity. New Copernicans are highly suspicious of posers. Marketers are told to pay attention to the millennial audience, but not to try too hard.

This means that the only ones who can really speak to millennials are millennials. Non-millennial New Copernicans can be sympathetic allies, but can rarely be seen as authentic spokesmen for their perspective. One is either authentic or one is not, it is not something that can be manufactured. In a media saturated world of hype and manipulation, New Copernicans only reward the genuine article. This means that corporate policies must be based on a genuine commitment to cause by senior leadership rather than tactical manipulation for instrumental or commercial reasons. There is among New Copernicans an idealism that is incarnated in and through genuine relationships. A values betrayal will bear a heavy cost. Here values and relational integrity matter.

Those New Copernicans who live within secularism assume a secular frame, the absence of God or gods, but simultaneously have a nagging sense of incompleteness. Unlike New Atheists, New Copernicans are open to the possibility of transcendence; they categorically reject reality as “a brass ceiling, but one with skylights open to transcendence.” They sense that their immanent frame is somehow haunted by a larger spiritual reality. Jewish psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover writes, “Jung understood, as few of his contemporaries did—nor do many nowadays—that mere rationalism, tolerance, and humanism is no match for the awakened pagan soul.” New Copernicans possess this awakened pagan soul, this expectant romanticism, this unquenchable religious longing. The consequence is something Charles Taylor describes as the “nova effect,” an explosion of different options for belief and meaning—from vampires and zombie movies to bells-and-smells high-church rituals. It is for this reason that the assumption that millennials are “religious nones,” a kind of closeted default atheist, is so false.

New Copernican restlessness is real and compels them forward. When this restlessness is translated into work, millennials want a job imbued with a meaningful purpose. They are certain that a life worth living must include a spiritual journey—rarely one within the confines of 2D institutional religion—but an honest engagement with the signals of transcendence that cross their path. They are those who are haunted by the prospect of a larger world that makes sense of their longings for justice, love, beauty, and spirit.

The points of intersections with the transcendent will differ for every person. But those points are what the ancient Celtics called “thin places,” the liminal or threshold encounters where there is a narrowing between heaven and earth. Popular culture is filled with discussions of these thin places. Atheist turned Christian Mike McHargue found God in the waves of a California beach. It is not uncommon that these religious experiences or encounters with the transcendent are more commonly appropriated through the intuitive rather than the analytical mind. New Copernican’s critique of the left-brained Enlightenment and embrace of the imagination makes them much more open to a world of magic and enchantment. Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “I’ve spent my entire life in devotion to creativity, and along the way I’ve developed a set of beliefs about how it works—and how to work with it—that is entirely and unapologetically based upon magical thinking. And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like, in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly.” These composite longings are expressed each summer at the Burning Man Festival, the aspirational cultural zeitgeist event where pagan spirituality and sexuality mix with performance art and social justice utopianism.

What do these characteristics of New Copernicans—secularity, openness, cross-pressured, experiential, relational, authenticity, and hauntedness—mean for church leaders?

First, we need to stop turning our attention to the likes of New Atheist. Of the four operating social imaginaries in American culture—closed transcendent, closed immanent, open immanent, open transcendent—the opportunity is not with closed immanent, but with open immanent or New Copernicans. This is the spiritual front line in the battle for the American soul. All our efforts need to be on understanding this sector and preparing our ministers to effectively communicate with them. The missional opportunity is not having debates between close transcendents and closed immanents—evangelicals and New Atheists—but in moving open immanents toward open transcendence.

Here the task is moving people from accepting “myths” to acknowledging “myths that are true”—enabling people to move from Joseph Campbell to Jesus Christ, from Jung to Jesus. This will necessitate a robust understanding of spiritual archetypes and being able to make natural connections to biblical theology. We will not be able to unmask the gods without a greater appreciation and knowledge of these universal myths. This will take a robust, nonjudgmental understanding of secular myths with their variety of neopaganism expressions. It will take a generous understanding of signals of transcendence and common grace. It is significant that that the most influential myth writer of our day is Neil Gaiman, whose novel American Gods was the centerpiece of the grand hall at Comic-Con this year.

Second, the evangelical church will have to move from an attitude of dwellers to one of explorers, from a know-it-all tone, to one of open learning and respectful humility. Walker Percy said that the most important difference between people is between those from whom life is a quest and those for whom it is not. As long as we portray the sense that we have a corner on truth and that we have nothing to learn from others, the conversation will remain closed. This shift, from closed to open, is temperamentally the most difficult step that the church will need to face. It will require an abandonment of the left-brained Enlightenment bias with its notions of objective certainty. We will need to shift from an apologetic based on reason to one that emphasizes the imagination. Here the neuroscience of Iain McGilchrist is pivotal, the missiological perspective of Lesslie Newbigin, and the artistic sensibility of Luci Shaw. This is always a painful process and rarely without scars as depicted in Peter Enns book, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs. Seeing faith in relational categories of trust rather than Enlightenment categories of certainty is indicative of a New Copernican shift. One need not have the litany of doubts raised by Enns to shift toward a more open humble posture towards one’s convictions. We’d be wise to follow the advise of Mike McHargue. He quotes a friend in his book, Finding God in the Waves, “Brené Brown says that the opposite of faith is not doubt. Faith and doubt need each other. The opposite of faith is certainty. When I heard that, I realize, no wonder I was such a screwed-up Fundamentalist. But when I let the doubt just be there, my faith grew.” Without this shift in tone and emphasis, this openness to exploration, meaningful conversations with millennial New Copernicans will be greatly thwarted. One wonders whether it is possible to preach from questions rather than answers?

Third, we will have to acknowledge the cross-pressured nature of our own beliefs. We will not be able connect with authenticity unless we are able to express the cross-pressure nature of our own beliefs. This means that doubt will need to be given more airtime in church. As long as this remains a taboo topic, New Copernican believers will not be able to identify with the seemingly false pretense of religious experience. When we preach we will need to acknowledge how strange some of the Bible seems to modern ears. Glossing over these texts with a too-pious-by-half simplistic spirituality will only serve to move doubt to skepticism.

Evangelical pastors have been tempted to become celebrity exemplars of certainty. A benefit of Catholicism is that they do not saint Christians until after they are dead. Protestant beatification often happens as a result of a person’s celebrity status within the church or consumer market while they are still living. Life size cardboard cut outs of the pastor in the church foyer is a bad sign but not uncommon. A.J. Swoboda criticizes this practice. He writes, “We don’t actually allow preachers the space or freedom to teach from the textbook of their wanderings experiences…. Those in my trade have become certainty machines, pumping out a steady stream of safe truths meeting the emerging market of consumer Christians who yearn for cliché more than Christ.” Contemporary New Copernicans have a highly honed crap detector. We will have to be much more transparent about the nature of belief and the messiness of discipleship if we are to have credibility with their sensibilities. Some evangelicals were shocked by the revelation of Mother Teresa’s long dark night of the soul depicted in her letters. Yet her struggle would only serve to confirm her authentic belief in the minds of New Copernicans explorers. We must honestly embrace the cross-pressured nature of belief today. It is true of secular seekers as it is true of religious believers. As Charles Taylor notes, in this sense we are all secular now.

Fourth, we will have to adapt our Enlightenment-based pedagogy to one that places a priority on experience over abstractions. Almost all of our seminary training has been based on an “intellectualist model of education” or “worldview alignment,” views where cognitive information transfer has a priority and with it the sermon. This practice it turns out is based on an inaccurate assessment of human nature. As James K.A. Smith has pointed out, we are lovers before we are thinkers and our “environments of practice” are more influential than rationalist inquiry. We were all taught Bible study inductive method that followed the course of observation, interpretation, and application or head, heart, and hand. What we must come to see is that a more accurate assessment of human nature, and one that is embraced by New Copernicans, is just the reverse: hand, heart, head or experience, imagination, and then reason. This will take a serious rethinking of our worship liturgy, Sunday school programs, and sermons.

Fifth, we will need to recapture the priority of belonging before believing, of building relationships first before demanding creedal affirmation. Even more than providing content, if churches would provide safe places for honest conversations, in effect an alternative to secular third places. Creating safe places for honest questions is at the heart of the approach taken by Q Place, a non-threatening third place design to facilitate conversations about God, the Bible, and meaning ( This characteristic among New Copernicans also places a high value on hospitality and hanging out—which is agenda-free relationality. The church has the tendency to instrumentalize relationships, which is to violate the premise of the relationship. The church does not need “friendship evangelism,” rather it needs “friendship friendship,” agenda-free loving and listening. In this regard, the church will always be approached with justifiable suspicion by New Copernicans because this has been so routinely violated. Attitudes of judgment by Christians—which is presumed by all nonbelievers—make churches and Christians something to be avoided rather than embraced. We have to earn the right to be present much less be heard. We need to shut up and start giving sacrificial loving.

Sixth, the measure of doing this correctly is the moniker of authenticity. It is not a description that one can use of oneself, but is only an affirmation given by others. Only when there is integrity within the New Copernican frame, an integrity that is not forced, that is agenda free, that is relationally saturated, will one approach the potential of authenticity. This is the gold star aspiration of all who would connect with New Copernicans. Authenticity is not a pose one assumes, but a gift one receives.

Seventh, active listening and non-judgmental presence will direct us to the onramp of each New Copernicans’ sense of haunting. Every New Copernican is on a personal pilgrimage for meaning, a quest to make the world a better place in their special way. This is the place of their spiritual longing, the cracked door to their fear of missing out, their personal thin place revealed. We need to learn to ask appropriate questions, to have some sense of the literature and points of cultural concern, and popular cultural vocabulary about each of these onramps: justice, beauty, relationships, and spirit. It is at these points that the conversations will become both personal and animated. These onramps approach an individual’s point of ultimate concern. We do not need to close or convince, but it would be great if we could ask the intriguing question that moves them closer to a personal encounter with the Ground of their Concern. We need to honor people’s longings, we need to respect people’s fumbling with their signals of transcendence, we need to move at their pace in ways that respect their individuality. And perhaps most importantly, we need to show a willingness to learn from their spiritual journey. We are not the expert, guru, or “more spiritual person.” Rather we are merely fellow travelers on a shared spiritual exploration called life. We need to listen to their story and enter into it with gentleness and humility.

There are churches that are reaching New Copernicans. They are dotted all over the Pacific Northwest. They are even found in Brooklyn. The story of St. Lydia’s Church is compelling in that it addresses the seven characteristics highlighted here. St. Lydia’s is a dinner church, where the entire service centers on a home cooked meal. There are not many places in New York where people can stage a dinner party—St. Lydia’s has created a spiritual third place. They lean over backwards to dispel the barriers and hesitations that hip-urban New Yorkers have about church. The Atlantic article written about the church was entitled, “The Secret Christians of Brooklyn.” They acknowledge that believing in Jesus is counter-cultural. St. Lydia’s is a progressive church supported by the Lutheran and Episcopal dioceses. They are accepting of all people regardless of their beliefs and backgrounds. Openness is a hallmark of St. Lydia’s. Pastor Emily Scott tells people, “I’m not from a scary church,” by which she means judgmental.

Jeremiah Sierra, who serves on their “Leadership Table,” writes, “As someone with about as much doubt as faith, St. Lydia’s fulfilled a need in me to engage with my faith without requiring consent to any particular dogma. My engagement is more kinetic than intellectual. I accept and give gifts with my hands—the gifts of love and grace in the form of bread and wine, a dish passed full of food, peace passed with a handshake or a hug.” What creates community is the weekly experience of preparing a meal together and cleaning up afterwards. It is not meal then worship or worship then meal, but the entire meal is established as the liturgy of worship, a genuine experience of a first century Eucharistic meal. One starts the meal with strangers, one ends the clean up as friends. Friends, Lewis reminds us, do not gaze into each other’s eyes, but do something together. Perhaps the most legitimate measure of membership is when a visitor posts about St. Lydia’s on Facebook for the first time thereby identifying with the church to their friends. During each service someone tells his or her story, not as a testimony of faith, but as a travelogue update on a long spiritual pilgrimage. Everyone is embraced with respectful listening and acceptance. What one experiences here is a divine encounter shared in a context of relational acceptance watered by a message of grace. The church is very active in art and social justice issues. Many writers and creative type people attend. St. Lydia’s is a LGBTQ accepting church and they are consequently active in providing care and support for these particular social needs. These efforts reflect their congregation, their location in Brooklyn, and are an authentic onramp to further spiritual seeking.

Urban environments like New York can be extremely lonely places. A “dinner church” is not so threatening and is warmly inviting—beauty, worship, friends, and a home cooked meal. Here is a church that creates an environment for genuine worship, relational connection, and spiritual exploration. It is not surprising that St. Lydia’s does not consider itself as a finished project but an ongoing adventure. Here is what a church by millennials for millennials looks like, one that challenges the status quo but at the same time lifts the historic gospel to new heights. Here is a church that can effectively move people to an open transcendent perspective and a loving encounter with Jesus.

Poised between the lightening and the thunder, New Copernicans are leading the church in new directions. Many evangelicals who inhabit a close transcendent perspective will find this uncomfortable. But wise pastors will stop and listen to these new voices carefully. For there is something deeply spiritual and resolutely human about the steps taken. It is best to listen with an open mind and humble spirit. Here’s to the crazy ones who are changing our world. The future of the evangelical church depends on our paying attention.

Copyright © 2016 John Seel


Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (Random House, 2001). “By social imaginaries, I mean something much broader and deeper than intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations…. Because my focus is on ordinary people, this is often carried in images, stories, and legends.” Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Harvard, 2007), p. 171-172. Harry Cheadle, “The Hot New Millennial Trend is Hating Millennials,” Taylor, pp. 423-535. Lesslie Newbigin notes, “The churches of Europe and their cultural offshoots in the Americas have largely come to a kind of comfortable cohabitation with the Enlightenment.” Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, (Eerdmans, 1995), p. 33. See also Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desired Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs (Harper One, 2016). James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans, 2014), p. 142. Seth Godin’s blog, “None of the Above,” April 8, 2016. Smith, p. 73. Julian Barnes, Nothing To Be Fightened Of, (Vintage, 2008), p.3. Rick Lyman, “Not All Will Follow This Star in the East,” The New York Times, July 4, 2014. Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, (Anchor, 1970). Smith, p. 62. Ibid., p. 73. Borrowed from James K.A. Smith, personnal correspondence. Jeffrey Satinover, “Jungians and Gnostics,” First Things, October 1994, pp. 41-48. Jackie Dryden and Bethany Andell, Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line: And Build Your Brand on Purpose (Oh Deer, 2016). N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (Harper, 2006), p. 3. Mike McHargue, Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science (Convergent, 2016) and Windrider Forum New Copernican Videos: Mystical Experience, Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead, 2015), p. 34. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, (Anchor, 1991) and The Masks of God, (Penguin, 1976). James W. Sire, Echoes of a Voice: We Are Not Alone, (InterVarsity, 2014) and Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing, (InterVarsity, 2014). Quoted in Diogenes Allen, Spiritual Theology (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), p. 23. Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World (Yale, 2009); Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans, 1995); and Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit (Thomas Nelson, 2009). McHargue, p. 118. Megan DeFranza, “Disappearing Our Pastors, June 3, 2016. A.J. Swoboda, The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith (Baker, 2016), p. 4, 5. Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Image, 2009). James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker, 2013), p. 10. James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Brazos, 2016), Desiring the Kingdom (Baker, 2009), Imagining the Kingdom (Baker, 2013). Ray Oldenburg, A Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hang Outs at the Heart of Community (Marlowe & Company, 1999). Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” The New York Times, March 9, 2012. Emma Green, “The Secret Christians of Brooklyn,” The Atlantic, September 8, 2015.