Christianity Today’s June edition features an article by Thomas Bergler that speaks to the content of his new book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. He dares pose this question: When are American Christians going to grow up?”
We’re all adolescents now,” he writes of juvenilized Christianity, a form of faith he calls “self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty.”
Describing how he thinks we got into this condition, Bergler looks to the influence of youth-based ministries since World War II, the period that mirrors the years of my life. Fearful that young people might be wooed away from Jesus by a larger culture where there was serious moral decay, Christian leaders began to reform the traditional saving message of repentance and grace into one that emphasized inner peace, purpose, and general happiness—things more appealing to the adolescent mind. In other words: a gospel more aptly titled “What’s in it for me right now?”
Not only did the message morph, but its packaging took on new appearances. The words “entertainment” and “celebrity” come to mind. I hear Bergler suggesting that today’s forms of worship and preaching-content are influenced by this me-first orientation.
When I first saw Bergler’s term juvenilized, my mind jumped to Ezekiel 33:31, “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”
Bergler will probably take some heat for his remarks, but I, for one, applaud his courage in attempting to initiate a much-needed dialogue.