One-on-One with Jonathan Merritt on ‘Learning to Speak God from Scratch’ : Part 2

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“Missionaries would do well to spend more time learning from their newfound communities as they spend trying to teach them.”

Ed: You talked a lot about the importance of learning to speak of God, particularly as you went from the South to NYC. How did that change impact your relationships in NYC?

Jonathan: When I moved to New York City, I encountered an unexpected language barrier. I could still speak English, but I could no longer speak God. I couldn’t have free-flowing conversations on spirituality and faith because I was encountering people who practiced different faiths or none at all.

And even many of my Christian friends didn’t quite understand my religious jargon. The result was that my friendships became more shallow. We might talk about the weather or sports or maybe politics, but questions of meaning and purpose and the inner-life were largely avoided.

This is actually the experience many Americans are having. According to a study I conducted for the book with Barna Group, only seven percent of Americans say they have a spiritual or religious conversation on a regular basis. That’s shocking given that nearly 71 percent of Americans claim to be Christian. The vast majority of our citizens do not often speak about the spirituality they claim is important to them.

Ed: You tied these things into research and missiology, so those parts interested me. What points or research are most important to you?

Jonathan: I was surprised that so few Americans talk about faith for sure. But a lot of us are nominally religious, as you know. I figured that most “practicing Christians,” which is to say those who attend church regularly, would buck the trend. But I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Only 13 percent of practicing Christians—that’s 1 in 8—say they have spiritual or religious conversations on a regular basis.

I was also …

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