Formation and Care For Emerging Adults In An Age of Deconstruction
JOINT PROPOSAL with Rob Rhea
In response to the current trend of young adults declaring they have or are deconstructing their Christian faith, this paper will seek to address the psychological and social contexts of this phenomena, suggest three lenses for better understanding deconstruction, and provide approaches for spiritual formation practitioners in the church and academy to care for those experiencing this challenge of faith.
Emerging adulthood is a time of both optimism and uncertainty. Historically, adulthood has been marked by external achievements such as marriage, children, and home ownership, yet these markers are increasingly delayed or seen as altogether out of reach. The public failures of previously trusted Christian leaders and faith institutions are contributing factors in a growing sense of suspicion and disillusionment. Further, increasing current mental health challenges are fostering a growing sense of despair. These and other factors are some of what is behind Christian emerging adults seriously revising and/or suspending their faith commitments in record numbers. In light of these trends and challenges, the field of spiritual formation has much to bring to this conversation.
First, drawing on the history of Christian spirituality, the consolation/desolation dyad provides tremendous resources for peeling back the layers of the human heart to meet and engage the love of God in times of darkness and disorientation. Second, drawing on developmental psychology, spiritual formation practitioners can draw on Erikson’s moratorium schema to re-frame the high exploration of one’s beliefs as a good and necessary endeavor. This exploration, in both breadth and depth, can provide the needed grounding for future spiritual growth. And third, drawing on beauty, the third of the transcendentals, a horizon can emerge where seeing the beauty of the Lord and his creation can facilitate a reconnection and deepening of relationship with God.
Churches and both Christian undergraduate and graduate education can respond by normalizing the elements of the deconstruction process and framing it as being the end of the beginning and not the beginning of the end of their faith. The contours of the human heart and the failures of trusted institutions are not new to our age. Students can be better equipped to navigate these difficult times by addressing these issues in introductory undergraduate classes and university ministry curriculums, highlighting the role of the love and beauty of God,. As some churches are not well equipped to address deconstruction, seminary education can explore ways to equip pastors to recognize and respond to those in this difficult season. Though these issues are uniquely expressed in our current age, the formation of the human heart is no different. Enduring practices and truths can and should be used to drawn upon to help emerging adults reconstruct and deepen their faith.