Suffer The Children

May I vent?

There’s been a CNN story this week going around about author Kenda Creasy Dean warning that teenagers today are embracing a “mutant” form of Christianity. The headline refers to them as “fake Christians”; the article itself doesn’t use the term “fake,” but the author’s book is “Almost Christian.”

Says the article:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

She says this “imposter” faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

It gets worse:

The study included Christians of all stripes — from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

To be fair, Dean makes some good points. She argues that the church is failing teens — that teenagers aren’t engaged in their beliefs because their parents and other adults in the church aren’t. That for many parents and others, the primary function of church youth groups should be to promote abstinence and morals, not to encourage a spiritual relationship and maturity that would drive those attitudes. That teens aren’t able to deeply articulate their beliefs because they aren’t in an environment that lets them question and gives them answers. (Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.)

The fact is, Dean’s dire comments might actually be good. Three-quarters of teens profess to be Christians, but only half practice their beliefs? Sounds bad, until you put it in the context that 83 percent of America adults say they are Christians, but only 38 percent attend church weekly. There’s a decent chance that teenagers are slightly less likely to identify as Christians than adults, but that teens who say they are Christian are more likely to practice their beliefs. And we’re calling them “fake.”

My issue isn’t with her criticism of the church, but with her criticism of teens. And particularly in her characterization of their beliefs as “fake,” “almost,” “mutant” or “imposter.”

Warning sign number one is that Christ is not mentioned in the article until the very end, and then not talking about the author, but in quoting a teen who is being cited as a committed Christian.

In fact, according to the article:

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

Now, see, to me, that borders on “fake” Christianity. A description of Christian traits that doesn’t include a profession and relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord?

Let’s get this out of the way, too:

More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says.

Barbara A. Lewis, author of “The Teen Guide to Global Action,” says Dean is right — more teens are embracing a nebulous belief in God.

Yet there’s been an “explosion” in youth service since 1995 that Lewis attributes to more schools emphasizing community service.

Teens that are less religious aren’t automatically less compassionate, she says.

“I see an increase in youth passion to make the world a better place,” she says. “I see young people reaching out to solve problems. They’re not waiting for adults.”

So, in summary, teenagers are probably no less likely than adults to practice their beliefs. They are increasingly active in turning their beliefs into action, loving their neighbors as themselves. We have no reason to believe that they aren’t professing Christ as Lord — the real mark of a “true Christian” — because the article doesn’t bother to address that.

But they’re being written off as “fake,” “almost,” “mutant” and “imposter” because they believe in a “moralistic therapeutic deism” that portrays God as a “divine therapist.”

Well, gracious, what on Earth would make these kids think that God is some sort of Wonderful Counselor? With their belief that “God simply wanted them to feel good and do good,” they probably also think He’s some sort of “Prince of Peace” or something.

They’re not wrong. God is a divine therapist. His Word tells us that. He does want us to do good. He does want us to feel good.

That’s not a wrong view. It’s just an incomplete view. It’s an immature view. That’s right, folks, shockingly, some teenagers have an incomplete or immature view of God.

Wanna know something else? So do you. So do I. None of us can comprehend Him. If you’re writing those views of as “fake,” then you’re view of Him is incomplete, too. Congratulations, you’re a “fake Christian.”

According to the article, Dean “says this ‘imposter’ faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.” Well, maybe. Or maybe it’s because the church, rather than giving them room to grow from an immature understanding of God into a mature, more complete one, is writing them off as “fake” and telling them their wrong.

To be honest, I kind of respect them. As many churches teach a very simple view of God as divine law-maker and policeman, the fact that teenagers today are beginning to understand that God cares not just about their obedience, but about them, is really a shockingly mature attitude.

Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” — Luke 15-17 MSG