Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Last Christian Generation: A brief review

Well, so it's not a very good book. I hate to say it that way, but that's the truth. It is stylistically very similar to many other Christian advice-ish books. The prose has the same jaunty feel, the anecdotes all seem to have happened in the same, vaguely unreal, middle-American neighborhood. Also, the copy editing is awful, and he keeps using "disciple" as a verb, meaning "to teach," as in, "I tried to disciple him in the true Law of Christ." Of course, a disciple is a learner, so if you wanted to make it a verb, maybe it should be a verb that means "to learn." Just saying.

Anyway, snarkiness aside, it's a pretty scary book. He gives a lot of statistics that support the notion that moral relativism is a big deal for teens. In one anecdote, he talks about asking a group of students why the Bible is true. None of them can answer. The next morning, one of them comes up to him and tells him that he's figured out why the Bible is true--"Because I believe in it."

The idea that something is true because you believe in it is pretty wonky, but apparently wide-spread.

Other wonky but wide-spread ideas: over half of the churched youth surveyed didn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It's one thing not to believe that if you're Jewish, but how can you be a practicing Christian without that one? Almost seventy percent don't believe that the Holy Spirit is a real entity. ???? These are kids who self-identify as Christians, not the general population.

Only about a third of kids who go to church for their whole lives will continue to go to church when they leave home. I think that's a high estimate, actually, based on the population at my college, but maybe I'm a pessimist.

He also gives some interesting numbers that show that there's basically no difference between the moral behavior of Christian and non-Christian teens--they were equally likely to have lied to a parent or cheated on a test in the past year. Part of his argument is that these kids aren't really Christians because they aren't acting any better than anyone else. I suppose that's true, in that "by their fruits you shall know them" kind of way, but I really wish that they had asked the kids if they had done that thing (lying, cheating) again. Part of Christianity is contrition, and a real effort to behave better in the same situation next time. It's not about being perfect--it's about trying.

I'm also curious how these numbers line up with our congregation. I might do a survey, based on the numbers he's got in this book, and find out.

The other thing was that I hoped McDowell would give some serious ideas about how to help kids understand active Christianity, and help them develop a personal and direct relationship with God. His response, basically, is that we need to tell them about God, and about Jesus and how He died for our sins. We need to tell them that God wants to have a relationship with them.


Everyone in youth ministry does that all the time. It's not really working. Any more ideas?

Why yes--the last ten pages or so are filled with advertisements for McDowell's other books, one of which might have some practical advice.

I shouldn't fault him, though, because I don't know the answer either. I'm not sure anyone does. We're each struggling along in our own little way--and what we're doing is not working. More and more kids are leaving the church. More and more kids think of Christianity like .. I don't know, Yahtzee, something you only do with your parents, and only when no one is watching. No real answers here.

As one little thumbs up, I did like the things he had to say about intergenerational ministry, bringing parents and older folk in to the kid's classes. We've talked about doing that with our 3rd and 4th grade students. It's a nice idea.

But I had already thought of that.

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