Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church  -     By: Kenda Creasy Dean
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Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

Oxford University Press / 2010 / Hardcover

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Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion--the same invaluable data as its predecessor and monumental publication, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Almost Christian, investigates a new question about American youth: why are American teenagers at once so positive about Christianity, and at the same time so apathetic about traditional forms of religious practice?

In Soul Searching, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton argue 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. Far from faulting teens however, Dean in Almost Christian places the blame for this squarely on churches who, she argues, have watered down theology to the point of mere moralism and therapy. Indeed, a stinging indictment.

Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to salvation, discipleship, and love churches offer instead a merely practical religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less. In short, most churches profer a Christianity that teaches one how to their bills on time, be good citizens, and how to avoid conflict.

So 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 community that did more than simply feed them moral maixims; 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.

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 240
Vendor: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2010
Dimensions: 9.25 X 6.13 (inches)
ISBN: 0195314840
ISBN-13: 9780195314847
Availability: In Stock

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Publisher's Description

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.

Author Bio


Kenda Creasy Dean is Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture, at Princeton Theological Seminary. She worked on the National Study of Youth and Religion and is the author of several books, including The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending in Youth Ministry and Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church.

Publisher's Weekly

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.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Editorial Reviews


"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


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  1. Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    every parent of a teen needs to read this
    October 22, 2011
    bookwomanjoan
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 5
    ALMOST CHRISTIAN

    There is an imposter out there posing as real Christianity. "We have successfully convinced teenagers that religious participation is important for moral formation and for making nice people... Yet these young people possess no real commitment to excitement about religious faith." (6) Like sports, religion is "a good, well rounded thing to do."

    This new behavior has been termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

    Dean notes that three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christians. Yet fewer than half actually practice their faith. (10) While youth groups do provide social ties, they seem less effective for faith. (11) Teens are getting the message from the adults, Christianity is not that big of a deal, God requires little, and the church is basically a social institution. She calls this theological malpractice and asks what would happen if the church really preached the life-changing, radical gospel.

    She lists the guiding beliefs of moral therapeutic deism:

    1. A god exists who created and order the world,

    2. God wants people to be good and nice to each other

    3. The central goal in life is to be happy and feel good about oneself

    4. God is not involved in my life except when I really need God

    5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

    Dean participated in the National Study of Youth and Religion and lists their findings: most American teenagers have a positive view of religion (because they don't give it much thought), most American teenagers mirror their parent's faith, teenagers are "incredibly inarticulate" about their faith, a minority of teenagers say religious faith is important (they are doing better in life on many scales than their peers), and many teenagers embrace the moralistic therapeutic deism described above.

    Unlike other books on the results of the survey, Dean concentrates on this question: "how can the twenty-first-century church better prepare young people steeped in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism for the trust-walk of christian faith?" (22) The key, she says, is the faith of parents and congregations, the sources of the spirituality teens emulate. "Put simply, churches have lost track of Christianity's missional imagination. We have forgotten we are not here for ourselves..." (37) Teens are being offered little to which they will be devoted. "...[W]e can expect the faith of the young people we love to reflect the faith we show them." (39)

    "The question lurking beneath the data surfaced by the NSYR is, 'Do we adults love Jesus enough to want to translate the Christian conversation for our children?'" (122) She gives guidelines for translating our faith to the next generation.

    She writes, "So at the end of this project, I find that I have arrived at only two conclusions with any confidence. Here is the first: When it comes to vapid Christianity, teenagers are not the problem - the church is the problem. And the second: the church also has the solution." (189)

    Resources for countering Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are highly devoted teenagers and highly devoted congregations. It can be done, she writes. But it does not happen by accident.
  2. Winnipeg, MB
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    A good read for any christian parent
    February 16, 2011
    Pilgrim53
    Winnipeg, MB
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Premise (based on 2003 National Study of Youth and Religion )

    1) American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith but it does not concern them very much and it is not durable enought to survive long after they graduate from high school. American young people are devotees of nonjugemental openness.

    2) We're responsible. We struggle mightily when it comes to handing on faith to young people. Young people seem to be the barometers of a larger theological shift that appears to be taking place in the United States. We have recieved from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction, compliance , not faith. Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth - and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.

    3) Shacking up with "the American dream" has eroded our ability to recognize that Jesus' life of self-giving love directly challenges the american gospel of self-fullfillment and self acutalization. Like Esau, American Christians tend to think with our stomachs, devouring whatever smells good.

    4) The problem will not be solved by youth ministry or by persuading teenagers to commit more wholeheartedly to lackluster faith. "Isn't being "good enough", good enough?"

    5) At issue is our ability and our willingness to remember our identity as the Body of Christ, and to heed Christ's call to love him and love others as his representatives in the world.

    6) The faith that most teenagers exhibit is a loveless version that the NSYR calls Christianity's "misbegotten stepcousin" Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. God is more object than subject, an Idea but not acompanion. Perhaps most young peoplepractice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism not because they reject Christianity, but because it is the only Chrsitianity they know. It is a self-emolliating spirituality; its thrust is personal happines and helping people treat each other nicely.

    7)Moralistic Therapeutic Deism cannot exist on its own.It requires a host, and American Christianity has proven to be an exceptionally gracious one.

    Question: Can we do something about it?

    Solution:

    1) It is in following Jesus that we learn to love him; it is in participating in the mission of God that God decisively changes us into disciples. Parents are by far the most important predictors of teenagers' religious lives. Consequential faith can not be reduced to the work of cultural tools. The missionary nature of the church rules out Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a substitute for Chistian Faith.

    2) A Pronounced teenage faith has four characteristics i) a creed to believe, ii) a community to belong to iii) a call to live out iv) a hope to hold onto. They are more likely to say that their parents love, accept, understand and closely monitor them. In addition they ae more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices.

    3) Teanagers need to know that God is responsive and dependable. a) God wants to save us and b) God can save us. Hand on the story that God loves us too much to lose us.

    4) Conversation is the most imortant vehichle we have for maintaining a reality. Wihout reflection, action becomes simply activism. Knowing more is never the point. Knowing God is the point.

    Conclusion:

    1) It can be done.

    2) Religious formation does not happen by accident.

    3) the cultural tools associated with consequential faith are availble in every Christian faith community.

    4) Consequential faith has risks - however neither rigid nor diffuse religios identities can survive a mission where love is the primary cargo.

    5) We are called to participate in the imagination of a sending God. We need to reclaim our call to follow Chist into the world as envoys of God's self-giving love.

    6) What Christian adults know that teenagers are still discovering is that every one of them is an amazing child of God. Christ has claimed them and secured the future for them. If we lived alongside ANYBODY (teenager or otherwise) as though this were true - that would be more than enough.
  3. Dewey, OK
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    January 6, 2011
    whitebuffalo46
    Dewey, OK
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    I purchased this book for my son, a youth minister. He thinks it has some very good information in it.
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