The title of Kendra Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian derives from Acts 26:28 where the KJV has King Agrippa say to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
Church-going teenagers have been surveyed and studied. They are almost never atheists or agnostics. They believe in God. It is just that this is a god of a kind of feel-good spirituality that Dean thinks has little to do with classic Christianity. It is a spirituality of self-actualization and personal fulfillment, but not of Christian love. Also, it is often not strong enough to survive college or other young adult experiences.
Real Christianity would get inside of people and change their desires and give them clear purpose. But the “imposter faith” our young people espouse does not do this.
Lest you think this book is an exercise in bashing the younger generation, Dean says that the studies about teens is a mirror that reflects back the problem of the whole contemporary church. Adults also participate in this unserious kind of spirituality.
Among other things she blames “consumer-driven therapeutic individualism and religious pragmatism” (p. 5).
I hope she gets more concrete and gives examples of these tendencies.
She uses the word “therapeutic”. I think she is on to something there. Andy Stanley preached one of the sermons the president heard before the inauguration. He apparently told the president that he was moved by Obama’s demeanor at the Sandy Hook vigil. Stanley said that he told his wife, “Tonight he’s the Pastor in Chief.” Stanley has taken some flack for getting too cozy with the president.
My problem with this is not about church and state: it is with the use of the word “pastor.” The president felt people’s pain. He showed that he empathized. Bill Clinton was also very good at this. Governor Nixon, here in Missouri, did this after the Joplin tornado. A lot of people appreciated it.
What these politicians do is the therapeutic church’s understanding of what it means to be pastoral. But did they speak of the promises of the Triune God, the resurrection of Christ, or redemption from sin and death? For some of us, that is what it means to pastor.
I have been on both the receiving end and the giving end of pastoral care in the face of death. I would rather feel the strength of God at such a time than have somebody claim to feel my pain. Do we think God can do something about death or do we just think God suffers with us? That is the problem I have with therapeutic Christianity. It gives us an empathizing, but ultimately impotent, God.