In the ninth spot for the best books that I read in 2016 is a follow-up book to Thomas Bergler’s The Juvenilization of American Christianity. This book , From Here to Maturity was written in 2014 after the initial volume was written in 2012 dealing with the immaturity of American churches. Bergler noted that he wrote the second book as a response to the heavy load of correspondence that he received from his readers. They understood what he was stating but they wanted to know what the remedy was to move Christians toward a higher level of spiritual maturity. Chapter 1 is sort of rehash of the first book so that if you have not read the first one, Bergler does his best to give you the first book in a capsule form in 25 pages. While this book is not written to apostolic Pentecostals, I do very strongly feel that there are some components that need to be taken with the seriousness of which Bergler writes. One thing that struck me was that spiritual adolescents are drawn to religious experiences that produce emotional highs and sometimes assume that experiencing strong feelings is the same thing as spiritual authenticity. While emotion is a part of Pentecostal worship, we dare not reduce it simply to that! We are called to self-denial and to bearing crosses in this life!
Bergler launches his premise of spiritual maturity in Chapter 2 under the chapter heading of “Growing Up Into Christ.” One of the ways that he does this is point to the pattern of Ephesians 4:11-16 where Paul is writing about the five-fold ministry. He comes away with some points in this passage:
- Spiritual maturity is central, not incidental, to God’s plan.
- The roles of church leaders are to help them to grow into maturity in Christ.
- Maturity includes the unity of all believers, knowledge of, and being like Jesus Christ.
- Paul insists that we are not to be like children who are easily swayed by false doctrine and other deceptions.
- It must happen in a community of believers which strongly promotes church attendance.
Bergler also does a fine job in this chapter where he makes the connection between maturity and holiness. When you see critics of holiness and separation from the world venting on all platforms of social media, it becomes very clear that you are dealing with very immature Christians at best or plainly unconverted sinners who had some emotional experience that was mistaken for true conversion. Maturity matters! Holiness matters! There is a fine chart on page 49 that Bergler uses to demonstrate that very visible result of someone who is given to spiritual maturity by the visible, outward display of conduct that evidences the work of the Holy Spirit toward distinct holiness patterns of lifestyle changes.
Perhaps the most important chapter of the book is Chapter 4, Reaching the Tipping Point. This chapter demonstrates very practical ways that youth ministry and adult ministry can work in tandem to change the culture of a church that is spiritually immature. It requires mentoring relationships and a shift in thinking. The change in thinking moves from what can God and this church do for me to what can I do for God and this church.
This book was a worthy investment that made me ask questions as to how we could become both more spiritual and more mature at the same time. I again found myself at a place of understanding that for the church to really experience growth and maturity, it will be boiled down to my daily relationship with the Lord by interacting with Him in prayer and the Word. We cannot improve on that matter but we can improve on our involvement with these crucial spiritual disciplines.