A recent CNN article talks about the recently published book “Almost Christian” by Kendra Creasy Dean. The book looks at the changing face of Christianity for teenagers, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. It argues that teenagers are following an “imposter” faith and parents especially are allowing it to happen. In fact, this “imposter” faith is exactly what it leading teens, and the young adults they turn into, to leave the church.
Dean calls this “moralistic therapeutic deism” or a “watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people’s self esteem.
She came to this conclusion after interviewing 3,300 American teenagers from a variety of faith backgrounds. Dean remarked, “They have a lot to say. They can talk about money, sex, and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate.” But, what teens are becoming inarticulate about is their faith.
Dean says this is because of the faith that we as parents or church leaders show them. Elizabeth Corrie, director of the Youth Theological Initiative at Emory University says, “We think they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake.”
What do we do then if we think teens are subscribing to this “imposter” faith? A faith that is supported by a “gospel of niceness”? A faith that youth cannot articulate?
Here are a few things to think about within your own context that are based on both the article and my own experience:
- Read the Bible
It seems obvious, but really read it. Take note of what Jesus says he came to earth for in passages like Matthew 10:34-39 — It isn’t a feel-good visit, but something that troubles the waters. Use passages like this to really study Jesus’ purpose and what Jesus was calling us towards.
Talk about Faith
Make talking about faith an active part of being with children and youth. Talk about topics in the world (Who is my neighbor? Is it okay that they are building a religious center there? Do I agree with what that tv show said?). Ask questions, pray, and listen for answers.
A part of our confirmation class is a one on one conversation between each student and myself. This has been incredibly helpful for me getting to know them, understand what they are getting out of the class, but also, it helps them talk about their faith and ask real questions.
Be the Community
Dean notes that those with strong faith all had a deep connection to a faith community. As a leader in the church, it can be difficult to balance respecting people’s needs (for example, being introverted and not wanting certain types of contact) with being able to care for them. The article talks about a teen who had lost her father and then a best friend. She said, “They called when all the cards stopped.” We need to strive to be a community that walks with people in and out of the light and darkness.
Challenge Yourself, Your Family, Your Congregation
Think about what you hear in your church — in worship, in bible study, in conversations with others. Is it a message that challenges you? It is increasingly true that preachers don’t feel they can say certain things from the pulpit because they are afraid of offering dropping and pews emptying. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot take initiative to “Get Radical” — to be passionate about your faith, to deepen and grow in your faith, and to get out into the world and act on your faith.
What other ways can we work against an “imposter” faith?