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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"God's Unwelcome Recovery" (Sean Oliver-Dee)

TITLE: God's Unwelcome Recovery: Why the New Establishment Wants to Proclaim the Death of Faith
AUTHOR: Sean Oliver-Dee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2015, (192 pages).

We are living in a climate of suspicion, sarcasm, and skepticism of all things religion, especially in the West. Is it the death of faith or religion? Is it true that there are more Muslims immigrating to the West than Christians? What can we make out of the polls and statistics that suggest the Church is not only dying, but are becoming extinct? What about those Church-based surveys that paint a pathetic picture of the Church? Rather than accepting these findings and conclusions at face value, there is a small group of individuals who are bucking the depressing trend. They believe that such negative perceptions of the death of faith are hyped and lack the credibility of the real world. They believe that these negative perceptions need to be challenged so that the truth can be revealed. In other words, it is one thing to be indoctrinated by the news media and the influential public leaders about the state of the Church. It is yet another to learn to defend the truth and to ensure that people are not blinded by the clouds of doubt when they are in fact in the wide fields of hope.

Challenging the popular statistics, Sean Oliver-Dee breaks down the numbers to determine the true picture of decline. He shows us that not all decline are attributed to people leaving the Church. There are those who died or have joined other denominations. While mainstream churches are declining in numbers, other groups like the Pentecostals are registering big increases. Another problem in the statistics is that many of them are almost always reliant on "white" data, ignoring the other ethnic groups such as the Blacks and Asian churches. Another reason is that the data is not as updated as we thought. What troubles the author is that while many statistics capture the decline, they fail to zoom in on the scattered increases happening in other sectors of Christianity.

Apart from numbers, Oliver-Dee looks at the historical trends surrounding the perceptions of the Church. Since the power struggle between Church and State during the Middle Ages, the religious wars, and the way history has been written regarding the relations between the Church, the State, and the public. Much of the reporting has been sadly "unbalanced." The secular society has quietly dismissed the contributions of Church schools, voluntary services, charitable giving, and the freedom philosophy that the Christian faith had helped cultivate. He also looks at the narrative of religious violence that seem to pit religion as convenient the whipping boy, rather than recognizing the root of all problem is not religion but the sin in people. By lumping the radical acts of Islam together with Christianity, much public perception has thrown away the baby of religion out with the bathwater of radicalism. Negativity also pits science against faith, accusing the latter of impeding progress. They say that religion is incompatible with scientific advancements, forgetting that much scientific advancements are made by people of faith too.

This is a bold attempt to help correct the unbalanced view of religion and the Christian faith. The concern is two fold. First, the public and believers must learn not to believe everything the media and negative narratives try to tell us. Learn to question the assumptions. Learn to examine the way the statistics are put together. Ask about the sources and the survey size. Determine who are the people doing the surveys. What are their intentions? Do they have an ulterior motive? Second, Oliver-Dee calls for appropriate reporting of the actual increases that are happening. It is too lopsided for any respectable organization or publication to just report one point of view, that is, that the Church is declining. A more balanced reporting and surveying is necessary.

Oliver-Dee suspects there is a conspiracy against the Church that comes forth in three myths. They want the public to disregard the views of Christians on the basis of Christians being in the minority and rapidly declining. They want to maintain that the hope for society is in the death of religion, thinking that without religion, there would be less problems such as violence and radicalism. They want also to paint a false dichotomy between science and faith, that in order for science to flourish, faith must die. All of these three myths are powerfully debunked in this very powerful statement of hope: There is much hope, in fact, many flickers of hope all over Christianity.

If you are discouraged by reports of how the Church is declining in numbers, or how bad the Church is, take a step back. See beyond the numbers. Examine the sources. Question the conclusions. Look for the truth of light amid the dizzying groups of numbers. Ask about the authenticity of the data and the error rate. If you are not sure what to do, perhaps, pick up this book. Purchase another for a friend. Share the contents of this book and see how Oliver-Dee gives us a new lens to interpret data thrown at us. This is a book of hope. I recommend it highly.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Monarch Books and Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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