Teenagers as fake Christians, almost Christians, and passionate Christians

CNN, of all places, has a helpful followup to our discussions of youth ministry, drawing on some recent books to describe the whole range of teenager belief.  If you are a parent of teenagers or a pastor, you will want to read the whole article:  via Author: More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians – CNN.com.  A sample:

If you’re the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

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.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian,” a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

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

“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”

And yet, the article also demonstrates the strong faith that many teenagers have:

Anne Havard, an Atlanta teenager, might be considered radical. She’s a teen whose faith appears to be on fire. . . .

Havard says her faith has been nurtured by what Dean, the “Almost Christian” author, would call a significant faith community.

In 2006, Havard lost her father to a rare form of cancer. Then she lost one of her best friends — a young woman in the prime of life — to cancer as well. Her church and her pastor stepped in, she says.

“They called when all the cards stopped,” she says.

When asked how her faith held up after losing her father and friend, Havard didn’t fumble for words like some of the teens in “Almost Christian.”

She says God spoke the most to her when she felt alone — as Jesus must have felt on the cross.

“When Jesus was on the cross crying out, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was part of God,” she says. “Then God knows what it means to doubt.

“It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt,” she says, “because God was there, too.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Yup. I was told some 16 easters ago that I would be dead in a year. Jesus on the cross. yup. that is about all that is left in that situation.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Yup. I was told some 16 easters ago that I would be dead in a year. Jesus on the cross. yup. that is about all that is left in that situation.

  • http://webulite.com webulite.com

    The thing is supernaturalism is on the decline. Very few people give up supernaturalism in a single step. Most often, you find people that slow drift away. This is a very standard path.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  • http://webulite.com webulite.com

    The thing is supernaturalism is on the decline. Very few people give up supernaturalism in a single step. Most often, you find people that slow drift away. This is a very standard path.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  • Pete

    I don’t find Havard’s statement, “It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt, because God was there, too”, to be particularly heartening. Wouldn’t the classic response be that it’s OK to be in a storm because the Master of the Storm is in control and, by virtue of your being baptized, you are His. If your particular storm happens to be cancer, as was the case with her father, the end result might be suffering and death, but that’s not a reason to doubt God. We’re all sinners and one or another of these storms is going to do us in – precisely because God is holy and we are not. Havard’s observation (admittedly probably just a snippet of what she said) smacks more of Jesus as team captain or “go to guy” than Redeemer. Still fairly thin gruel.

  • Pete

    I don’t find Havard’s statement, “It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt, because God was there, too”, to be particularly heartening. Wouldn’t the classic response be that it’s OK to be in a storm because the Master of the Storm is in control and, by virtue of your being baptized, you are His. If your particular storm happens to be cancer, as was the case with her father, the end result might be suffering and death, but that’s not a reason to doubt God. We’re all sinners and one or another of these storms is going to do us in – precisely because God is holy and we are not. Havard’s observation (admittedly probably just a snippet of what she said) smacks more of Jesus as team captain or “go to guy” than Redeemer. Still fairly thin gruel.

  • WebMonk

    Pete, I can think of a half-dozen different meanings for what Harvard said just off the top of my head, some more likely some less likely but all possible and they range all over the place. Without context it’s impossible to know what the precise theological meaning/reference is for her statement.

    But let’s all pile on anyway and accuse her of faulty theology and having “pretty thin gruel” because she didn’t phrase it the way we think she should. Good job on being the first to cast aspersions Pete.

  • WebMonk

    Pete, I can think of a half-dozen different meanings for what Harvard said just off the top of my head, some more likely some less likely but all possible and they range all over the place. Without context it’s impossible to know what the precise theological meaning/reference is for her statement.

    But let’s all pile on anyway and accuse her of faulty theology and having “pretty thin gruel” because she didn’t phrase it the way we think she should. Good job on being the first to cast aspersions Pete.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Pete @ 3

    I took something a little different from Havards comment. You could be right. I charitably just took her statement to mean that she was comforted by the fact that we have a God who was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.

    I came across and excellent article by a man who is Lutheran in his understanding of Baptism even though he was not Lutheran. and the point of this post comes into sharpest focus in baptism.

    I am increasingly convinced that the only difference between a Christian and a pagan regarding Vocation, is that the Christian, if he/she is a Lutheran one, can see Vocation through the lense of Baptismal death and regeneration.

    What is actually done in Vocation, as Dr Veith points out, is absolutely identical whether done by a christian or a pagan.

    But we as christians now have the “veil of moses removed”. We can see exactly what God is up to with this. He is up to our death, for the sake of others. And we can now see this in an unveiled way and welcome it rather than fear it.

    Here is the quote I like:

    “Finally, baptism, as [a real and literal and physical] death and resurrection, gives ther clue which enables us to understand suffereing and death in this world, that suffering and death which reached a climas in the passion and the cross of christ.

    The sufferings of this world, as mentioned above, are means of mortification. Luther can say even that the more hardly we suffer the happer we are, because the more quickly is the meaning of baptism fulfilled [or realized] and deliverance [from sin] wrought. Times of persecution are the happiest times in the history of the Church.

    Death itself is the result and penalty of sin; but Christ has borne the penalty, and in our baptism, when by faith we are identified with Christ, we are forgiven even as we accept the judgement.

    But death is also, in the mercy and the providence of God, the means whereby sin is destroyed. The believer , although he will not die eternally, because he is forgiven,must still die in the flesh, in order that sin may finally destroy itself ..

    But for the believer, death has lost it´s true terror. He does not need to fear death,. because he is forgiven. He can welcome death, because it is the climax, a completion of the saving work of God. This does not mean that life on earth is no longer valued: It means that it is set against the background of eternity and the redemptive work of God [in Christ alone].

    To the unbeliever, who has hope only in this world, death is an enemy, irrational, causing qualms of conscience, holding the threat of judgement.

    But for the one who looks [alone] at Christ, there is in death, the promise of Life. The perfect attitude to death is that of Christ, who went to his early and cruel death without a qualm, composed, serene, obedient, opening up as the forerunner and as the savior of the way to Life.”

    Here is the complete article:

    http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/luther_bromiley.pdf

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Pete @ 3

    I took something a little different from Havards comment. You could be right. I charitably just took her statement to mean that she was comforted by the fact that we have a God who was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.

    I came across and excellent article by a man who is Lutheran in his understanding of Baptism even though he was not Lutheran. and the point of this post comes into sharpest focus in baptism.

    I am increasingly convinced that the only difference between a Christian and a pagan regarding Vocation, is that the Christian, if he/she is a Lutheran one, can see Vocation through the lense of Baptismal death and regeneration.

    What is actually done in Vocation, as Dr Veith points out, is absolutely identical whether done by a christian or a pagan.

    But we as christians now have the “veil of moses removed”. We can see exactly what God is up to with this. He is up to our death, for the sake of others. And we can now see this in an unveiled way and welcome it rather than fear it.

    Here is the quote I like:

    “Finally, baptism, as [a real and literal and physical] death and resurrection, gives ther clue which enables us to understand suffereing and death in this world, that suffering and death which reached a climas in the passion and the cross of christ.

    The sufferings of this world, as mentioned above, are means of mortification. Luther can say even that the more hardly we suffer the happer we are, because the more quickly is the meaning of baptism fulfilled [or realized] and deliverance [from sin] wrought. Times of persecution are the happiest times in the history of the Church.

    Death itself is the result and penalty of sin; but Christ has borne the penalty, and in our baptism, when by faith we are identified with Christ, we are forgiven even as we accept the judgement.

    But death is also, in the mercy and the providence of God, the means whereby sin is destroyed. The believer , although he will not die eternally, because he is forgiven,must still die in the flesh, in order that sin may finally destroy itself ..

    But for the believer, death has lost it´s true terror. He does not need to fear death,. because he is forgiven. He can welcome death, because it is the climax, a completion of the saving work of God. This does not mean that life on earth is no longer valued: It means that it is set against the background of eternity and the redemptive work of God [in Christ alone].

    To the unbeliever, who has hope only in this world, death is an enemy, irrational, causing qualms of conscience, holding the threat of judgement.

    But for the one who looks [alone] at Christ, there is in death, the promise of Life. The perfect attitude to death is that of Christ, who went to his early and cruel death without a qualm, composed, serene, obedient, opening up as the forerunner and as the savior of the way to Life.”

    Here is the complete article:

    http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/luther_bromiley.pdf

  • Tom Hering

    Pete, I don’t think Havard’s statement is meant to be heartening or disheartening. She’s just saying what she learned about God during a time of personal suffering: that Christ was fully Man, and a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

  • Tom Hering

    Pete, I don’t think Havard’s statement is meant to be heartening or disheartening. She’s just saying what she learned about God during a time of personal suffering: that Christ was fully Man, and a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

  • http://www.uath-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m just guessing that this mutant form of Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with women like Dean running around in clerical shirts calling themselves pastors and ministers.
    I think there is a need for someone to take a dose of their own medicine.

  • http://www.uath-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m just guessing that this mutant form of Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with women like Dean running around in clerical shirts calling themselves pastors and ministers.
    I think there is a need for someone to take a dose of their own medicine.

  • DonS

    This article is anecdotal claptrap stimulated by a female “minister” named Kenda Creasey Dean. Exactly why should we give it any attention or credence, or consider Ms. Dean an authority on this issue?

  • DonS

    This article is anecdotal claptrap stimulated by a female “minister” named Kenda Creasey Dean. Exactly why should we give it any attention or credence, or consider Ms. Dean an authority on this issue?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Her more obvious errors aside, Dean, does hit on a big problem with ministry at large and youth ministry in particular. We are so concerned with boosting teens self worth we have reduced Christianity to God wants you to feel good about yourself. And so they flee because we aren’t giving them the tools and wisdom they need to face the world around them. When it all becomes about self-worth what does is it mean when life stinks? What does it mean when things don’t conform to my preconceptions. I know of one teen who struggles because with all the harping on the evils of homosexuality she thought they were all vile wicked people and now she has met one and found they can be nice people.

    My question is how does one figure out if they are faking it, and just what is an almost Christian?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Her more obvious errors aside, Dean, does hit on a big problem with ministry at large and youth ministry in particular. We are so concerned with boosting teens self worth we have reduced Christianity to God wants you to feel good about yourself. And so they flee because we aren’t giving them the tools and wisdom they need to face the world around them. When it all becomes about self-worth what does is it mean when life stinks? What does it mean when things don’t conform to my preconceptions. I know of one teen who struggles because with all the harping on the evils of homosexuality she thought they were all vile wicked people and now she has met one and found they can be nice people.

    My question is how does one figure out if they are faking it, and just what is an almost Christian?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “The thing is supernaturalism is on the decline. Very few people give up supernaturalism in a single step. Most often, you find people that slow drift away. This is a very standard path.”

    It is not the path of the elect.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “The thing is supernaturalism is on the decline. Very few people give up supernaturalism in a single step. Most often, you find people that slow drift away. This is a very standard path.”

    It is not the path of the elect.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Dr. Veith,

    Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul is the week one text for Omnibus I.

    Is there another book you would recommend in its place? You had mentioned before that much of the Omnibus series was Reformed theology, so for a bit of balance for a 7th grader would you suggests an alternative. I have not read Chosen by God, so it is hard for me to discern. Thanks.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Dr. Veith,

    Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul is the week one text for Omnibus I.

    Is there another book you would recommend in its place? You had mentioned before that much of the Omnibus series was Reformed theology, so for a bit of balance for a 7th grader would you suggests an alternative. I have not read Chosen by God, so it is hard for me to discern. Thanks.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “My question is how does one figure out if they are faking it, and just what is an almost Christian?”

    You don’t.

    I was just reading this today.

    “It remains impossible to tell with complete certainty whether someone is a Christian. The privilege of knowing and seeing those who belong to the Lord is something the Lord has reserved for Himself alone.”
    C.F.W. Walther, God Grant It, p.707

    He knows them, and they know Him.

    It is for us to just accept and to call pastors who will faithfully preach the Word. We are required to reject false teachers, surely, but we just cannot know what is in another’s heart.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “My question is how does one figure out if they are faking it, and just what is an almost Christian?”

    You don’t.

    I was just reading this today.

    “It remains impossible to tell with complete certainty whether someone is a Christian. The privilege of knowing and seeing those who belong to the Lord is something the Lord has reserved for Himself alone.”
    C.F.W. Walther, God Grant It, p.707

    He knows them, and they know Him.

    It is for us to just accept and to call pastors who will faithfully preach the Word. We are required to reject false teachers, surely, but we just cannot know what is in another’s heart.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    If you are homeschooling, just skip it and go to the next one. There is plenty of material to fill the semester. Or, for a Lutheran alternative, you could try my book, “Spirituality of the Cross.” I think at least some seventh graders could handle that. Or the new “Lutheranism 101″ from CPH.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    If you are homeschooling, just skip it and go to the next one. There is plenty of material to fill the semester. Or, for a Lutheran alternative, you could try my book, “Spirituality of the Cross.” I think at least some seventh graders could handle that. Or the new “Lutheranism 101″ from CPH.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m just guessing that this mutant form of Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with women like Dean running around in clerical shirts calling themselves pastors and ministers.
    I think there is a need for someone to take a dose of their own medicine.”

    AMEN

    Anyway, why single out teens as “fake”? We could just as easily accuse lonely seniors of just hanging out at church and using it as a social club. This is an atrociously destructive line of thinking. We should be loving and serving our fellow believers of all ages and stations rather than casting a suspicious eye on those among us.

    I agree we should have good teaching not this moralistic deism or whatever other false teaching there may be, but false teaching isn’t new and teens are probably no more likely to fall for it than anyone else. Naturally we like to think we are different, but we aren’t. If this is the teaching the teens are getting, then who fell for it first and decided to present it to the youth? Besides, it is the responsibility of the congregation to call a proper pastor to teach in the first place. Maybe I am overreacting, but teen bashing is one of my pet peeves. Really it is the headline that is offensive. If anything the headline should attack false teaching, not the young people who may suffer from it.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m just guessing that this mutant form of Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with women like Dean running around in clerical shirts calling themselves pastors and ministers.
    I think there is a need for someone to take a dose of their own medicine.”

    AMEN

    Anyway, why single out teens as “fake”? We could just as easily accuse lonely seniors of just hanging out at church and using it as a social club. This is an atrociously destructive line of thinking. We should be loving and serving our fellow believers of all ages and stations rather than casting a suspicious eye on those among us.

    I agree we should have good teaching not this moralistic deism or whatever other false teaching there may be, but false teaching isn’t new and teens are probably no more likely to fall for it than anyone else. Naturally we like to think we are different, but we aren’t. If this is the teaching the teens are getting, then who fell for it first and decided to present it to the youth? Besides, it is the responsibility of the congregation to call a proper pastor to teach in the first place. Maybe I am overreacting, but teen bashing is one of my pet peeves. Really it is the headline that is offensive. If anything the headline should attack false teaching, not the young people who may suffer from it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    From the article: “Others practice a ‘gospel of niceness,’ where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says. … The Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them ‘to change anything that’s broken in the world.’ … A parent’s radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.”

    Is it me, or is the proposed solution in this article that people do more (and more “radical”) good works? And this is the solution to “fake Christianity”? Hmm.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    From the article: “Others practice a ‘gospel of niceness,’ where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says. … The Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them ‘to change anything that’s broken in the world.’ … A parent’s radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.”

    Is it me, or is the proposed solution in this article that people do more (and more “radical”) good works? And this is the solution to “fake Christianity”? Hmm.

  • Wendy

    The term “fake” is not a term Dean ever used. It was a the label CNN gave to the headline to get people to read the article. An “almost Christian” is a term John Wesley deemed himself years ago in a sermon he preached. Dean’s responses to some of the ways CNN spun her research and her thoughts are posted at http://www.kendadean.com.

  • Wendy

    The term “fake” is not a term Dean ever used. It was a the label CNN gave to the headline to get people to read the article. An “almost Christian” is a term John Wesley deemed himself years ago in a sermon he preached. Dean’s responses to some of the ways CNN spun her research and her thoughts are posted at http://www.kendadean.com.

  • Ken

    “Chosen by God” is a perfectly good book, although I’m not sure it’s apt material for a seventh grader; a mature high schooler could certainly grapple with the material, however. What was the intent of including it in the Omnibus series? Has Dr. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God” already been assigned?

  • Ken

    “Chosen by God” is a perfectly good book, although I’m not sure it’s apt material for a seventh grader; a mature high schooler could certainly grapple with the material, however. What was the intent of including it in the Omnibus series? Has Dr. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God” already been assigned?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    John, the problem with such a sentiment is its obvious historical inaccuracy. Christianity holds women in higher esteem and gives them greater respect and dignity than any other religion or philosophy. Sure individual Christians may not live up to these Christian ideals, but that is evidence of their sin. If you want to see massive amounts of men who don’t seem to like women and who actively disrespect and mistreat them, look outside Christianity where there is no shortage of examples. Simply recognizing that women should not be pastors and ministers is not disrespect or mistreatment. It is just a fact.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    John, the problem with such a sentiment is its obvious historical inaccuracy. Christianity holds women in higher esteem and gives them greater respect and dignity than any other religion or philosophy. Sure individual Christians may not live up to these Christian ideals, but that is evidence of their sin. If you want to see massive amounts of men who don’t seem to like women and who actively disrespect and mistreat them, look outside Christianity where there is no shortage of examples. Simply recognizing that women should not be pastors and ministers is not disrespect or mistreatment. It is just a fact.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Hey, Wendy, thanks for the link. She does clarify the point that it was CNN called them “fake”. Which does unfairly make her look like she is saying something she isn’t saying. Still, she is pretty focused on works. Anyway, I don’t think the “almost” condition is any more prevalent among teens than any other age group.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Hey, Wendy, thanks for the link. She does clarify the point that it was CNN called them “fake”. Which does unfairly make her look like she is saying something she isn’t saying. Still, she is pretty focused on works. Anyway, I don’t think the “almost” condition is any more prevalent among teens than any other age group.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X