Friday, May 08, 2015

Bidwell Pres in SinC

More info on SinC's website and Facebook page
One of my first moves when I began as associate pastor at Bidwell Presbyterian Church was to engage the congregation’s faith with science. I had written Creation and Last Things for the Presbyterian Church (USA), which, in book form, summarized a class I’d taught at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian for most of the six years I served there. So I called the Chico Enterprise-Record (the daily paper that serves our town of 100,000) to see if they were interested in a story. It seemed like a long-shot, but to my surprise, they promoted the class with front page picture—something that certainly didn’t happen when I called The New York Times! And though Bidwell is a growing congregation now with 1600 members (and about 1000 in our worship services), I still didn’t anticipate 120 people waiting expectantly for something to happen that very first night of class. 
      Thus the dialogue began. Subsequently, I regularly taught on science and faith in our Wednesday night adult ed classes. Every month, I hosted the Chico Triad on Philosophy, Theology, and Science at my house with participants in those fields drawn from the two local colleges, California State University and Butte College, as well as independent scholars. And “the Triad”—along with Bidwell Pres’s adult discipleship leadership team—put together a yearly science and religion conference with 60-125 in attendance featuring local faculty in biology, physics, psychology, philosophy, and religious studies, as well as guest speakers like Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, and Karl Giberson.
      All this presents context for our specific project for Scientists in Congregations (or SinC): MBSR (or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and the Christian faith. In case readers aren’t familiar with MBSR—and it was certainly new to our congregation—I’ll leave it to the description from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “the meditator is taught to bring attention to the sensation of the flow of the breath in and out of the body. The meditator learns to focus attention on what is being experienced, without reacting to or judging it.” The NIH notes that researchers are studying the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for anxiety, depression, pain control, stress reduction, increasing attention, asthma, and immune function. 
      The project that was guided by two essential questions: First of all, is scientific? Better put, can we scientifically support the purported benefits of MBSR? Secondly, is it Christian? Can MBSR be integrated into Christian faith and practice? Our team felt the stakes in the dialogue were substantial. If MBSR were based upon bad science, we would be advocating a practice that may have some subjective or anecdotal support for its health benefits, but isn’t confirmed by credible, repeatable scientific studies. We were convinced that both credible science and substantive theology and/or Christian practice must come to dialogue. Too often shallow findings from “science” are slapped onto theology, which little rigor or examination. Similarly, if theological considerations are ignored, and, in our case, if any religious tradition can be uncritically inserted into congregational life, what makes their church life distinctively Christian? 
      With those issues in mind, I as a pastor, and Steve Koch, a psychologist from Chico State, jointly provided a project that addressed certain key goals. We utilized the issue of MBSR as a catalyst to a collaborative dialogue between science and faith in a local congregation, first of all, by developing and delivering a series of five adult education classes both five face-to-face and through distance learning. The latter allowed us to multiply the learning from the class both geographically (in principle, participants could attend our class via the internet anywhere in the world) and through time (the clas is banked so students could watch at a later date). Our parish associate and teaching pastor, Allen McCallum, also wrote up a provocative paper, “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and the Christian Faith,” which we distributed. Finally, we brought the findings to the Chico Triad and our yearly science and religion conference to expose the conclusions and practices to a wider public with the hope that all this would spin off into future engagement with MBRS specifically or meditation more generally. More on that in later paragraphs…
      Incidentally, one other by-product of the MBSR and Christian faith project was to engage psychology, an often forgotten partner in the dialogue of science and faith. Over the past fifty years (during the current age of the science-religion dialogue), books regularly ponder how faith and reason go together, what the physics on Big Bang has to say to the doctrine of creation, and how can to reconcile evolutionary biology with the “image of God.” All good topics, but I’ve read far fewer books on psychology and faith. (And, in fact, no other SinC projects focused on behavioral sciences.) So we decided to take it on.
      What did we conclude about strategies for a more substantive and generative engagement between religion and science in congregational life?
      Let’s start with our pitfalls, ones I imagine other pastors and congregations need to anticipate. Put simply, pastors need to avoid speaking in generalities about the process of engagement. Congregations need to be given more tools to understand how science operates, and where its limitations and strengths lie. The process could be compared to providing concordances, Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, and commentaries to facilitate Bible study.
      What themes garnered the most interest? Our audiences want to be assured that they can have a spiritual faith and explore science without being forced to choose one or the other. They also want to learn specific practices that help them move closer to God, while providing relief from their struggles with anxiety, depression, and other health issues. In other words—and this is hardly a surprise—we wanted to be more theoretical, and the congregation wanted practice. We did try to join theory with practice in our class. Steve and I tried academic journal articles in the adult class, and they were too dense—filled with jargon and statistics. Put simply, we shot too high. We wanted to show the quantitative analysis and substantive data that backed up our conclusions; in contrast, the class kept asking, “How do we do MBSR?” They wanted to get still and find God in the stillness. Put another way, it might be more accurate for congregations to talk more about faith and science rather than theology or religion and science because congregants always seem most interesting in “How does this affect my faith and my well-being?”
      I think the concern that drove this project—and that has motivated me to engage my theology with science—is this: how do we articulate Christian faith in a science- and technology-soaked world? I remember a quip from Friederich Schleiermacher, who had become deeply concerned that Christianity in the late 18th and early 19th century was increasingly distanced from good intellectual engagement. He asked, “Shall the tangle of history so unravel that Christianity becomes identified with barbarism and science with unbelief?” Similarly, I have become convinced that we can’t let our theology be wedded to sub-par science, nor can we allow legitimate science to be connected solely to atheistic materialism. 
      In that light—and because Bidwell Pres blends mainline theology with West Coast evangelicalism—our congregation holds a high view of the Bible. So we needed a solidly effective biblical hermeneutic. And here I learned a great deal from a Christian thinker not often mentioned in this context, C. S. Lewis. Christians that love science also value the Bible, and Lewis was a world-class Oxford and Cambridge literary scholar who read scripture in a neither truly liberal nor conservative mode, which allowed for a discerning engagement with a variety of other disciplines. (Full disclosure: I was also engaged in research on Lewis for a book during two years of SinC and wanted to try out some of his ideas here. So I presented these and other conclusions at a conference of all the SinC grantees in 2011 and an adult ed class on C. S. Lewis and Science in 2012.)
      Lewis viewed the Bible as carrying the word of God, that its authority derives from the one Word of God, Jesus Christ, and that much of its content comes through “myths,” which for him are not untrue stories, but those that carried profound meaning. Lewis concluded that science had a rightful place in intellectual work and in the development of the West, but had no right to determine all truth and knowledge. In that light, Lewis believed the Bible as a book could be read on its own terms and offer legitimate wisdom. The Bible doesn’t need science to substantiate its claims. Paradoxically, this may be the best way for congregations that take science seriously as they read their Bibles. Science can have a freedom not bound by its corroboration with a specific biblical text.  We could read the Bible, and we could practice MBSR, and not find ourselves filled with anxiety that we’re doing both as long as both carry truth. Lewis further liberates us to read the Bible as a powerful book—one that leads Christians to the center of their faith, Jesus Christ—and to let the liberated study of science also take place.
      Our project experienced something that was replicated throughout the other thirty-six congregations—we discovered that the Bible and science can and must speak to one another, but we are free to make connections where they exist without forcing a connection with the hermeneutical duck tape of proof-texting. Faithful Christians can engage science in a free interchange without forced agreement or impenetrable conflict. In fact, I had underestimated the degree to which my congregation simply felt stressed out and wanted to find “the peace,” described by Paul in Philippians 4:7, “that passes understanding.” They weren’t particularly worried if MBSR was the vehicle to arrive at that destination, as long as they met Christ there too. For example, one of our class members had studied MBSR to help with an anxiety disorder. That experience, however, was at hospital, and he was all to glad to practice within a Christian framework. The bottom line was that MBSR calmed their souls. And that was enough. It was sufficient for me too. 
      In conclusion, I’d note that many of the effects of our project have been subtle. One is that subsequent small groups have begun to spring up around the topic of mindfulness and its practice in Christian meditation. Another is a current Wednesday night adult ed class also around this topic (built, by the way, more on practice than theory). And, as I mentioned above, by equipping one of our classroom with distance learning capabilities, we hope that technology could spread the news about what it means for Christians to engage with science. Probably most important is that Bidwell Presbyterian demonstrated that there is nothing to fear—and everything to learn—from science. A soon to be published  book by Calvin College sociologist Jonathan Hill, Emerging Adulthood and Faith, analyzes the way we engage challenging topics by blending affect (learned primarily through our social groups) with rational reflection into “motivated reasoning.” The most important influencers therefore in how congregations engage science will be friends, family, and pastors (not—as he is somewhat crestfallen to note—professors). I wish I had read that before, and not after, we finished SinC! Nevertheless, it remains very good news for me and for those congregations that engage faith with science.
      I think the effects of MBSR might have taken root in our congregation in much more mundane ways. I saw a church member with eyes closed during a recent sermon. I knew she wasn’t sleeping—she was simply engaged in mindfulness meditation.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Thomas Cootsona—In Memoriam

My dad died last Wednesday, and his seemingly ordinary life had some extraordinary features, which I hope I captured here.

Thomas Nicholas Cootsona started his life in Tacoma, Washington on December 13, 1923
and was soon to survive the Great Depression, serve in World War II, and become part of “the Greatest Generation.” His father, Nicholas, emigrated from Greece in 1912 (at the age of 12), and his mother, Elizabeth nĂ©e Mastel, German by ethnicity, moved from Aberdeen, South Dakota to the Pacific Northwest. Together, as a Greek and a German, this duo might today represent a Eurozone conflict, but in this case, they produced a son who brought together the love of disciplined, rational German engineering with a Greek readiness to celebrate and a pervasive love of life.
      Tom attended Stadium High School in Tacoma, then served as an infantry soldier in the Second World War, seeing action in Europe and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home to Tacoma and, within four years, completed two bachelor degrees from the University of Washington (one in mechanical engineering, one in electrical engineering), and married Ruth Behrens of Puyallup, Washington on August 7, 1949. The marriage took a little courting on Tom’s part, but once together, they never looked back.
      After a famous four-month trip to Europe (a dream of theirs), they took to building a home together, first in the Seattle area—where their first son, Marcus, was born—and then Portland. In 1961, tired of the rainy Northwest, they headed down to the sunny, temperate San Francisco Bay Area, which was beginning the first of its economic booms. There Tom started his 20-year career with the Syntex Corporation as project engineer, and not too long after, Ruth gave birth to their second son, Greg.
      The Cootsona duo of Ruth and Tom bought a house in Menlo Park and enjoyed superb weather, raising two boys, the beauty of Northern California—especially Lake Tahoe, Carmel, and Half Moon Bay, as well as a range of outdoor activities like tennis. In 1981, it was time to make a career switch. Tom, who always loved the retail environment his father, Nicholas, created and enjoyed, purchased Top Spin Tennis, a tennis specialty shop with the able help of Marcus as manager and, for a time, Greg as well. Of those years, one family friend, Craig Lachman, wrote, “He was always warm and supportive and funny. I remember his laugh cutting through the darkened houses of various theaters and his taking us to a variety of 007 movies. He was always eager to converse when I'd show-up at Top Spin. I think of him often and tell my son about what my friends' father learned in WWII, ‘never pass up a chance to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom.’” Tom indeed, true to his Greek heritage, was a practical philosopher.
      Tom and Ruth closed Top Spin Tennis in 2004, and yet continued in their love for retail by working at Marcus’s retail outlet, Pro Tennis, until they retired in 2008 (and thus for Tom, at the age of 85). Shortly thereafter, they moved to Chico to be with Greg and his family and to prepare for a time when they would need assisted living (in a city more affordable than those in the Silicon Valley). During those years, they became involved at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, where Greg was associate pastor. In his physically declining final two years, Tom never lost an inquisitive spirit, an intensely passionate commitment to his wife, nor an expansive friendliness. Tom died peacefully with his cherished Ruthie by his side on April 29, 2015.
      Dad, we will miss you—your laugh, your kindness, your incredible dedication to us as your sons, your devotion to mom, your loud and persistent applause during our magic shows or musical performances, your service to our country, your practical wisdom, and your Greek spirit, always ready with a towel over your shoulder and a bottle of sparkling wine—“Why wait for a holiday to have a celebration? Let’s just say, ‘It’s a day!’ and celebrate.” And so, even with some tears, we celebrate you.
      Tom is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ruth, and their two sons, Marcus, who lives in Menlo Park, CA, with his wife, Melinda, and their son, Marcus James; and Greg, who lives in Chico, CA with his wife Laura and their two daughters, Melanie and Elizabeth.

      There will be a private service to remember Tom. In lieu of gifts, please donate to the Thomas N Cootsona Memorial Fund through the North Valley Community Foundation (240 Main Street, Suite 260; Chico, CA 95928),

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chico Religious Life in 2026 (Written in February 2006)

In 2006, I was asked by the Enterprise-Record to write a piece on the future of religious life in our city twenty years hence for their issue "Coping with Growth." That's now nine years ago. Since I just found this piece today, I thought it might be fun to see how my portrait sound about halfway there. Let me know what you think.

By 2026, it’s pretty clear that Chico won’t be “chico” anymore. By this, I mean it won’t be small. It won’t be a quaint university town. Instead it’ll be an urban center in the midst of a swelling Butte County, full of problems and possibilities. My job here is to offer some reflections on what that growth in the next 20 years will mean for religious life. People of faith, when they imagine the population of Butte County increasing by the size of Chico, will probably range in responses from cold sweat to shouts of Hallelujah. I’m more in the second camp, but since Presbyterians aren’t generally given to religious enthusiasm, my mode instead will be to prepare for what’s to come. So I offer just four observations—and not necessarily my preferences—for the next two decades in this great county.

First of all, Butte County will see a greater religious diversity through the growth of Judaism, Islam, and new religious movements, as well as within the Christian church. In a world that’s violently divided along religious lines, this trend speaks for itself. Twenty years will also bring an increase in those not affiliated with any religious community. According to a telephone survey conducted by Bidwell Presbyterian Church (where I’m a pastor), we estimate that only around 5% of Chicoans between 15 and 25 call ours, or any, church their home. From a marketing perspective, that lack of “reach” is either cause for discouragement or excitement.

I’m convinced that technology, already a key player in my life as a pastor, will continue to play a great role in houses of faith. The worship trend in the past 20 years has been toward more electronic instrumentation, projected lyrics, and sophisticated audio and lighting systems. With the level of production Americans see on TV, it’s impossible for me to imagine ever going back. In addition, we’ll see greater use of the web, including blogging and podcasting (and, by 2026, their successors). A 2004 Pew survey found that 64% of internet users in this country, or 84 million Americans, use the web for religious purposes. I’ll let the Enterprise Record decide on the future of print media; nonetheless I’m certain that speaking one’s message in a house of worship won’t be the only way “to preach the Gospel.”

Less certain—but certainly intriguing—is the return to a parish model for houses of faith. By this, I mean that people will attend the house of worship in their neighborhood and conversely, the religious community will care for its locality’s concrete needs. (Full disclosure: Bidwell Presbyterian is currently in consultation with New Urban Builders to create a “satellite” church within the upcoming Meriam Park development.) I believe a faith community’s central mission is to those outside its walls and therefore see this as a boon. In other words, the day of the commuter church, sprouted in a suburb in which few of its members live, may be ending and with it the common religious detachment from concrete social concerns. Here I think the traditional African-American church provides a model: where the church offers daytime tutoring programs and revival preaching in the evening. (On a related note—and in tension with trend—is the increase in Chico real estate, which could bring economic stratification in Butte County. In response, worshipping communities in Chico will have to work harder to create economic and racial-ethnic diversity.)

One final observation comes from my years as a pastor in New York City: as Chico grows in complexity and sophistication, the great enemy of spiritual growth and participation in a faith community will be lack of time. Currently, it’s Chico’s love of the party—of drinking beer as we float in the pool, that kind of thing—which prevents people from committing to a life of faith. In 2026, it’ll probably also be that we’re stuck in traffic, making sure we take care of all our timesaving devices, and attending to the demands of a packed weekly schedule. This means that we’ll have to learn some Nos in order to say Yes to spiritual life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Final Thoughts on the Problems for the Science-Religion Dialogue with a Concluding, Largely Unscientific Postscript

I’m concluding my reflections on the predicated future state of the dialogue of science and religion based on my research with emerging adults (18-30). It’s probably worth emphasizing that I am primarily outlining problems that have come to me. I am seeking first to understand, then to be understood (to quote both Stephen Covey and the famous St. Francis prayer). The next task will be to formulate responses.

These recent posts have also been sketches for something more substantial. Being sketches, I now realize something: the six main problems facing the integration of science and faith for emerging adults, which I've outlined in these posts, can be grouped into four main areas--perception of conflict; resistance to intellectual work; ancient faith, modern problems; and pluralism and decisions. (If you read the previous posts, you'll see how these categories fit.) 

Accordingly, I now move to one final problem in the third category, two problems in the fourth category, and a concluding postscript.

Ancient faith, modern problems
In terms of the church’s often not embracing the lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgendered community, religious communities often seem to the wider public uninformed by science.  
The majority of emerging adults support same-sex marriage. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll states, “The new survey finds 67% of ‘Millennials’ – born since 1980 and age 18-32 today – are in favor of same-sex marriage.” And though some denominations (e.g., Episcopalian, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ) solemnize same-sex ceremonies, the strong majority of Christian churches today is, and its historical consensus has been, marriage is a covenant between one man and one women. The church’s stance on this and the related set of issues does set it in conflict with mainstream culture.

Partly, this question relates to how science relates to ethical questions, let alone what the science is that helps us understand same-sex attraction. Certainly, science can inform, but not entirely decide ethics. Indeed, ethical deliberations can stand on their own without needing science as the final arbiter of truth. Nonetheless, science can help us understand to some level the genetics and psychology of same sex attraction. And it’s fairly clear whether mainstream science is on same-sex attraction: For example, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 from its DSM II. Less conclusively, there appears to be some genetic predisposition toward same-sex attraction, but in this and other areas, no one can demonstrate a direct link between certain genes and specific behaviors. My reading, nonetheless, is that most young adults believe that science supports the equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual attraction.

Thus, this problem relates to the previous post (on how to interpret and live by an ancient text, namely the Bible) since the means by which the church uses its key Scripture will determine how it makes decision about its ethics, and particularly how it changes its views.

Pluralism and decisions
Many emerging adults would rather Google than go than go to a congregation in pursuing of answers about science and religion. For the people who come from faith to this question, Jonathan Hill’s in his forthcoming Emerging Adulthood and Faith indicates that a pastor’s voice is probably more important than the Internet or the college classroom: “For most students, then, it matters little what their professor teaches… What their friends, parents, and pastor thinks is going to be far more important, because their social world is inextricably tied up with these significant others” (p. 71). In contrast, for religious seekers (in all varieties), there needs to be further work here in bringing out integrationist views of science and religion, and they are often distrustful of the church as a place to seek out answers about science and religion. Partly, this reflects a distrust in the institutional church as a repository for truth-seeking. Faith in the Internet (as it were) also returns me to earlier reflections about the general tone about the Internet and religion—that it’s largely negative. For those outside, the Internet appears to neutral, perhaps even objective.  In addition, the conflict model seems to predominate in its ability to provide “click bait.” We are naturally, neurologically stimulated by threat and thus by conflict.

It’s hard to decide on one religion in light of all the possibilities for spirituality, which makes it difficult to know what religion to bring to science. This is partly the simple problem of pluralism, which has become exacerbated by the explosion of knowledge on the Internet, which is approaching a trillion websites (a number that can even be monitored on But I don’t think we can evade the issue simply by asserting that this problem has been in play for a long time; it certainly continues.

Concluding, largely unscientific postscript
Overall, the integration of faith with scientific insight becomes best resolved by employing good rhetoric for mature, thoughtful religious faith—in other words, making its truth interesting and beautiful. I don’t think this task is any different for emerging adults than any other generation. Truth must become beautiful. And by that sentence I mean that rhetoric—as the engagement with beauty—should be used in concert with philosophy—as the pursuit of truth. Truth is only worth engaging if it’s beautiful, and beauty is that which allures us. By this, I mean a particular beauty, the beauty of life making sense, of satisfying needs we have for deep abiding happiness or Aristotle’s “human flourishing.”
I concur here with the great French physicist Henri PoincarĂ©, who commented, 
“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living….”
I join hands with the ancient Eastern church's view of theology as philokalia, the love of beauty. In fact, my goal is to join these two disciplines so that science and faith can together lead to a thoughtful life that is both truly beautiful and beautifully true. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Problem of The Bible: More on the Future of Science and Religion...

I continue in this post with another problem with young adults' embracing an integration of science and faith...

Speaking specifically of Christianity, the Bible seems outdated and unscientific. This problem is directly related to the the topic of my previous post because it takes intellectual work to engage texts that are thousands of years old. In this case, the problem also stems from emerging adults’ decreasing engagement with books generally and any ancient text specifically. (This is a trend, in my reading, that doesn’t appear to be reversing in the foreseeable future.)
And sometimes the Bible does need to be updated and correlated with good science; frankly, there are some notions that may sound “biblical," but that have to be jettisoned in order to bring the Bible to bear on issues that young adults face. The dualistic versions of the soul, for example—that there is an entirely separable substance floating within our bodies—owes much more to Plato than the Hebrew Bible. Accordingly, we can update and correct our doctrine of the soul by looking at the Bible, which see human beings as body/soul, a psychosomatic unity. We can also learn from contemporary neuroscience, which certainly cannot find an immaterial soul. In this, we need to follow the truth wherever it leads and this, by its nature, updates our biblical interpretation. As John Calvin rightly commented in his
1559 Institutes of the Christian Religion
“If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”
If the truth appears in natural science, we follow it. For this reason, a six-day creation is untenable if Christians want to take on mainstream science. Thankfully, this is not a new idea. As C. S. Lewis pointed out (and I have much more to say about this here), Genesis 1-2 probably “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical,” or as the church Father Jerome put it, was written “after the manner of a popular poet” (and thus a myth, or what I would call, "a meaningful narrative"). Indeed and paradoxically, this hermeneutic probably requires a conviction that science is not the sole arbiter of truth, and that our biblical interpretation is about learning to live within the narrative of the Scripture, to let God’s story become our story, as it were. We don’t memorize the Bible as we do the Periodic Table. Again I’ll cite Lewis. The Bible, he commented, 
“carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.”            
If these statements make some nervous—that soon we will jettison all biblical truth—I need to clarify that this process goes both ways and along with Imre Lakatos, there are certain teachings (the divinity of Christ, for example) that are at the “hard core” of Christianity’s “research program,” and which are not jettisoned easily or lightly, even in the presence of some anomalies. (I’ll leave the full exposition of a Lakatosian research programme until a later time.)
Finally, not only does it take effort to grasp the meaning of two thousand year old Gospels, it requires work to find a meaning in Aristotle or Lucretius—so this difficulty is not unique to Christian Scripture. Needed here is something akin to what Stephen Greenblatt was able to do with ancient Latin poet-philospher Lucretius through his book The Swerve—demonstrate his relevance today. And it’s not “rocket science”… It’s what any good preacher or biblical expositor has to do in the church classroom or pulpit. 

In a word, thoughtful interpreters of the Bible—who also understand contemporary science—are critical helpful in addressing this problem. Whether they solve it is another issue...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Problem for the Future of Science and Religion

(I'm continuing this series on the future of the dialogue of science and religion by citing the problems I've observed in emerging adults' engagement with this topic.)

For many young adults, the topic of science and religion seems too heady, takes too much effort, and is not connected with pressing life issues.


This is a problem that is not too different from the general cultural trend away from intellectual engagement. When I look over the U. S. cultural context, I see a nation that doesn’t spend excessive time in working its brains. Thinking does in fact involve work--if nothing else, the use of glucose in brain activity. It may also disturb formerly held patterns of thought. 

I have also mentioned in other contexts (e.g., chapter 7 of C. S. Lewis and theCrisis of a Christian) that the American context places an enormous weight on how we feel and what we’ve experienced. In some ways, this is a part of our marketing-advertising culture. In another, it’s a legacy of religious revivalism. What I emphasize in Lewis's writing is his conviction that letting emotions serve as the sole arbiter of truth isn't beneficial, but neither is entirely detached intellectual speculation. The resolution is to bring together feelings and thoughts. I'll insert an excerpt below:
Lewis was not given over simply to intellectual abstraction either. He believed that what we know must affect our lives. In this way, he mirrors the biblical emphasis on the heart not as the arbiter of emotions but as the center of action. So it’s neither feelings nor abstract cognition that matters. Eugene Peterson, when he paraphrases the Bible in The Message, gets it exactly right in his rendering of Galatians 5:25: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives” (italics are mine).  Mere ideas and changeable feelings do not themselves lead to action. Or as Lewis put in the mouth of Screwtape, his nephew Wormwood must “prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it . . . Let him do anything but act.” (C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, pages 112-2).
A strategy for responding might also imply an angle of approach. It is also an issue of strategy for any number of topics—how do we help young adults want to engage intellectual issues, to bring thought to life? Generally, a key method is to demonstrate how the intellectual issue is not simply detached, but has practical relevance. In this case, it could be tapping into the topic of technology. 18-30 year olds seems more connected with how their iPhone might affect their happiness than whether the quantum theory supports belief in God. Minimally, it’s going to require engaging communicators who in many ways, want to reanimate intellectual work as a good human endeavor. Besides that, I have to admit we are swimming here against a strong cultural current.