Kenda Dean has written a book which has recently been published by Oxford UP, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, and it has received a lot of attention over the past week. It started with an article on CNN.com, which you can read here. As of this post, there were almost 6,000 comments to the story! Dean responded to the CNN article with two different responses on her blog. You can read them here and here.
Edit: I initially omitted Dean’s post “Almost Christian” which responds to CNN’s use of the term “fake” in the title of their article. This is the lengthiest post, and it makes explicit that Dean had Wesley’s sermon of the same title in mind when she gave her books its title. This is an excellent post, if you only click on one of the links in this post – click on (and read) this one.
I also just noticed that Sonja Tobey, an elder in the Oklahoma Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, has written a blog post on Dean’s book and the CNN article. Apparently, all the attention is impacting the sales of the book. I am not sure what the sales numbers were for the book before the CNN article, but as of this posting the book is ranked #231 on Amazon.com’s sales rankings, which is the highest sales ranking I remember seeing for a book written by a seminary professor (Dean teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary).
This book has been on my radar for several months, but seeing the CNN article finally prompted me to order it. Here is a brief summary of the book from the Oxford listing:
Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion–the same invaluable data as its predecessor, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers –Kenda Creasy Dean’s compelling new book, Almost Christian , investigates why American teenagers are at once so positive about Christianity and at the same time so apathetic about genuine religious practice.
In Soul Searching , Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton found that American teenagers have embraced a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”–a hodgepodge of banal, self-serving, feel-good beliefs that bears little resemblance to traditional Christianity. But far from faulting teens, Dean places the blame for this theological watering down squarely on the churches themselves. Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to lives of love, service and sacrifice, churches offer instead a bargain religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less. But what is to be done? In order to produce ardent young Christians, Dean argues, churches must rediscover their sense of mission and model an understanding of being Christian as not something you do for yourself, but something that calls you to share God’s love, in word and deed, with others. Dean found that the most committed young Christians shared four important traits: they could tell a personal and powerful story about God; they belonged to a significant faith community; they exhibited a sense of vocation; and they possessed a profound sense of hope. Based on these findings, Dean proposes an approach to Christian education that places the idea of mission at its core and offers a wealth of concrete suggestions for inspiring teens to live more authentically engaged Christian lives.
Persuasively and accessibly written, Almost Christian is a wake up call no one concerned about the future of Christianity in America can afford to ignore.
I hope to comment more about the book once I have had a chance to read it. At this point, I just want to note how pleased I am to see that someone like Kenda Dean (who is an ordained United Methodist pastor and graduate of a UM seminary – Wesley Theological Seminary) has written a book that is making a splash in the broader conversation about Christianity in America.
If you are interested in ways that scholarship by Methodists is impacting the broader conversation about the role of Christianity in American life, or if you are interested in the formation of youth in the Christian faith – you should pick up this book. My guess is that we will be hearing much more from Kenda Dean. I can’t wait to read Almost Christian.
Oh, and if you haven’t read the book mentioned in the Oxford summary of Dean’s book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers written by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, it is also worth checking out.