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

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church [Kindle Edition]

Kenda Creasy Dean
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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...offers pragmatic and insightful responses.

Product Description

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1100 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0195314840
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (16 Jun 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003RCL3W2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #353,068 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking 27 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well worth reading but not easy. The author expresses her own difficulties at the end and accurately summarised mine too! Having finished and made many notes, I feel the need to read it again.
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By Teresa
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good summary of the life of current teens who are almost but not quite Christian. Worth reading for its thoughts and ideas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are You Christian? Or Merely "Almost" Christian? 2 July 2010
By O. Brown - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This wonderful book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted from 2002 to 2005. It is a fascinating analysis of teen religious practice, which is a bellwether of the faith of us all. Teenagers are practicing the faith that we are teaching them, not what we say we believe, but what we actually believe as evidenced by our actions. All of this could be dry and boring, but in "Almost Christian" it is not! This is a truly fascinating exploration of what makes faith vibrant, what makes faith "consequential". As such it is important for everyone to read, not just those interested in teens and youth ministry. Much of the book describes real faith--a faith rich in holy desire and missional clarity--and explores ways that we as a church can experience and model this in our lives.

Most teenagers today practice an "imposter faith" what the author calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism"--"the new mainstream American religious faith" in which God is seen as a butler or a therapist rather than (as the approximately 8% of youth that are "highly devoted" do) as a "divine swimming instructor" who is down in the water with them, leading and instructing them. The book also explores the faith of these "highly devoted" youth and what makes them different from their peers.

The scope of this book is limited to Christian ministry and formation and does not include Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other faiths. There are helpful appendices and an index, and the book is written in a somewhat intellectual style and at the same time a very moving style---very readable and pragmatic--not academic.

I read this book not because I had any interest in youth ministry or teenagers in particular, but because of the title--"Almost Christian"--something in it resonated with me, and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. This book made my life richer, and gave me an appreciation both for young people and for my faith that I did not have before. It's really important to me to not be an Americanized Christian with a watered-down faith, but rather, someone who reflects the love of Jesus Christ and real faith in all I do. I found myself enlightened, inspired, and encouraged.

Highly recommended.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poignant View on Teenage Faith in America 23 Nov 2010
By Aaron R Metthe - Published on
In Dean's close proximity to extensive research involving youth and religion (NSYR), a study outlined in the book Soul Searching by Smith and Denton, her approach is two-fold: refreshingly poignant, especially her argument she lays out that teenage faith is a reflection of the church's hold on faith (i.e. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism), which she outlines with great energy and articulation; her approach also remains very theoretical - although this book has been touted as a practical theology (that is what I've read, and was an appealing aspect for me) on the religious state of youth ministry and church, she remains very prescriptive - she outlines what is wrong, things which virtually all youth ministers and many pastors can relate to when it comes to jaded faith of youth and adults - she also outlines places that are filled with hope, namely the church is still the vehicle for spiritual guidance and formation - but that is where she leaves it - she leaves out a descriptive nature of how this has played out, or will play out, with the exception of a riveting example from a teen's journal from a missions trip and its ripple effects on her choices after her return.

Almost Christian is a must read for youth pastors, and I believe pastors would benefit from the truths that Dean brings to light regarding the church's and family's role in a teenager's faith development. Be prepared that when you finish the book, the real work is still to be done - figuring out how to translate all that data into something tangible and transformative.

*I received this book for free by Oxford University Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review and opinion. Thanks to Oxford Press for the opportunity to review this title.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering Call to Parents of Teenagers 23 Nov 2011
By George Hillman - Published on
Kendra Creasy Dean (Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary) has written a disturbing yet thought-provoking book on the current religious state of America's teenagers. The background research for this book was the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). One of the largest studies ever of the religious views of teenagers, the original research was conducted from 2002 to 2005 and consisted of extensive interviews with 3,300 American teenagers (13 to 17 years old) and face-to-face follow-up interviews with 267 teenagers. The study also continues on with a longitudinal study of 2,500 of these teenagers. The overall summary of the findings (and the basic theme of the book) is "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 they graduate from high school" (3). The most condemning part for us as the parents and grandparents of this generations is that Dean rightly associates the lukewarm nature of our children's faith as a "barometer of the religious inclinations of the culture that surrounds them, giving parents, pastors, teachers, campus ministers, youth pastors, and anyone else who works closely with teenagers fifty-yard-line seats from which to watch America's religious future take shape" (9).

Dean summarizes the NSYR findings under five general headings. First, most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise do not give it much thought. So while teenagers are not hostile towards religion, neither do they care much about it. Dean believers that most teenagers equate Christian identity with "niceness" but do not think religion has any influence on one's decisions, choice of friends, or behaviors. Second, most American teenagers (for good or for bad) mirror their parents' religious faith. Dean strongly states, "[The] religiosity of American teenagers must be read primarily as a reflection of their parents' religious devotion (or lack thereof) and , by extension, that our their congregations. . . . Lackadaisical faith is not young people's issue, but ours. . . . The solution lies not in beefing up congregational youth programs or making worship more `cool' and attractive, but in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have" (3-4). This theme is elaborated on later in the book.

Third, most American teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world. These teenagers call themselves Christian yet did not have a readily accessible faith vocabulary, few recognizable faith practices, and little ability to reflect on their lives religiously. Fourth, there is a minority of American teenagers - but a significant minority - that say religious faith is important and that it makes a difference in their lives. According to the NSYR numbers, approximately 8 percent of American teenagers were classified as "devoted." This designation meant that these teenagers attended religious services weekly, believed that faith is very important in everyday life, felt close to God, were involved in a religious youth group, prayed a few times a week, and read scripture once or twice a week. While not too much confidence can be place in exterior actions of faith (and could even lead to legalism), it is at least one means of assessment. It is interesting to note though that Mormon teenagers actually did well in the NSYR study, so it should be noted that adherence to orthodox Christian theology was not taken into consideration in the study. As an evangelical, this would be the only shortcoming of this study overall.

Finally (but the most insightful), many American teenagers enact and espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religions. Dean calls this codependent outlook Moral Therapeutic Deism and is convinced that it is supplanting Christianity as the dominant religion in the United States. The guiding beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are as follows: 1) A "god" exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth, 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions, 3) the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself, 4) God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem, and 5) good people go to heaven when they die. Instead of God being active in the lives of His people, Dean sees the primary role of God in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as passive - "stand back and approvingly watch us evolve" (39).

After painting a very bleak religious landscape for American teenagers, Dean devotes the rest of the book to providing ways for parents and churches to engage the mission field of America's youth. One way is by providing a "cultural toolbox" to make faith consequential. The items in this toolbox would include a creed (an articulated God-story and belief), a community (a sense of belonging with peers and adults), a calling (a sense of purpose and significance), and a hope (the belief that God is moving the world somewhere). The goal is to move teenagers towards spiritual maturity; marked by seeking spiritual growth, being keenly aware of God, acting out a commitment of faith, making faith a way of life, living lives of service ("ethic of giving"), reaching out to others, exercising moral responsibility, speaking publically about one's faith, and possessing a positive and hopeful spirit. Adults in faith-supporting congregations can help to cultivate consequential faith in teenagers by modeling the transforming presence of God in life and in engaging in conversations, prayer, Bible reading, and service that nurture faith and life.

Just as a missionary in a foreign land, adults need to engage in several mission practices to reach and retain this next generation. First, adults must help translate the faith by handing down the catechesis, language, and practices of Christianity in tangible and understandable ways. Parents especially can no longer abdicate their role ("let the experts do it") in articulating their faith to their children. Adults (and parents in particular) must become incarnational in walking alongside teenagers, demonstrating acts of love and allowing their love of Christ to show in others.

Second, adults must help teenagers in articulating their own faith. Faith communities must encourage public conversation about faith to help teenagers develop their own religious articulacy. Adults must give teenagers opportunities to talk about their own faith in families and congregations, and teenagers need opportunities to hear adults talk about their faith as well. These conversations are an opportunity to develop good theology as well ("Jesus-talk," not just "God-talk"). Faith immersions (camps, mission trips, etc.) are also excellent venues for teenagers to practice "speaking Christian."

The final mission practice is one of detachment. The goal is to help teenagers de-center from themselves to focus on God and others. Adults need to be intentional in placing teenagers in environments where they can come in contact with the "otherness" of God and people. Adults also need to be intentional in placing teenagers in environments where their usual cultural tools do not work, introducing a state of disequilibrium. This will actually involve creating space for teenagers to be with Jesus (through prayer and reflective space) instead of being busy for Jesus through activities.

As a parent of a teenager myself, I found the book very sobering. Much of what the modern church calls ministry is little more than entertainment, with little eternal impact in the lives of the participants. But closer to home, every parent needs to reexamine the faith that he/she has practiced in front of their own teenage audience living under our roofs. Our kids are watching to see if our faith is consequential in our own lives first.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prophetic Genius 28 Aug 2010
By Wendy - Published on
Almost Christian is a prophetic call to Christian action for parents, youth ministers, pastors, and congregations to live a vibrant, contagious faith alongside today's youth. Dean speaks truthfully, eloquently, and passionately out of her own love for God and teenagers. This book has the potential to change the lives of those ready to empower today's youth to move beyond nominal Christianity into a life transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a work of prophetic genius, a sounding alarm, written to cultivate a new way of practicing youth ministry, which is rooted in rigorous, academic research.
36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Well Intended Book That Falls Well Short of its Aims 30 Sep 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Any culture that strives to make an impact on society and leave a lasting legacy ought to be concerned with how it transmits its main ideas and values to the next generation. Religion is much more than a culture, and cannot be reduced just to its traditions, but it is beyond doubt that it has the greatest impact on society through its cultural aspects: the messages that it conveys, the vocabulary that it utilizes, and the practices and symbols that it employs.

"Almost Christian" is a book that addresses the way that religion (primarily Christianity) is understood today by the youth in the United States. It is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), to which the author was an important contributor. NSYR had several interesting and somewhat surprising findings: despite what is sometimes presented in the media, the young people in America have a very positive outlook on religion, and a majority of them find their religious affiliation to be an important aspect of their identity. However, once one looks beyond these surface manifestations of religiosity, the picture that we get is much less rosy. The religiosity of the youth is in many cases only skin deep and we get a sense that they have not truly internalized the precepts of their religion. Even if they had, the young lack the means of expressing those precepts. NSYR also found that different religious groups manifested different levels of religiosity - from Mormon youth having the highest levels of commitment, followed by the Evangelicals; with Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews coming at the bottom.

In this book Kenda Creasy Dean aims to show in some detail what sorts of religious expressions and convictions young people hold to. She suggests that instead of orthodox Christian faith many Christian young people cling to a set of beliefs that have been absorbed from the local non-religious culture, and she terms this set of beliefs "Moral Therapeutic Deism." Dean aims to explore the roots of this set of beliefs, and claims that the young people are just reflecting the set of beliefs that their churches already espouse. In other words, it's all the fault of grownups and the watered-down theology that has been promulgated for a while in many churches. A better part of the book tries to give answers to how to combat these unfortunate developments, and imbue the youth with a sense of meaningful, living Christian faith. All of these aims are noble and well intended, but regrettably I found that this book falls way too short in its stated aims.

A big issue that I have with this book is that it seems to be purposefully blind to the obvious explanation for the reasons behind the differences in religious commitment on part of different groups. It's painfully obvious that more socially conservative a religious group is, more likely it is to put higher demands on its members in terms of articulating their faith and applying it in everyday situations. While reading this book I got an impression that Dean is so concerned that she doesn't come across as one of "those" Christians (close minded, judgmental, bigoted, etc.) that she doesn't make a single concrete example of where Christian ethical criteria can make a significant impact on society.

Furthermore, all the pages of this book that are purportedly devoted to addressing the ways that churches may increase the level of religious participation and commitment to the core values of Christian faith by the youth seem to lead nowhere. They are filled with rhetorical and theological flourishes that seem to have very little connection to the everyday lives of the young people (or anyone else for that matter). There is only one example in the whole book that deals with an actual impact of young people's faith on a social event - a decision of a Christian high school in Texas to have half of its fans cheer for a visiting team of juvenile inmates. How is this action related to the core Christian beliefs is not very clear. I don't see why a high school of devout Moral Therapeutic Deists might not have done something similar. This book had a feel of a book that was, for instance, extolling superiority of French over Spanish, or a book written by an English Lit teacher who was bemoaning the fact that today's kids don't read poetry as much as they used to.

All this hemming and hoeing makes this, I am sorry to say, a very boring book to read. The only parts of the book that I found interesting were the ones that actually presented the findings of NSYR, which means just the introductory chapters and the appendices. Everything else was so fatuous that I was able to leave this book for couple of weeks, pick it up again and continue reading like nothing had happened. The book alerts all concerned Christians to the shallowness of the faith that is being preached these days, but it totally fails in addressing the ways in which this could be remedied.
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So we must assume that the solution lies not in beefing up congregational youth programs or making worship more “cool” and attractive, but in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have. &quote;
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The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on “folks like us”—which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all. &quote;
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Parents matter most when it comes to the religious formation of their children. While grandparents, other relatives, mentors, and youth ministers are also influential, parents are by far the most important predictors of teenagers’ religious lives. &quote;
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