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In interviews with over 3,000 Christians teens from a variety of Christan denominations, Dean found that most them were fairly ambivalent about their faith, few were active adherents to the tenets of their religious tradition and most had a difficult time expressing their beliefs to others.
From the CNN feature:
"Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good -- what the study's researchers called "moralistic therapeutic deism."These are some disconcerting findings and offer some compelling cautions for parents and those who work with youth. To read the rest of the CNN article click here.
Some critics told Dean that most teenagers can't talk coherently about any deep subject, but Dean says abundant research shows that's not true.
"They have a lot to say," Dean says. "They can talk about money, sex and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate."
In "Almost Christian," Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.
No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.
"There are countless studies that show that religious teenagers do better in school, have better relationships with their parents and engage in less high-risk behavior," she says. "They do a lot of things that parents pray for."
Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children's faith, places the ultimate blame for teens' religious apathy on adults.
Some adults don't expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.
Others practice a "gospel of niceness," where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.
"If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary."