Seculosity: When Religion Leaves the Building, A Conversation with David Zahl

Are you spiritual but not religious? Maybe you are religious but not spiritual. What do those categories even mean? Are we always going to find ourselves in an Inigo Montoya moment, “You keep using that word . . . “

Religion observers and Christian leaders have for some time been offering explanations for a decline in church attendance in the West. Some contend we are experiencing an end of Christendom, a period where Christianity played a socio-cultural role in nearly every area of civic life. Others viewed the shift as a move away from religion altogether. New descriptions like the Nones and Dones have become new sociological categories used when conducting surveys of the religious habits of Americans. Is that too narrow?

Meet my new friend David Zahl. His new book, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It, offers a different perspective on the religiosity of Americans. It is not that his idea would not have explanatory power in the West or even other parts of the world. But his personal context is the United States.

One of my friends uses the phrase to describe his departure from Christianity, “I left the building.” If you are a literalist you may miss the layers of this self-description. I have contended that some leave the building without leaving the Faith. After reading David’s book, I am left wondering if Religion has left the building. And, if it has, that is a good thing.

Christianity may be classified, categorized, as a religion. But, I would argue, at its core is anti-religion. That religion has left the building should be good news for the Church, for Christianity. Here I use Religion as a set of rules to live by. Christianity may be, and certainly has been, used or practiced by some as a Rule of Life. Doing so makes of Christianity the very thing that Jesus came to liberate human beings from. Bookkeeping according to a set of rules is not grace at any level. Submitting to a new set of rules for life is merely exchanging one capricious task master for another. Jesus offers something different – grace.

If you have not been persuaded by my little blog blurb to head over and order a copy of Seculosity, give our conversation a listen. Then, I hope you will get your copy!

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. Born in New York City and brought up elsewhere, David graduated from Georgetown University in 2001, and then worked for several years as a youth minister in New England. In 2007 he founded Mockingbird in NYC. Today David and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA with their three boys, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church. His first book, A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll,appeared in 2014. Most recently, David co-authored Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) with Will McDavid and Ethan Richardson. Even after all these years, he’s still mourning the end of Calvin and Hobbes (and hoping that Morrissey and Marr will bury the hatchet). His favorite theologian is probably a cross between Johnny Cash, Flannery O’Connor and his brother Simeon.

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Have You Had Coffee with Jesus? A Book Review

Dad always reads the comics. Every morning growing up we boys would witness Dad at the breakfast bar reading the comics in the The Oklahoma. My grandmother regularly clipped a comic strip and would include it in a letter. If we were over for a visit, she would show us one or two she had saved.

I never read them like my Dad but I enjoyed The Wizard of Id, Blondie, Marmaduke, and The Family Circus. As I got older I always looked for the political cartoons created by the late Jim Lange in The Oklahoman.  Then I discovered Coffee with Jesus.

I first saw these cartoon strips on Facebook. I think it was my brother, Paul, who shared one on his timeline. Witty. Ironic. Biting. True. Funny.

Saturday I went to the mailbox to find a couple of books from IVP for review. One of them was a must get to, Radio Free Babylon Presents . . .  Coffee with Jesus. It is hard to offer a lengthy review of cartoon strips compiled into book form. Every page is filled with those poignant moments when about the time you side with a character, Jesus offers a zinger. It is not unlike reading the Gospels and finding those moments when Jesus turns the tables on his critics, adversaries, even allies.


One could argue this is cultural Christianity meets Jesus. If you don’t find yourself in the strips, you have shared the same conversation with someone who fits the brief storyline.

A couple of the endorsements hit the mark,

If you don’t buy this book, you will be cursed. Everything will begin to go horribly wrong. You will gain weight. You will lose your job. Your car wioth break down and you’ll learn you need a new one. Your mutual fund will lose over 50 percent of its value. Please buy this book – for the sake of your children. Dan Kimball

It’ a comic strip, so its funny right? Yes, of course. But it’s also poignant and pointed. And rife with good theology. So read it for a laugh, but be prepared to be challenged as well. Jesus probably has something to say to you too. Tony Jones

* In accordance with FTC guidelines, I received a free copy of this book for review from IVP.

“Don’t Be Like Jesus” – Inverting WWJD (Pt. 1)

If following the Way of Jesus was as simple as answering the question, “What would Jesus do,” one would think we could rehab “Christian” as a hope-filled designation. My friend Frank offered some thoughts on the American Presidency. He referenced a Facebook/Twitter incident involving Russell Moore who noted that he enjoyed a conversation with Former President Jimmy Carter.

Just had the honor to talk with and be introduced over the phone to President Carter. Wow.

— Russell Moore (@drmoore) March 20, 2012

Evidently some took the occasion to impugn Former President Carter and excoriate Moore for his association with such a rogue Baptist. Read More

Piper Casts Foundation for Driscoll

Rather than step in and suggest Driscoll re-think real marriage, as he did when he called Pastor Mark to account for his use of expletives, Piper chooses rather to manufacture a foundation for Driscoll’s MMA vision of Jesus for modern Christianity. Who will hold Piper to account for sloppy theology?

I first read of Piper’s words while traveling. My schedule did not allow time to put together my own thoughts. Maybe I will get to it this week. However, I may not be able to surpass Emily’s attention to Piper’s premises (Part 2). Rachel Held Evans has already put together her favorite responses by male bloggers.

You can be sure once a person or persons believe they have reached a particular status in Christendom they will happily hold others to account. But, again, who will hold them to account for sloppy theology?

Narratives and Traditions – Brian McLaren on a New Christianity

Seems like every time Brian McLaren writes a new book it stirs the senses and sensibilities of many. Today marked the release of A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. Another NKOC. I don’t have a copy though I tried to get a review copy a couple of ways. They got away too quickly.

Today I read a few pieces critiquing Brian’s work. For example, Daryl Dash notes an attempt to hedge the conversation before it gets off the ground. When does an author get to set the agenda for the response? This seems to be Dash’s initial criticism. Bill Kinnon presses the implication further by noting it really disingenuous to invite a conversation and accuse any critic of fundamentalism. Bill quotes Scot McKnight’s Beliefnet post on the subject. Jeremy Bouma writes as an insider turned engaging critic. Bouma argues for the Rule of Faith as the guiding agenda for any theological innovation. Read More