My daughter and I are reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian together and blogging about it. This is my sixth post in the series. It is a response, of sorts, to my daughter’s post on the same chapter.
Chapter 6: Parents Matter Most
This chapter offer the first of three strategies or moves that adults and churches might make in cultivating faith in younger Christians. In the chapter, Dean discusses ways parents and older Christians need to act as “cultural interpreters” who translate the faith to the rising “barbarian” generations.
My daughter has an excellent discussion of the concept of “behind-the-wall” and “on-the-wall” conversations that give rise to the need for translation. You can read about that on her blog.
The chapter also has an interesting look at what translation means and how adults would have to act to be effective translators. The four points are quite interesting and worthy of attention. But I want to discuss only the last point Dean makes or rather her final warning.
Translating the faith is dangerous, she writes.
Whenever we participate in the transmission of faith, across cultures or generations, we are putting the gospel into the hands of people new to it, which is a little like giving plutonium to a kindergartner. … Congregations somehow inuit that the young people they love also threaten their very way of life; what would happen if these beloved barbarians got their hands on the church as we know it? Most churches do not really want to risk finding out.
This reminds me of a story, the details of which I will get wrong. (My daughter will set the facts straight in a comment.)
My daughter’s cohort of youth once got it in their heads that feeding homeless people was a good idea. So, the plan was hatched to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hand out to the scruffy folks who hung out in a small urban park near the church.
The plan got some support from the church – including a cash donation by an adult – but then it got killed off. Parents – including my daughter’s parents – got a bit too nervous about who our bright, shiny children might meet or rub up against.
We can say, looking back, that we grown ups had some prudent and proper concerns, although the risks of something bad happening in broad daylight within feet of one of the busiest pedestrian areas of town were not high.
What was really going on was that a bunch of kids in church had taken the words of the gospel a lot more seriously than their parents had. And they tried to do something about it.
This is the kind of danger Dean is writing about. It is the kind of danger that often makes adults avoid the gospel themselves, because the power of the gospel will mess up your well made plans and well ordered life. If there is one thing we middle class Americans don’t like, it is lack of control.
As a consequence, we don’t live very gospel-driven lives, which means we don’t have any kind of faith to pass on to the next generation. So, we hand them over to church “experts” and hope they can give them some good morals and bless our middle-class values with a gloss of Christian-ese.
If we are serious about translating real faith, we need to have it. And then we need to learn to speak the language of the culture. (Read Dean’s book for more on that.)
But don’t undertake this idea lightly. As Dean says:
Newcomers to Christian faith are prone to believing that Jesus is who he says he is, and they are apt to negotiate risks … that the more seasoned among us would like to avoid.