Cult of Youth
THE JUVENILIZATION OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY.
By Thomas E. Bergler.
Eerdmans. 281 pp. $25
In 1945, a million American teenagers all over the country took to gathering on Saturday nights to praise Jesus. Youth for Christ, the evangelical organization that engineered these “rallies” in hundreds of churches and auditoriums, played boisterous music and encouraged audience participation, transforming worship into feel-good entertainment. A 26-year-old pastor named Billy Graham barnstormed across America on behalf of Youth for Christ, telling audiences that Christianity was not all doom and gloom. “The young people around the world today who are having the best time are the young people who know Jesus Christ,” he declared.
These meetings initiated a startling trend, writes Thomas E. Bergler, a professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University, a Christian college in Indiana: The most successful American churches of the last half-century, primarily conservative evangelical Protestant ones, adopted Youth for Christ’s methods. Falling in love with Jesus, often with the encouragement of catchy music and uplifting sermons, took pride of place at the altar. Firm belief and religious duty receded in importance. Americans, Bergler observes, preferred to clap their hands to the beat and “feel better about their problems” than profess a selfless Christian creed.
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Cullen Nutt is an assistant editor of The Wilson Quarterly.more from this author >>
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