The author asserts that although three out of four American teenagers identify themselves as being Christians, fewer than half of those practice their faith and only half deem it important. Most of these teenagers cannot articulate their faith and tend to believe that God is just a benevolent spirit whose purpose is to make them feel good about themselves.
The blog post is about a book called, Almost Christian by a United Methodist minister named Kendra Creasy Dean, who is also a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dean says that the summer she spent interviewing teenagers for her book was one of the most depressing periods in her life.
Elizabeth Corrie, an Emory University professor who directs the Youth Theological Initiative, a theological boot camp for teens, says about teenagers, “We think that they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake.” If teenagers aren’t excited about their faith, it’s because we haven’t given them the tools they need to get excited.
It’s been many years since I worked with youth in the church. I quit my last volunteer work with youth in the mid-nineties. However, I can tell you that this blog post sounds just about right. The thing that I argue with in Dean’s conclusion is not that teenagers don’t have a cohesive view of their faith, but rather her level of alarm at her conclusion.
Less than half of American teenagers are excited or articulate about their faith because less than half of all Americans are sincerely committed Christians. The vast majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians as a cultural affiliation and not because of any profound commitment to Christ. What they mean when they say they are Christians is that they celebrate Christmas and Easter, they’re free to eat pork, they don’t have to pray to Mecca five times a day, and no chanting is required of them. God bless hamburgers and apple pie!
I haven’t noticed a significant deterioration in the faith of the American Christian in my lifetime. It’s always been hurting. Maybe it’s just taken this long for someone to notice. The teenagers get their attitudes about faith from their parents.
When I was a youth minister, it wasn’t the teens who presented my greatest obstacle. It was the parents. Most of them felt that the definition of a youth minister was someone with a penis and a guitar who knows how to plan ski trips and organize recreational excursions like a cruise director. Essentially, a great proportion of the parents I worked with thought that my job was to entertain their children and keep them from taking drugs or getting in trouble. Period. End of story.
My take on the matter was that the reason they felt that way was because they themselves lacked a mature and articulate faith. These parents attended church because it was a social outlet and because it was culturally expected of them. It was the “right” thing to do, in other words, to be involved in church, do nice things sometimes, and bring their children to church so that they could learn the importance of being a nice person and a good citizen.
Being a Christian is about so much more than just being “nice.” The teenagers who are meant to find Christ and truly accept him in their hearts will seek the answers they need. I’m not alarmed that so many of them can’t verbally communicate their views on faith.
Their views on faith are not fully formed. They’re like wet clay. It’s only when we get older that the clay becomes hard and less malleable. And if we’re very, very lucky, then we’re never baked in a kiln. There’s always a little give to change a pose or an expression. We’re all works in progress, and with God as our sculptor it’s never too late.