Almost Christian: Make No Small Plans

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

Kenda’s final chapter and conclusion is called, “Make No Small Plans: A Case for Hope,” and in it she attempts to find the good news in the otherwise rather dreary conclusions of the NSYR and the finding that most American teens practice a version of Christianity called, “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.”

She recounts the five years of reflecting on the findings as full of sleepless nights.  And she told CNN that her time on the NSYR interview team was “one of the most depressing summers of her life.”  Five years later, she has drawn two conclusions:

  1. When it comes to vapid Christianity, teenagers are not the problem — the church is.
  2. The church is also the solution.

Kenda is tough on the church in this chapter, and throughout the book, arguing that “the contemporary church has strayed, often badly, from the course set before us by the earliest followers of Jesus…”  But, she hasn’t lost hope, and she round out the book with these five encouragements/challenges:

  1. It can be done (as proven by some in the study, including Mormons).
  2. Religious formation is not an accident (the teenagers who showed strong religious commitment in the study did not come upon their faith by accident, or on their own).
  3. Every faith community has the tools available to inculcate strong faith in teens (but those who tell a “peculiar God-story” seem to have better tools, e.g., Mormons, fundamentalists).
  4. Consequential faith has risks (kids want to believe in something worth living and dying for, the subject of Kenda’s last book, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church).
  5. We are called to participate in the imagination of a sending God (not to re-invent the church).

I love Kenda’s hope.  And, knowing her as I do, I know that her hope is genuine.  No one could be involved in denominational Christianity and teach at a place like Princeton Seminary without a few iotas of cynicism, but Kenda has not allowed the discouragements of her ministry and vocation to sully her bright outlook.  She really, really does think that the church is the hope of teenagers (and the world!).

My question: Is she right, or is Kenda placing too much hope in the church?

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  • Glad I stopped by today. I share in the same hope that you are speaking of that Kendra writes about. I am going to be picking up a copy of this book as soon and I can and dive into it. Thanks for doing this for us.

  • Jay

    Alan Roxburgh once stated that since God is most often found in the most unlikely places, it makes sense that God might indeed be found in the institutional church, which seems to be the least likely place to discover the divine. While Kenda and I are two crazy Methodists who aren’t willing to give up on the church, the level of transformation that needs to happen in most traditional churches is daunting. The pressures of our culture on the church (and the assimilation of the culture by the church) often stand at odds with the radical call of Christ in our lives. And yet, it takes a community of love and support to be able to survive in the face of that culture, and where will that community come from if not the church? And, if we believe in the radical and transformative power of Christ, shouldn’t we hold out hope that the church can actually be transformed by that power? Yes, it’s probably pie in the sky to believe that the church can and will be changed, but without hope in the power of God to affect that change, we have very little.

  • Andrew

    When Kenda says “the church is also the solution” I hear “local communities of believers are the solution” — not denominational bodies. The research and Kenda’s analysis both speak to the fact that parents are important, but that a broader faith community is also very important in providing the framework into which the Holy Spirit can breathe consequential faith. Are you suggesting that a strong local faith community is unnecessary for faith formation? Or that a local faith community with denominational ties is immediately rendered useless? Or that there simply is no hope at all? I’m a bit confused by which part of Kenda’s hope you find quaint.

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