Reading has long been a vice of mine although it is one of those necessary vices that is important. I looked at the books that I read this past year and found that my reading preferences have changed significantly in the last several years and that will be reflected in the books that I will countdown this month. The book slotting in at number ten is by Thomas E. Bergler. He is an associate professor of ministry and missions at a university in Indiana. I heard the title of this book mentioned by a preacher whose podcast I frequently listen to and purchased it.
This book, The Juvenilizationof American Christianity, is not just a book that deals with religious issues and practice but it deals with sociological issues that are facing the church as well. He also deals with the history of youth movements both political and religious in a way that teaches through an observation of history. While Bergler is not Pentecostal in his moorings, he makes some observations that fits the variety of every church in America, some of which I see invading Pentecostal churches as well.
Bergler starts the premise of his book with the idea that America has bought into the craze of staying young forever. Because youth has been exalted to a level that all need to be pursuing, there is little honor of anything that would even remotely be “old.” So, the competitive bug bites the men and women who are attempting to plant churches and they serve the trendy, the cool, and the popular to fill the seats and the coffers. At the expense of this style of ministry, doctrinal clarity, commitment to Christ, a hunger for holiness, and biblical literacy are being lost to a very superficial counterfeit. What is taking place is that Christians are becoming perpetual adolescents and spiritual maturity is being delayed. When spiritual maturity is delayed, the leaders who are finally forced into the place of leadership by the sheer pressure of attrition in our churches, a deadly cycle follows and immature leaders replicate themselves into immature followers. The cycle of immaturity makes worship all about “me” and not about advancing the cause of Jesus Christ through sacrificial giving, commitment, prayer, and true transforming conversion. It is difficult to get an adolescent Christian to see the need to spend money on global missions when the light system and all its accouterments need to be maintained. Therefore, religious services become mired in nothing more than human performance.
Bergler tracks historically the beginning of the youth movements in the 1930-40s and the post-WWII generation. He noted that historically in the 1950’s that companies began to market a few products toward “teenagers” that would develop into a full-force by the new millennium. While Bergler readily admits, it was not a sinister plot that was being hatched, there were consequences of this plan once it was set in motion. He noted that it delayed the entrance into adulthood. He writes that with this change that the seven deadly sins were defined: pride has become self-esteem, lust has become sexuality, envy has become initiative and incentive, and sloth has become leisure. When you add the social media epidemic, it is like pouring gas on a fire, it structures the human heart toward incredible bents of self-centeredness and even narcissism.
Bergler took his observations to the classroom and asked his college students what spiritual maturity looked like, they did not want to answer that question. Instead they said that we shouldn’t judge another person, or that no one ever arrives at a place of true spiritual growth, and that no one is perfect in this life. That response is more deadly than the Bermuda triangle because it flies in the face of Paul’s epistles and many of the general epistles that constantly is calling for spiritual renewal and maturity. Global missions, national missions, personal evangelism, and other great calls for service from the Lord are almost entirely forgotten when there is a constant youth culture that turns worshipers into consumers.
Another area of value for this book is the historical content that Bergler writes. He does a good job exploring the history of the Methodists, Catholics, and Evangelicals and their interaction with the turbulent days in the 60’s. He addresses sexual revolution and the racial tensions that were at its height during that time and how that many church leaders attempted to turn their congregants toward a social response instead of a spiritual response.
Perhaps the most important segment of the book comes into play when he explores the matter of taming this concept of juvenilization. He does so by asking some very hard questions as he calls them for church leaders and congregants. Here is a sampling of those questions:
- Is what we are doing together reinforcing mature or immature versions of our faith?
- In our attempts to “reach” people in our community, are we conceding too much to the characteristic weaknesses and besetting sins of our culture?
- Are unbelievers crossing the bridge to reach a countercultural, spiritually mature way of life, or are believers crossing back into the spiritually immature ways of the world?
- Is the music we sing in church fostering a self-centered, romantic spirituality in which following Jesus is compared to “falling in love”?
- Do we ask every church member to master a shared body of basic truths, or is all of our Christian education on an “a la carte” basis?
- Are we training leaders to disciple others through one-on-one and small group relationships?
- Do we model service, teach about it, and provide opportunities for believers to serve each other?
- If we adapt to the needs or preferences of young people in this particular way, what are we going to do to help them transcend the limitations of youth culture and strive toward biblical spiritual maturity?
I would recommend this book to you with one consideration; if you are looking for a “buzz” when you are reading this book, save yourself the time because this is not one of those books. It is a book that stretches your mind and will cause you more than once to sit up in your chair and ponder the direction of things.