Book Reviews -- By: Matthew S. DeMoss
BSac 171:683 (July-September 2014) p. 365
By The Faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary
The Juvenilization of American Christianity. By Thomas E. Bergler. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing,
Thomas E. Bergler is associate professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University in Indiana. He teaches youth ministry courses and serves as senior associate editor of The Journal of Youth Ministry.
Bergler describes juvenilization as “the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages” (p. 4). He argues that juvenilization flourished in the youth ministry approaches that began to bear fruit in the 1950s: “By personalizing Christianity and creatively blending it with elements of popular culture ranging from rock music to political protests, youth ministers helped ensure the ongoing vitality of Christianity in America. But these same ministries also sometimes pandered to the consumerism, self-centeredness, and even outright immaturity of American believers” (ibid.). He explains, “This book is about how and why this process of juvenilization got started, what keeps it going, and how it has benefited and hurt each of the major streams of Christianity in America” (p. 7).
Bergler asserts that juvenilization began in the 1930s and 1940s with the rise of youth ministry in response to a perceived “crisis of civilization” (p. 19). Christian leaders thought they could fix the problems in American culture through the youth. Leaders across “the spectrum of American churches” created programs that would draw youth in and encourage young people toward political action (p. 25). He argues that youth leaders bear responsibility for juvenilization because of “overestimating the political power of youth and underestimating the long-term effects of accommodating youth culture” (p. 42). By the end of the 1940s, youth ministries found themselves in competition with the broader American culture; namely “high school and youth consumerism” (p. 44). Youth leaders saw the dilemma as a choice “to adapt to youth culture and tamper with the faith; or to ignore that culture and suffer the loss of youthful loyalty” (p. 65). Many chose the former.
In succeeding chapters Bergler focuses on liberal Protestantism, using Methodism’s evangelistic approach as his case study, the African American church, and American Catholicism. He demonstrates the process of juvenilization and its widespread effects in these diverse traditions, turning to evangelicals in chapter 6, entitled “Ho...
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