Author’s note: This is the first article in a mini-series of articles reviewing Almost Christian by Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean. All quotes without direct links are directly from the book’s first few chapters. To hear Dr. Brown’s review of this book, click here.
A large-scale departure from a biblical understanding of what living as a follower of Jesus looks like in the lives of modern adults has brought about an epidemic of young people whose basic concept of religion is centered around a sense of enhancing their own, and others’ emotional well-being, which has almost created a new religion, though its “followers” still outwardly identify with the name of an existing religion. Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton’s theological seminary, published a book called Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church that explores the emerging ramifications of the lack of passion and faith in God in previous generations. This book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton which gave this new religion the name of moralistic therapeutic deism:
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
These recent studies testify to the fruit that decades of a consumer-driven, therapy mentality have brought into our churches. Dr. Michael Brown’s books, How Saved Are We and The End of the American Gospel Enterprise, point to a very similar attitude that was already entrenched in the American Church over twenty years ago:
The American Church at the end of the twentieth century is experiencing a crisis. For years we have preached a cheap gospel and peddled a soft Savior. We have taught salvation without self-denial and the crown without the cross. We have catered to the unsaved and compromised with the world. Now we are paying the price. (How Saved Are We.)
Our contemporary gospel has bred complacency instead of compassion, success instead of sacrifice, prestige instead of Prayer. We no longer ask what we can do for Him, but rather what He can do for us. (American Gospel Enterprise.)
Dean says there are four things that deeply religious teenagers, whose faith affects their day to day lives have in common:
Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.
Recapturing a passionate, articulate faith in teenagers and young people requires not simply a new “method” to reach them, but rather a revitalization of faith and devotion in the day-to-day living of adults. According to Dean,
Since the religious and spiritual choices of American teenagers echo, with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issues, but yours… So we must assume that solution lies…in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have… We have successfully convinced teenagers that religious participation is important for moral formation and for making nice people… Yet these young people possess no real commitment to or excitement about religious faith.
What is the one thing that truly differentiates faith from religion? Dean says this:
Faith is a matter of desire, a desire for God and and a desire to love others in Christ’s name…Love gives Christianity its purpose and meaning. Religion functions as an organized expression of belief… Yet Christianity has always been more of a trust-walk than a belief system…Faith depends on who we follow, and that depends on who we love.
John Wesley, whom Dean quotes, experienced in his own life a time when he called himself “almost a Christian,” while living with the same kind of approach many do today:
I did…good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace…and…doing all this in sincerity… Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian... The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”?… Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?
Another crucial question is this: how can we experience this passionate love of God if we have not seen the man Jesus tortured, bleeding, dying, and abandoned because of the depths of sin in our own hearts? The only true knowledge of the incredible love of God that evokes such devotion can come through a changed heart which has been wrung by a deep conviction of sin and repentance, and has seen the cost God afflicted on Himself in order to rescue us from the power of sin and bring us into fellowship with Himself.
Dr. Michael Brown reviewed the first few chapters of Almost Christian on his Line of Fire Radio show, and here is a quote from his closing remarks:
We are fundamentally off: with much of our preaching, with much of our emphasis…we’ve been in the wrong direction for years. We have soft-peddled the gospel, we have by-passed the cross. We haven’t preached a faith which is glorious and wonderful, and a savior who is so extraordinary, who delivers us from a wrath which is so terrible, that we JOYFULLY give up everything to have Him!
Changed hearts in the church as a whole is the only way to see the transformation that so many adults in the church have said they desire to see in their children, as Dr. Brown stated in The Jesus Manifesto:
The dawning of the 21st century finds the church of America in a moral and spiritual crisis. Decades of self-centered living and worldliness have taken their toll. Years of compromise and toothless gospel preaching have had their effect. And now we have reached the moment of truth: Either we wake up, stand up, speak up, and act up, or we run the risk of becoming a mere historic curiosity, an irrelevant religious sideshow, an entertaining, harmless spectacle. Something must change, and it must change now. There is no other choice.
Posted in Culture, News Tagged with: Almost Christian, apologetics, Christian Smith, Church, Dr. Michael Brown, faith, fake Christianity, How Saved Are We, Jesus Manifesto, Kenda Creasy Dean, loving God, moralistic therapeutic deism, National Study of Youth and Religion, Princeton, religion, Revival, teenagers, The End of the American Gospel Enterprise
The Ravenhill Challenge is a grassroots movement seeking to spark a cry in the Church for true revival.
Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994) was a street preacher in Great Britain who moved to America in 1959 at the direction of the Lord. He became a burning voice crying out in the wilderness of Western Christendom in the 20th century.
He was eminently a man of prayer and intercession, and was used by the Lord internationally to kindle flames of repentance and revival through preaching and writing for the better part of 4 decades. To the day of his passing in November of 1994, he challenged sleeping saints and jolted those who were “at ease in Zion.” He held high the cross, exalted the Man Christ Jesus, and yearned for the glory of God to fill earth “as the waters cover the sea.” His legacy lives on, his tears are still reaping a harvest, and his timeless message is as relevant to the Church of the 21st century as it ever was.
Listen to what A.W. Tozer said of Ravenhill:
Those who know Leonard Ravenhill will recognize in him the religious specialist, the man sent from God not to carry on the conventional work of the church, but to beard the priests of Baal on their own mountain-top, to shame the careless priest at the altar, to face the false prophet and warn the people who are being led astray by him.
Such a man as this is not an easy companion.
…he cannot turn off the burden of the Holy Ghost as one would turn off a faucet. He insists upon being a Christian all the time, everywhere; and again, that marks him out as different. (Why Revival Tarries; 1959, Bethany House Publishers)
With no exaggeration, Ravenhill carried a true prophetic burden, particularly for the Church of America. Though he has gone to be with the Lord, he has a vast number of spiritual sons peppering the globe. Men and women young and old have been shaken by his message, convicted by his brokenness, and inspired by his life of prayer.
The Ravenhill Challenge is a movement of a unique kind. We are preparing for a united response to a challenge that brother Ravenhill gave the Church years ago, and we believe that if it is taken to heart, it could have a profound and lasting impact on many congregations and ministries.
WHAT WAS HIS CHALLENGE?
In July of 1989, the Lord moved on the heart of Michael L. Brown, a then 34 year-old Jewish believer in Jesus, who happened to hold a PhD. in ancient Semitic languages. He had been crying out the Lord for 7 years, praying for true revival in the Church and yearning for the glorification of Christ in America. Brown had been in some of Ravenhill’s meetings at the beginning of the seven year period, and the Lord had used Leonard’s books and preaching (among other things) to instill an insatiable hunger for revival in his heart.
Within a month of this stirring in ’89, he had written a book that was the culmination of those 7 years of holy desire. He felt to send the manuscript to Ravenhill, hoping to get his thoughts on it. Leonard contacted him, saying, “I’m supposed to write the foreword to this book.” (You can read Dr. Brown’s own account of this story at http://theravenhillchallenge.wordpress.com/about-the-end-of-the-american-gospel-enterprise/)
Listen to brother Ravenhill’s comments from the foreword to Brown’s book, The End of the American Gospel Enterprise:
There is not much that has been written in recent years that has stirred me. This book stirred me. I read it with great profit. It is vibrant and has an anointing.
Mike’s writing is bold but not brash, incisive but not insulting, alert but not acrimonious, daring but not damning. I believe Mike heard a word from the Lord, an echo of mercy from the voice of God.
…Jesus came to send fire on the earth (Lk. 12:49-50). We need a baptism of fire today to consume our carelessness and erase our effete efforts; to send us with burdened hearts, burning lips, and brimming eyes to a dying generation.
Read this book and be ignited. Then go and be an igniter of others. (The End of the American Gospel Enterprise; Destiny Image, 1989)
A recommendation of this kind should not be ignored. This is not a glib endorsement, but the exhortation of a saintly voice, calling us to consider the message that this book conveys. But we have yet to share Ravenhill’s challenge with you! Here is the rest of what he wrote:
I recommend that this book be read publicly, two chapters at a time without comment, in the mid-week service of every evangelical church in the nation. If they will do that in each church, it could shake the whole country.
What a remarkable suggestion! We are taking it as a challenge.
We are rallying as many as are willing to take brother Ravenhill’s words seriously, setting aside one meeting a week for the reading of two chapters, “without comment,” for eight weeks. Time should be left open following the reading for reflection, repentance, personal and corporate prayer.
This challenge will commence the week of July 5, 2009, twenty years after the Lord moved on Michael Brown’s heart to write The End of the American Gospel Enterprise.
We are recommending a time of worship to precede the reading of the chapters, and an open time for response in prayer and repentance following that. We at The Ravenhill Challenge believe that the message of Brown’s book is even more relevant in 2009 than it was in 1989, and we are praying for a grassroots movement of revival and repentance to sweep through the Church in all denominations and expressions. Who knows what God will do in the earth when his people open their hearts to His word, and respond to the light that is given?
We are challenging Senior Pastors, Youth Pastors, District Leaders, House Church Overseers, House of Prayer Overseers, and Missions Directors to set aside one meeting a week (whether mid-week or not), to take up The Ravenhill Challenge!
Ravenhill used to say that “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized during the lifetime of the opportunity.”
Let’s seize the day, brothers and sisters. Let’s take The Ravenhill Challenge and see what God will do in our midst.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: America, Dr. Michael Brown, Leonard Ravenhill, Revival, The End of the American Gospel Enterprise, The Ravenhill Challenge