Almost Christian: Generative Faith

I’m blogging through Kenda Creasy Dean’s new book, a theological follow up to Christian Smith’s Soul Searching. I hope you’ll join me. Find all the posts here.

In chapter four, Kenda turns explicitly theological, arguing that “Catechesis shapes missional imaginations, which help us recognize God’s activity in Jesus Christ and in us, as Christ calls us to participate in his redemptive work in the world.”  She writes that the gospel in ineluctably missional, and that teens who are formed by a gospel imagination should also be missional.  This happens by,

  1. Claiming a Creed: Teens need not only to have a general, warm feeling about Jesus, but must be able to articulate what, exactly, is special and unique about Jesus.
  2. Belonging to a Community: Teens need the “connectedness” that is fostered exclusively in “authoritative communities.”
  3. Pursuing a Purpose: Teens need to live in a “morally significant universe” in which their good decisions have good consequences and their bad decisions have bad consequences.
  4. Harboring Hope: Teens are pulled out of moralistic, therapeutic deism by hope (that God controls the future), which provides “highly devoted teenagers with a resource for getting through the present.”

Kenda goes on to explicate that “highly devoted teenagers” live out their faith and show that outwardly.  She then points to the results of the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study at Luther Seminary for a list of attributes that can be found in these highly devoted teens.

For me, I come back to the question I asked earlier: Is it even developmentally possible for adolescents to articulate a creed, commit to an authoritative community, pursue a purpose, and harbor hope? My gut and experience tell me that they can do 3 and 4, but most probably cannot pull off 1 and 2.

What do you think?

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  • oh yes, they can … but later on it won’t mean much of anything to many (most?) of them.

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  • Absolutely they can. Don’t underestimate teens – until about the last century of history they essentially functioned as full adults in most societies.

    As a teen I was taught the gospel plainly, not just “Jesus loves you hooray!”. I was taught clearly that Jesus Christ was the only risen savior of any religion, the only God whoever died to save his people. I was given a mission to share the gospel with others, and not just the nice parts of the gospel, but the difficult parts like us all being sinners. It was not the most nuanced theology, but it was a creed and it worked.

    I was part of a tight church community, which encouraged lasting small groups and faith-based friendships, as well as time spent serving at church with those friends. My Bible study met with more or less the same group of girls from the age of 14 through the end of college.

    Assuming teens can’t handle these sorts of things is part of the reason many don’t own a deep or lasting faith. If you say “oh, they can’t handle more” you never call them to BE something more and then Christianity is useless to them.

  • I think some teens can pull of 1 & 2, but I share your sense that many cannot. With respect to community, many teens want to belong, to be accepted, to be noticed & affirmed in their uniqueness, but I am not sure they understand what is at stake with the mutuality of true community (again, this is a generality with exceptions). The deep rooted entitlement that we see today is one major hurdle in this respect.

  • Dan Hauge

    Actually, I think a lot of teens do “pull off” 1 and 2, but it happens in more homogenous conservative communities, and the results, as Makeesha alludes to, are not the sort that would seem the most life-giving to most emerging/progressive folks. I think the challenge is working out just how much 1 and 2 are important to teens developing their faith, in a context that is less dogmatic and more questioning. I think it actually may be possible. It really depends on what #1 and #2 look like. Just how ‘authoritative’, for example, is an ‘authoritative community? Since I’m not reading the book I can’t speak to how she fleshes that concept out, but I do think that communities do need a fairly strong sense of identity and purpose (and I would argue that many emergent communities do function, to an extent, as ‘authoritative communities’, not in the sense of theological dogma but in the sense that there are shared commitments to exploring Scripture in a more open way, certain commitments to social justice, etc.)

  • Tony,

    I agree with the other respondents that teens not only can respond to the cognitive, creedal and dogmatic, they actually thrive on it.

    As a probation officer for many years, I observed how my teenagers responded positively to the bounds I set based upon reason and common law, when articulated from a place of concern. Even those who grew up without parental limits craved the wholeness that depends also upon cognitive truth — mind-activation.

  • Not in any way that is truly meaningful, at least. Most would be doing so out of attempts to please peers and elders, I think.

  • Rene

    Teens can absolutely do 1 & 2, in developmentally appropriate expression. It’s really hard to help them abandon the “need to please,” and to work from their own knowledge, experience and perception. Adjusting our (adult) expectations to nothing is even more difficult. If we choose to analyze, measure, or challenge then we’ve missed the point. It’s not our creed, it’s not our relationship, it’s not our life. We have to trust that the seeds the Spirit plants in and from that setting are divine. Are they going to embrace that creed or live within that structure four years or even six months later? I hope not! They’re developing rapidly in a very wholistic way, and they need to be allowed the opportunity to question and own the process.

  • I am really intrigued by this book. I guess I’ll have to read it myself.

    I’m not sure I understand about claiming a creed, but from what I get I think it is not only possible but essential. If by claiming a creed, you and Kenda mean that they should not only believe, but have some kind of understanding about why/what they believe and be able to articulate it, then I don’t think teen have a chance of even maintaining their without that. I have just seen too many graduates go into the careers or college and come back confused and floundering unless they can clearly say what and why they believe.

    I also agree with Makeesha that their understanding of their faith will most likely change a lot and render the former understanding infantile or useless.

    Loving the views from the book!

  • “She writes that the gospel in ineluctably missional, and that teens who are formed by a gospel imagination should also be missional. “I am hypnotized by the truth in those words.

  • Kathy

    In partial response to both Tony and Torey, I wonder if the idea of “gospel imagination” is actually what teens ARE capable of and the other things (1-4) come as by-products of the ability to enter the gospel story, imagine themselves part of the historic stream, and then they can begin to articulate things like creed (partial and growing as a teen), what it means to be connected (accountability, responsibility, etc. in community), purpose (both their own and the community’s) and ultimately where their hope lies (in God and in God’s future).

    I think we do tend to underestimate teens, although each kid develops differently and we can’t underestimate that reality either! Some kids are capable of profound conversations at an earlier age than others. Others know the language and can keep up, but don’t necessarily have the emotional maturity to match. One of the dangers of recent brain research is it has actually served to offer an excuse for parents and teens. I’ve heard parents say (with regard to risky behavior) “Well, their brains just aren’t capable of making good decisions right now.” Yikes! That is really frightening to me. In my experience, kids are far more capable and are under challenged.

    While I appreciate the 4 points mentioned and think we ought to be offering teens opportunities to think and talk and work on all these things, I’m no proponent of finished product here. These characteristics, strong as they may be are not guarantees.