Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion--the same invaluable data as its predecessor and monumental publication, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Almost Christian, investigates a new question about American youth: why are American teenagers at once so positive about Christianity, and at the same time so apathetic about traditional forms of religious practice?
In Soul Searching, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton argue 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. Far from faulting teens however, Dean in Almost Christian places the blame for this squarely on churches who, she argues, have watered down theology to the point of mere moralism and therapy. Indeed, a stinging indictment.
Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to salvation, discipleship, and love churches offer instead a merely practical religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less. In short, most churches profer a Christianity that teaches one how to their bills on time, be good citizens, and how to avoid conflict.
So 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 community that did more than simply feed them moral maixims; 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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