America's Adolescent Evangelical Church

In 1965 Lionel Trilling coined the phrase "adversary culture" to describe the existence of a hostile counter-Christian, counter-establishment (all vestiges of authority, including parents), counter-tradition avant-garde, an  American elite class born of  'enlightened' modernism, or anti-theistic scientific socialism.   Primarily through higher education, media, and seminaries Trilling saw they were demoralizing and initiating other Americans into a naturalistic, morally relative 'alternative faith,' thereby creating a  dumbed-down, immoral "mass elite," something new under the sun. (The Death of the Grown-Up, Diana West, p. 8) 

By 1997, American Demographics noted that there has been,

"...a comprehensive shift in values, including 'environmentalism, feminism, global issues, and spiritual searching."  (How Now Shall We Live? Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcy, p. 25)

This New Class, or what the article called the 'Cultural Creatives' embrace a morally relative "trans-modernist" set of values and concepts in place of the West's traditional philosophy and Biblical moral absolutes and unchanging truth they no longer accept.  The 'new values'  and modernist concepts include change, social justice, evolutionary thinking, unfettered libido, abortion, euthanasia, tolerance, accommodation, inclusion, feminism, lesbianism, homosexuality, and occult New Age spirituality. 

In furtherance of their destructive agenda, in 1941 the avant garde introduced and then began popularizing the concept of 'teenager.'  Prior to its' introduction Westerners and Americans thought in terms of children and adults.   This way of thinking is absolutely necessary, said American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), for if a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity it must,

"...know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life."   (Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973, p. 29 from Death of the Grown-Up) 

In morally mature traditional America, children aspired to adulthood not to adolescence, and mature adults did not aspire to remain teenagers.     But to our detriment, the adolescent mindset is now our 'new' norm, both outside the church and increasingly within, for it was the avant gardes' concept of teenager that made possible an entirely new conception of church ministry: youth ministry.  

In the "Juvenalization of American Christianity" Thomas Bergler  writes that though youth ministry started with good intentions, beginning in the 1930s and '40s,

"Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith. In any case, white evangelicals led the way." (When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Thomas E. Bergler, Christianity Today, 6/8/12)

Bergler connects America's adolescent church to pop worship music, pastors and worshippers in jeans and T-shirts, falling in love with Jesus, mission trips, spiritual  searching and church hopping, faith-based political activism (social outreach) and the therapeutic deism of the culturally inclusive seeker-sensitive model.  

In the typical juvenalized contemporary seeker-sensitive church, spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium while a mind-numbing,

".....rock band launches into a rousing opening song. "Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus," proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, "Hey God …" The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that "God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally."

"After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they'll say something like, "Having faith helps me deal with my problems." (ibid)

Dr. R. Albert Mohler,  president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, contends that America's juvenile evangelical church is marked by so much spiritual and theological confusion that the God of the Bible has largely disappeared from view and been replaced by,

“…less imposing deities that are more amenable to the modern mind.” (The Disappearance of God, Mohler, p. xiii)

Today millions of  spiritually immature American evangelicals claim a divine right to their own spiritual cocoon and belief system as well as their,

"...own personal Jesus."  This personal vision of Jesus Christ "may well bear little or no resemblance to Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible.”  (p. xiii)

 The Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity agrees and in a powerful video, "The Egyptian Shake,"   show adolescent seeker-sensitive church-goers taking part in an ecstatic pagan craze: 

In "The New Spirituality: Dismantling and Reconstructing Reality," Dr. Peter Jones contends that since the Sixties we have entered a new world, said Jones. The intellectual pride of modernism and  its religious sister, "Christian" liberalism, has been exploded by the radical critique of postmodern deconstruction. The objectivity of autonomous human reason as a means to truth is now seen as pure fiction, so the world must be reconstructed on the basis of ancient paganism. 

Today, said Jones, a triumphant form of ancient religious paganism, a  "new" oneness ideology dominates the campus, popular media, and even many pulpits.  Under its' influence the juvenile narcissistic 'me' generation has practically lost all sense of the antithesis (right or wrong, true or false, either/or, male or female), and are placing their faith in the pagan synthesis of "both/and" monism (oneness).

This is also true for Christian youth, for despite the billions of dollars spent by Evangelicals on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, camping trips, pizza nights and media, a culture of young Christians have been produced,

"who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures."  (The Coming Evangelical Collapse, Michael Spencer, Mar. 10, 2009,

Spencer writes that evangelicalism, especially the contemporary version, has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself and in response to the coming death of evangelicalism will further compromise itself in a futile attempt at reaching postmodern paganized souls by becoming more culturally relevant, not less.  Thus it will,

"...  become more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith." (ibid)

Though a sizable remnant of faithful traditionalist Christian adults still resist the pressures exerted by the juvenalized narcissistic church, in the main America's burgeoning adolescents of every age are winning, within the Church and without.  The adolescent anti-adult, anti-authority, anti-tradition adversary culture has become our 'new' norm.  

Though youth ministry has its' shining spots it nevertheless needs to be reformed and kept in its' proper sphere of influence.   That said, Thomas Bergler wonders if and when we'll grow up.  For in an adolescent Church and nation where mature adults are resented, marginalized and becoming extinct, narcissistic adolescents in adult size bodies who refuse to grow up, can't say no to themselves, don't know right from wrong, and resent those who do, are fostering a paralyzing, deeply destructive cultural relativism that undermines everything from the Church to traditional marriage, the Constitution, healthcare, and our economy.  

@Linda Kimball