The Juvenilization of American Christianity

The title of Thomas Bergler’s 2012 publication has stuck with me since I first read it a few years ago: The Juvenilization of American Christianity. Since this book was published, others have written on similar topics. For one example, Ben Sasse recently wrote a book entitled The Vanishing American Adult. This topic fascinates me for various reasons. One reason is based on experiences I had in high school. I went to a decent Christian high school and we had chapel every week. I remember some speakers who were clearly adults. However, they acted like (or tried to act like) cool teenagers. It was, and still is, very difficult for me to listen to an adult trying to be cool like a teenager. Sadly, this fad of church leaders acting youthful has not gone away in the past 10 or 20 years. It may be getting worse, in fact.

But back to Bergler’s book, The Jugenilization of American Christianity. I’ve mentioned it here before but it’s been awhile. I won’t give a full review of it here and now. However, I do want to remind our readers that it’s a helpful resource if you’re looking to study one social aspect of the modern church in the United States. One reason this book caught my eye was because Bergler had George Marsden as his doctoral advisor. I’ve always appreciated Marsden, so that was another reason for me to get this book.

Anyway, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the closing chapter of The Juvenilization of American Christianity.

It is not enough for juvenilized Americans to hear that spiritual maturity is possible and desirable. It is not even enough for them to be able to explain what a spiritually mature believer should look like. They need practices and environments that will help them grow into spiritual maturity. After all, it is easier to say “it’s not about me” than it is to really think, feel, and act that way. It is here that church leaders need cultural discernment. They need to ask hard questions about the music they sing, the curriculum materials they use, and the ways they structure the activities of the church. Is what we are doing together reinforcing mature or immature versions of the faith? In our attempts to “reach” people in our community, are we conceding too much to the characteristic weaknesses and besetting sins of our culture?

… For example, is the music we sang in church fostering a self-centered, romantic spirituality in which following Jesus is compared to “falling in love?” If so, we should not be surprised if some people have a relationship with Jesus that has all the maturity and staying power of an adolescent infatuation….

Adults should not try to be teenagers, but instead need to set adult examples. Teenagers can legitimately follow Christ in adolescent ways, but they need to grow up spiritually as well as physically. All of us, whether teenagers or adults, should be devoting ourselves to helping one another grow toward spiritual maturity.

Thomas Bergler, The Juvenilization of American Christianity, p. 227 & 229.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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