1. A Shrinking Share
What it is: Demographic information collected by the Pew Research Center dives into the shrinking number of people who identify as Christians in America.
Why it’s a bit complicated: Christianity’s share of the religious landscape in the United States may be in decline, but Pew’s data offers a more nuanced picture of what’s actually going on. According to their report, 31 percent of Christians who are raised in the faith grow up and identify as religiously unaffiliated. (Note: This doesn’t mean that they have no religious belief, just that they don’t meet the criteria for being religiously active as defined by Pew). But 21 percent of people raised with no faith affiliation convert to Christianity during their adult lives. That puts the rate of Christian attrition, which Pew calls “switching,” at about ten percent. Over time, that ten percent adds up to a lot fewer practicing Christian families. It’s also worth knowing that in 80 countries where Christianity was once a majority, the percentage of Christians seems to bottom out around 50 percent. These statistics could spell a decline in Christian cultural capital, but we know that doesn’t mean Christianity is less true, less valuable, or less eternal.
2. Of Mired Down Men
What it is: David Brooks wrote for the New York Times about how when it comes to achieving maturity and upward mobility, young men seem to be hitting a brick wall.
Why it’s making headlines: The last few years have given rise to concern over a mental health crisis particular to adolescent boys. The term #incel (involuntary celibate) has become engrained in the cultural vernacular, with media personalities using it as shorthand to refer a certain breed of aimless, angry, violent and misogynistic young men who spend a lot of time on the internet. Beyond these stereotypes, there is a deeper story of pain, alienation, and confusion being felt by young men who are coming of age. Brooks notes in his piece that 15 percent of men say they have no close friends, leaving them adrift. He also points to how some social programs designed to provide support for high-risk children seem to be more effective at improving long term outcomes for girls than they are for boys. Going beyond the practical causes, the picture grows even more complicated. In many people’s minds, what has traditionally been considered masculine is now often seen as “toxic,” and whatever new, non-toxic form masculinity is supposed to take remains poorly defined in popular culture.
3. The Altar Calls
What it is: Theologian Russell Moore argues that altar calls should reclaim their prominence in evangelical churches.
Why it’s counter-intuitive: Altar calls may feel like a relic of the big-tent-revival, but that doesn’t mean they can’t serve a purpose. In many places, the altar call has fallen out of fashion. Moore says that this could be because beckoning congregants to make a confession of faith at the conclusion of a convicting sermon and in the midst of a swell of emotional music can sometimes feel like spiritual manipulation. It can also get the messy business of sanctification tied up with a temporary feeling rather than a committed and lifelong process. But there are some upsides to the practice, too. For one thing, it reminds church attendees of their sin and subsequent need for their Savior, week after week. It also provides an organic opportunity for seekers and saved alike to kneel in prayer with a built-in cloud of witnesses.
Song of the Week
“Unholy” by Sam Smith ft. Kim Petras: climbing to the top of Billboard, Spotify, and Apple charts, Sam Smith’s new song trades his typical sad piano vibe for a menacing chant about infidelity. The word “unholy,” which might have been used to censor such a story in a previous era, is here used as a way to revel in the narrative. It’s worth considering how many of our culture’s most popular songs are about successful, devoted relationships as opposed to one-night stands and unfaithfulness, and how that ratio might affect the way teens think about the purpose and nature of relationships. For the song’s full lyrics, click here.
Translation: Of Mired Down Men
Tarzan. Don Draper. Aragorn. Superman. All of these men have something very obvious in common: they are, in fact, all men. But which man is the best? The most masculine? The strongest, smartest, fastest? Which one is really, truly, a man?
It’s nothing new for culture to send a message about what it means to be a man and a woman. However, today, the majority of messaging for men seems to focus on how not to be. Everything a young man might aspire to be appears under attack from someone. Vulnerability is weakness but confidence is arrogance. Showing emotion is unattractive but stoicism is toxic. No matter what a young man does, someone is going to tell him he’s wrong. There is precious little content which is specifically designed to help, teach and encourage men to become all they were created to be—and many, many people intent on breaking young men’s bad habits while giving them no goals to reach for. In short: young men in 2022 have few positive role models.
Gen Z is seeking, perhaps above all else, security in their identity. Many have thought that the place to find that security is in their tangible experience of gender. But Christ calls us to a different standard. We are not, in the eyes of God, men or women first. In Genesis 1:27, the order of operations in the creation of humanity goes like this: 1) In His own image He created them. Only then is it stated that 2) male and female He created them. Our gender is an essential part of our embodied, created selves—but who we are, who we really are, is defined by God alone.
For a young man struggling with his masculine identity, it can be so easy to be caught up in the varying and conflicting narratives of culture. But when we pursue first our identity in Christ, all else flows from that. Being a “man” flows out of the pursuit of our identity as God’s image-bearers, and God will be faithful to grant wisdom and understanding if we start from the knowledge that we are perfectly loved.
Questions to spark conversation with your teen:
- What do you think makes a good role model?
- What are some things you’ve heard culture and media say about men? Do you think these things are true or not?
- What do you think it means to find your identity in Christ?