The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Almost Christian

Our ministry staff recently read Almost Christian, Kenda Dean’s research driven commentary on the faith of present day Christian teens.  Her research and commentary are both alarming.  Dean finds that Christian teens today:

  • Are “Christian-ish” – They practice Moral Therapeutic Deism instead of following Jesus. (I would summarize Moral Therapeutic Deism to mean – a nice god wants to make us happy and we should be good.  That is not exactly the message of the cross.)
  • Tend to approach religious participation like any extra-curricular activity: a nice thing to do, but unnecessary for a fully integrated life.
  • Lack a vocabulary to articulate a faith. See my Observation from June on this subject.

Further, Dean points out that youth are this way because they learned this faith from their families – a striking indictment, one that no one wants to admit.  Despite what many families believe, they have incredible influence over their teens.  The only problem is that they have used their influence to lead teens to a faith that is almost Christian.  But not quite.

almost christian

If you have teens in your home, however, ask yourself some questions.

  • “When was the last time my family discussed experiencing or  following Jesus while eating together or driving together?
  • “From observing my choices, would my teens say that faith is one choice among many, or the undeniable center of my life?”

The first question helps us understand why teens lack an adequate faith vocabulary.  Few adults model it, or talk about it in front of them.  The limited religious conversation that takes place usually refers to a generic “God” and not to the personal “Jesus.”  We may mention God, but rarely describe how the living Christ directs our daily actions.  What did we do or not do today because Jesus led us?  How did I respond to a situation today because I have committed to following Christ?

The second question reminds us that children and youth are tremendous observers and terrible interpreters of life.  Anyone who has ever been divorced and had a child ask, “Is it my fault” understands this concept.  Children know what is going on; they just don’t understand why.  Failing to understand why, they jump to many false conclusions.  They see church, Christian service, and spiritual growth relegated to a status of one choice among many.  They simply have no way of knowing that you think it is more serious than that.  They just know what they see: you participate in faith-shaping activities when it doesn’t conflict with sports, dance, or a myriad of other options.  It is one choice among many.  All of these observations are  backed up by Dean’s extensive research.

Fortunately, Dean does not leave us with a depressing diagnosis; she also gives us proven, effective ways to stimulate our own youth to a genuine, saving faith in Jesus.  Some of her prescription for faith includes conversation.  Talk about your faith and encourage your youth to talk about theirs.  Encourage them so that “Christian’ becomes a native tongue.  As with any language we learned long ago, unless reinforced through usage, we lose the ability to speak it.

Send your child/teen to camp. Group faith experiences can be like language immersion courses, exposing them to a way of thinking and believing in a short period of time.  These events become shared memories with other participants and reinforce their faith.

And stress loving Jesus over believing in God.  Using a “band crush” as a metaphor, Dean points out that teens don’t enjoy a particular band’s music because of research.  They are swept away by a song, then, because they love the music, they research the band and learn all about it.  We all learn best what we love most.  The order matters.

Since reading Dean’s book, I have tried to articulate some matters of faith more directly and more clearly in preaching.  John Uldrick, our Minister to Students at FBC, is currently leading a study with parents called Hollow Faith, based on a book of the same name.  Hollow Faith echoes the findings of Dean in Almost Christian.  John is trying to help families build an intentional, Christian faith and not to default into the Moral Therapeutic Deism of the day.

I would encourage families in our congregation to participate in John’s seminar on Wednesday nights.  Anyone who works with students in a faith environment will benefit from reading Dean’s book.

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