Starting with this chapter, Kinnaman delves into the nuts and bolts of his thesis, as he begins to describe some of the various types of dropouts from Christianity. This chapter contains descriptions of the first two of these and from that he builds a template for how to view the dropouts as a whole.
What this chapter is about: He is describing the two most common types of dropouts: Nomads and Prodigals. Nomads are typified by Stephen Colbert (the famous television comedian). In the beginning of the chapter, he quotes Colbert as saying:
From a doctrinal point of view or a dogmatic point of view or a strictly Catholic adherent point of view, I’m first to say that I talk a good game, but I don’t know how good I am about it in practice. I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.
Colbert is not someone who is disillusioned by Christianity or desiring to walk a different path. He is simply unclear of the path he is on as a follower of Christ. Because of that, he feels strangely distant from the church. He represents the feelings of many nomads.
Kinnaman poses the following question: Isn’t this just what every generation goes through as they seek to validate the Faith for their own lives, in their own way? He then takes a lot of the chapter to describe how the Nomads of this generation face different challenges and sometimes come to different conclusions.
Moving on from Stephen Colbert, the author then points out the life of Katy Perry, the young pop singer who became famous for the song “I Kissed a Girl”. Perry says
“I was like, wow there are a lot of choices. I began to become a sponge for all had missed; I was this curious as the cat.”
Perry is the type of Nomad that just wants to find out what she has missed in her sheltered Christian experience. Because of this, she admits she had to loosen some of her moral stances. But she has every intention of sticking to her Christian faith, even if she experiments with other ways of living.
Nomads are described as those who, at some point in their lives, decide to go their own way and discover the world (and their faith) for themselves. They don’t wander away forever; but they do wander away.
The Prodigal is a much different animal according to Kinnaman. They leave the faith entirely, often for a taste of living without faith’s restrictions. Many of these become Atheists, agonistics or skeptics and many do not return to faith or the church. Unlike the Nomad, they don’t often go back to church to compare it with their new lives – they are done with Christianity. And when they do come back, they often do so because of a major disaster in life.
The Valuable thing about this chapter: Kinnaman accurately identifies both types of dropouts, but also makes decent distinctions between them so the existing church can identify its dropout grownup children and fashion a response to each kind. It is heartening to know that most of them are Nomads and not Prodigals. But it is also hard to read the comments of those in the chapter who write about their prodigal experience.
Kinnaman also gives some compelling surveys, answering questions asked of these two types of dropouts. These surveys depict the inner mindset of both groups so they can be studied and understood.
Weakest Part about the chapter: Though Kinnaman states that this generation is different because of the vast online resources available to them, I still don’t see how their inner heart attitude is different. In the same way that they have access to many more resources to fuel their doubts and fears, so too the church has many more resources to reach out to them with. I believe the differences cancel each other out. Today’s nomads compare equally well with nomads of every generation.