Five Myths about Emerging Adult Faith
Trouble is, only 5 percent of emerging adults are so devoted to their faith that they attend religious services weekly or read Scripture as much as once or twice per month. And that group includes Mormons, Muslims, Jews, and all Christian denominations. Another 14 percent regularly attend religious services a few times per month. But their behavior often resembles the irreligious more than the devoted. They practice a different creed: so long as you don't hurt others, almost anything goes. And since every single person is different, different rules apply, depending on the situation.
"This, it seems, is not merely basic American individualism," write Smith and Snell. "It is individualism raised on heavy doses of multiculturalism and pumped up on the steroids of the postmodern insistence on disjuncture, difference, and differences 'going all the way down.'"
Emerging adults have abandoned liberal Protestantism.
Some evangelicals enjoy pointing out rapidly declining attendance at liberal churches. But Smith and Snell temper that enthusiasm. Even those who check the right boxes on Jesus and heaven do not heed God's call on their lives. No matter their professed beliefs, emerging adults tend to live for jobs, money, fun, and friends. At the gut level, liberal values trump biblical doctrine.
Smith and Snell observe: "Individual autonomy, unbounded tolerance, freedom from authorities, the affirmation of pluralism, the centrality of human self-consciousness, the practical value of moral religion, epistemological skepticism, and an instinctive aversion to anything 'dogmatic' or committed to particulars were routinely taken for granted by respondents."
Emerging adults tend to fall away from faith in college.
Many parents fear their children's going off to college, where peers and professors deconstruct everything they learned growing up. But Smith and Snell echo other studies that show emerging adults who do not attend college are more likely to fall away from faith. Why? There are a greater number of evangelical faculty members who support like-minded students. The modernist enterprise with its secularizing agenda has all but collapsed. And evangelical campus groups flourish.
Yet there is cause for caution. Smith and Snell found that 85 percent of emerging adults who have committed their lives to God did so before they turned 14. No matter how much campus groups try to evangelize, they tend to offer safe haven for students who grow up in Christian homes. Like so much else revealed by Souls in Transition, there is much cause for both congratulations and consternation.
Collin Hansen is a Christianity Today editor at large and co-author of the forthcoming book A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir (Zondervan).
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Collin Hansen is Editorial Director of The Gospel Coalition.