Souls in Transition – Conclusion

The final chapter of Souls in Transition serves as a summarizing conclusion. First of all, we must recognize that emerging adulthood is a new phase of American life between adolescence and adulthood. It is a phase of life filled with “disruptions, transitions, and distractions” (280). Applied to campus ministry, we are reminded that college students are not adolescent teenagers anymore (well, some still are), but they are not yet full adults. They are in a unique stage of life and therefore pose unique challenges to sustaining religious life.

Second, “the primary conclusion about emerging adult religion, therefore, is not one of change but of continuity. More often than not, what’s past is prologue” (282). From this, “the myth of overall religious decline among emerging adults must be dispelled” (283). I think it is common belief in evangelical churches that leaving home at age eighteen, especially if you go to college, is a tremendous challenge to faith that causes the fall of myriads of young people. Maybe you have heard that young people are deserting the church in droves. The truth is that while a greater number of emerging adults decline in their faith then become more religious, many others remain committed. In other words

*many who are religious as teenagers continue on in religion

*few who are not religious become religious

*a lot who are nominally religious become non-religious, most of those are already on the way out prior to entering adulthood.

Third, the authors remind us of the importance of parents. I wrote a whole post on that so I will not repeat it here, other than to say, parents play a gigantic role in the faith lives of their children!

Fourth, though liberal Protestant churches are rapidly shrinking, their core values, “individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of human experience” (288), have triumphed in coming to permeate American culture. The authors site H. Richard Niebuhr who said, in 1937, that liberal faith is about “a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (288). Many emerging adults would be comfortable with this type of religion. Another way to put it is what the authors have elsewhere called Moral Therapeutic Deism.

Fifth, at the same time, the evangelical (fundamentalist) tradition has also permeated American culture in many ways. One example of this is the “central evangelical insistence on the ultimate consequence of each individual’s salvation in standing alone before a holy God that emerging adults are resonating when they articulate their radically individualistic view of religious faith and practice” (290). Another inheritance from traditional evangelicalism is emerging adults “anti-institutional view of religion” This individualistic subjectivism is seen when emerging adults focus on their own personal experience and feelings:

It thus became the sacred right and responsibility of all individuals to read the Bible and understand it for themselves…thus, having democratized to every individual the full authority to know religious truth for themselves, yet having failed thereby to produce anything like an agreement about what the Bible actually teaches, evangelical biblicism set up powerful religious cultural structures that, it so happens, govern many non-evangelical (and evangelical) adults today. Young American’s assurance that the Bible, or any other alleged authority, contains the truth by which to live has, compared to evangelical convictions, been severely weakened. And in the intervening years, for complicated reasons, final authority has decisively shifted from the Bible to the individual reader. But most emerging adults’ basic assumption that it is the right and responsibility of each individual to decide religious truth for himself or herself – based on his or her own “reading’ of relevant matters – is in fact simply one cultural mutation away from historical evangelical orthodoxy (291)

In other words, evangelicals so emphasized the importance of your own decision about what you will believe that now the individual, not the Bible, is at the center of the religion of emerging adults. So the question is not, what does the Bible say? Instead it is, how do I feel? Other cultural factors have contributed to this, which leads us to…

Sixth, emerging adults have experienced a crisis in knowledge and value, for to them, in the end, it’s all relative (293). They simply do not have the tools to decide what is good, right or true and thus live with “a troubling uncertainty about basic knowledge and values” (293). Because of this, many emerging adults do not even know what to do with their prized, individualistic freedom.

Seventh, there is a diversity in the types and trajectories of religious life. We cannot simply say that emerging adults are religious, or spiritual but not religious. Instead we can, still oversimplifying, group them into various groups (see here).

Finally, eighth, religion is significantly correlated with, perhaps even a cause of, positive life outcomes. Not the type of religion, but the level of commitment, produces quite different results in everyday life. Thus, religion matters. Perhaps that is one of the most important lessons: religion is not going away. It may be changing in some ways, for better or worse, but it is still here.

One thought on “Souls in Transition – Conclusion

  1. “…now the individual, not the Bible, is at the center of the religion of emerging adults. So the question is not, what does the Bible say? Instead it is, how do I feel?”

    I wonder if it is a bad thing to “feel” your way through the Bible, trying to decide if this or that is rational? I suppose it’s more a question of whether you are willing to accept what you are told because you are told, or if you lean more toward questions themselves…I appreciate your thoughtful post!


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