Millennials: Getting Beyond Selfies, @, and #

[1]     As the only generation slightly larger than the Baby Boomers, Millennials have been getting increasing attention from both scholars and the news media. I have identified three commonly affirmed features of the Millennial generation that are axiomatic for the relationship between Millennials and Christian communities: a fundamentally different integration of technology, a belief in the ability to make a difference in the world, and disillusionment with organized religion. My sense is that these three features are intimately related. Drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Charles Taylor my article will engage how conceptions of personhood and the ‘social imaginary’ has changed for the Millennial generation, giving special regard to technology.




[2]     Around October of this past year I noticed something. My family had just moved to Kansas so that I could begin a job at a liberal-arts Lutheran college. Students would quietly shuffle into the classroom, sometimes not even turning on the lights, and huddle into the same place each day to hunch over their phones raising a hand without looking up as I called out names for the first two or three weeks of the course. By mid-October I had an odd encounter with a student who said hello to me on campus. We are a small school where students and faculty know each other well, so this was not unusual, but I did not recognize the student. As fate should have it, this student bent over to tie his shoe after waving back. When I saw the top of his head I knew exactly who he was and where he sat in my introductory class. The next day I realized that I could identify all the students in my class by the tops of their heads—which is all I saw when taking attendance— but not their faces.


[3]     What my own experience, and countless surveys seem to indicate, is that the Millennials are the first generation to be immersed in portable technologies and social media. As the Pew Research Center’s report on Millennials describes it, “Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part – for better and worse. More than eight-in-ten say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed, poised to disgorge texts, phone calls, emails, songs, news, videos, games and wake-up jingles.”[1] The same report goes on to indicate that Millennial use of social network sites increased from 7% to 75% between 2005 and 2010, and it finds 54% check said sites at least once per day—with an even higher percentage noted for younger Millennials.[2] All of this informs a basic sense of technological self-perception, as the Pew Research also notes that 24% of Millennials identify use of technology as what makes their generation unique (more than ten points higher than any other feature).[3]


[4]     What makes this generation’s use of technology so different from its predecessors? Why is this use such a distinguishing mark of self-perception for this generation in ways that it has not been for previous generations? The phenomenological approach of Merleau-Ponty may help clarify some of the differences. Merleau-Ponty’s approach is distinct because he gives credence to the body, more specifically what he calls the ‘flesh’ or the ‘lived-body.’[4] These ideas develop from the concept of a ‘chiasm:’ a crossing or intersecting. For Merleau-Ponty, the chiasm points to the importance of the body in phenomenology as the site where the sensed and sensing features of perception come together. The clear, and oft cited, example of this 

is two hands touching.


[5]      First, though, just consider the act of touch. Imagine your right hand touching a table. As the right hand touches the table it is a locus of sensing, feeling the grainy coolness of the wood. Now imagine the left hand touches the right hand. The right hand is no longer sensing so much as sensed: it is the warm skin felt by the left hand that senses. This quality of the right hand as both sensing and sensed is radicalized if we imagine the right hand not just touching a table but touching the left hand at the same time that the left hand touches the right hand. In this scenario each hand is both sensing and sensible. What this example indicates is the obverse quality of the body as sensed and sensing. The body is the chiasmic location where sensed and sensing cross one another. Merleau-Ponty identifies that this creates an ontological continuity between the body and the world (what he calls ‘flesh’), whereby the body and the world encroach into each other.[5]


[6]     ​​Self and world do not collapse into one another—there remains a distance or separation—but there is a fluidity which is important for the way we think about how human beings adopt technology. In his Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty gives a number of examples of this type of analysis of the fluidity between body and world that results from a phenomenological analysis of motility and habit, such as the following.


[7]     We said earlier that it is the body which 'understands' in the cultivation of habit. This way of putting it will appear absurd, if understanding is subsuming a sense-datum under an idea, and if the body is an object. But the phenomenon of habit is just what prompts us to revise our notion of 'understand' and our notion of the body. To understand is to experience the harmony between what we aim at and what is given, between the intention and the performance—and the body is our anchorage in a world…. When the typist performs the necessary movements on the typewriter, these movements are governed by an intention, but the intention does not posit the keys as objective locations. It is literally true that the subject who learns to type incorporates the key-bank space into his bodily space.[6]


[8]     ​Here is an example, from Merleau-Ponty, of technology incorporating to our body. It is an example of ‘flesh’ whereby the hard and fast distinction between self and world is muddied. This example of the typist is important particularly in the context of thinking about Millennials in that it indicates two things. First, the phenomenological incorporation of the world as flesh is not a distinctive feature of Millennials. This type of incorporation is something done in various ways by each of us through our everyday way of being in the world. Second, given the first point, the portability of mobile technologies and the ready availability of socially extending avatars[7] do seem to indicate some real differences in the voracity with which Millennials incorporate technology to their particular lived-bodies.


[9]     Anecdotal experience in a college classroom today is indicative of this voracity. For instance, while discussing the First Vatican Council with my students, I found myself blanking on the date it was convoked. Looking blankly to my students I suggested “Let’s move on; I’m sure it will come to me later.” Before I could even finish my sentence a student spoke up saying, “June 29, 1868;” he had whipped out his phone and found the date on Wikipedia. While anecdotal, this experience is emblematic of the subtle difference in incorporation of technology for Millennials from other generations: no one ever whipped out a typewriter (to use Merleau-Ponty’s example). The bulk, heft, and expense of many technologies made their incorporation into the flesh limited in specific ways for past generations. Millennials, however, have never not known portable technologies. Most barely remember bulky Walkmans and Discmans, which were revolutionary to making music portable for preceding generations. Laptops are even old-fashioned in an era of tablets and smartphones. This portability changes the feasibility of incorporating technology to the flesh; specifically, portability affords increased intimacy in incorporation that was limited to different types of bodily encounters for previous generations.


[10]     In particular, social media capitalizes on this intimate incorporation of portable technologies allowing for the establishment of a digital-network.[8] Notably though, Millennials have not had to adopt online social avatars as previous generations did. They simply inherit them. This is particularly true for younger Millennials and will certainly be the case for children today. Here, I think of my son who was born many states away from my parents; many pictures and videos of him were uploaded in social media applications well before he was able to choose to adopt such a virtual avatar. For him, as well as for many Millennials, this digital footprint is simply an inherited part of what we (his parents and family) choose as a projection of his self-image. While for older generations who choose the avatars of social media they desire to engage very intentionally, Millennials and subsequent generations have a digital identity thrust upon them.


Changing the World?


[11]     In addition to the radical change in the intimacy of technology in the lived-bodies of Millennials, another feature that many studies of this generation note is a strong desire to change their world. While this is a feature that can be found in many different studies, the magnanimity of this desire is disputed. For instance, Millennials Rising suggests that Millennials are akin to the Greatest Generation and will bring about a return to a sense of duty and civil-service.[9] A slightly more sober assessment can be found in the survey conducted by Thom and Jess Rainer, who affirm that Millennials are hopeful and optimistic, but making a contribution to society is not the most critical factor in this generation’s decision making regarding their careers.[10] Still, both cases assume a largely positive acceptance of the desire of Millennials to engage in service to the wider community.


[12]    In many ways, this squares with my own experience of teaching college students, particularly in a class on “Discovery, Reflection, and Vocation” as part of the Core Experience for first-time freshmen. Students were growing dissatisfied with the class. When asked why they were frustrated, they nearly unanimously expressed that they thought the class was going to be about service; they thought the class was going to be an opportunity for them to extend the service work they were doing in the wider community during orientation. What struck me about their very clear assessment is that they were less interested in the reflective process of internalizing the learning-outcome I had established (better appreciate how vocation indicates we use our gifts to serve our neighbor)—they wanted to go out and practice the service of vocation.


[13]     In a sense, the desire of these students represents well the importance of what Taylor calls ‘social imaginaries.’ Different from social theory, social imaginaries describe “the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.”[11] They are intended to bridge the gap between theories, which are usually held by a minority of social elites, and the common understanding that informs frequent practices within society. Because social imaginaries deal with this common understanding and practice, Taylor intends that they be applied well beyond particular, specific practices. Instead, the social imaginary functions much like a horizon in phenomenology: examining the factual and normative background that often remains unarticulated but informs the holistic understanding by which we incorporate and make sense of particular theories and practices.[12]


[14]     My interest in the social imaginary relates to the helpful concept of a “repertory” that Taylor invokes. A repertory is “the collective actions at the disposal of a given group of society.”[13] It is critical to distinguishing the social imaginary from social theory: it is the collective set of actions that make sense of our moral order and make the norms of the moral order realizable. Without this actionable element of the social imaginary, the imaginary would not be able to take on the quality of a horizon or background that shapes the sense of those all too obvious to mention facets of our world.[14] In the course of giving examples of the way the repertory participates in shaping our social imaginaries and transforming our society, Taylor outlines two critical principles: “(1) the actors have to know what to do, have to have practices in their repertory that put the new order into effect; and (2) the ensemble of actors have to agree on what these practices are.”[15]


[15]     While I am certainly applying the idea of the social imaginary in a much more specific sense than Taylor intends, we could think of Millennials’ confidence about their ability to change the world in terms of the repertory of a generational social imaginary. An ability to change the world in order to bring about wider social prosperity and happiness is fundamental to the way that Millennials imagine their social existence. This core desire to effect a positive change forms a critical background feature and expectation of how people ought to interact within the Millennial social imaginary. Concomitantly, there is a strong desire to seek out practices and opportunities (such as various forms of community service) that practice this Millennial norm for social interaction. In terms of the two repertory principles, service could be thought of as the repertory practice of Millennials: service enjoys wide agreement as to how this generation thinks it can affect social order. However, amidst such a rush to an agreed practice of social transformation (service) there is a lack of contemplation that informs the first of Taylor’s repertory principles: they may agree what the practices of social transformation are and have a desire to affect change, but Millennials do not really know what to do to channel such action into new social order.


[16]     Social science research questioning the optimism and altruistic intentions of the Millennial desire to do service provides support for this assessment. Jean Twenge offers a nuanced perspective on this issue. Shaped out of her diachronic comparative empirical research, Twenge balances the recent survey data that indicates a boost in ‘volunteering in the past year’ for Millennials[16] with data on feelings of cynicism and outside control.  Twenge, along with scholars Liqing Zhang and Charles Im, found that “[e]xternal control beliefs increased about 50% between the 1960s and the 2000s.”[17] Their results are astonishing in showing a clear change towards increased belief (amidst college students given the way they generate their results) that outside forces control modern lives. I highlight this point to indicate that what the survey and comparative research seem to indicate is that while Millennials tend to express optimism and hope about their ability to have an impact on the world, they are simultaneously more likely than previous generations to affirm that their lives are controlled by outside forces mitigating the impact of their ability to make choices that matter. Millennials engage in service with a self-esteem protecting sense of externalization yielding a degree of apathy, disempowerment, and cynicism: a sentiment like, “It’s good for me to serve others and I’m willing to do it, but what difference does it really make.”


[17]     What appears is a Millennial social imaginary that is self-undermining. It is driven by a wide agreement about the role of service in creating positive change to the social order. However, the power of these actions to effect change are mitigated by a lack of concentrated reflection on the meaning of performing the service. The inarticulacy surrounding the repertory of this Millennial social imaginary mitigates its affect through apathetic externalization that reinforces the inarticulacy.

Disillusioned by Organized Religion


[18]     One feature that appears to be universally attested in survey data regarding Millennials is that religious attitudes of this generation represent an extension and intensification of religious disenfranchisement. In this regard, the subset of Millennials that have garnered the most attention are the so called ‘nones.’ The Pew center indicates that Millennials mark ‘no religious preference’ in their survey data at a rate of 26%. That is to say approximately 1 in 4 Millennials can loosely be defined as a ‘none.’[18]


[19]     What strikes me as most important, but not as often discussed, is survey data indicating a decline in self-identification of religious importance. The same Pew survey also indicates that amidst Millennials regardless of religious preference, only 45% indicate that religion is very important in their lives.[19] The data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) corroborates the Pew survey.[20] As Smith and Denton find in their analysis of the NSYR data, most Millennials view religion as “benignly positive.”[21] Millennials largely offer a luke-warm understanding of religious faith as a positive good, but one with little influence over their decision-making. For this generation, religious faith (and in particular Christianity given its prevalence in the American context) points to a banal sense of God’s desire for us to be nice to one another and pursue personal happiness.[22] Kenda Dean summarizes this perspective clearly with her five “guiding beliefs of moralistic therapeutic deism.”[23]


1.      A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.

2.      God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3.      The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4.      God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.

5.      Good people go to heaven when they die.[24]



[20]    Following Smith and Denton, Dean affirms that moralistic therapeutic deism is not an invention of the Millennial generation, but an expression of a wider Christian malaise insofar as Millennial faith patterns appear to mirror the religious inclinations of their parents. Moralistic therapeutic deism represents a sort of easy pluralism that has been passed on as faith in many churches across America.
[21]    In response, Dean proposes a return to missional theological principles, calling the church back to its fundamental task of translating the faith of Christianity into ever-changing cultural contexts. She describes this as an Incarnational theology that seeks to meet people where they are (a Christianity encountering culture model) and then invite people into a deeper dialogue about how we as faith communities participate in the self-giving love of Christ (an inter-Christian dialogue). Each aspect of this approach is intended to enrich the faith vocabulary and articulateness of Christian people across generations, inculcating a more robust theological language for Millennials.[25]  It is a way to reengage the critical praxes of catechesis that have informed the church for millennia.
[22]     There is much merit in Dean’s approach, especially in its inter-generational facets. Perhaps most important are two points she emphasizes in this regard that I would strongly echo. First, she highlights the importance of imagination in this process of equipping people to give more nuanced accounts of Christian faith. Focusing on Millennials, we could claim that the language and concepts of the Christian faith have to engage and affirm the exploration of the theological imaginations of Millennials.[26] Articulate translators of the Christian faith have to transform the imagination of a generation that views religion as a benign good. Second, as we engage the theological imaginations of Millennials we must realize that this is an inherently dangerous prospect for those who most possess control within the church. If we refuse to liberate the church to enact Millennial theological insights—sharing power to fulfill new and unforeseen ends—then any effort to engage Millennials will fail before it begins. Building on these insights and considering how technology, service, and religious disillusionment relate, I would lift up five points for a sketch (which I offer with wildly broad strokes) of what the relationship between Millennials and the church could be for the near future of mainline Protestantism.


          1.      Millennials cannot be treated as prey; churches must meet Millennials as they are.


[24]     All too often congregations believe that they can make a few changes to bait the elusive Millennial into coming to their church, as though they are on some large-game safari, and then capture them into continuing to come. Unfortunately, as I think all too many congregations can attest, this does not really work. As I heard Roger Gustafson, the bishop of the Central States Synod, recently put it: you cannot treat Millennials as though they have targets on their backs. Reaching out to Millennials has to be about much more than propping up a dying way of thinking about what it means to do congregational ministry. If the goal of a congregation is to recruit Millennials so that we can keep enough people around to continue the rummage sale being done the same way it has been done for the past forty years, you will fail and you should stop your recruiting: because your efforts only further enforce the repertory of a social imaginary in which church is another external controlling force. Instead, congregations must actively work at becoming places where all are welcome.


          2.      If Millennials readily incorporate portable technologies, not just as tools with some separable and discrete function but as extensions of their own bodies, then churches effectively dismember Millennials by not considering this incorporation.


[25]     Dismembering may sound harsh, but it is the consequence of a phenomenology of the body in which technology is incorporated. Congregational worship is an easy place to begin thinking about this dismembering. Hopefully, churches consider how peoples’ bodies enter into the liturgical space of worship: worship engages the body through sitting and standing, singing, reading, listening, the arrangement of seating, etc. How does worship engage the technological incorporations of Millennial bodies?


[26]     Perhaps we could offer an augmented reality of our liturgical spaces, where individuals could hold up a smart phone and a description could be available of the different features of the sanctuary space for newcomers who may not have grown up in a church. Or, what if the congregations made a tablet available where you could swipe a credit or debit card instead of putting our offerings in a plate?  In any case, if portable technologies are increasingly incorporated to our bodies, then making intentional use of such technologies can create a more inviting atmosphere for a generation steeped in such incorporation.


          3.      The Millennial incorporation of technology should be considered in the context of the repertory of an emerging social imaginary that emphasizes the increasing importance of science and technology in forming our understanding of the world.


[27]     I whole-heartedly agree with the assessment of Dean that the church must engage in the missional process of translating the faith anew to each generation. But to engage in this task with authenticity requires a deep analysis and consideration of the social imaginary that informs the culture receiving the translation. If it is fair to claim that a distinctive hallmark of the Millennial generation is their ready incorporation of portable technologies, then we should expect the increasing emergence of a social imaginary in which these technologies are integral to the factual and normative expectations for  how things go on between ourselves and others.


          4.      The emerging Millennials’ social imaginary requires an openness to thinking in alternative ways about the primacy of the role given to metaphysical concerns in articulating the importance of Christianity.


[28]     One of the startling consequences of moralistic therapeutic deism is it makes clear just how the Millennials’ metaphysical imagination is bankrupt. That is to say that if moralistic therapeutic deism accurately represents the faith sensibilities of many Millennials, then they lack the tools to articulate a robust repertory which could inform a more robust sense of metaphysical concerns as part of their social imaginary. Simply put, Millennials are often inarticulate in regard to faith and possess only a banal vestige of an other-worldly God who swoops in to ensure their happiness.


[29]     In response to such a situation the church may make a number of different moves. One option is to follow the approach that Dean advocates: look at the faithful practices of those who buck the trend towards moralistic therapeutic deism within this generation. I might suggest an alternative to such an approach though. What if we acknowledge that the repertory of Millennials’ social imaginary is shaped by a fundamental shift in which moralistic therapeutic deism is the expression of a last gasp of making sense of an inherited Christianity. Such an understanding posits that moralistic therapeutic deism is not only a reflection of a wider phenomenon they inherit, but it is also a means by which Millennials grasp at making sense of theistic action considered primarily, or only, in terms of miraculous intervention that conflicts with their increasing incorporation of the order of a technologically and scientifically interpreted world. For these Millennials, being encouraged and engaged in dialogue about an approach to Christianity that de-emphasizes its other-worldly features and challenges them to re-conceptualize classic Christian concepts would be immensely important. Technically put, I am suggesting it is important to engage and encourage Millennials to construct an articulate understanding of God and faith that reflects the death of the onto-theological account of God.


[30]      To encourage Millennials to develop understandings of God and faith that reflect the more thorough materialism (though not a reductionist materialism) of a social imaginary that incorporates science and portable technologies is to invite the development of theological articulations that might be seen as heterodox from the perspective of confessional theologies. If the church is going to be welcoming of Millennials and encourage the development of their own articulations of faith, it will need to decide—in both theology and praxis—if it is willing to accept such reflection as faithful expression. This appears to be a largely unresolved issue within mainline Protestantism, though I would predict that if Millennials are given wider voice within the development of theology in the church, this will be an increasingly important issue.


          5.      The importance of theological ethics is imperative given the proclivity for an emphasis on service amidst Millennials, but this proclivity must go beyond a cursory interest in doing the service to creating opportunities for transformative encounters.


[31]     What I increasingly experience in my own work (as a Millennial theologian ), in the reflections of my students, and as borne out by the commitment to service as a critical feature of the repertory of an emerging Millennial social imaginary is that ethics hold a place of primary importance. Service inspires the Millennial generation. However, the service is largely unreflective; it is not rooted within a wider sense of the transformative power that such service can and should induce. As educators and church leaders, we must tap into Millennials’ interest in service and engage service events as opportunities for transformative experience: Millennials need a transformative pedagogy of theological ethics to lead the way in inspiring deepened religious reflection. Fostering critical reflection on these events must be expanded into thinking about the ethical consequences and meanings associated with the more mundane actions of Millennials—extending the insights of the service events into day to day reflection. Intentionally working to design opportunities to help Millennials engage in this type of reflection meets them ‘where they are’ in terms of the repertory of their current social imaginations and allows for an opportunity to extend the repertory of articulate reflection in terms of its religious dimensions. Clearly however, such an approach is one that encourages Millennials to enhance the religious articulateness of their social imaginaries by giving primacy of place to theological ethics over dogmatic formulations.


Adam Pryor is Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of the Varenhorst Center for Discovery, Reflection, and Vocation​ at Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS.


[1]Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next (Washington, D.C: Pew Research Center, February 2010), 1,

[2] Ibid., 28–29.

[3] Ibid., 13.

[4] The fine-grained distinctions of how using Merleau-Ponty differs from using the work of other phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl or Martin Heidegger, is beyond the scope of this work. I have previously detailed some of these differences and why I have a preference for the interpretation of Merleau-Ponty offered by Renaud Barbaras in my work The God Who Lives: Investigating the Emergence of Life and the Doctrine of God (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), chap. 3. Further, to elide the terms ‘flesh’ and ‘lived-body’ is to bring together two different periods of Merleau-Ponty’s writing. The nuanced differences between these two terms, and the broader consistency between the terms, is very well brought to the fore in two works: Renaud Barbaras’ The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology, trans. Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); and Lawrence Hass’ Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), chap. 5.

[5] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 123 & 133.

[6] Maruice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), 144–5.

[7] I am using the term ‘avatar’ very loosely here. I only mean it as a general way to designate a digital presence of self-image.

[8] Consider “Millennials in Adulthood,” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, accessed July 11, 2014,

[9] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, 3rd Printing edition (New York: Vintage, 2000).

[10] Thom S. Rainer and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Books, 2011), 141.

[11] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2003), 23; Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 1st edition (Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), chap. 4.

[12] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 24–25. Taylor uses the idea of social imaginaries to trace the divergence of multiple modernities; in particular, he traces the expansion, embedding, and shifts in the concept of moral order that is critical to understanding western modernity and corresponding senses of self-identity that arise. See Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Reprint edition (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992), chap. 1.

[13] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 25.

[14] Ibid., 28–29.

[15] Ibid., 115.

[16] Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Reprint edition (New York: Atria Books, 2007), 240–1; Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, 83. What Twenge notes that is not captured by the design of the Pew report is the spike evidenced in this number amidst high-school seniors in particular; a notable insight in our age of increasing the value of service for college admissions.

[17] Twenge, Generation Me, 139; see also Jean M. Twenge, Liqing Zhang, and Charles Im, “It’s Beyond My Control: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of Increasing Externality in Locus of Control, 1960-2002,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 8, no. 3 (August 1, 2004): 308–19, doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0803_5.

[18]Religion Among the Millennials: Less Religious Active than Older Americans, but Fairly Traditional in Other Ways (Washington, D.C: Pew Research Center, February 2010), 3–4,

[19] Ibid., 10–11.

[20] Complete figures from this 2002-2003 interview style survey (meaning it deals particularly with Millennials) can be found in Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton, Soul-Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Very helpful summaries of key features of the data are gathered in Appendices A, B, and C of Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 199–209.

[21] Smith and Denton, Soul-Searching, 124–8.

[22] Ibid., 166–71.

[23] The latter term is being used widely to describe many Millennials—even those professing a religious tradition. The term has its origins in Smith and Denton, Soul-Searching.

[24] Dean, Almost Christian, 14.

[25] Ibid., chap. 5–6. She puts this quite poetically as well: “Most youth seem to accept this bland view of faith [moralistic therapeutic deism] as all there is—nice to have, like a bank account, something you want before you go to college in case you need to draw from it sometime. What we have not told them is that this account of Christianity is bankrupt. We have not invested in their accounts: we “teach” young people baseball, but we “expose” them to faith. We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and import their pitches and their SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging “when youth are ready” (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra).” Ibid., 15.

[26] Ibid., 126–8.


© October 2014
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 14, Issue 9​​