In her new book Almost Christian Kenda Creasy Dean, minister and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that teenagers within the Christian church are following a mutant strain of Christianity that is producing “fake” Christians.
Dean’s position is that churches and even parents are passing on a self-serving strain of faith that views God as a therapist whose sole purpose is to produce good self-esteem. According to her research, she concludes that this type of faith is not “durable enough to survive long after they graduate [from high school].”
Not only do I concur with Dean but I would also argue that our churches are reaping what we have been sowing over the last few decades. Our churches have strayed so far away from Jesus that it should not be surprising when our adults, who proclaim Christ with their lips yet ignore him with their lives, in turn have children who are just as untransformed and superficial.
The truth is that our churches have sold their souls to the consumerist gods. The sacrificial way of Jesus has been co-opted by the self-serving, consumer driven interests of cultural America. Our churches proclaim success when the masses flock into our Mall of America type organizations yet when the masses leave the Sunday services they are indistinguishable from the average American in the way they live their lives.
Beyond that we have created children’s programs and ministries that work to develop good character, high self-esteem, and wild fun, yet are painfully absent of the way of Christ. Our children have fallen in love with those things that make them feel good about themselves. Meanwhile they remain painfully unaware that the way of Christ is not- how good they can feel or how much they can gain for themselves, but rather how much of themselves they give up for God and for others no matter how good or bad it makes them feel.
This is the system we have created. Our churches have adopted corporate strategies to meet consumer needs, giving them what they want and offering a wild smorgasbord of options and choices. Consequently the consumers search for that which yields the greatest satisfaction or perceived benefit, avoiding that which causes much discomfort and sacrifice. This mindset sets up a very sick system: consumer Christians will flock toward churches that offer the greatest satisfaction even when it strays away from the sacrificial way, life, and teachings of Christ.
How is it that we have not figured out that the joke is on us? How have we not realized that our modus operandi is a “mutant strain” of Christianity that mixes a little bit of Christ with a lot of entertainment? How long must we operate in this superficial, consumer driven mode before we finally realize that it doesn’t look anything like Jesus and is certainly not what he has been calling us to?
Even the deceased 90’s grunge rocker Kurt Cobain was more prophetic than the majority in our churches when he cynically sang, “Here we are now, entertain us!” He correctly understood the superficial, self-seeking nature of people and the way that corporate America goes out of its way to feed the insatiable hunger of the consumer.
But we have been so wildly naïve and more interested in our own glory, our own fame, and the number of people who come into our buildings each Sunday that we have failed to realize there is now an entire generation of Kurt Cobain’s who are sick of the gimmicks, who are tired of being entertained, who are cynical toward the entire system, and who are desperately longing for something real. There are more and more children growing up who are tirelessly searching for something of substance, something of meaning, something of value, and something for which they can give their lives.
Will our churches ever find Jesus and his sacrificial way in order be the means through which a generation begins to find substance, meaning, value, and that for which they would give their lives? If so, who will be brave enough and prophetic enough to lead it?