Why Christians Need the Church: An Interview with Lillian Daniel


Young people are disillusioned, disenchanted, and in some cases, downright disgusted with organized religion. So while they still want to follow Jesus, they are leaving the church and all its judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay, partisan baggage behind.  In the middle of this storyline, which is quite frankly growing staler by the headline, comes Rev. Lillian Daniel and her hit book When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not EnoughIt's incredibly well-written, and though she is a liberal Protestant minister, I think her message resonates with where many conservative evangelicals are.

Daniel shares how she has seen the good and bad sides of the local church--a BB gun-toting grandma, a rock-and-roller sexton, a worship service attended by animals and a group of theologians at Sing-Sing prison. Despite their flaws, she argues that local Christian communities play an important role in the life of faith, even though her spiritual journey extends well beyond the pews. Here we discuss why so many people want to follow Jesus without attending church and why she thinks this approach isn't enough.

JM: In your opinion, why has this spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) trend become so popular today?

LD: People mean a lot of different things by SBNR, so let me clarify what I mean: Somebody who feels connected to the divine in some way but does not practice or worship with any community.

There are some people who might actually worship in our pews who might say, “Well, I think I’m spiritual but not religious.” I’m not talking about them. In that case, I think what they mean is, “Do not associate me with the type of obnoxious Christian who is judgmental and narrow-minded. Do not associate me with the nutty pastor who is burning the Quran.”

But in general, when other people say they’re SBNR, I think what they mean is, “I don’t worship anywhere, and I’m kind of proud of that because it implies that I’m a freethinker. I’m not spoon-fed dogma, and I don’t look down on other people who are different from me. Except, of course, people of faith who actually try to practice it in community.”

JM: But why is this approach "not enough?"

LD: When I say it’s not enough, I mean it’s not enough for me. And for other people who’ve been there and then hit a bump in the road and realized they didn’t have the spiritual depth to contend. For me, the SBNR path is too easy. It’s self-indulgent. There’s nothing unique in it, it merely reflects our culture of narcissism and individualism.


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