Sunday, June 24, 2012

"The Juvenilization of the American Church"

The editors of CT chose a story to feature on it its June 2012 issue titled "When are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity," by Thomas E. Berger.  (The complete article is available at the link.) Berger, who teaches youth ministry at Huntington University, adapted it from his new book The Juvenilization of American Christianity (Eerdmans, 2012).  It is controversial and challenging.

Berger asserts that "[t]he white evangelical churches that are growing the fastest in America are the ones that look most like the successful youth ministries of the 1950s and '60s."  He states "even otherwise exemplary youth ministries could unintentionally send the message that the church or even God exists to help me on my journey of self-development."   Finally, he concludes

Today many Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems. Religious institutions are bad; only my personal relationship with Jesus matters. If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity.

My observations lead me to believe that it is not simply the American Church that is juvenilized, it is the American culture, even Western culture that is so.

I spoke to a client of mine recently, a married man in his early 60s who sold his business several years ago, one he had developed with a lot of hard work and great business acumen, and who now mainly plays golf.  He and his wife (no children) have just moved to a place called The Villages.  "Paul," he said, "the place is like high school on steroids!"  He admitted that he could not see them living there for more than a few years, but he was clearly amazed at this wildly successful retirement community near Ocala.

Last night, Carol and I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  It is delightful, with a glittering British cast.  A British married couple, and four singles, two men and two women, all commencing retirement.  Each of them has a different story but all have concluded they must leave England to live out their lives with a chance at happiness.  They find themselves in a dilapidated hotel in Jaipur, India, on the basis of photo-shopped photos at the hotel's website.  In one way or another, each of them needs to grow up.  Many of them fit the juvenile stereotype, and the hotel seemed to promise a sort of "Villages" model with elephants.  (I stole that last line from the movie.)  It was very entertaining to see them grow (or not, in one case), and the third act was pure Hollywood, but that was entirely OK.  It was fun!  The message was there, however, one must escape from Western culture to find the adult in him.

Not so different from what Berger might say.

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