Resource Review | Common Misconceptions Series: Almost Christian and UnChristian
For our Student Ministry, we focus on one meeting time as our main emphasis or focus. We still meet outside of that time for Bible class or other activities, but Sunday nights (we call them- Sunday Nights) is our major focus where we come together for two hours. We eat together, we worship together, there is an intro to the theme or topic of the evening, and then we spend a good deal of time in small groups. In my opinion, this is the best thing we offer our students.
What I have tried to do the past two years in this time is to focus on a topical series in the fall semester and a text-based series during the spring semester. This semester, I am working on a series that I am calling “Common Misconceptions,” in which I am focusing on misconceptions people often have about Christians and Christianity. These are things I’ve heard in conversations with others, things I’ve read, or things that people who have struggled with faith have said to me. What I have realized in many of these instances, in many of these complaints against God or Christianity or faith is that the God they are describing is not the God I believe in.
Much of my preparation and content from this series is coming from two books, Almost Christian by Kendra Creasy Dean, and UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. I am working through the claims of Almost Christian currently in that the faith that we often hand adolescents tends to look like “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Then, I will spend five weeks covering five of the six topics discussed in UnChristian (I say here five of six because my church as a whole is not ready to have a conversation about the LGBTQ community, so I am skipping the chapter titled “Anti-homosexual.” I do not wish to start any debate here about which side of the fence you are on, or if it is correct for me to omit this chapter and this discussion during this series. I do not want you to argue with me or with anyone else about what you think about homosexuality. There is a time and a place for everything, and this is neither the time, nor the place, nor the space for that. Again, there is a time and place for everything, and while my students are arguably more face-to-face with this than any of their parents or the rest of our church, my position requires me to work with the rest of our staff, and our elders as well, to help lead this church as a whole. And this church as a whole is largely not ready yet for this conversation).
If you have not read either of these books, let me encourage you to read them. First of all, Almost Christian unpacks the work of Christian Smith and Melinda Lindquist Denton in their book Soul Searching, which is a book about their findings of a massive, nation-wide study on faith in adolescents. Though Almost Christian is nine years old now, I think the truth that Dean unpacks is still very relevant and timely. This term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” can still be seen in the lives of our students, those in our own churches. What we need to consider is how we, the church and the ministers and youth workers in their lives, are training them and teaching them to believe what they believe. If they are being sent out with shallow faith, it will be hard for anyone, let alone students, to stay grounded in faith. Thus, Dean challenges the reader to think critically about how we are raising and sending out adolescents. This is well worth the time to read.
Secondly, read Kinnaman and Lyons work, UnChristian. Though published in 2008, this book, again based on research, unpacks what others outside of the Christian faith often think of or even complain about Christians and Christianity. The six major chapters or complaints they work through are hypocritical, get saved!, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Again, this book, though it is over ten years old, is well worth the read and cost to have a copy on your shelf. I could be wrong, but I think these complaints about Christians are still relevant today.
What I am excited about for the series and topics I will be teaching this semester is that they are real, tangible, and timely for our students. In fact, as I am writing this, I am remembering the conversation in a group with middle school boys last in which we talked about morals and what separates us from others who aren’t followers of Jesus who do good. The conversation has been rich in our groups, and has led to great depth and insight (Yes, even from middle school boys). This content and these two books in particular, though a little dated, will help our students in our small groups this semester go deeper and be honest and open with each other. I would encourage each of you, if you have not already, buy a copy of each of these books and give them a read. They are great resources to have.
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