WE ARE ALL THOMAS NOW: MILLENNIAL CHRISTIANS AND THE NEED FOR NEW THEOLOGICAL WORLDS AT THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF AUGUSTA, GEORGIA
ABSTRACT THOMAS WILLIAM DYER, JUNIOR WE ARE ALL THOMAS NOW: MILLENNIAL CHRISTIANS THE NEED FOR NEW THEOLOGICAL WORLDS AT THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF AUGUSTA, GEORGIA Under the direction of Graham B. Walker, Jr., Ph.D., Supervisor According to the Pew Research Group, the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is “None.” This trend is particularly strong with the generation known as “Millennials,” where more than thirty-five percent reported that their religious affiliation is “None.” This report has been widely reported on and has generated incredible anxiety in churches. While many in the church blame culture for a rapid decline of religious faith, it is the purpose of this thesis to show that one reason for the precipitous drop in religious identification in the United States is that the church has ceased to speak about God in a way that connects to the lived-experience of Millennials. If the gospel is going to spread in a post-Christian culture, then the church must learn to use variegated language to speak about how God is to be found in the world. This thesis uses the Five Theological Worlds from W. Paul Jones as a launching point to offer a better way to connect the lived-experience of Millennials to the way they understand how God is at work in the world. Six Millennials were chosen to participate in this project, which began with each individual taking the Theological Worlds Inventory. After completing the Inventory, participants took part in one-hour long experiences of each of the five Theological Worlds. After the completion of the experiences, they were invited to take the Theological Worlds Inventory for the second time, with the hope that any change in Theological World could be measured by their responses. Follow up interviews were done with each of the six participants with questions geared to measure how each of the experiences impacted their lived-experience and their theological understanding of how God is at work in their lives. It is important to note that there were also four people who acted as a control group. They were invited to take the Theological Worlds Inventory on two separate occasions, but they did not take part in the experiences of each Theological World. The intent of the control group was to see the power of experience in offering a variegated understanding of Theological Worlds. After introducing the background problem in detail, this thesis traces the biblical, theological, philosophical, and historical foundations for why new understandings of how God is at work in the world are often times necessary in the life of the church. It then details the central findings of the project, which concern how Theological Worlds are formed and shaped in the lives of individuals. The three primary themes that emerged are the centrality of childhood experience in shaping Theological Worlds, the role of trauma/experiences of loss in changing Theological Worlds, and the importance of experience, and not cognition, in helping people align their lived-experience with their understanding of how God is at work in the world. Finally, this thesis concludes with ideas for future development, which includes how liturgy can shape Theological Worlds and how preaching is best practiced as a theatrical experience.
Dyer, Junior, Thomas William