The juvenilization of Christian philanthropy

Every few months, along comes another diagnosis of what ails the faithful in the United States. The latest is Thomas Bergler’s The Juvinilization of American Christianity – in book form and as a Christianity Today cover story.

Since reading the CT piece, I’ve thought a lot about the impact of a “self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty faith” on Christian philanthropy. Money and giving don’t show up in Bergler’s article (perhaps in the book), but I think it’s safe to say that the juvinilization of American Christianity and the emergence of immature stewardship practices are mutually reinforcing.

Generosity, a “trait that should be included in Christian maturity, has been decoupled from adulthood in post-1960s America.” The old-time stewardship slogan, “Give ‘til it hurts,” has been shelved. As for the tithe – it’s pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. And unless we sugar-coat fundraising as fun, most folks find it a tough pill to swallow.

These days, the fundraising strategies employed by faith-based organizations – including local churches – seem more about placating donor interests than encouraging maturity of faith.

THE GIVING/GROWING CORRELATION

“Simplified messages that emphasize an emotional relationship with Jesus over intellectual content” don’t just retard spiritual maturity. Such preaching also discourages grown-up thinking about giving. As Thom Jeavons and I urged in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, pastors, stewardship leaders, and Christians working as fundraisers should talk about money in spiritual, as well as practical, terms. We wrote:

There are numerous devotional works that speak of giving as a spiritual practice, something intentionally undertaken as a commitment of faith that is expected to lead that giver into a deeper relationship with God. The view that giving of one’s material resources is a practice integral to being rooted and growing in faith runs through the writings of the Old Testament, is captured in Jewish traditions of Tzedakah, and is surely evident in the teachings of Jesus.

In our efforts to be more generous givers, reaching beyond our initial comfort level and moving past merely sharing from our excess, we may both demonstrate and deepen our trust in God to provide whatever we really need in the future. In taking these steps, we find the opportunity to recognize the joy of the sufficiency provided by God rather than to continue to buy into the worldly, American (and I would add, juvenile) tendency to strive for overabundance and luxury.

Bergler concludes his CT article by suggesting that “churches full of people who are building each other up toward spiritual maturity are not only the best antidote to the juvenilization of American Christianity, but also a powerful counter-cultural witness to a juvenilized society.” In my words, we need churches, people, antidotes, and witnesses such as these because generous matters.

Comments

  1. Steve Schwartz says:

    Thanks, Rebekah…some good thoughts to chew on here. Just before your post I read this article. They seem to somewhat mesh. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/opinion/the-downside-of-liberty.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

    • Wow. The theme of the NY Times op-ed to which you refer picks up on exactly the themes of my post and Thomas Bergler’s book about the juvenilization of Christianity. Seems the same forces are at work in all aspects of American life. Appears we’re a nation of babies.

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