Almost Christian: Parents Matter Most

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.

Kenda begins Part Three, “Cultivating Consequential Faith” of Almost Christian, with chapter six, “Parents Matter Most: The Art of Translation.”  Here, Kenda takes a bit of a turn, into the neo-liberal world of theologians like Hans Frei and George Lindbeck.  This is particularly interesting to me because it is territory that I know well.  I wrote extensively in defense of this line of thinking in my first book, and I have since retreated a bit from that position.

In short, Frei and Lindbeck and me, and now Kenda Dean, argue that a incumbent to Christian catechism and formation is a language that is unique to Christianity.  But before Kenda gets to that, she emphasizes what every youth pastor knows and what the NYSR reported conclusively:

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Almost Christian: Missional Imaginations

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 five, Kenda continues a theme that she’s already introduced: cultivating missional imaginations in teens is a strong antidote to moralistic, therapeutic deism.  But what, exactly, is a missional imagination?

Well, what it’s not is a week-long summer mission trip to an Indian reservation.  In fact, Kenda argues that the fact that we’ve had to find an adjective — basically, to invent the word, “missional” — “testifies to the American church’s frayed ecclesiology.”  Be that as it may, missional is here to stay, and she finds it a helpful term.

Kenda’s definition of a missional youth ministry parallels her understanding of the gospel, and she uses some of the same characterizations: messy, indecorous, risky.  “Missional churches,” she writes, “ratchet up expectations by consciously striving to point out, interpret, and embody the excessive nature of God’s love.”

A ministry that exemplifies missionality for Kenda is Outreach Red Bank, a one-time youth ministry that has “blossomed into a multigenerational church.”  ORB and other missional ministries fashion their life on the cruciform pattern of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection:

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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?

Almost Christian: Mormon Envy

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 three, Kenda’s provocative chapter title is, “Mormon Envy.”  Those of us who read Soul Searching remember how Mormon teens religiously outperform their peers by every measure, from behavior (later to lose their virginity; less use of alcohol and drugs) to belief (higher attendance at church functions; better able to articulate what they believe).

In this chapter, Kenda introduces and relies upon the “cultural toolkit” theory developed by UC-Berkeley sociologist Ann Swidler (co-author of the sociological blockbuster Habits of the Heart).  Swidler published an article in 1986 in which she spells out this theory, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies” (PDF), the abstract of which reads,

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