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An Evangelical Developmental Cycle?

nickandjosh300x300[1]I recently had a chance to listen to this interview of Sara Wheat on the Nick and Josh Podcast. Sara is a self-published author, whose first book is Untameable Heart: Confessions of an Emergent Christ Follower.

What caught my attention about the interview was Sara’s telling of her life story. When she was young, she said, she was one of the “good kids.” She went to Church, tried to avoid certain key sins, and did other Christian-like things. Many of her classmates were a lot wilder, more prone to partying and living the wild life. Then, when she became an adult, something odd happened – she started to question her long-held beliefs and seek out a more meaningful form of spirituality – one that involved more openness and grace, and less legalism. In the meantime, her “wild” friends, she later discovered, had settled down and become  conservative evangelicals, holding beliefs very similar to what she had held in her youth.

She related how odd it was to run into her old classmates, years later. They expected to have more in common with her, but were surprised to find that she had discovered a different way of thinking about Christianity.

Among the people that I’ve known (even those as old as me – I’m 45), Sara’s experience is familiar. An embrace of conservative evangelicalism during youth tends to burn out during early adulthood. The result is either a “softer” spirituality – one that is more open and grace-oriented – or a complete rejection of organized Christianity. On the other hand, I’ve also observed a pattern similar to some of Sara’s high school friends – a wild, rebellious youth that eventually moves into the relative security of a fairly stringent set of “rules” – in others.

All of this has got me wondering if there are certain natural, evangelical life-cycles that have been at play among those who are now in their 20s, 30s, even 40s, and whether anyone has made any effort to study it.

Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition – a book I haven’t read yet – seems to be addressing some of these issues. However, I’m curious about whether anyone else knows of any work that’s been done in this area.

Sara’s book, by the way, sounds great. I hope to read it soon.

1 Comment

  1. February 9, 2010    

    I can definitely relate with Sara’s experience. I’m about to turn 30… (yikes! It’s weird to see myself write that.)

    Anyways, I’ve definitely headed in the “softer” spiritual direction, like you’ve mentioned. Thankfully.

    And it does seem like, for me, it’s either that, or a complete rejection of Christianity. Those seem like the only things that are possible now. There’s no going back, for me. It’s either that there’s more nuance and complexity to the faith than I was originally lead to believe, or, it’s completely wrong. What I know and have experienced now, won’t allow me to return to where I’ve been.

    Admittedly, it’s a little uncomfortable at times. But, overall, I think it’s a much better place to be, for me.

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