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Jack Jackson ~ Reflections on Dean’s “Almost Christian”

I recently read a book that has been on my shelf for a couple of years, Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dr. Dean is a professor of youth ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also happens to be a United Methodist. I haven’t been as convicted by a book in a long time.

In this book she reflects on various aspects of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The basic thrust of her book is that most American youth, even those that profess a Christian faith, actually do not believe in the story of God in Christ, but instead affirm what Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce (the NSYR directors) call Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). As Dean writes, the study “reveals a theological fault line running underneath American churches: an adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world.” Rather, teenagers approach their faith practices as “good” things to do, like other extracurricular activity, but not essential to life.

Let me first say that I recommend the book to anyone in youth or pastoral ministry, as well as any parents that care about their children’s discipleship. As I read through the book I was repeatedly challenged by Dean’s assertion that the blame behind the wide acceptance of Moral Therapeutic Deism in today’s youth does not lie with youth themselves, but rather with their parents and the churches these youth attend. In essence our children aren’t disciples because we aren’t disciples. We’re more focused on our kids’ happiness and success than we are on their discipleship.

So I ask you, is this true? If so, I’d love to hear from people who think they are actually raising their own children, much less youth in their church, to follow Jesus.

What is happening in your family’s discipleship? What does family discipleship look like? How is your church facilitating your family’s discipleship? Are we going about discipleship as a family, or as a bunch of individuals? Any thoughts?