The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Part II

One noticeable characteristic of the book that does not get much attention from the author is its cover.  I’m not sure how involved Bergler was in its selection, but that someone did select it for a monograph entitled The Juvenilization of American Christianity is telling.

What do we see when we judge this book by its cover?  A large group of people, ostensibly in a mega-church, raising their hands to God while singing what is almost certainly a modern worship song.  The implication is of course, that modern worship styles and practices are either causative or a constituent factor of this modern juvenilizing of the faith.  Very interesting.

As a Pentecostal, I am a little concerned by this implication.  Though the congregation on the cover is not singled out as a part of my own religious milieu, it certainly could be.  Even if it is not, in many ways the larger Pentecostal and Charismatic movements were what historically brought such emotive and physical expressions of worship more into the mainstream of American religious life.  If this, then, is necessarily juvenile, we are to blame.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve been a youth pastor, and I have done my share of critiquing the “smoke machines and lights” mentality of many modern youth gatherings.  I’ve heard people complain about modern worship practices as “Christian hedonism.”  But I also know the broad scope of Church history–that encounters with the Almighty need not be only appropriated through solemn ritual and sober reflection.  Sometimes meeting God means that you are affected to your very core.  Sometimes those of use that tends towards the expressive or the emotive simply commune with God in that way.  This is not just for Pentecostals, but early Methodists, desert fathers, and medieval mystics as well.  Sometimes God will simply “mess you up.”

If there is any implication here that there can be a certain style of worship that is more immature than another, I fear we are entering into a kind of Christian class warfare wear one side continues to look down its nose at the other as something “less than.”  Though Pentecostalism and Christianities of related experiential expressions of faith are becoming the dominant expression of the Faith, there can be a persistent tendency to imagine that these “religious primitives” are simply to be put up with until they calm down and become more rational.  It can feel rather like elitism to me, and I’m not a fan.

As much as I understand the problems and issues involved within the movement of which I am a part (and I’ll probably spend time on here talking about them now and then), I cannot endorse that kind of program.  As strange and different from staid norms Pentecostal experiences may be, they need not be any less real because of that.

It is as Pascal once said long ago: “The heart has its reasons the mind knows not of.”

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3 comments on “The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Part II

  1. Viletta Knight says:

    I think the cover was chosen because it depicts youth worshiping in a physical way that is really demonstrative. I don’t think that is “juvenile” at all. I think it is freedom in worship.

    I just returned from a interdenominational women’s retreat where the worship time was sweet and the Holy Spirit was present. However, as a 53 year old Pentecostal woman, there were times when I wish there had been more dancing and “shouting unto God with the voice of triumph.”

    I am so blessed when I see the 75 year old woman in our congregation dance before the LORD and wave her flags. I know another 75 year old who loves the contemporary worship songs and who grew up in the Methodist church.

    And often we 40-something and 50-somethings volunteer to help out at youth conventions and the sort partly so that we can stand in the back and enjoy the worship time! I think the author (or whoever chose the cover of the book) is misled by attributing immaturity to animated worship. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is ‘freedom’.

  2. […] about “The juvenilization of Islam.” Joshua R. Ziefle also posted parts one and two of his review of the book to his […]

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