The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church

The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church by David John Seel Jr.

What do you get when you live in a Google world with the knowledge of the universe at your fingertips?

And what if, in that Google world, the super-diversity of religions and opinions leads you to believe that the most important virtue is to accept differences in other people?

What if the shortcomings of government, the church, the economic system, and the family itself are on such display that you come to mistrust anything institutional?

What if on-demand entertainment allows you to dive into any kind of story that will provide the best escape?

And what if, in that world, social media allows you to tell your own story in any way you want to tell it?

What do you get? You get a millennial.

If you know someone born between 1980 and 2000, that person is a millennial. Today he or she is a young or middle adult. Author David John Seel Jr., calls such people “New Copernicans” because, like Copernicus (1473-1543), they sense that the people in charge have misrepresented the fundamental nature of reality. Copernicus saw that the earth is not, contrary to accepted wisdom, the center of the universe. The New Copernicans see that the rational, logical, Enlightenment mind is not, contrary to accepted wisdom, the only way to understand the universe.

In his book The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church Seel describes this as a real, immense, cultural shift. People have called it by different names: Postmodernism. Post-Christianity. Post-Enlightenment. Post-rational. Seel calls it a “frame shift” and believes that it is not caused by millennials. Rather, it is carried by millennials as they encounter a world that features, among other things, the five realities mentioned above.

Bad news for the church, right? No, Seel sees lots of potential here. He sees it as a return to right-brain thinking, a recovery of the artistic and poetical mind, a renewed openness to mystery and paradox. For Seel, this is a return to a more Jesus-shaped church.

He believes that the church, particularly the evangelical church, must repent of its cozy relationship with black-and-white, us/them, reductionist thinking if it is to remain vibrant in the age of millennials and those who come after them. The church must admit that life is full of mystery and paradox, reduce its dependence on institutions, engage pluralism with confident grace, and present the Bible as God’s story rather than as a collection of theological concepts and their proof texts.

Sometimes in my reading I thought that Seel was too soft on millennials and too hard on the evangelical church. And sometimes I paused in my reading just to appreciate the dots he was connecting for me.

At the end of the book I celebrated two things. First, I now had a clear language for all those fuzzy conversations about the decline of the North American church. Second, I found hope in the Great Story that God tells and in the ways he gives us to learn and speak it. (Thomas Nelson)

About the Author

Rev. David Den Haan is pastor of Fairway CRC, Jenison, Mich.

See comments (2)


Thanks for the review.  I think this is a book I need to read.

I have finished the book and have to say my response to the author's major contentions (and they are contentions, not so much observations) are much more negative than positive.

Fundamentally, it seems to me that this author quite desperately wants to remake confessional churches (by which I mean churches that find unity in creeds and confessions) into churches that pretty much ignore confessions, not to mention any set of 'rules' for how we should live (that is, "faith and life"), and focus instead on non-judgmental relationships, except permission would be given to judging (as he does) those who too much find unity in creeds, confessions, and rules for living life.

The author approvingly cites the vision of authors Brian McLaren and Peter Enns, books by whom I have also read in the last half year.  McLaren and Enns want to remake the Church into that which I would have absolutely no interest in being part of.  Which is to say I suppose that I think McLaren's and Enns's visions are for something other that what I would regard as a Christian Church.

I don't oppose relationships.  To the contrary I think that a local Christian Church should be, perhaps first of all, a family, but that family is one that roots in certain, well, creeds and confessions and rules for life (again, faith and life), even as it also shows love to (is in relationship with of a kind) those outside that family.

Of course, Seel doesn't so exlicitely say what I've just described.  Rather he says it by unmistakable implication.  One of his tools is to incessantly talk about left brain (the more rational) and right brain (the more relational), leaving no doubt that he favors the Church moving from being left brain dominant to right brain dominant.  And to do so, Seel says the older members of the Church need to abandon their Enlightenment captivated left side brain dominant control and "give the keys of the Church" to the right brain folk.  And who are they?  They are the Millenials who have 'seen the light', and so have earned Seel's title of "New Copericans," by which he literally means those Millenials who, like Copernicus, 'have seen and know the truth' and will lead the Church into an all-new worldview (which he calls a "frame," perhaps to avoid the older left brain created word, "worldview"?).  If Seel is right, older age is not only a synonymous with irrelevancy but also cause to be deprived of any leadership role in the Church. He would be the exception to that rule I suppose, or maybe he just plays a John the Baptist role to the New Copernicans?)  Under this new "frame," the word "Elder" (as in "Elders and Deacons") will certainly have to be replaced as it is oxymoronic.

Early on in the book, Seel says, remarkably, that some readers might have read to that point and already concluded that they've seen his glorification of a youthful generation before (1960's hippie movement).  He was taking that thought right out of my mind.  I was looking for Seel to then explain the essential differences between the two but he didn't.  He just declared them as different and moved on.  I wasn't sold.

There is value in reading this book, and books of others who join in this movement (like Enns and McLaren and others), because doing so reveals a challenge the Church (including CRC but not just the CRC) will face in coming years, maybe decades.  As for me, I think the challenge will be quite a bit like the challenge posed by the 1960's hippie generation, even if of its own unique style (a different flavor of existentialism).  The problem could be even greater when the New Copernicans eventually transform into something else, as did the hippies into yuppies after they receive the wealth transfers they will receive from the obsolete left brain dominated generations that precede them.