Almost Christian by Kenda Dean part 1

Beginning to read Almost Christian by Kenda Dean. It was recommended highly by a couple of friends and ministry professionals… here goes nothing.

“An almost Christian… [chiefly] is one that… is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart.” -George Whitefield, “The Almost Christian” 1739

“The Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.” -John Wesley 1741

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that… That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

” We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition… It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.” Christian Smith and Melinda Denton (3)

“Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn’t actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market? James K A Smith” (5)

“After two and a half centuries of shacking up with the ‘American dream,’ churches have perfected a dicey codependence between consumer-driven therapeutic individualism and religious pragmatism. These theological proxies gnaw, termite-like, at our identity as the Body of Christ, eroding our ability to recognize that Jesus’ life of self-giving love directly challenges the American gospel of self-fulfillment and self-actualization.” (5)

Faith is a dialogue with doubt (Douglas John Hall), “a person reckoning with God’s involvement in the world, and investment in our own lives. Hall reminds us that one of the great themes in twentieth-century theology was chronicling Christianity’s fall from faith to religion.” (7- Tillich’s “Protestant principle”, Bonhoeffer’s “Religionless Chistianity”, with Karl Barth and the Niebuhr brothers)

“In Christian tradition, faith depends on who we follow, and that depends on who we love. Believing in a person- having utter confidence in someone- creates a very different set of expectations than believing in ‘beliefs.’ For Christians, faith means cleaving to the person, the God-man, of Jesus Christ, joining a pilgrim journey with other lovers and following him into the world.” (7)

Remedy given, in brief, by Dean for who we lift our youth from the ‘misbegotten stepcousin’ of Christianity (MTD), “confessing a creed, belonging to a community, and pursuing God’s purpose and hope.” (7)

The disposition of faith in American is much like Esau handing over his birthright to Jacob, the “whatever” in Genesis. Sociologists paint American Christians as restless people who come to church for the same reasons people once went to diners: for someone to serve us who knows our name, for a filling stew that reminds us of home and makes us feel loved, even while it does a number on our spiritual cholesterol.” (8)

Adolescence is an invention of the Industrial revolution. Post WWII era has invented the youth to become a ‘market’, kids with free time and a disposable income. Puberty starts sooner and adulthood starts later; adulthood doesn’t start until late 20’s or early 30’s. “21 is the new 16.” (9)

The question used to be, “how do we keep our young people in church?” The question now is, “does the church really matter?” (9)

Churches have offered youth a “diner theology”: a bargain religion, cheap but satisfying, whose gods require little in the way of fidelity or sacrifice. (10)

The disconnect seems to be not in the technique of youth ministries, rather, with the inability for churches to connect youth with living and vibrant examples of what the ‘faithful’ look like. Along with this is a theological issue, the framework of the Christian message will ultimately form the Christian community. Teenagers are learning what we “really believe- Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on ‘folks like us’- which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all.” (12)

“Christian formation- the patterning of our lives and our communities after Christ’s own self-giving love- requires grace, not determination. The church’s job is to till the soil, prepare the heart, ready the mind, still the soul, and stay awake so we notice where God is on the move, and follow. It is in following Jesus that we learn to love him; it is in participating in the mission of God that God decisively changes us into disciples. Whenever ministry settles for less than this, the church becomes vulnerable to symbiotes, and risks ‘morphing’ into a community that is almost Christian.” (15)

Teen spirituality is like a B-rated movie, “entertaining at points but ultimately forgettable.” (16)

Here is a list of general themes in the religious life of American Youth:

1. Most US teens have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought (17)

2. Most US teens mirror their parents’ faith (18)

3. Teens lack theological language to articulate their faith or interpret their experience (18)

4. A minority of teens believe religion makes a significant difference in their lives. Consequently, these teens are doing better in life on a number of scales compared to less religious peers (19-20)

5. Many teens enact a religious outlook distinct from traditional teachings of most world religions (MTD) (21)

God’s message and story are carried into the world through 3 incarnational and missional practices, “translation, testimony, and detachment.” (23)

Translation- forms a working model or ‘catechesis’ for ‘handing on’ a “lived faith from one generation to the next.” Adults who are engaged in the life practice of Christianity can hand off the example and rhythm of Christian life and Christian language. (23)

Testimony- helps teens articulate identity of being Christians around those who are not Christian. “Testimony confesses; it does not convert. It points out God’s grace in teh world without seeking to co-opt it.” (23)

Detachment- offers practices such as outreach, hospitality, and prayer to “de-center” to “open to the Other, either human or Divine, and cultivate empathy and reflexivity as we learn to focus on Christ instead of on ourselves.” (23)

“To be sure, God needs no introduction; in Jesus Christ, God burst through the membrane separating heaven and earth and is ‘on the loose’ among us (and usually in spite of us.” (24)


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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