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The Juvenilization of American Christianity Paperback – April 20, 2012
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"I highly recommend this book. Every session that oversees or plans to design a youth group should read this book and use it to train potential youth leaders."
— Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, Wheaton College
"One of the key themes within the American church since the 1930s — and particularly since the 1960s — has been the change in how congregations approach youth ministry and youth culture. The Juvenilization of Christianity by Thomas Bergler explores the wide-ranging ramifications of this revolution across the denominational spectrum, examining not only its impact upon young people but also the larger implications — positive and negative — for the entire church. Anyone really trying to understand the dynamics of American Christianity must read this book."
— University of Notre Dame
"The Juvenilization of American Christianity provides a fine history of one of the most significant revolutions in twentieth-century Christianity. . . . Anyone concerned with the church and its ministries can learn from reading this book and reflecting on the changes that Bergler describes."
Rebecca de Schweinitz
— author of If We Could Change the Word: Young People and America's Long Struggle for Racial Equality
"In exploring previously unexamined relationships between youth, politics, culture, and Christian traditions, Bergler greatly enriches our understanding of Christian youth programs and American religious history."
"A fascinating exploration of the places where Christianity and youth culture have intersected. . . . Will certainly be provocative both for the casual reader and for clergy, who may also appreciate the book's practical suggestions toward a solution."
— Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
"Juvenilization is a long-overdue call to question our means, methods, and message. . . . Bergler shakes us awake and helps us see what's really happening in our youth ministries and churches."
Journal of American History
"Historians, especially those of children and youth, will find this book a valuable resource on how the rapidly changing youth culture of the twentieth century affected the lives of religious youth as adult Christians attempted to spare them from the perceived moral decline in American society."
"Bergler argues that American Christianity of the 1930s and '40s faced the dilemma of a rapidly changing youth culture that chose to adapt to the new culture rather than risk losing her young people. Bergler suggests that in doing so, the church has paid the high price for Christian vibrancy. The price has been a tradeoff of obligation for consumption."
"Bergler pushes hard to the church to move from the emotive back to something like the doctrinal, from feelings to tradition and commitment. . . . This book makes a case for adults and youth leaders to claim their adulthood, recognizing that what young people need most is not tour guides into entertaining emotive fun, but ways to articulate the presence and absence of God in their lives. . . . This book does a wonderful job of giving us a vision of a disease affecting the church."
"The Juvenilization of American Christianity and From Here to Maturity will richly repay every Christian leader who takes the time to read them."
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Top Customer Reviews
Tom Bergler is a church historian with a specialization in youth ministry. The book covers the American cultural shift in focus to youth beginning in the 1930's to the present time. His narrative and analysis covers not only conservative evangelicals, but also the African-American church, mainline Protestants, and the Catholic Church. Leaders from all groups would benefit from reading this informative book.
As a history book, this one has the same usual challenges. It is full of pertinent detail (with ample end-notes) and it can feel a bit like work when reading about a stream not related to your own experience. But the narrative comes alive when reading about your own tradition. While it would be certainly enlightening to know the whole story, reading the sections that pertain to one's own religious story is one option for tackling this book. Still, it is not a hard book to read, especially with the author's helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. I found it quite engaging.
Bergler maintains that "juvenilization has kept American Christianity vibrant." I really don't want to agree with him, but he supports his point and I will grant it. At the same time, the author shows how juvenilization has also impoverished (my term; not his) the faith. When I concluded my reading of the book I was grateful for the enlightenment I received but also profoundly moved by grief over the immense cost of juvenilization. Bergler does offer some helpful and thoughtful pathways towards correction in his final section.
If there was a place for six stars, I would give it. This is a long awaited book for me.
My review is a generous four stars with several major points:
* Bergler has appropriately identified major issues in the mid-20th century that have led to the current Christian crisis.
* He has crafted a historical case which includes sociological and cultural influences that are often neglected in certain areas of scholarship.
* The text stays attached to its course and provides a fine perspective for Catholic, mainline, African-American, and evangelical frameworks during this period.
* Our contemporary frustrations with Christianity are helpfully explored.
* However, the limitation of the text is that it is chiefly concerned with the middle part of the twentieth century and ignores the bookends which are helpful in understanding the formation of the problem and its current expression.
* For practitioners the bulk of the text will not be helpful for conversation, though the 8th chapter does wrap things up.
* For academic historians there are a number of gaps in the survey which Bergler presents.
The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, presents a historical overview of the conditions in the mid-twentieth century which produced the environment for contemporary expressions of Christianity which lack seriousness, rigor, and depth of intellectualism and spirituality. Bergler's text is part of a larger conversation in contemporary Christianity which has been likened to a sustained season of self-loathing. However, much of this is worthwhile for we Christians have a lot to be concerned with in our present situation.
Perhaps most helpful in Bergler's text is his method of considering not just the (predominantly caucasian) suburban evangelicalism which is the focus of so much of literature in this segment, but he considers a wide cross-section of American Christianity. Too often these areas are never considered together and Bergler does well to show how this can be correctly done. As he goes through the context of these movements, Bergler sets each in their appropriate socio-political setting and makes helpful notes about the unique theological and ecclesiological perspectives for each group.
Another area of appreciation is that the text is how it draws the reader into its mid-century context through helpful points about the sports culture, towns moving from a wartime to a peacetime economy, the challenge of the Cold War era fears of communism, and also making mention of the leaders in each major group. It is a helpful survey for a text that seems to be able to bridge a gap between popular literature and academic history. Bergler never gets muddled in sophomoric details which might constrain his task. Instead, the reader is pushed through the episodes and shown how the "youth revolution" occurred culturally and impacted the Church methodologically.
Also, Bergler draws on Christian Smith's "therapeutic moral deism" in classifying part of the contemporary problem. In the final chapter, he develops how this juvenile Christianity has worked itself out. In total the strengths of the text are found in its diagnosis of the problem which is besetting Christianity in America; specifically from the perspective of how the Church handles her most precious asset: her young people.
In keeping this review concise I also wish to point out several shortcomings in the text which might be corrected in a later edition. The first is that the author forgets both the formative stages prior to and in the early twentieth century along with the final decades of the 1970s-90s. In the initial portion it would be informative for all to see, even in the briefest terms, how the Sunday School movements of the previous two centuries informed the place of children's and youth ministries. Likewise the massive cultural shift which took place over the fundamentalist/modernist controversies should receive attention. For the later three decades much of the current disenfranchisement arises from issues (Crusades, Moral Majority, Seeker Sensitivity, etc) which were in part a result of the youth revolution the text considers. Because the text lacks any investigation of these issues it does fall short.
A second aspect of neglect is that the text suffers from the common condition of its genre. It is long on argument but woefully short on solutions. If a church team were to study this text as a conversational piece the historical section would not be as helpful as the final chapter. Though diagnosis consumes the bulk of the text the treatment plan is not entirely helpful. Bergler cloaks much of his treatment opinions in spiritualized language that is devoid of definitive, measurable action points. For those who are familiar with texts in this genre it is a common problem. We tend to be wonderful at pointing out our weaknesses but terrible at showing how to overcome them.
In final estimation, Bergler has provided the Christian community a worthwhile text that will hopefully stimulate a conversation. It certainly helps challenge assumptions that our churches are stronger because of age-segregated ministry. As a minister working with young adults in an evangelical church, I see the outworkings of many of these problems as teens graduate from outstanding churches with vibrant children and youth programs to suddenly encounter a wilderness of adulthood which isn't as programmed as they had been brought up expecting. Thankfully, there is hope for us all; Bergler provides a text which give us a measure of it.
This text is helpful alongside discussions of the politicalization and consumerization of Christianity.
* Note on Kindle Edition: I read this text in the Kindle version and found a major deficiency in that none of the endnotes were appropriately hyperlinked in the text. Publishers, please take the time to link the endnotes for your texts! This made the research side of the text unwieldy and difficult. It would be better to not offer a text on Kindle than one not completely done.
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