Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Article excerpt

The Juvenilization of American Christianity. By Thomas E. Bergler. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2012. Pp. x, 281. $25.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8028-6684-4.)

Thomas E. Bergler has written an important book for the historian of American Christianity. Beginning in the 1940s, Bergler takes the reader on an historical j ourney through the development of youth ministry and youth culture in the U nited States to outline the origins and process of the juvenilization of American Christianity and "how it has benefitted and hurt each of the major streams of Christianity in America" (p. 7). Along the way, Bergler draws upon archival documents, national publications, published memoirs, and the work of sociologists and historians. He does not intend to blame youth ministry for the current state of American Christianity; nor does he intend to explain how to eliminate juvenilization. Rather, he hopes "that by understanding where we have come from and how we got here, we might be able to choose the best paths forward" (p. 7).

In his introduction, "We're All Adolescents Now," Bergler examines adolescence in American culture and briefly defines adolescent Christianity as "any way of understanding, experiencing, or practicing the Christian faith that conforms to the patterns of adolescence in American culture" (p. 8). He then continues by offering a brief overview of the process of juvenilization and examining the current state of American Christianity. In chapter 1, ?Youth, Christianity, and the Crisis of Civilization," he examines the perceived crisis of civilization in the 1940s that provided the impetus for the development of youth ministry, before introducing his four study groups: (1) Mainline Protestants represented by the Methodist Episcopal Church, (2) Evangelical Protestants as seen in Youth for Christ, (3) Roman Catholics and the American bishops' Catholic Youth Organization program, and (4) African Americans of the Baptist denomination. He opens chapter 2, ?Misreading the Signs of the Times: From Political Youth to Trivial Teenagers" with a discussion of the developing youth culture of the late 1940s and 1950s before looking closely at each group's response to the cultural shifts that put American Christianity on the path to juvenilization. …

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