By John Mirisola '11
In October, Jim Belcher ’87, author of Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, visited campus and spoke about moments of transition in faith, particularly among “emerging adults.”
Often, Belcher explained, such a moment comes during the college years, when young adults are away from home, parents and youth group. Drawing from the research of fellow alumnus Christian Smith ’83, Belcher noted that upwards of 90 percent of emerging adults take on the social and spiritual identity of their immediate surroundings, even if it goes against the identity of their youth.
Many young adults raised in the Christian faith “put that identity in a lockbox” once they enter the largely faith-skeptical realm of secular higher education, Belcher said, emerging on the other side of their college years with a vague spirituality Smith has termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—God without grounding in theology or creed, accompanying a general moral, spiritual and social aimlessness. “Can MTD be escaped?” Belcher asked. It’s a question he’s been grappling with for years, as a church planter, pastor and author.
The firm, sustaining root of the Church, he’s convinced, is the enduring story of Christ. Drawing a comparison to Lucy’s discovery of the magic of the “Spell for the Refreshment of the Spirit” in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Belcher reiterated that “once you have been gripped by that Story, you will want to hear it over and over again.”
It is the timeless power of the Christian narrative that ultimately resists the casual draw of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and which creates a culture of bold Christian leaders ready to live out that narrative in the world. “I’m thankful that I was able to get exposure to that kind of story here at Gordon, 25 years ago,” said Belcher.
John Dixon Mirisola is a communications specialist at Gordon and a staff writer for STILLPOINT.
Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional was published in 2009. In 2010 it was a Christianity Today Book Award winner, and also a Golden Canon Leadership Book Award winner. According to Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City), “Jim Belcher shows that we don’t have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other.”
Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood is Christian Smith’s third book resulting from his research on the moral and spiritual lives of young adults. Smith and his collaborators draw on 230 in-depth interviews with a broad cross-section of emerging adults to investigate the difficulties young people face today, the underlying causes of those difficulties, and the consequences both for individuals and for American society.