Book Reviews, Youth

Book Review: The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler

February 27, 2014


Suppose someone from 1914 had the ability to travel in time 100 years and sit in a modern worship service?  It’s safe to say they would be absolutely shocked by the spiritual climate and change in our churches.  Everything is different, radically different. The technology, the music, the facilities, the delivery style, and in some cases, even the message would be almost unrecognizable to someone from this era.

This is not to say that everything was perfect 100 years ago.  On the contrary, the church has, in every decade, been riddled with challenges and complex issues.  There has never been a perfect decade, or denomination for that matter, because there are no perfect people.  But it is safe to assume that someone from a century ago would be perplexed at the current state of religious affairs.  Imagine them sitting in the modern arena and listening to the electronically-charged sounds of worship.  As they take notes from the flashing screens on the wall, I assume they would ask a few questions: “How did this happen?” And perhaps more importantly, “Why did this happen?”

To give them an academic and historical account of the religious evolution, I would simply hand them a copy of The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas Bergler.

Bergler offers incredibly-detailed insight regarding the metamorphosis of the church.  Bergler contends the spiritual shallowness that currently exists is the result of the juvenilization phenomenon.  By juvenilization, Bergler means “the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages.”

Starting at World War II, Bergler examines how political and social changes infiltrated the youth of America.  Though beneficial in many ways, these various youth movements monopolized religious agendas and created particular causes that were not necessary within biblical mandates.  Within the context of the Cold War, religious and political leaders began looking toward the youth of America as the great hope of restoration – young people were the answer for America’s future.

To keep them engaged with the church, it was necessary to appeal to their likings.  Culture, and everything associated with it, was drastically changing.  Music, movies, hang-outs, and entertainment had greater impact on youth than ever before.  Therefore, many leaders felt it necessary to incorporate secular mindsets within the framework of spiritual motives.  This created, by in large, a movement that was busy, active, engaged, and involved.  However, political and social agendas diminished the necessity of doctrinal development and through the decades the movement indoctrinated the entire mindset of the church.

Fast forward through the decades and suddenly here we are.

This book offers great depth and clarity as it relates to the current state of the church.  Bergler, though intuitively academic, does miss the mark on a few things.  He seems to focus more on the juvenilization through the movements of the Methodist and Catholic church.  Also, he fails to connect the juvenilization process with the fact that Scripture warns of this shallowness.  His approach seems purely scholastic in scope and reason.  His hypothesis, though aligned with Scriptural assertions, seems to be lagging in biblical application.  He makes little effort in connecting those biblical dots to his premise.

Overall, I enjoyed the historical, and I believe accurate, account of his theory.  Anyone involved with youth leadership would do themselves a great service to read this book.


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