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Almost Christian 2

KendaDean.jpg Kenda Dean’s new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church
, and I will be blogging my way through it.

Her fundamental insight is back-logic: we can infer from the condition of our youth’s faith to the faith of their parents and contexts.
What do we learn about the faith of the young Christians today? That they are what she calls “Christian-ish.”
Do you see these five theses? 
Five theses:
1. Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought.
2. Most US teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith.
3. Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world.
4. A minority of American teenagers — but a significant minority — say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives. These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers.
5. Many teenagers enact and espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religions — an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Comments read comments(13)
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Jason Lee

posted August 25, 2010 at 7:50 am

Is this book essentially Christian Smith for dummies?

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Scot McKnight

posted August 25, 2010 at 7:53 am

Jason, no because it is angled at a completely different set of factors. Kenda Dean, though, is part of that same set of research data. From this point on the book differs entirely in focus.

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Mark Mossa, SJ

posted August 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

Like Jason, I was thinking that this sounded more like Christian Smith than Kenda Dean. As you move on in your discussion of the book, I think it will be important to highlight how Dean’s angle differs from Smith’s; because, so far, it sounds more or less the same. I’ll be interested to hear more about the book!

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posted August 25, 2010 at 9:18 am

These are interesting generalizations. Being a parent of young teenagers, though, I wonder whether they are over-generalizations. I take my Christian faith very, very seriously. I think in this that I’m typical of many parents in my hurch. But I’m not sure how this is translating to my kids. In fact, I know that one of them is struggling pretty hard with her life and her faith. And I’ve come to know many other families in our church with teenage or young adult kids who are also struggling hard, or who have rebelled.
Now, could you comb carefully through my wife’s and my life and example and find flaws and inconsistencies, things that we’ve left undone? Yep. Are my daughter’s struggles maybe a reflection in some way of the sort of faith that I have — one that wrestles pretty hard with what our faith means in the world today, one that sometimes doubts? Yep. (And all this pains me, though I pray good fruit will still come of it…)
So, I’m not really sure what this general data signifies. The implication here seems to be that it’s a failure of churches and parents to take the faith seriously, but I’m not sure that’s true.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

Stats tell us about hundreds of examples but not about a particular case. Isn’t that the tension you are feeling? Furthermore, individuation occurs in teenage/young adult years and that creates also individuation about faith, and that means tension until these matters are resolved.

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Randy G.

posted August 25, 2010 at 9:27 am

I would focus on thesis number three. In this world of diminishing education, what kind of imagination and language are we equipping children with so that they can experience and express Christianity in meaningful ways as they move through the process of maturation?
I remember the power of having teachers read to us and then of reading ourselves. (I read both Lewis and L’Engle several times throughout my childhood, and each reading shaped me in new ways. But I see fewer and fewer children having access to the well-rounded education and full stimulation of imagination that I received, and the opportunities I see are increasingly part of a bifurcated system based on privilege.
Randy G.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 9:30 am

Dopderbeck, I can appreciate that your family may not represent the statistics. I love finding families who don’t. As a person who works with young people in a church families like that give me hope. But for the overwhelming majority of students with whom I work these 5 thesis hit entirely too close to home. Here is what it typically looks like:
Young couple hasn’t been to church since they graduated high school. They get married, have kids, and decide that church would be good for their kids to learn values and morals. Their entire church life is banked on the hope that these kids will end up well adjusted. When their kids graduate from high school they slowly step away from the church. They fall in love, get married, and have kids and decide that church would be good for their kids to learn values and morals…
Cost of Discipleship, it is not. Therapeutic Moral Deism, absolutely.

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Steven Britt

posted August 25, 2010 at 9:49 am

I agree that these theses hit the nail on the head in terms of the outlook of American “Christian” teens. I think that the primary solution is to get people back to reading the bible – especially kids. I was raised baptist, and, while I no longer identify myself as a protestant (or Catholic, for that matter), I at least have to give some credit to them for exposing me to the bible. As I have grown, I have noticed more and more that church youth programs tend to focus on activities that are vaguely related to scripture. In my view, this is detrimental to their spiritual growth, as studies have shown that once the social circle evaporates (i.e. when people grow up and start moving away), so does their dedication to the faith. The solution should not be trying to engage them socially, but trying to engage them biblically.
Christ Himself said that no one could come to Him unless the Father draws them, so we must realize that we are limited in our ability to keep young people engaged. On the other hand, if we teach young people to seek God by reading His Word, then it will be as the proverb says: “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it.”
I contend that the Christian landscape as a whole would be DRASTICALLY different if everyone were actually reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

What young people don’t see much of in the older generations is passion. What they do see is a lot of talk about conneceting the dots correctly. Then they see more talk. What young people don’t see is wisdom in the older generation that can help keep their passion alive. What the older generation doesn’t seem to realize is how much we need the passion of youth and how to let it draw us away from cynicism and into a more passionate faith. Also, young people don’t see our faith as radical. They see better than the older generation how much we have been affected by consumerism and the bondage it holds us in. They see what we really believe.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

@Scot (#5) — maybe. As you know, I don’t trust this kind of survey as far as I can throw it — too many methodological problems. For example, is it segmented by different branches of the “Church”? In northern New Jersey, my anecdotal experience would suggest the survey is accurately describing teens in the many “culturally Catholic” families around here. But even among Catholic families, there are widely varying degrees of understanding and devotion. The same is true for evangelical families, and so on. Maybe that is to some extent reflected in point #4. But then I’m not sure this tells us anything about “our” teenagers. The reasonable devoted Catholic or reasonably devoted evangelical family is not really in the same cohort as families that are just “culturally” Christian.

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Michael Gyua

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thank you for the post. We added a link to this page on Kenda Dean’s website.
God Bless

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Henry Zonio

posted August 31, 2010 at 2:55 pm

While I would not dispute the five generalizations as generalizations, I’m still having a hard time with the thesis that the faith of youth directly reflects the faith of their parents as if parents’ faith is the only influence in how their kids turn out. I think a lack of or weak faith on the part of kids is probably more of an indicator of whether parents live life WITH their kids rather then NEXT TO their kids.

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