I just finished reading Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kendra Creasy Dean, which elaborates on research done by the National Study of Youth and Religion. Dean begins the book by stating,
American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after high school.
Dean will go on to explain the faith that American young people are fine with, which she refers to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Dean argues that this is the faith of the majority of youth in evangelical churches. In other words, most students coming out of student ministries embrace a faith that has the following guiding beliefs:
- A god who exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Obviously, the language we use and faith in action that we model for the next generation matters. We’ve been sending the wrong message to students: the Bible is all about you and the goal of life is to be happy. Dean uses the rest of the book to address possible solutions for this type of misrepresented Christianity, which include applications for student pastors, senior pastors, congregations, adult leaders, and parents. Her applications can be summed up by saying: we, as youth leaders and parents, must return to teaching God’s story (the biblical narrative) and cultivate within young people a consequential faith. Dean writes:
The gospel’s central message – that God loves us enough to die for us severs self-serving spiritualities like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism at the root. Christian identity comes from worshiping a God who loves us enough to suffer on our behalf, and who calls us to enact this kind of love for others: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
We must model and teach a faith that is centered on the God of the Bible and which points to our calling as missionaries in our communities for the glory of God. Our discipleship should focus on developing followers of Christ who are passionate about developing more followers of Christ. It is when we teach and model this greater story, the gospel and its implications, that students will be passionate about following God and modeling Jesus’ love to their friends, families, and world.
Recently, I came across this video which tells such a story: