Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Souls in Transition 2

posted by Scot McKnight

Smith.jpgSo, what is the cultural world of the emerging adult? Today I want to post a fulsome list of what Smith and Snell discovered in their fantastic new book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults

We’re talking about 46 million emerging adults… so generalizations need careful backing of evidence and all kinds of nuance.
What do you think of this listing of characteristics of emerging adults? Do you think emerging adults are consumerists?
Transitions aplenty
Standing on one’s own
So much to figure out
Not enough money
Optimism for personal future
Smarting from hard lessons learned
No regrets
Relations with parents improving
Hard to see an objective reality beyond the self
Right and wrong are easy
Not hurting others is self-evident
Karma will catch you
Everybody’s different
It’s up to the individual
More open-minded
All cultures are relative
Relative morality depends on the case … more after the jump

Uncertain purpose
Education is of instrumental value
Drugs are pervasive, but maybe getting boring
Settling down is for later
Relationships are often amorphous
Hooking up is common
Devastating breakups happen
Cohabit to avoid divorce
Strategically managing risks
Consumerism is good stuff
Helping others is an optional personal choice
Middle-class dream is alive and well
Still believe in America’s freedoms
Volunteering and giving someday, maybe
Don’t expect to change the world
Submerge in interpersonal relationships
It’s too easy to fall back into old ways
Less typical themes:
Struggling to be optimistic
Overcoming major obstacles
Ongoing problems
Rights and wrongs are objectively real
Babies change everything
Risks are best avoided altogether
I’ve got a major addiction
We’re responsible for each other
America has major problems
We can change the world

Comments read comments(18)
post a comment

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:29 am

intersting list there. As one who is 5 months off turning 30 (!!) I expect I probably fit into the tail of the emerging adult period.
Besides the obvious ameri-centric nature of the list, I’d have to say a few stick out as hallmarks of my experiences. These being: Transitions aplenty, So much to figure out, Optimism for personal future, No regrets, Good Relations with parents [I’ve slightly edited this], Not hurting others is self-evident, More open-minded,
Settling down is for later [but I’m entering the “later” now soo….], Devastating breakups happen, Cohabit to avoid divorce,
Don’t expect to change the world.
I would have to disagree firmly that these one’s are held to though:
1. Consumerism is good (I think the 20 somethigns are leading the charge against consumerism at the sime time as being the group most complicity in consumption)
2. Middle class dream is alive and well (I think most of my peers see the middle class dream as a nightmare they’re happy to wake up from)

report abuse

Scot McKnight

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:25 am

Phil, yes, I know what you say in your criticisms of Smith/Snell, but they were surprised too. They found clear results that suggested emerging adults are very much into the American dream and consumeristic lifestyle.

report abuse

Scot McKnight

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:31 am

Phil, now from Smith-Snell:
In their interviews here is what showed up as what they wanted out of life:
“finish education, get a good job, marry, have children, buy a nice house with a yard, raise a family, become financially secure, drive reliable cars, enjoy family vacations, enjoy good relationships, maybe have a dog” (69).
Nearly all of them described their hope for life as material security and a happy life in a comfortable home.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 7:51 am

I won’t dispute the numbers! ;)
I wonder whether there is perhaps, some cognitive dissonance going on in my generation. We want all the trappings of the middle-class dream, but without the moral/negative implications. So on one hand we’ll speak out against consumerism and environmental degradation – but we’ll still want to be able to do this from our brand new Mac-books over an imported latte . . .

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:11 am

What is the age breakdown on emergents? I find myself very much identifying with them, although I’m probably a mix of emergent and third way and I’m 45.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:19 am

Pat, the use of the term “emerging” seems to have courted confusion. These writers are referring to a specific age group “emerging into adulthood”, say, those in the 18-30 bracket. This is not the “emergents” theologically (aka emerging church etc…).

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

Thanks for clarifying Phil.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:38 am

I think that the other thing to realize is that it is an age group more than a generation.
When I look at many of these categories I find that they do a good job of describing my cohort at that age – as generalizations. I think that there are trends as to how many fit into which piece of the generalization – but not global changes in people.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:44 am

maybe some of the aparent contradiction can be understood alongside environmental and justice type movements. at least for some…
for example: it’s not that coffee is bad, but you should purchase fair trade coffee. clothing isn’t bad, but clothing from sweatshops are. a big house isn’t bad, especially when it’s as “green” as possible, etc
i don’t know if this is true, but it was just a thought.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:49 am

Paul, yes I take your point about the “apparent contradictions”. Personally I know alot of people who speak out against the ‘modern ills’ but don’t really demonstrate the model of a more responsible type of consumerism. On the other hand, there are those that do.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 9:59 am

I think that emerging adults have the potential to become more thoughtful about what is moral and true and good simply because they are not so tied to past notions of such. the lack of definition might prompt deeper thought and greater morality in the long run.

report abuse

Steve Lutz

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:50 am

I have great respect for Christian Smith’s work, including Soul Searching. I find 90% of this list spot-on in my work with college students.
The only thing I would quibble about is the relativism bit. I find this generation to be quite moralistic, legalistic, black-and-white about their open-mindedness (you HAVE be accepting of LGBT) and certain social ills (environmentalism, human trafficking, etc.) There’s no “to each his own” when it comes to certain issues. Perhaps this is more of the cognitive dissonance mentioned above. They’re certainly not consistent relativists–if anyone really is.
I’ve sometimes described this generation as “Ideanihilists.” Idealistically saving the world by day, and partying like it’s ending by night.
I too would go beyond “relationships with parents are improving” to “relationships with parents are huge, ongoing, and determinative.” If the defining sitcom for X-ers was “Friends”, then the defining one for Millennials will likely feature an under-employed college grad living off his parents’ largesse in the basement.

report abuse

Your Name

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

Chap Clark, in his book “Hurt” makes the argument that mid-adolescents today are far different than even 30 years ago, and that they are being abandoned by their parents, society, etc. The pressures to succeed (and the repercussions for failure) are huge, and there is a lot of evidence for teen suicide (1 in 7 Latina girls attempts suicide, per CNN for instance), and on college campuses (NPR recently did a spot on prevention/recovery groups at Stanford). The need for a home, marriage, etc. per Scott’s post #3 seems to corroborate a desire not out of pure materialism, but of safety and comfort.

report abuse

Randy G.

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:12 am

The contradiction mentioned here is interesting.
During grad school in the 1990s, friends and I discussed how difficult is to be downwardly mobile or intentionally poor. A lot of us are finding out that in these economic times it is not as difficult as it seemed then. It takes a really deep commitment to not seek traditional securities when they are becoming more elusive. Here a few thoughts of mine on this.
-In their book “Colossians Remixed, “Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat speak of some of the “contradictions” mentioned by others in terms of “a culture of betrayal” where “postmodern disquiet” develops alongside “cybernetic global optimism.” –Is there a class distinction developing here?
-In the past month I have seen the chocolate industry and the body-goods industry caught up in issues where corp. concentration challenges the stated goals of small companies, making it much harded to tell what to “buy ethically.”
-How can we expect or train a generation that is linked by digital technology to see “the right thing” apart from the very digital which they purchase both to socialize and to work?
Randy Gabrielse

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

Steve at comment 12 makes an interesting point about moral relativism. I see, in most of my cohort, a strong moral commitment that is as impenetratable as any in previous generations I’ve had contact with. However, the actual content of that morailty is different. Diversity is fiercely defended in this new morailty. It’s a strangely exclusive inclusivity…..

report abuse

Travis Greene

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

Well, I can certainly vouch that “not enough money” is right on :)
But then that ties in with consumerism and the difficulty I have saying when enough is enough.
I don’t want to let my generation off the hook for our lack of fiscal responsibility, but at the same time, what do you expect? We were raised in a boom time. Perhaps the image of the “under-employed college grad living off his parents’ largesse in the basement” is accurate, but perhaps our American dream of self-sufficiency and independence, living the lifestyles of our parents as soon as we graduated, was a fantasy anyway.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I’m at least two generation cohorts beyond this group, but my daughter is 20. I bought this book on Scot’s recommendation and it came while i was gone over the weekend. as i read these comments i’m trying to determine how i will engage with the book and who i will invite to join me. i’m thinking about asking a couple of my 20-something friends to read it with me and engage in conversation (over coffee of course) with me. I will also direct them to this blog. if my generation (boomer) can’t pass on the gospel in a way the connects to this generation then what can we expect the church to be like when we are old.

report abuse


posted January 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm

The irony of sitting in Starbucks with friends and complaining about multi-national, global corporations…
Yep, sounds like us.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.