Friday, March 12, 2010

Rejecting Adolescence in the Church - Part 1

A Reasonable Response to an Unfounded Psychological Theory
By McKrunk

Part 1

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” -1 Corinthians 13:11

“The solution is dramatic and unavoidable; we have to end adolescence as a social experiment.  We tried it, it failed.  It’s time to move on.  Returning to an earlier, more successful model of children rapidly assuming the roles and responsibilities of adults would yield enormous benefit to society.”  (Gingrich, 2008) -former Congressman and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich


The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had many traditions which had gradually crept into their faith and practices through many generations.  The slow and casual manner in which these traditions crept gave them no pause to think and reconsider from where these practices had originated.  Gradually, they had arrived at a place in which they would deny the word of GOD for the sake of their traditions.  Jesus condemned them without mincing words:

And He said to them, "Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honoureth me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me,
teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men." Mark 7:6-8
It is easy to look back on the Pharisees and think that we would not, or have not acted so foolishly as to reject the word of GOD for the sake of tradition.  Yet the same evangelicals who pass judgment on the Pharisees commit those same crimes.  It is easy to identify the ridiculousness of the Pharisees’ traditions because we did not take the small, slow, and gradual steps with them in their traditions.

Likewise, future generations may look back at this generation and condemn it for the way it has rejected the word of GOD for the sake of their traditions concerning youth ministry.

A Brief History of the “Typical Teenager” Myth

Slightly preceding the invention of the youth group was the rise of a curious invention in secular culture of the “adolescent,” also known as the “teenager.”  Few people today question these categories or terms as tangible, biological realities; therefore many may be surprised to learn that the concept of adolescence is very new in human history, and still to this day is only commonly accepted in Westernized and industrialized nations.

The myriad of contributing factors are beyond the scope of this paper, though we can at least confirm that juvenile delinquency is not an age old problem, rather a problem created by rapid and drastic changes in a particular society at a certain time.  The fact should be understood that those initial behavior problems were unique to the larger cities, further demonstrating that teenage misbehavior is the result of a social construct, not a biological reality.

Whenever tumultuous change happens, new problems arise that have to be understood and dealt with.  Unfortunately, sometimes a false understanding of an issue feeds the problem rather than solves it.  As early Americans living in cities witnessed the turmoil of young adults, and tried to understand the phenomenon of youthful wickedness, they created the now-accepted modern concept of the “adolescent.”

Almost universally credited with inventing the concept of adolescence is G. Stanley Hall, whose landmark book Adolescence set forth the fundamental theories of “typical teenage” behavior that still survive today.  Hall’s theories were fundamentally based upon the hypothesis of evolutionary recapitulation, which has since been thoroughly discredited even by secular science.  According to recapitulation, a person mimics each of the historical evolutionary stages during his physical development: He begins as a single-cell life, develops into an amphibian, etc.  Robert Epstein points out in his article “The Myth of the Teen Brain” that:

To Hall, adolescence was the necessary and inevitable reenactment of a ‘savage pigmoid’ stage of human evolution.  By the 1930’s recapitulation theory was completely discredited in biology, but some psychologists and the general public never got the message.  Many still believe, consistent with Hall’s assertion, that teen turmoil is an inevitable part of human development.  (Epstein, 2007)
While it would be simple to state that the label of “adolescence” preceded and caused all juvenile delinquency, the truth is slightly more complex.  Signs of a “youth problem” started appearing in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and Western governments began to create laws directly addressing juvenile delinquency.  However, the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency was noticeably prevalent in large cities within countries undergoing industrialization, and the misbehavior largely corresponds with the creation of laws that restricted older youths from participating in adult life.

Reinforced by secular psychology, the idea of the adolescent who is predestined to inner turmoil, angst, rebellion, self-centeredness, and criminal behavior permeated the public consciousness.  As the years passed, compulsory education helped to codify these beliefs into law.  By the end of World War II, market forces colluded in the invention of the adolescent in order to fully segment young adults into a class of consumers independent of adulthood.  (Savage, 2007. xv-xx)

In his review of Youth Ministry in Modern America: 1930 to the Present, David F. White points to some of the historical forces that helped create the identity of the adolescent:

The fear of destitution experienced during the Depression and the desire for greater security nudged the middle class into dependence on large corporations, a shift away from their former independent agricultural life and early entrepreneurial capitalism.  The middle class had sufficient resources to forgo the work of young people long enough to allow them to attend high school — and used high school as a means of segregating their young from working-class youth.  The middle class sought to protect its young people from harsh industrial work, but it also removed them from significant social roles.  It sought for its children professional employment demanding extensive education — thus creating a context for what is now considered normal parent-youth conflict. . . Few of the congregations that try to address the ever-shifting question of how to engage youth in ministry have a deep understanding of the history of adolescence.  (White, 2002. 55-56)
So here we find ourselves today, in a small segment of the world, in the smallest slice of time in the human experience, unquestionably committed to the idea of the predestined predisposition of teenagers to mediocrity, laziness, irresponsibility, criminal behavior, low-riding jeans and revealing blouses.

Cont'd.  [Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

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