Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion—the same invaluable data as its predecessor, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers — Kenda Creasy Dean’s compelling new book, Almost Christian, investigates why American teenagers are at once so positive about Christianity and at the same time so apathetic about genuine religious practice.
In Soul Searching, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton found that American teenagers have embraced a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”–a hodgepodge of banal, self-serving, feel-good beliefs that bears little resemblance to traditional Christianity. But far from faulting teens, Dean places the blame for this theological watering down squarely on the churches themselves. Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to lives of love, service and sacrifice, churches offer instead a bargain religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less. But what is to be done? In order to produce ardent young Christians, Dean argues, churches must rediscover their sense of mission and model an understanding of being Christian as not something you do for yourself, but something that calls you to share God’s love, in word and deed, with others. Dean found that the most committed young Christians shared four important traits: they could tell a personal and powerful story about God; they belonged to a significant faith community; they exhibited a sense of vocation; and they possessed a profound sense of hope. Based on these findings, Dean proposes an approach to Christian education that places the idea of mission at its core and offers a wealth of concrete suggestions for inspiring teens to live more authentically engaged Christian lives.
Persuasively and accessibly written, Almost Christian is a wake up call no one concerned about the future of Christianity in America can afford to ignore.
“Dean (The Godbearing Life), a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, opens this absorbing portrait of teenage religiosity by throwing down a gauntlet: the faith of America’s teens is “not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing: we’re responsible.” Dean, who worked on the National Study of Youth and Religion with sociologist Christian Smith, says that American Christians’ emphasis on “a do-good, feel-good spirituality” at the expense of deep discipleship may cost them the rising generation, which is (with the exception of Mormon teens, the subject of an admiring chapter-long case study) largely apathetic about Christian faith. How, then, can religious leaders and teachers inculcate what Dean calls a “consequential faith”–i.e., one that bears fruit for the long haul? She identifies four factors teens need: a personal encounter with God, a strong church or youth group, a sense of being called to duty, and hope for the future. In a refreshingly personal final chapter, Dean outlines her frustration at the daunting task ahead but emphasizes the possibilities if the Christian church decides to take up its cross and follow Jesus. (Aug.)”
-Publishers Weekly 6-14-10
“A lot of youth workers have been a bit depressed since the National Study of Youth and Religion revealed what we’d long suspected about American teen religiosity: it’s pretty darn benign. But in Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean helps us turn the corner from the moralistic, therapeutic deism that afflicts our churches to a hope-filled, consequential faith that has the potential to change the lives of young people and, with a little help from the Holy Spirit, just might transform our world.”
– Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier
”Almost Christian hangs an illuminating theological magnifying glass over the startling conclusions of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Peppered with compelling, sometimes unsettling, dialogue from NSYR interviews, the book pulls no punches but, at the same time, inspires hope that the American church can–in fact, must–move beyond the flimsy, vague, self-absorbed spirituality that has unintentionally been woven into the faith fabric of postmodern American Christianity.”
– Mark DeVries, Founder, Youth Ministry Architects, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“Kenda Creasy Dean argues passionately that the faith of the average American Christian teen is only a pale, watered-down version of the robust faith it could be. Drawing on extensive research and impressive analysis, Dean offers a smart how-to guide for Christian youth ministers and parents who hope to transform that watered-down faith into something much more.”
–Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses