There’s a recent interview with Princeton Seminary professor Kendra Creasy Dean about her new book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. The book is written towards mainline churches as a result of the National Study on Youth and Religion (which is outlined in the books Soul Searching and Souls in Transition). You should probably check out the interview and buy the book. One of my favorite quotes:
What I really want parents and congregations to do is one radical thing because of their faith, and do it in front of their children, and let children know that it’s because you’re a follower of Christ that this radical thing matters. Christian Smith (NSYR lead researcher) suggests giving away 20% of our income, but I think it could also mean changing jobs, changing neighborhoods, changing friends. It might mean sharing your home with a foreign exchange student, or going to a struggling church instead of a successful one. Doing one radical thing because of our faith would speak volumes.
Read the whole interview.
So, it may not be the best prose or the kind of book that makes you want to curl up next to a fire with a cup of coffee, but the latest book by Christian Smith sure is fascinating. It reports on the next phase of the National Study of Youth and Religion (the first phase of the study is detailed in Soul Searching) and is called Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. It takes the same group of people studied five years earlier as teenagers and follows up with them as emerging adults, 18-23 year olds.
An interesting quote on the prevalence of young adults saying that they have “no regrets”:
Many of these young adults, it seems, are too young to name and own the unalterable disappointments with life that admitting regrets might entail. Instead, the stance of “no regrets” puts a good face on matters that are in fact problematic, frames the difficult past in an encouraging light, and keeps all of life’s energies moving forward in an upbeat and constructive direction. It also helps to protect a sense of personal self–which seems sacred to emerging adults–against threats to the ultimate good of “being yourself” in a world in which the self is central, since actually having regrets implies that the self one has become embodies something that is wrong or undesirable. (41)
Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church describes a comment from a pastor after listening to McNeal speak. I think it is a great way to begin to help people understand the mission mindset:
“From now on, when some idea comes up for something new to do at our church, I am going to as the question, Who is this for?”
“Who is this for?” may be a good way for you to begin your own journey from member to missionary. Think about your life, your money, your time, your talent, and your commitments. “Who is this for?” Is the answer club members or people who do not yet know Jesus? (68)
Reggie McNeal, a Baptist, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church says this about the Bible in North America:
The current dilemma with how we use the Bible is twofold. One is that in the last gasps of the modern church, we have made Bible study in itself a mark of spiritual maturity, clearly missing the major evidences of what God looks for in his search for spiritual maturity–our relationship to him and to people. The Pharisees studied the Scripture and knew it better than any other group, but Jesus chided them for missing the point. (He was the point!) If our Bible study does not show up in a life that looks increasingly like Jesus’ (captured by his heart for people), it is merely a head trip, a point of pride, and an idolatrous substitute for genuine spirituality. Second, in a pluralistic religious environment, we need to remember that it is not essential to convert people to the Bible; it is imperative that they meet Jesus and begin to develop a relationship with him. When a person loves Jesus, that person will want to know everything Jesus did and said. The hunger to know more will naturally lead people to the Bible. People do not need to agree with our definition of the truth to come to the Truth. (114, emphasis original)
I said something similar in my post The Narcissism of Christian Education.
I just finished Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why last week and read the quote below the day after I returned from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Given the nature of what happened that previous week, it stuck out. It’s an interesting historical analysis.
To approach any of the arguments and questions surrounding homosexuality in the closing years of the twentieth century and the opening ones of the twenty-first is to approach a battle to the death. When it is all resolved–and it most surely will be–the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead. That is not to say that Scripture as the base of authority is dead. Rather it is to say that what the Protestant tradition has taught about the nature of that authority will be either dead or in mortal need of reconfiguration. And that kind of summation is agonizing for the surrounding culture in general. In particular, it is agonizing for the individual lives that have been built upon it. Such and ending is being staved off with every means available and resisted with every bit of energy that can be mustered. Of all the fights, the gay one must be–has to be–the bitterest, because once it is lost, there are no more fights to be had. It is finished. Where now is the authority? (101)
From The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit:
As the church lives “into” and “out of” the biblical story, its life is transformed by its power. The biblical story is contextualized in the life of the church. The church becomes, in fact, the hermeneutic of the gospel. That is, the world is able to understand the truthfulness of the gospel story by reading the story of the life of the church. (144)
More from The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit:
The Reformers’ intent was to return the Word to the center of life within local congregations. But singling out preaching and sacraments can produce several problems in how the ministry of the church is understood and practiced. These include (a) the tendency to limit the primary communication of the Word to the activity of preaching; (b) the tendency to see only ordained persons as qualified to minister through communicating the Word of God and dispensing the sacraments; and (c) limiting the focus of worship to the act of preaching. (144)
Continuing with quotes from Craig Van Gelder’s The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit:
Defining salvation in individual terms is biblical, but it is not all that the Bible teaches. The Spirit of God is creating a new community as the body of Christ. While salvation is always individual in its effect, how it is to be offered and experienced is very corporate. To be converted to Christ is to be converted to his body, the church. The church is not a collection of self-selecting individuals who assemble to have their needs met. The church, as the creation of the Spirit, corporately offers salvation to individuals, but this salvation is accepted and experienced within a community. (131)
From Craig Van Gelder’s The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit:
In understanding the holiness of the church we need to remember that the “holiness of the church does not stem from its members and their moral and religious behavior.”  The issue is not who we are as humans, but rather what God has done in bringing the church into existence. The redemptive reign of God, present through the indwelling of the Spirit, makes the church holy by nature. Just as God justifies individual believers and gives them a new nature, so also God creates the church through the Spirit and gives it a holy nature. It is a nature that is to display the reality of sanctification that is framed first and foremost in corporate terms. (117)
 Kung, The Church, 324.
I’m reading Rollie Martinson’s 1988 youth ministry classic Effective Youth Ministry: A Congregational Approach for this class I’m about to take (do you see a trend here?). I’m not very far through it yet, but so far it reads as a fairly robust and grounded approach to ministry (i.e not 20 years old). Here’s a piece from the opening chapter:
Youth ministry starts with an “intentional” theology. This means that perspectives and programs need to be constructed on the foundations of the Christian faith. The results of this construction will vary from tradition to tradition and church to church. Universal agreement is not the goal. The goal is a youth ministry shaped by the gospel as understood by one’s own theological tradition and its interpretation to Scripture. (11)