Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Mormon Teens, Protestant Teens: A Review of Kenda Creasy Dean’s “Almost Christian”


Did you see this article in USA Today yesterday? The upshot is that Protestant teens are skipping church in record numbers. They rarely even come for the pizza anymore.

This development didn’t come out of nowhere. Throughout the last decade, sociologist Christian Smith has published some fascinating research about religion and the American teenager, most notably in the Oxford book Soul Searching and its recent follow-up, Souls in Transition. Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion, these books were gold mines of information about the religious behavior and attitudes of American teens, generally revealing that although American youth profess belief at a high level (in God, the afterlife, and the Bible), their level of religious practice does not typically match what they say they believe.


One of the researchers in the National Study of Youth and Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean, now draws upon the data to issue a gentle jeremiad to Protestant congregations. In Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, she argues that if teenagers don’t have a firm grasp of core Christian doctrines and instead worship at what she calls “the Church of Benign Whatever-ism” — or don’t worship at all — it’s because youth pastors and other leaders have watered down the message, she claims. Teenagers in Protestant churches get the idea that they’re supposed to feel good about themselves, but that little is expected of them; Christianity is designed to make them “nice,” but it’s not supposed to form them as disciples. The first part of the book draws upon copious research data to diagnose the problem that Protestant teens are being taught a brand of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep.


Then the book takes a surprising turn. In a chapter called “Mormon Envy,” Dean further indicts Protestant churches by holding up Mormonism as an example of a religious group that is doing right by its teenagers. She makes it clear that she has serious theological disagreements with Mormonism, but from a sociological perspective, Mormonism is succeeding in creating young adults who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior. She says that Mormonism is giving teens the four things they need in order to have a growing adult faith, elements that she develops more fully in Part III:

1) They are sufficiently catechized in beliefs by their own parents and by a spiritual community that expresses consistent expectations. In order to succeed as Christian adults, teens first need to know what their faith communities believe–the substantial stuff, not just the feel-good fluff. Dean holds up the Mormon tradition of early-morning seminary as an example of successful catechesis at the institutional level, and Family Home Evening as an example of how it can occur in the home. Mormon teens are nearly twice as likely (79%) as other teens to pray with their parents at times other than grace for meals.


2) They need to acquire a personal testimony. Step one (catechesis) is vital but in the end insufficient if teens don’t make the Christian story their own. In Mormonism, there’s a great emphasis on personal testimony. More than half of LDS teens (53%) reported giving a talk or presentation in church in the last six months, compared to one in seven Southern Baptist youths and one in twenty-five Catholics. Mormon teens also exercise leadership, which Dean says is a crucial part of faith formation; 48% reported attending a church meeting where they were called upon to make a decision that would be binding on a group. These practices aren’t just window dressing, according to Dean; they pave the way for other crucial faith-forming events, such as missionary service. “From a very early age the church fosters . . . the skills that help her talk about her faith and participate in faith-sharing practices, starting with regular religious conversations in the home, shared leadership practices in youth ministry, and frequent opportunities for public testimony in worship,” Dean writes of one of her Mormon interviewees.


3) They need concrete religious goals and a sense of vocation. Part of the problem that Dean is diagnosing in American Protestantism is that there’s nothing teens are working toward, no sense of spiritual growth being a closely monitored goal. Much of that seems to end with confirmation around age twelve or thirteen, which is an invitation to drop out. In Mormonism, children prepare for missions and the temple; start fasting with the community every month at age eight; are expected to pay tithing just like adults; give up time on weekends to clean the church building and do service projects; and actually track these things in personal progress journals.They work toward Eagle Scout status or being a Young Woman of Excellence. (That latter designation is extremely hokey, and it’s arguably a separate but unequal companion to the Eagle, but at least it’s a goal.)


4) They need hope for the future. In Mormonism, Dean says, teens talk confidently about the purpose of this life (which they understand as being tested and growing spiritually so they might return to their Heavenly Parents after death). In Protestantism, she says, there has been an erosion of eschatological hope. Reading Dean’s book — particularly the final chapter “Make No Small Plans,” which deals with the complexities of inculcating hope — you get the sense that this is where the author feels most at a loss for what to do. What she and Christian Smith call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (the idea that religion exists to make me a better person and make me feel good) has so infected Protestantism that she doesn’t quite know how to respond, though she is sure the answer as well as the problem lies with the Christian church.


As a Mormon, I am hard pressed to think of another major sociological study that has ever lifted my religion up as having the answers to a pressing cultural problem; if we get kudos, it’s mostly for our dietary restrictions and astonishing longevity. LDS Public Affairs is going to be all over this book in the same way it has touted Rodney Stark’s projections for LDS growth. I think Dean has raised some excellent questions about the fundamental difference I notice when I go to my church and when I visit my husband’s wonderful Protestant congregation: I love the services and the community there, but at the end of the day, no one ever makes the teens take out the trash. As with other Protestant churches I’ve been to (and the one I served for two years as a student pastor), they love their teenagers, but loving them does not always translate into making them work, or giving them concrete expectations for how they will contribute to the overall health of the congregation (through giving talks, teaching classes, or sharing the gospel). Teens become passive recipients of adult action, not emerging leaders.


One complaint I have with Dean’s book is that she seems to assume that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism doesn’t exist in Mormonism, which it does despite the aforementioned high levels of religiosity. Many, many Latter-day Saints have a functional belief that religion exists primarily to make them better people in this life. Still, Dean’s definitely on to something, and I’m pleased to see a sociologist take Mormonism seriously despite theological differences.

  • smb

    Great review of an interesting book.

  • Mormons Are Christian

    The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):
    1. Attend Religious Services weekly
    2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
    3. Believes in life after death
    4. Does NOT believe in psychics or fortune-tellers
    5. Has taught religious education classes
    6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
    7. Sabbath Observance
    8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
    9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
    10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
    11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality
    . LDS . Evangelical
    1. 71% . . 55%
    2. 52 . . . 28
    3. 76 . . . 62
    4. 100 . . .95
    5. 42 . . . 28
    6. 68 . . . 22
    7. 67 . . . 40
    8. 72 . . . 56
    9. 50 . . . 19
    10 65 . . . 26
    11 84 . . . 35
    So what do you think the motivation is for the Evangelical preachers to denigrate the Mormon Church by calling it a “cult”? You would think Evangelical preachers would be emulating Mormon practices (a creed to believe, a place to belong, a calling to live out, and a hope to hold onto) which were noted by Professor Creasy Dean, as causing Mormon teenagers to “top the charts” in Christian characteristics. It seems obvious pastors shouldn’t be denigrating a church based on First Century Christianity, with high efficacy. The only plausible reason to denigrate Mormons by calling the church a “cult” is for Evangelical pastors to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I have seen discussions on the Christianity Today web page about the fact that many of the new megachurches don’t know what to do with their congregants once they have been “born again”. Lacking a goal and a program for Christian living in the long term, they are experiencing high dropout rates among adult congregants. So it would appear that the problem with many Christian teenagers is simply part of a larger problem of lack of guidance in Christian discipleship in many congregations.
    Obviously, if we are looking at this from the perspective of Rodney Stark’s sociological analysis of religious rewards and incentives, the Mormon approach to religious socialization of teenagers is an example of the kind of high-investment, high-reward activity that increases the value of Church membership in Churches that make higher demands on their members. All of those “enviable” Mormon programs for teenagers require a great deal of sacrifice from both the teenagers and from their parents and other adults; having taken my son and his friends to early morning Seminary classes at 5:30 AM five days a week, and in another context being a Seminary teacher, I can attest to that.
    Thanks for letting us know about this book. I assume that the term “Mormon Envy” is a takeoff on Krister Stendahl’s statement about how, when we are examining the faith traditions of others, we should look for opportunities for “holy envy”, to recognize good things in other faith traditions that are admirable, regardless of their source.
    Sadly, I think there are going to be some readers of this book who will not “envy” the Mormons so much as be jealous of them, feel our success is undeserved and even, because it promulgates a religious faith they view as aberrant, that it is dangerous and threatening. Such people will characterize the Mormon youth as being “brainwashed”, even though they are in fact demonstrating more active intellectual engagement with issues of faith than the majority of teens in other Christian faith traditions.

  • Your Name

    Why would being a Young Woman in Excellence be a “hokey designation”?

  • Arthur Sido

    MormonsAreChristians lists what he/she claims are “Christian characteristics”. Missing from that list is the one valid “Christian characteristic”, i.e. being born-again. What they list are examples of culturally religious activities, many of which have nothing to do with Christianity and that you can observe without knowing Christ in the slightest. If you are seeking a religion to make your kids more moral, then mormonism is a great choice. If you want to know Jesus Christ, the mormon church is the last place you should look.

  • Tas

    Arthur, your comment makes no sense. How does someone come to know Christ? By doing all those things. Did you miss the entire point of the post and, apparently, the point of the book?

  • Don Ormsby

    Arthur: Perhaps your comment arises from ignorance of the following scripture:
    Alma 7: 14 (The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ)
    14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

  • Don Ormsby

    And I forgot this one:
    Mosiah 27: 25
    25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

  • Jana Riess

    “It seems obvious pastors shouldn’t be denigrating a church based on First Century Christianity, with high efficacy. The only plausible reason to denigrate Mormons by calling the church a “cult” is for Evangelical pastors to protect their flock (and their livelihood).”
    How is it in any way obvious from sociological data about Mormon teens in America today that Mormonism is the direct spiritual heir of a Christianity practiced in Palestine two thousand years ago? There is no evidence that any of the specific practices that are being lauded in Dean’s book as formative for Mormon teens were employed by first-century Christians in anything more than the broadest possible context (e.g., fasting and prayer are general Christian disciplines that have never been unique to Mormons).
    Perhaps part of the reason for the broad divide between Mormons and evangelicals is Mormons’ too-frequent willingness to assert theological superiority over other Christians. This, in my opinion, occurs with equal or even greater frequency than other Christians labeling Mormonism as a cult.

  • Thaddeus

    Jana, Jesus asserted theological superiority over the Pharisees; they shot right back with the same. If I didn’t think my ideology was superior to others, then I wouldn’t waste my time believing it. We all do this. This is what Evangelicals are doing when they call Mormonism a cult.
    It’s just how we do it that makes the difference. Are Mormons too smug? I apologize if that’s the case.

  • Pete

    The heart of the matter is this: Evangelicals reject Mormons because we do not accept the Trinity. The concept of Trinity was made-up by men in the 4th century. It says that God is a being without body parts and passion, and that God, Christ and the Holy Ghost are the same being. They came to one correct conclusion: the godhead is united in purpose, but they are three distinct personages. Those who claim that Mormonism is a cult are the same people who claim that the Nicean creed accurately represents the bible. The Nicean creed is truly a man-made doctrine. So I ask, who is the cult?

  • Jana Riess

    Neither of those traditions is a cult, the sociological definition of which is a small group with clear boundaries that separate it from the host culture, and which coalesces around a charismatic figure. There are obviously scholarly variations of this definition, but actual cults are small and rare.
    Pete, you’re absolutely right about the importance of the Trinity in LDS differences with traditional Christians, but your final line troubles me. What you have described is a religion you do not agree with, not a cult. Discussions between Mormons and creedal Christians will improve only when both groups stop throwing the term “cult” around to describe anything they do not agree with.
    And for what it’s worth, for Mormons to reject the Nicene Creed for being unbiblical is a bit ironic; we have far more extrabiblical doctrines than Protestants and Catholics do. This is because we profess a belief in continuing revelation. We glory in the idea that our canon is not fixed in the Bible alone. Why, then, is it cult-like for Protestants and Catholics to profess their core beliefs in a creed several centuries after the Bible was finalized? And how might that act differ from, say, what we Mormons do with the 13 Articles of Faith?

  • Arcturus

    There are more similarities between Mormonism and Pre-Nicean Christianity than just doctrines.
    There were many 19th-century Mormons who were killed for their beliefs by raging groups of ‘Christians’, I find irony in the fact that present-day ‘Protestants’ don’t see the parallels between the martyrs of early Christianity and those who gave their lives for their LDS faith within the last 2 centuries.
    Every time I hear a Baptist call me a cult member, I wonder what that person’s actions would be if I lived in a different time when law-and-order didn’t exist. Maybe I should have more faith in humanity, but I have a hard time believing that those who call me a cultist now would not be the same people with a pistol to my head ‘inviting’ me to leave town with my family and without my property if I had lived in the 19th century.

  • Ed Wiscombe

    My favorite retort to the LDS church being called a cult was one young man I knew who finally stood up to his mom when she kept telling him that he was joining a cult. His reply was “Yes, I am a member of a cult, and it’s leader is Jesus.”
    The word cult is thrown around way to often as a way to try and denigrate religions that someone doesn’t believe in. The truly Christian way to live is to agree to disagree, and be willing to listen to others beliefs even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

  • Emily Sanderson

    I will take Kenda Creasy Dean’s comments as a compliment regarding the Mormon church’s giving teens the tools they need to incorporate the church’s doctrines into their own lives. Being a teen is tough whether or not you have religion to provide you with guidance. As a member of the Mormon faith myself, I know that I gained a personal testimony of my church as a teenager that has stayed with me and buoyed me up through personal challenges. It is this same testimony that I share with my seven-year old Primary class each week.
    I attended high school in California where I was a minority among other Christian faiths, and I have friends and classmates who are Christian. I have respect for their beliefs. I admire anyone’s commitment to a religious doctrine that helps them be a better person and a better citizen — not just this “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism” of which Dean speaks. I hope whatever Christians teach their youth is encouraging them to study the scriptures on their own and to find truth and an inner peace in the words of Jesus and His prophets.
    I think Mormons and other Christians have more in common doctrine-wise than people think. Just the fact that we all believe in the Golden Rule connects us, if you realize that a majority of the world still believes in an eye for an eye. In the Western World, even agnostics base their way of life on basic Christian principles whether they want to admit it or not, and Westerners who convert to Buddhism or Hinduism still believe in the Ten Commandments. It’s how we’re wired, and it’s how the laws of the United States were founded.
    In a time when Christianity is being attacked from so many angles, it’s nice to know we have allies, and we have strength in numbers when we stand together for common causes such as Prop 8 in California. I hope that we as Christians don’t find ourselves in a time again when we can only identify ourselves to other Christians by drawing half of a fish in the sand.

  • Frank

    As an adult convert, I am discouraged by the attitude of an adult daughter who was not raised LDS. She is a good person, a good wife and good mother and good daughter and a good friend to many.
    But some years back she and her husband became active for s while in one of her local Born-Again congregations, because they liked the minister. But one of the things that happened there was they were flooded with anti-Mormon literature by other members of the congregation. They even had a 3-ring binder they were given with all the anti material organized.
    I tried to go thru the material in the binderwith her and debunk it, but she was not convinced. partly, I admit, because I did not keep my cool but repeatedly exploded over the slurs and lies. I invited her to try our church and see it for herself, rather than take the anti’s word about it for the truth. But she resisted. Her big hangup is that even though she accepts that we are created in our Heavenly Father’s image, and we are his spirit children, that He himself was never a mortal man. And in turn, we can never grow to be like Him. Even though He is our Father (Yeah, I know — go figure — a Father who does not want His children to grow to be His equal, or better).
    Her husband — a good man and good father — resists the idea that it takes anything more than being saved by Grace. I referred him to St. James, who makes the point that “faith without works is dead”, so even though we will be resurrected into immortality, that our judgment will be based on our works. Saved by Grace but judged by Works. This caused his face to cloud with suspicion: “What do you mean by works?” I had to explain it to him, the obvious things that everybody knows about, and even that did not seem to convince him. When I asked him what he thought God looked like, he described God as being someone who you hear in the whispering of the wind, the beauty of the sky, he is all around, etc.
    Bottom line. Neither my daughter or her husband know the bible or read it or think for themselves (despite being intelligent people.) They take someone else’s word for it, so long as that someone is not LDS. After a while, they lost interest in their local Born Again church. They feel that they do not need to go to church, it is sufficient that they are good people, and that since they have accepted Jesus as their Savior, they will be resurrected into immortality and need do nothing more.
    The Born Again types seem to me to be fearful of actually having to do any work or dedicating themselves to our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation, fearful that there might be something more required of them than just staying out of trouble. They want the easy and safe way out, and the basis of their hostility towards LDS people is that they are afraid we might be right. They do not like our belief that our Heavenly Father put us here on this earth not so that He could prove Himself to us (He has already done that, of course), but that this is our probationary place and time for us to prove ourselves to Him.

  • Daniel Baker

    I certainly agree with what is said about people throwing around the word “cult”. They do it to create an instant image in the mind of something totally weird, sort of like the Salem witch trials where an ancestor of mind was hung. Some people throw around the word “farmer” to create the instant image of someone crude and probably stinky. Well,some are, some aren’t. But you see what is meant by using those words to poisen people’s minds and intimidate them.

  • Mary

    What I like is that the LDS Church understands that the teenage years is a time of great growth and that teenages want, even hunger, to know for themselves and no longer want to lean on their parents and teachers testimony. It is time, if they haven’t already done so, for them to gain their own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They want to know and understand for themselves if the things that they have been taught are true or not. The teen years are a time when they are almost bombarded with their peers’ and the world’s veiw on everything including religion. The Church understands this and doesn’t sugar coat or only give teens the fluff of the gospel, but makes sure they understand that they need to study, pray, ponder even fast if nessasary to get their own testimonies. Their own revelation. Then they will know for themselves. They will have their own testimony that no one can take away, that will help them through lifes trials, that will grow as knowledge and understanding is gained and even a love of the gospel and a personal relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father is developed over time. This the church understands is what we all need and works for this 24-7.

  • manaen

    This is very interesting in the context of Joseph Smith’s comment, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”
    I’ve noticed this we-came-to-watch the show aspect in the congregations of other churches in contrast to how engaged our members are, of all ages, in speaking, teaching, and serving in formal positions.
    IMO, another advantage we have with our Mormon youth is that we encourage them to pray for their own answers from God; a common phrase among us is that “No one can live on borrowed light.” This testimony independently received is not just about God’s existence and Jesus as our Savior but includes this is Jesus Church restored on the earth with prophets and apostles and the path it teaches is the path that God wants them to walk. I don’t sense this clarity and confirmation offered to the teens of other churches.
    I also agree with your point about our belief that religion exists primarily to make us better people in this life. We believe that is precisely its purpose and this is what qualifies us — we do not earn — greater rewards later as gifts of God’s grace. As Dallin Oaks, a current Apostle noted,
    “[…]the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts–what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts–what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.
    “We qualify for eternal life through a process of conversion. As used here, this word of many meanings signifies not just a convincing but a profound change of nature.
    “Jesus’ challenge shows that the conversion He required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be “converted.” We all know someone who has a strong testimony but does not act upon it so as to be converted.
    ” The needed conversion by the gospel begins with the introductory experience the scriptures call being “born again” (e.g., Mosiah 27:25; Alma 5:49; John 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:23). In the waters of baptism and by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, we become the spiritual “sons and daughters” of Jesus Christ, “new creatures” who can “inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).
    “In teaching the Nephites, the Savior referred to what they must become. He challenged them to repent and be baptized and be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, ‘that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (3 Ne. 27:20). He concluded: ‘Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Ne. 27:27).
    “Our needed conversions are often achieved more readily by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquillity, as Elder Hales taught us so beautifully this morning. Father Lehi promised his son Jacob that God would “consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain” (2 Ne. 2:2). The Prophet Joseph was promised that “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8).
    “Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call “the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.
    “We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason–for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited is that charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. CHARITY IS SOMETHING ONE BECOMES [emphasis added by manaen]. Thus, as Moroni declared, “except men shall have charity they cannot inherit” the place prepared for them in the mansions of the Father (Ether 12:34; emphasis added).
    (General Conference, 10/2000)
    Although not frequently expressed directly, Elder Oaks’s position is just under the surface of the workings of our Church.

  • Marie13

    The designation “Young Woman of Excellence” is certainly not “hokey” in any way! This achievement requires each young woman to fulfill several goals in many areas of life, including good works (service), knowledge (scriptural and other), integrity, and virtue. She is encouraged to examine her own life and actions and record her feelings and experiences in a journal. Writing in a journal not only helps as you go back and review what you have said and done but can serve to strengthen you as you see what your efforts have produced in your own life. All young women are strongly encouraged to gain their own testimony of the truthfulness of what they have been taught, through prayer and receiving personal answers from our Heavenly Father: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.”

  • Edward

    Arthu Sido’s comments: You have defined the weakness of the “Born-Again” philosophy. The article did not address the doctrine of being born again. The article was about the success of the LDS faith compared with the failure of protestantism. The born-again experience in non-LDS beliefs ends with the born again experience. If you believe that all that is necessary is to be born again and the conseqences of the failures after that (as sited in the article) is acceptable, then you must be satisified with the results.
    “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If you believe the Bible to be the word of God, you cannot deny the proof of what Jesus Christ taught. If you profess a belief in the words of the Savior but refuse to believe the proof of his teachings, your belief, at best, is a house of transparent cards the (fell) will fall with the most gentle breeze of truth. All that will remain in the arsenal of defense against the truth is an attack with mis-representations, hatred, and fear mongering.
    James taught, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally . . . But let him ask in faith, noting wavering . . . ”
    Jesus taught, “Beward of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” And, “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”
    The two verses of Jesus’ teachings have historically been used as a warning to not listen to the LDS because we teach of a restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith. I submit that the false prophets are those who teach doctrine in opposition to that of the Savior and those who were (and are) authorized spokespersons of the Savior – namely his prophets and apostles such as James.
    As sited above, James taught that “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . .” This is what the LDS church teaches to its members – including the youth – and those investigating the church. We admonish people to ask God if the things we teach are true and if they will ask “in faith” they will receive an answer that it is true. If they ask, however, with a made-up mind that all the fear-mongering mis-represtations are true – the answer they receive will be to justify their prejudice – that it is not true. One must ask with faith.
    You have the choice to hang-tough with trembling opposition to observable proof of the LDS faith or humbly investigate the faith that demonstrates much success. Then you must ask God . . .

  • Chris Bolton

    First, let’s start shedding more light than heat here…If we want to bash each other over whether the Athanasian Trinity is heretical due to its origins in Greek Philosophy or whether belief in it is essential for salvation, let’s do it elsewhere. A civil/low temperature way to examine each other’s theology is through a book co-written by an evangelical theologian and an LDS theologian. The book is “How Wide the Divide?” It is published by InterVarsity Press, a division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. The Evangelical author is Craig L. Bloomberg, PhD, a New Testament professor at the Denver Seminary and the co-author is Stephen E. Robinson, PhD, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. These two men present their theology’s position on a number of subjects and while often disagreeing on things, find a lot of common ground. This book helps minimize the often false beliefs we have regarding each other’s theology.
    Also, is a good LDS apologetic website to help both LDS and others better understand LDS belief.
    now on to the teens…
    We are here to discuss helping teens and if we LDS are on to something that benefits teens, whether it is due to revelation from God or plain dumb luck, it is our Christian duty to share it with others to help other teens draw closer to Christ and remain close.
    One issue that seems to have ben overlooked has little to do with theology, but rather organizational structure.
    The LDS Church is all volunteer. Our local leaders have regular 9-5 jobs. I have had bishops (pastors) who have been cops, educators, IRS agents, CPA’s, etc… Because being a bishop isn’t their fulltime job, they rely on others for help. Adult LDS members all take turns giving the sermons on Sunday. Oftentimes a teen will be asked to speak for 5 minutes. Each teen is asked to speak twice a year. We LDS have “Home Teachers”, a pair of men who are assigned a few families to visit each month to leave a gospel message and see if there are any needs. Women also have “Visiting Teachers” who visit just the women with basically the same purpose. An Evangelical pastor may do this same thing, but LDS bishops can’t. They don’t have the time.
    LDS members volunteer to help the ward keep running by playing the piano/organ, teaching Sunday School, heading up the youth/teen programs, run the Scout troop, do clerical work, etc…all for free.
    Teens are not exempt from helping. The youth are divided up by sex and each has 3 groups – 12/13 y/os, 14/15y/o’s, and 16/17 yo’s. Once a youth hits 18, they are moved into the adult programs. Each you class has a class president, 2 counselors and a secretary…just like the adult organitions. These “presidencies” are all made up of the youth in that class and they plan youth night activities for their class, and a few times per year for an activity for the entire youth organization.
    IOW, the kids learn about volunteer service early on and see the importance of it. They see their parents likewise serving other ward members. The youth understand that without service, the ward collapses.
    Other faiths have paid clergy. Others like clerks and secretaries are likewise paid. Even organists and chior directors might be paid. The individuals in the congregation have nothing to do except to sit back and be served. Active participation isn’t required.
    Another issue is that of “church shopping”. LDS can’t do it. We are assigned a congregation based on where we live. In an area that has a growing LDS population, 2 or 3 congregations may be combined and split up into 3-4. We do this to keep the wards at 250-300 people attending. This allows each ward member to have a calling. If the ward gets too big, there are not enough callings to go around.
    This geographic assignments prevent “church shopping” by people wanting to attend elsewhere. Having a ward calling gives you responsibility and people are counting on you being there. Since all wards use the same LDS doctrinal manuals and therefore teach the exact same doctrine, you won’t find LDS church shopping for a bishop who is more in line with their own theories. Even if they could, bishops are replaced about every 5 years so shopping doesn’t do any good. Since people have served in various callings/positions, all become crosstrained in many things and learn several skills. No one studies to be a pastor/bishop. Because of that and the fact that bishops aren’t paid and that congregation size is limitted, there are no mega-churches where you can go and watch the show and no one misses you if you aren’t there. If you aren’t there in an LDS ward, you’ll be noticed.
    The bottom line is that Evangelicals having a paid clergy, few volunteer responsibilities, “allowing church shopping” and having mega-churches all contribute to the idea that church is about being entertained. If a pastor isn’t entertaining (hell fire and damnation sermons…or funny…or has a rock band), people will go elsewhere. Since pastors know this and that their livlihood MAY depend on what is in the collection basket, they will do their best to be entertaining. They may have a genuine love and care fo the flock and will do whatever it takes to ‘feed the flock”, but the end result is that people come for the entertainment to some degree. WE LDS don’t. Ask any LDS about “High Council Sunday” where 2 men from the High Council (a body of 8-12 men who oversee 5-10 congregations in an area) speak. These men are often jokingly, but no always unwarrentedly called “Dry Councilmen” because to the boring talks they are known to give.
    When people are raised in a culture of volunteerism, they have an “equity position” in that organization. It builds loyalty, even with adults. Without it, there is little loyalty and pastors have to compete with other forms of entertainment (sports, shopping, Nintendo, etc…) for the kids’ attention. Watering down the message MAY keep some teens from being offended and leaving, but the sheep aren’t really being fed.
    Again, all of this has little to do with theology and having a paid clergy is in no way contrary to the Bible. We LDS had some paid clergy early on. This problem is with organizational structure.
    I served my LDS mission in Denmark 30 years ago. I attended Evangelical Lutheran services there now and then. Their churches were empty. Just a few old retirees and perhaps a family whose baby was being baptized. That was it. No youth. Church meant nothing to them. Wathering the message down simply makes it less important and youth have more important things to do.
    If Evangelicals will have the courage to change things for the sake of the youth, they’ll do better and we LDS will be MORE than willing to offer our expertise. If the youth keep leaving, who will be ing the pews in 30 years besides retirees? How much will be in the collection plate then? Change while you can. You are circling the drain whether you see it or not.

  • manaen

    Jana, Dear Wife and I are enjoying this posting very much.
    Here’s a minor point in answer to your questions @ August 13, 2010 8:32 PM about un/extrabiblicality. The difference that I see is that their extrabiblical creeds are contrabiblical, but our extrabiblical beliefs clarify and add to biblical doctrine without contradicting it.
    (Of course, they see our doctrine as contrabiblical with the enhancement that, for believers in a closed canon, extrabiblical is an indicator of contrabiblicality).

  • manaen

    This is an interesting sequel to “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, 3/10/2009.
    Here are the 2nd and 6th points listed in the article:
    “2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
    “6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.”

  • Chris

    Evangelicals aren’t going anywhere.
    In other news, whose telling me I’m not in a cult? Why do people always have to take aware my fun. Can’t smoke, drink, etc. and now I can’t even call myself a cultist in some Mormon’s eyes.

  • Paul

    There is only one explanation as to why The LDS Church has a successful organization for the youth of the Church. The LDS Church is led by Jesus Christ Himself through a living Prophet. A Prophet of God does not have to be educated in Theology or even have an elementary education. The Lord calls whom the Lord qualifies. The programs organized in The Church of Jesus Christ are not man-made. Seminary, Duty to God, Primary, Personal Progress, Young Women in Excellence, The Relief Society, etc. These programs have been established by the Lord through His servants to bring souls closer to Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” Members of the LDS Church are not forced to abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol. They’re not forced to go Home or Visiting Teaching to families in their congregation. The Church of God is a church of order. The members willingly accept calls to serve in various positions and do their best to fulfill that assignment. It is not always done perfect becauae we are human. The Savior Himself testified to the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by saying that it is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—” Living because of Revelation through a Prophet. The people are not perfect individuals, but the church organization is collectively perfect because God established it. There is no other explanation as to how or why the organization of this church is so perfect. If every man performed his duties perfectly then we would all have been translated like the city of Enoch. That’s why we’re here to learn from each other. “If ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.”

  • Diana

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I am impressed with the statement: “If we do not know Jesus Christ, it does not matter what else we know.” This thought seemed to fit several of the comments that have been made. Thank you.

  • Korihor

    Interesting, but I could not disagree more with the follwoing statement:
    “One complaint I have with Dean’s book is that she seems to assume that Moralitstic Therapeutic Deism doesn’t exist in Mormonism, which it does despite the aforementioned high levels of religiosity. Many, many Latter-day Saints have a functional belief that religion exists primarily to make them better people in this life. ”
    I have never once found a practicing mormon who would admit to going to church for this reason. The reviewer’s statement that “many many” mormons go just for the benefit of associating with a moral culture is silly. The entire system demands confession of belief at every turn. The temple recommend process proves that you have to have a belief if you want to enjoy the benefits of church membership (like seeing your children get married). in fact, the temple interview process is what finally made me decide to leave the church. I felt like a fraud and liar for asserting that I believed in somethign I did not. So when that question came up about a belief in the restoration, I answered honestly. That did not go so well.
    If the church were more like the catholics (allowing people to come and be full catholics even though they don’t believe everything), perhaps they would not be hemoraging people of my generation. But as it stands, if you are not a 100% believing mormon, they make it pretty clear you either get on board or you are not wanted.

  • Love mormons :)

    Hi Korihor- I’m just curious, why do you name yourself that? Do you actually fight against Christianity?
    You said “if you are not a 100% believing mormon, they make it pretty clear you either get on board or you are not wanted.”
    But that’s not true! You are wanted! Even if you don’t believe, you can still come to church and participate. You might not be able to enter the temple, but as we see it, that’s not really our decision to make. It doesn’t mean you aren’t wanted!

  • Gentile in Zion

    Granted, this is highly anecdotal, but my experience with Protestantism is that many teens and young adults fall away from church only to return again as young parents. I’m in my mid 30s and most of my contemporaries at my current church share a similar history.
    Isn’t it the Amish that encourage their teens to explore “the ways of the world” before committing to a strict Amish path?
    Personally, I think I have a stronger and more authentic faith having life experience that took me from innocent believing child, through rebellious agnostic teen, atheist adult, and then back to Christianity through choice, thoughtful study, and prayer.
    I take my four children to church and Sunday school, enroll them each summer in VBS, and engage in spiritual conversations with them whenever possible. I’m confident in the firm foundation their little lives have been built upon. I’m not going to panic if they feel the need to walk away from the church during adolescence to discover their own way.

  • Defender of the Faith

    Mormons’ theology regarding baptism, the Trinity, theosis, grace vs. works, and the deity of Jesus Christ is based on the New Testament. Because the more esoteric aspects of Mormonism were given between Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, they are not in the New Testament (which is virtually silent on these 40 days). The Books of Thomas and Philip, however, which were discovered in Nag Hamadi, Egypt in 1950 corroborate the esoteric (temple) doctrine, and they comport with modern revelation.

  • Michael Gyura

    Thanks for your post. We have added a link to this page on Kenda Dean’s website.
    God Bless


    may i tell of our free program to inspire talking with the Lord daily on life’s everyday life concerns. He loves cares teens, knows them well,there 24/7 great dialogue friend, keeps secrets too and can help a lot just try by asking a question or two. free program info and our song lyrics SPREAD THE WORD TALK WITH THE LORD THEY ARE COOL just write me g. hubbard p.o. box 2232 ponte vedra fl 32004 blog

  • Grandmaof2

    I am not at all surprised to read that LDS teens are leading in these areas. Our children are taught early in life about the Savior and what he has done for each of us. Indeed, they have responsibilities in church and are involved in worship within the family.
    No denomination in this day and age is going to retain 100% of their young people. Yet the wonderful thing is so many young people wander off in strange paths and find their way home to the Church.
    Living what we believe is the key. You can’t tell a child not to lie when you instruct him to tell a caller you are not home. You can’t tell them that reading the scriptures is good for them if they never see you read yours. You can’t tell a child that prayer is important if you don’t pray with them. No matter what religion we are, these are the things that children and teens remember, what we do not what we say.

  • S Johnson

    The last couple of paragraphs just gave me another way to look at James 2:20 and 26.
    I’ll have to get a copy of this book, sometime.

  • Tony

    The author wrote that the Young Woman of Excellence program is “extremely hokey” in parantheses. However, this statement didn’t have anyting to back it up, and it struck me as an unusual comment. I’m a mormon, and I have high regards for our youth programs for young men and young women. The young women’s program encourages women to think of themselves as daughters of God, to be pure in thought, and to be modest. It makes LDS girls and women stand out in a world that doesn’t value these things, which is part of what the book seems to be showing. I don’t find the program hokey at all.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment David Jacobs

    Jana I really enjoyed this blog. Thank you for bringing this article to light. Growing up Mormon in an urban eastern city with only one Mormon in my high a school I could see how my church experiences had helped me develop my beliefs and knowledge thru programs like seminary and my public speaking abilities through many talks and testimonies. Later as a youth leader, then Bishop I witnessed the church programs help today’s youth in similar ways. Best, DJ

  • FriendlyRebel

    As a TEENAGE girl who as been raised as a mormon, the church is crap. I wish I had more of a say in what I believe. And you adults out there think you know it all! You know what, I DON’T know it all but I can sure tell you that I can think for my self. If you have a little rebellious on religion teen, don’t punish them. It just makes us want to come back harder. And plus, how come the guys get to do everything? Us girls aren’t even aloud to leave the building for mutual and all that, but then the guys are out there having fun, and goofing off. In addition, our young women basically HATE each other. By LAW children have religious freedom, SO GIVE US OUR FREEDOM!

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