Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review of The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Book 43. The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler. Hardcover.

One of the great shifts in American Christianity since World War II is one that I had never really thought about until reading this book. Thomas Berlger terms it “juvenilization," and it is the process of modern churches adapting their services to follow the models of successful teen ministries. And then not being able to move away from that model.

The results of this shift are mixed. Positive aspects include accessible sermons, modern worship music, and an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus. Drawbacks include a therapeutic church culture, a lack of commitment to church attendance, and overly simplistic sermons. The problem is that what may work in the short-term in one setting may have negative long-term consequences when applied in other settings.

Bergler teaches ministry and missions at a Christian college in Indiana, and brings a scholar’s mind to this work. That is not to say that the book is difficult to read, because it is not. But the comprehensiveness is impressive, as the thirty pages of endnotes can attest. It is clear that Bergler has thought about this topic for a long time, and the case he makes is persuasive.

Bergler avoids the common mistake of treating the entirety of the church as one unified entity. He gives equal space to four groups: liberal mainstream Protestants, conservative evangelicals, African-American Protestants, and Catholics. Although the results differ based on each denomination's unique aspects, each has been effected by this trend. This comprehensiveness is a strength of the work, along with his ability to communicate these academic findings to a broader audience.

The book does include suggestions, both for youth workers and church leaders. But Bergler does not seem convinced that the church can bring itself to question means that in many ways have proven successful. But the long-term strength and viability of the church in America may depend on churches' ability to do just that.

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