An antidote to disenchantment with church | Greg Asimakoupoulos

Church attendance in North America is declining.

Church attendance in North America is declining. Churches are closing at an unprecedented rate. Those who attended Sunday school or youth group as kids are abandoning their childhood faith (or at least disengaging in organized religion) once they reach college.

Unanswered questions about how Biblical authority and cultural trends relate contribute to a generational complacency or an out-and-out rejection of spiritual values in which our children and grandchildren were raised. Societal redefining of historical Judeo-Christian norms has contributed to the confusion over and rejection of traditional faith.

But disenchantment with church is not a new phenomenon especially when church leaders have failed to practice what they have preached. Elmer Gantry-like charlatans masquerading as sincere pastors have plagued parishes for decades. Vulnerable sheep have been victimized and shorn by less-than-trustworthy shepherds. Toxic-faith syndrome has emerged as a recognized diagnosis.

Gratefully there are those who have survived such chicanery with their faith intact. My friend and longtime mentor David McKenna is one such survivor. Eight decades ago this bright adolescent was forced to come to terms with the duplicity between what he witnessed on Sundays and what he learned was being lived out during the week.

At 94, this former president of a prestigious Christian liberal arts university and president emeritus of a leading theological seminary has just released his memoir. The Triumphs of His Grace is a spiritual odyssey chronicling his candid struggles and resultant disenchantment with the fundamentalist congregation in which he was raised.

The cautionary tales of hypocrisy and heartache that comprise each chapter make for a page-turning autobiography with which I can relate. I, too, grew up in a fundamentalist congregation where inconsistencies and Pharisee-ism threatened to derail my call to ministry.

But I am grateful that in a book, that David began writing more than forty years ago, my friend takes great care to acknowledge God’s constant unwavering overtures in his young life played out against the backdrop of less-than ideal circumstances.

This one who felt drawn by the amazing grace of the Almighty at a young age documents the details of a call to Kingdom influence that resulted in a successful career in Christian higher education.

When David asked if I would read a prepublication version of his manuscript, I willingly agreed. After all, he had been my college president half a century earlier. Upon graduation, I had worked for him as his director of church relations. When I married the young woman I had first met at Seattle Pacific, David granted his blessing. I cherished our growing friendship as I completed my graduate degree and moved on into pastoral ministry. There was a reason I kept a handwritten note of encouragement from David on my desk in every one of the four congregations I served.

As I read what David had written I was fascinated to read facts about my friends I’d never known. I was encouraged by his courageous honesty. His personal struggles with his parents’ faith made for challenges and opportunities by which he could come to terms with his own convictions and reengage with a God who would not let him go.

When David later asked if I would write an endorsement to his memoir, I felt honored. Having personally lived through some of the same disenchantments he documents in his book, I could commend his offering without hesitation. Here is a new book that I believe offers new options for a troubling trend in our culture. It is my personal hope that what this senior Christian statesman has published will help a younger generation of thoughtful seekers reconsider the time-tested truths of God’s grace.

Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.