So, I’ve been reading tons of reports on Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian (and in the near future, I hope to actually finish reading the book itself) – ministry folks as well as secular news services have picked up the story so it is gaining a fair amount of momentum.
The basic point of the book is this: Dean’s research led her to observe that many church-raised teenagers enter young adulthood with a watered down, no-risk, shiny happy people kind of faith. When pressed, these teens and new young adults cannot speak about their faith in articulate ways and generally have a hard time expressing what it is (and in Whom) they believe.
In other words, they’ve been taught to fake it.
And who did that teaching? In a word: us. The parents did it. The youth ministers did it. The Sunday school teachers and senior pastors and grandparents did it. We all share the blame. It could be fear. It could be ignorance. It could be wishful thinking. But whatever the reason, we’ve given these kids a picture of a god who doesn’t match up with the great I AM of scripture. Kenda Dean and her colleagues call it “therapeutic moral deism” – belief in a great therapist god who doesn’t ask much of us (if anything at all), a god who simply wants us to be happy and be vaguely good.
We don’t demonstrate a passionate love for this god (in part because there is nothing passionate about such a deity), and consequently our kids don’t catch a passion for this god. And then we wonder why they leave the church and never come back.
Unfortunately, so many of us have got it all twisted around. I don’t believe we purposefully present children and teenagers with a false god – that we are living idolatrous lives on purpose. Instead, I believe that most of us start off with the best of intentions – we really do love God and want what’s best for our kids. We just don’t necessarily know what that is, or what it looks like – or we are afraid of what it looks like.
For example, it is an incredibly powerful and sacrificial statement for a parent to say “I want my child to be a Christian” and truly mean it. Because while conventional wisdom says that you should want your child to always be happy, to stay out of trouble and to get into the right college so that they can get a high paying job and be successful… well, the reality is that kids who fall in love with a risky, sacrificial Gospel are going to fall down, get their hearts broken, and make decisions that draw the notice of society’s gate-keepers (and sometimes the church’s gate-keepers). And kids who fall in love with the radical message, life and love of Jesus… well, they might not decide to follow the stable career path, opting instead to live out a life marked by fruitfulness rather than success. They might become activists, artists, care-givers, or even (say it ain’t so) professional ministers of one variety or another. In other words, they might not be financially stable in the traditional understanding of the phrase.
This is not to say that kids can’t choose to be faithful doctors, faithful lawyers, faithful business women… they surely can be. And faithful Christians can achieve high levels of success, earn large salaries and receive public acclaim. A few of us minister-types even become moderately well-known and celebrated. But eventually, a life of lived-out passionate Christian faith and love requires you to make decisions that don’t go with the flow, don’t fit the ways of the world, and don’t make a whole lot of sense to good sensible people. Eventually there will be days and seasons when it’s not all roses and you’re being lambasted for the choices you’ve made out of faith – times when some people (even close friends) will deny you, and you’ll find you’ve got a cross to carry.
The point is that a life spent loving God and following Jesus is so much deeper than the fluff that’s been floating around out there (and in here). It is both risky and worth risking for. It is both challenging and worth challenging the Church for. It is worth living for – and in some places, situations and times, it has been worth dying for. By following the great I AM (not doing good things because of some bland or moralistic sense of right and wrong, but instead living a life of love, compassion and justice because God loves these things), by living out the WAY that Jesus showed us through his life, ministry, death and resurrection… and by believing in the creative and saving power of God – by living this kind of faith, we model and teach something that kids can sink their teeth into. A faith with substance. Something worthy of passion and commitment.
Enough with fluff and fear. Let’s help our kids find a faith worth living.