Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 13, 2010

Are American Teenagers Becoming Fake Christians?

As I’ve been preparing to teach high school students at church this fall, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we ought to be discipling teenagers. I came across an interesting article yesterday, which suggests that the American church has failed at this task. You can read the article by clicking here.

The article I’ve referenced is based on Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian. Dean’s book is based on the recent research documented in the National Study on Youth and Religion. The research suggests that while a number of teenagers call themselves Christians, they are actually adhering to something that is not true Christianity. Dean argues that many Christian teenagers are actually embracing a “moralistic therapeutic deism.” This is a type of diluted Christianity that reduces Jesus to a “divine therapist” that promotes self-esteem and good morality. It is a sort of self-serving religion that has less to do with redemption from sin or cultural engagement, and more do to with being nice and feeling good about oneself. The research suggests that while 3 out of 4 American teenagers align themselves with Christianity, only half say it is important, and very few are able to articulate what they really believe.

Dean says that this research should act as a wake up call to the American church. After all, the responsibility for the discipleship of our teenagers lies with parents and churches. Dean argues that part of the reason why American teenagers have a very shallow faith is because we as parents and youth leaders do not think they are able to go deeper. We are trying to water things down in order to reach a broader audience, but in reality we are just making Christianity irrelevant.

Dean argues that teenagers have both a desire and an ability to go deeper than we think. She says that teenagers, “can talk about money, sex and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate.” Elizabeth Corrie, professor at Emory University, argues a similar point saying, “We think they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes and we keep giving them cake.” Corrie has started the Youth Theological Institute, at Emory University, which offers a challenging but engaging summer program for Christian teenagers who want to grow deeper in their faith.


  1. I saw that same article. If you read the book, I’d love to see a review; I’ve considered having my youth read it. Another interesting read is, and it looks like the Barna Group’s “unChristian” book would have some insights as well.

    • Perhaps the same concern needs to be in place for all age groups. Being well past the age of raising teens I need to proceed with caution with advice. But the instruction of Deuteronomy 6 is sound for all ages. A consistent life style that brings God into all areas of life, from the rising up to the laying down at night. I wonder how much time there would be for TV if this were so.

      ………………………..Paz en Cristo………………

  2. Hey Gil,

    Good point. I actually think that an emphasis on Adult discipleship is where the solution begins, because it is the adults who are teaching the kids.

    • Phil, I agree “adult discipleship is where the solution begins.” Since parents have the optimum context to connect God’s complete story to the worldview of our youth, the church must not neglect preparing adults for this great task. But that preparation can start in their youth (long before parenthood), and serves to challenge a student intellectually too.

      One tool I’ve used in my youth ministry role is the TrueU series “Does God Exist?” by Focus on the Family. This series builds a scientific case, and examines differing worldviews. I think it’s a great resource to help (some) students defend their faith intellectually, and to make it their own by applying it practically.

      • Hi John,

        Welcome to the blog! I appreciate your thoughts, and your resource suggestion. Another good book I’ve been reading right now regarding some of those basic questions about God’s existence is “The Reason For God” by Tim Keller. It is a very helpful apologetic that takes into consideration some of the current debates going on in culture. Probably not very accessible for youth kids, but very helpful for adults who are wrestling with faith.

        Hope things are well.

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