Kenda Dean’s Good News

Kenda Dean’s latest book, Almost Christian: What The Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church, caught the attention of CNN over the weekend (read Kenda’s thoughtful response here). It’s long since been taken up by the likes of Tony Jones and most everyone else engaged in youth ministry in mainline protestant churches.

Some substantial critiques have been leveled against Dean’s thesis, which is essentially that a lax breed of religiosity among churchgoing teens in America is the fault of the church before it’s the fault of any other villian, like the culture, technology, or any other of the usual suspects. Some have challenged whether her research-backed assessment of levels of teen religious fervor are accurate. Others have challenged her prescription of a fix.

It’s a complex question. Dean’s presentation of the evidence is compelling, if not a little numbing in its depth. She’s no ivory tower-sequestered egghead; she works with teens and with youth workers. She knows whereof she speaks.

Consider this passage. After quoting John 20:19-23 in its entirety, Dean says:

“There it is, in the middle of verse 20: “Then.” An unoticeable word, maybe, unless you are a parent, or a pastor, or anyone who works with teenagers–but there it is, a delayed reaction, the lapse that occurs between telling a teenager she is beautiful and having her believe it; the interval between showing up at the high school gym and having your player, ready for a free throw, notice that you are there; the space between hearin the good news and responding to it. Jesus shows up, speaks up, shows the disciples his scars–then they reacted. A liminal nanosecond in John 20, but a season of life for many of us: the gap between recognizing Christ’s coming and Christ’s sending. Jesus could have grabbed the disciples (or us) by the scruff of the neck, flinging them into the world to proclaim his resurrection right then and there, but he doesn’t. He waits. Between Christ’s coming and Christ’s sending Jesus waits for us to recognize him, and for us to rejoice that God’s good news, after all that we have done to deny it, has come to us. As the dispirited disciples dangle in their God-given in-between, Jesus waits . . . and then: rejoicing! It dawns on them that God’s promise is true, the One they love is alive, the story they are part of is far, far bigger than they ever imagined.

Dean is speaking good news to the church, not pronouncing “Forty days more!” I, for one, am glad to hear it again and to be reminded that youth ministry is far, far bigger than my schedules, talks, devotionals, and visits.

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