The Juvenilization of American Christianity

The latest issue of Christianity Today has a brilliant cover story that accounts for much of what we see in American churches today.  A century and more ago, many Protestant churches adjusted their worship and their ministries to accord with something that at first was quite separate:  the revival meeting.  (My historical parallel.)   Now churches have adjusted their worship and ministries to accord with another separate activity:  youth group!  But, of course, there is more to it than that.  From the article by Thomas E. Bergler [subscription required, but here is the opening]:

The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. “Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus,” proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, “Hey God …” The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that “God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.”

After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they’ll say something like, “Having faith helps me deal with my problems.”

Fifty or sixty years ago, these now-commonplace elements of American church life were regularly found in youth groups but rarely in worship services and adult activities. What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and ’40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith.

via When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Bergler goes on to document how that happened, including the larger cultural trend of American adults in general becoming more like adolescents.  The cover story  (who can identify who is pictured on the cover?) includes some responses by a megachurch pastor, a researcher, and a cultural critic (David Zahl of, all of whom say that Bergler’s thesis is basically right (though Zahl, being a Lutheran fellow-traveler, issues some caveats about definitions of spiritual “maturity”).

The article is adapted from Bergler’s new book on the subject: The Juvenilization of American Christianity.  It is a ground-breaking analysis, one of those explanations that accounts for virtually all of the phenomena and  that seems so obvious, once you hear it, though you had never thought of it before.


And now Ray Bradbury

Another great artist has died, Ray Bradbury.  His genre was science fiction, and though his religious beliefs were somewhat inchoate, he had them, and his stories often have a Christian resonance.

In a tribute by Kathy Schiffer, she addresses his religious beliefs:

Bradbury described himself as a “delicatessen religionist.” He was raised Baptist—but his parents were infrequent church-goers. He and his wife of 50 years, Maggie, were married in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal. He has been called a Unitarian Universalist—but he eschewed the label.

At the age of 14, Ray Bradbury set out to visit Catholic churches, synagogues and charismatic churches in a quest to figure out his own faith. “I’m a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself,” he said in a 2010 interview with John Blake at CNN. “I don’t think about what I do. I do it. That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”

Bradbury has sometimes been described as a “Christian positivist”—and indeed, he lived a life of great joy. He took no credit for his success, believing that he owed his talent and his success to God. “The best description of my career as a writer,” he said, “is, ‘At play in the fields of the Lord.’”

For Bradbury, God is real, but is ultimately unknowable. But despite his reticence in ecclesial matters, Bradbury’s writing is chock full of faith. In “The Man”, written in 1949, he tells the story of a spaceship which lands on Mars, onto to discover that a Jesus-like figure had arrived just hours before them. “Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned” is a story of redemption.

via Stuff Your Eyes Full of Wonder. Ray Bradbury, R.I.P..

UPDATE:  For more on Bradbury’s religion–including some moving quotations on his gratefulness to God, how his favorite book of the Bible is the Gospel of John, and more–go here.

UPDATE:  Read this brief short story by Bradbury written two years ago:  The Dog in the Red Bandana  (HT:  David Zahl)

There was a time in my life–long, long ago–when I was something of a science fiction fan.  Maybe I should give it a try once again.  I know the old authors–Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, and that crowd–fairly well.  Who are some more recent authors who might spark my imagination again?

I know about the Cyberpunks and tried one, but I couldn’t get through it.  I’m not interested in space operas or futuristic adventures.  I need a good prose style, plus an imaginative experience, plus some intellectual stimulation.  I do like time paradoxes–I read and liked Steven King’s 11/22/63 –and parallel universes and complicated plots.  I liked 1Q84.  So I’ll be grateful for suggestions.  (Is Game of Thrones any good?  The books, not the HBO series.  Not Sci-Fi, but fantasy, but I’m just asking.)

Are contraception opponents anti-science?

Journalist Laura Sessions Stepp at CNN says that people who oppose contraception are anti-science.  They are among those conservatives who have no faith in science and oppose Darwin’s theory of evolution.

via Anti-science and anti-contraception –

First of all, how can science (which is concerned with “is”) determine a moral principle (which is concerned with “ought”)?

Second, who are these people who oppose contraception?  The most defined group would be “Catholics,” not “conservatives” or even “the religious right” as such.  Certainly some conservatives and non-Catholics also oppose contraception, as do some environmentalists and nature advocates on the left.

Third, she lumps together religious liberty advocates, pro-lifers, and a wide array of health activists as being against contraception.

Fourth, what’s this about Darwinism?  Isn’t his theory of evolution about, you know, propagating the species, with the best adapted having more offspring than the unfit and so passing along their genes?  Doesn’t contraception get in the way of that?  Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that contraception goes against the theory of evolution?

HT:  Rebecca Oas

The Thunder rolls

As I have confessed in this space, I have pretty much stopped watching basketball, due to the feeling that I always jinx the team I want to win.  Well, the Oklahoma City Thunder–from my home state–are so good that they even overcame me.

When they were down two games to the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had won 20 in a row, I thought I might as well watch them, since they were going to lose anyway.  Well, they didn’t.  They won.  I kept watching.  They won again.  Then won again.   Apparently my curse has been lifted because last night they won game 4–even though they were down 18 at one point in the game–winning the Western Conference and going to the NBA Finals.

The Thunder–Oklahoma’s first professional major-league team– is a good example of how a sports team can be good for a community and a whole state, sparking a sense of unity, confidence, and all kinds of civic virtues.

Thunder finish Spurs, advance to Finals –

VeggieTales creator repents of moralism

More on our continuing series on Christianity & the Arts, how the Christianity part has to include not just law but gospel. . .

Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, went bankrupt in 2003, sold the franchise, and turned to other ventures.  In an interview with World Magazine, he says how he realized that the “Christian” message of those talking vegetables was not Christianity at all.  (This is from last Fall, but I appreciate Norm Fisher, via some other folks, for bringing it to my attention.)

I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have.

via | Not about the dream | Megan Basham | Sep 24, 11.

Wisconsin keeps Scott Walker

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker scored a victory in the vote to recall him.  And pretty handily too, for all of the “too close to call” talk in the election night coverage:  54 percent to 45 percent,

via Wisconsin recall: Scott Walker wins – Alexander Burns –