Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers 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.)
From the Publisher

"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

Library Journal
Written as a follow-up to the 2003-05 National Study of Youth and Religion (NYSR), a research project directed by sociologist Christian Smith, and to Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton's report on it, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, this compelling work looks not only at the faith of Christian adolescents but at the challenges to the church in raising its youth. Dean (youth, church, & culture, Princeton Theological Seminary; The Godbearing Life), a United Methodist minister, further explores Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), the term used by Smith to define the general religious and moralistic approach of today's teen. In three parts, Dean deals with apathy in the church, how teens must claim their own faith story, and how parents, along with the community of believers, impact the faith of teens. VERDICT This highly readable book contributes an important voice to today's discussion of youth, the church, and faith. Essential for seminaries and libraries with ministry collections, it is also valuable for Christian parents, who will benefit from Dean's intriguing insight into forming dynamic and long-lasting faith among their teen children.—Holly Hebert, Rochester Coll. Lib., Rochester Hills, MI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195314847
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/15/2010
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 238,175
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Section One: Worshipping at the Church of Benign Whatever-ism
1. Becoming Christian-ish
2. The Triumph of the "Cult of Nice"
Section Two: Claiming a Peculiar God-Story
3. Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for Consequential Faith
4. Generative Faith: Faith That Bears Fruit
5. Recovering a Missional Imagination: We Are Not Here for Ourselves
Section Three: Cultivating Consequential Faith
6. Parents Matter Most: The Art of Translation
7. Going Viral for Jesus: The Art of Testimony
8. Hanging Loose: The Art of Detachment
9. Make No Small Plans: A Case for Hope

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 29, 2011

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    Must Read for parents and Youth Workers

    In Almost Christian, Dean attempts to answer this question left hanging in Christian Smith and Melinda Denton¿s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teens (Oxford University Press, 2005): Why do so many church kids abandon religious practice as young adults? Dean blames the church, including parents, for not challenging young people with a content-rich faith that reaches out in service to the world around us. Despite the historic doctrines of our churches, we have failed to model for our children a vital Christology that impacts everyday realities. It is easy to ¿believe¿ while reducing faith to what Dean calls ¿Moralistic Therapeutic Deism¿: there is a God, and he wants us to be nice and to feel good about ourselves. This twenty-first century version of American Civic Religion serves the purpose of helping us to get along in a democracy, but it completely misses the essence of Christianity¿God becoming a human being to suffer with us, die for us, change us and send us into a fallen world to reclaim it for the Kingdom of God.

    Dean¿s solution does not start with teens. It requires transforming the faith of parents and the church community to model the vitality we want to see in our children. This book is a must-read for youth workers and strongly suggested for parents before their kids get to be teens. It renewed my vision for teaching 4th to 6th grade Sunday school. I want them to see in me a faith worth hanging onto for a lifetime.

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