By Grace You Are Mature

We don't grow out of spiritual adolescence by trying to grow up.
By Grace You Are Mature
Image: Illustration by Paul Kisselev
By Grace You Are Mature

It is easy to forget that when Tommy "Crimson and Clover" James released his excellent record Christian of the World in 1971, there was no such thing as Christian rock. Pop stars didn't make dramatic confessions of faith, or when they did, they didn't write rock 'n' roll albums about them. Even Elvis had the good sense to make his gospel recordings reverent affairs steeped in Baptist quartet singing, not electric guitars. Rock was a young man's game, and the church belonged to the adults, who were understandably reticent about "the Devil's music."

Fast-forward 40 years, and the tables have turned. Even in more liturgical churches, guitars are the rule rather than the exception, to say nothing of drums. American Christianity has been juvenilized, as Thomas Bergler makes painfully clear.

Indeed, it is difficult to argue with Bergler's basic diagnosis, especially without resorting to the adolescent forms that he decries. Christianity has been irrevocably cast in romantic terms over the past 50 years; in many corners of the church, "personal relationship" has become an unimpeachable phrase. The kneejerk anti-institutionalism of mainstream American evangelicalism is undeniable. The emphasis on (good) feelings over theology; the obsession with sexual purity relative to other Christian virtues; the subtle and not-so-subtle appropriations of cultural norms, from the use of movie clips in sermons to the blatant commercialism of the "book table"—all these have strangely resulted in a deeper incubation from the wider culture than anyone could have imagined. Would any of us really deny this reality?

Of course,it is almost impossible to write about this juvenilization without sounding grumpy or at least as alarmist as the groups ...

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