Blog | Topic: Expert Interview

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: David Setran Interview (Part 2)

SpiritualFormationPart 1 of the interview is available here.

Download full interview (.pdf) here.

Here’s my blurb from the inside cover:

“Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ.”

What follows is part 2 of my interview with Dr. David P. Setran of Wheaton College:

Derek: The book discusses the “centrality of the heart” in the spiritual formation of young adults. Why do you think “the heart” is so central to reaching emerging adults with the gospel?

Setran: It seems that when many people consider the challenging spiritual climate of emerging adulthood, they are speaking primarily about visible, moral flaws related to substance abuse, sexuality, media consumption, etc. These are, of course, very important issues, but they often obscure the deeper heart realities that fuel these problems. We are prone to pursue what Dallas Willard has called “sin management,” a focus solely upon behavior modification related to the external manifestations of sin. However, we need to help emerging adults recognize the critical nature of the heart, the central desires and loves that exist at the core of their beings and fuel their worship. At its root, sin is always idolatry and adultery, the elevation of something in the heart to a level that God alone deserves. While attempts to reform behavior at the surface level may “work” for a time in stemming the tide of sinful practice, eventually the true nature of the heart will be revealed.

The centrality of the heart is actually one reason that emerging adulthood is such a potent time for spiritual formation. As many in this age group leave home for the first time, their true hearts are often revealed in dramatic ways. While environmental constraints (parents, youth leaders, school rules, etc.) might have held them in check while still living at home, the freedom afforded by the collegiate environment often allows the “true heart” to emerge without restraint. We obviously don’t ever desire rebellion or moral laxity, but this may serve as an excellent opportunity to “see” the heart with new clarity, dealing with issues that were previously obscured by convention. It is a great time to ask with them, “What do I really want?” “What do I really love?” It is a great time, in other words, to engage the issue of worship.

Derek: The book suggests that “we must help emerging adults vocationally account both for the ‘great commission’ and the ‘cultural mandate.’” What is the difference between the two and why is this so vital for young people to grasp?

Setran: The great commission refers primarily to Jesus’s call to “make disciples of all nations” by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). The cultural mandate refers back to God’s initial call to Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, and to “fill the earth and subdue it” while ruling over the other living creatures (Genesis 1:28). Addressing both of these becomes really important as we consider God’s broad and holistic redemptive purposes in the world. As Christian emerging adults consider their vocations, they are apt to embrace compartmentalized perspectives on life and career. They are likely, in other words, to think of the world as divided into sacred (souls and explicitly spiritual tasks such as prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism) and secular (anything seemingly unrelated to the soul, including elements of the physical world and human culture) domains. They may think that the only jobs with eternal value are those related to soul care—pastors and missionaries. If they have other “secular” vocations, they may think that the only spiritual task that can be completed here is evangelism among unsaved co-workers. While these jobs are obviously absolutely central to the Christian life and vocation, an exclusive focus on the great commission can obscure the importance of the cultural mandate within the work itself.

We are all called upon to use our gifts and talents to fill, form, and care for the earth—including the physical world and various aspects of human culture—in such a way that we address human needs and bring glory to God. Thus, both aspects are important—spirit and matter, souls and stuff. We have not just a great commission and not just a cultural mandate but a larger “kingdom vocation” that weds the two in holistic fashion. If emerging adults can capture this vision from the beginning of their vocational explorations, they can embark on an exciting adventure of loving God and neighbor through their jobs and their lives.

Derek: You write, “Most parents do not talk with their children about matters of faith, particularly avoiding details of their own faith journeys.” And your book points out a recent study revealing that “only 9 percent of adolescents had a regular dialogue with parents about Scripture.” Why do you think parents have such a difficult time engaging in these types of conversations? And, what advice would you give to parents who want to begin to have more meaningful conversations about faith and Scripture with their children?

Setran: If we are to believe some recent studies, parents tend to scale back on deep input beginning in adolescence out of respect for teens’ freedom. As adolescents begin to resist value-laden conversations, parents often accommodate these requests. However, parents must recognize that they are still the most important sources of input in their children’s lives! In terms of having these conversations, it is always best when dialogue occurs not only during pre-planned and scripted occasions (i.e., family devotions) but also more organically in the context of life (so-called “teachable moments”). This communicates the reality that God’s story infuses all of life—a message that will become very important as they leave home in later years. And the best advice may be just to begin as soon as possible, even if it is at first halting and awkward. If these conversations can start in childhood and continue in adolescence, it is much more likely that they can flourish in emerging adulthood even when parents and children are separated geographically.

Download the full interview (.pdf) here.

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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: David Setran Interview (Part 1)

Setran_slideshowIs it taking longer for young people to “grow up” in today’s world? I hear this question often. Two of the stated goals for the College Transition Initiative are to provide information on emerging adulthood and resources for developing lasting faith. In order to help young people develop a lasting faith, the church needs to have an understanding of the cultural conditions in which young people live. Examining the “cultural conditions” of young people ages 18-29 has produced a new body of research known as the study of “emerging adulthood.”

A new book by two professors, David P. Setran (Wheaton College) and Chris A. Kiesling (Asbury Theological Seminary) entitled Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry (Baker Academic) explores the spiritual formation of today’s young adults. From their extensive background in college and young adult ministry, the authors were motivated by two questions:

1. What does the gospel have to offer emerging adults as they are formed through the adult transition?

2. What do emerging adults shaped by the gospel have to offer to the church and the world?

Their stated desire for writing the book is “to provide a ‘practical theology’ for college and young adult ministry, one that combines important scholarship, a Christian theological vision, and attentiveness to concrete ministry applications.” I highly recommend this book for church leaders, college ministers and parents who desire to see young people embrace and live-out faith during the formative, young adult years.

What follows is an interview with Dr. David P. Setran of Wheaton College:

Derek: What motivated you and your friend to write this book?

SpiritualFormationSetran: Ultimately, we have a passion to see 18-29 year-olds flourish in Christ, developing as adults who are increasingly able to serve as agents of hope, healing, and renewal in church and world. Chris and I have both worked in a variety of church, parachurch, and campus ministry settings with collegians and young adults. We are convinced, more than ever, that this is a pivotal stage of the life course, a gateway to spiritual formation, vocational commitment, and Christian identity. While a number of books have been written for those working with children and youth, we wanted to help equip those of strategic importance in emerging adults’ lives: college and young adult ministers, professors, pastors, para-church workers, student development professionals, chaplains, parents, relatives, and friends. Hopefully the book will help to awaken interest in this critical life stage!

Derek: Define “emerging adulthood” and briefly describe the social factors that have led to this new phase of life.

Setran: “Emerging adulthood,” a term coined by psychology Jeffrey Arnett, refers to the period in the lifespan between age 18 and the late 20s. In most industrialized nations, typical adult transitions—leaving home, completing education, financial independence, marriage, and parenting—are happening much later. Many careers have expanded educational requirements, forcing those in this age group to pursue advanced degrees. Combined with student loan debt, this delays the financial independence and job stability often desired before pursuing marriage and parenting. In addition, parents seem a bit more willing to help finance these delays, funding educational ventures and providing a place to live for children who return home after college.

Many emerging adults also postpone marriage for personal reasons, wary of commitment in a divorce-ridden culture or happy to pursue sexual intimacy without the relational costs. While those beyond age 18 are quite different from “adolescents,” they are also not quite “adults” in the traditional sense implied by these social markers. Thus, Arnett and others have described this period as “emerging adulthood,” a phase characterized by identity exploration, relational, vocational, and geographical instability, self-focus, an “in-between feeling,” and the exploration of seemingly endless possibilities. While such a time can be exhilarating, it also tends to produce a great deal of anxiety. Few social scripts exist to help emerging adults navigate the major life decisions and personal identity formation that mark this period.

Derek: You describe emerging adulthood as a “formidable challenge” but also a “great opportunity” for the church. What are some of the challenges and opportunities for the church?


Setran: The challenges are obviously great. According to the research, emerging adulthood marks the low point of the life span for key spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. When compared with adolescents, emerging adults are less likely to adhere to key Christian doctrines like the divinity and resurrection of Christ. Moral convictions and boundaries seem to erode during these years as well, leading to increased risk behavior and heartbreaking life decisions. And perhaps the greatest challenge is that many of those in this age group are making decisions about belief, life, morality, and vocation apart from the local church.

Yet there are great opportunities as well! Many emerging adults have demonstrated a growing passion for social action and compassion for the poor. Many cultivate a sense of global awareness and responsibility and are willing to take great risks to bring the hope and healing of the Gospel to locations across the globe. Importantly, many recognize their need for mentors, guides who can help them make sense of life and call out gifts and passions for vocational use. While it is common for older adults to see those in this age group as a “challenge” (read “trial”) to the church, I think it is critical that we also see them as a “challenge” (read “inspiration, motivation, and stimulus”) to contemporary church life.

Download the full interview (.pdf) here

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Rethinking Worldview: J. Mark Bertrand Interview

Bertrand_slideshowThe term worldview is now widely used in discussions about faith, philosophy, culture and education. The word jumped into English from the German, Weltanschauung, and has become increasingly familiar in the last fifty years, especially in some Christian circles. Many Christians latched onto the term because it helped to describe the all-encompassing, cosmic scope of the Gospel. The Christian faith is not just a religion, but a way of life that has far-reaching implications for the way we “see” reality and live in the world. A worldview is a vision of life and for life. Familiarity often breeds contempt, however. While many agree that the popularity and wide-spread acceptance of the concept has been a good thing for the church, some critics suggest proceeding with caution when teaching that Christianity is a worldview.

J. Mark Bertrand has spent much of his adult life teaching young people the value of understanding worldviews and thinking “Christianly” about all areas of life. But he too has concerns about the misuse and misapplication of the term. In his book Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway) Bertrand seeks to capture a more complex, nuanced appreciation of what worldviews really are. Bertrand has a degree in English from Union University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. He is also the author of a successful 3-part series of “Roland March” detective novels (Back on Murder, Pattern of Wounds and Nothing to Hide). What follows is an interview with Bertrand about worldview and how the concept, when properly understood can help young people grow in faith…

Download the interview (.pdf) here.

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Andy Crouch on Culture and Calling

Culture MakingThe mission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is to help parents, youth workers, educators, and others understand teenagers and their culture so that they will be better equipped to help children and teens navigate the challenging world of adolescence. Studying and better understanding culture is at the heart of what we do.

In his very important and influential book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP), Andy Crouch invites readers to consider a more holistic way of thinking about culture. He writes, “Culture is what we make of the world… We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making: the finger-painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activities of culture. Meaning and making go together—culture, you could say, is the activity of meaning making.” One of the many advantages to thinking about culture in this way is that it implies responsibility. Andy asks, “What does it mean to be not just culturally aware but culturally responsible?”

In December 2012 Andy became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. A few years ago, for a different publication, I interviewed Andy about his book and its implications for parenting and youth ministry. I think Andy’s wise words are worth paying attention to as we consider how to pass along the Christian faith to young people:

CPYU: What motivated you to write Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling?

Andy CrouchAndy: It seemed to me that we needed a new vision for the relationship between Christians and culture. On the one hand, much Christian energy has gone into criticizing culture (and there is plenty to criticize, in our society and every other). On the other hand, many Christians simply consume culture fairly uncritically, absorbing the values of the dominant culture with alarming complacency.

Yet the biblical picture of human beings is of cultivators and creators of culture—neither critics nor consumers. Being “cultivators” means that we are meant to discern and preserve what is best in our cultures, and pass that along to the next generation. Being “creators” means that when our cultures are deficient in some way, we are meant not simply to complain or withdraw, but actually create new cultural goods and institutions. We’re meant to be culture makers.

CPYU: What can parents and youth workers do to help shape young people into becoming culture makers?

Andy: The first thing I would encourage is intentionality. There is nothing wrong with consuming culture, for example, but let’s make choices about what kind of culture we want to consume together, rather than just watching whatever’s on. The biggest fashion trend right now is not any particular brand of clothing, but customization. There’s tremendous energy for being culture creators among young people that we can recognize and encourage.

Then I would encourage us to model and teach the importance of disciplines, the practices without which we will always be cultural amateurs. We need to move beyond an “American Idol” model of creativity, which is just about well-intentioned self-expression, to the cultivation of skill and wisdom that would allow us not just to turn in one spectacular performance, but a lifetime’s worth of deep contribution to some arena of culture, whether that’s music, law, business, medicine, or creating healthy homes and neighborhoods.

CPYU: One of the chapters in your book is titled “Why We Can’t Change the World.” Why do you think it is important for Christians to be careful in describing their mission as “changing the world”?

Andy: Changing the world, at least at the level of grandeur that is usually implied by that phrase, is not an achievable mission. Human societies are so complex that no one can securely expect to change them. And most often people who set out to change the world end up changed by the world—implicated in the world’s broken systems of power and pride.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be bold in our culture making. But we are best served by a humility about our own role that “changing the world” doesn’t really imply. I deeply, completely believe in changing the world if the subject of that phrase is God, the one true world-changer. But if I am the subject, the agent of world-changing, I am putting myself in the place of God. I’d much rather we simply seek to cultivate and create great culture, and leave the world-changing up to Another.

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The Fabric of Lasting Faith: Steven Garber Interview

cti_garberIt’s no secret: Many students who are serious about their commitment to Christ in high school go off to college and something happens to weaken that commitment. Some students simply walk away from the faith, never to return. Others continue to confess Christ, but aren’t as confident as before. Still others have a great experience in college, which spurs them on to deeper faithfulness. Often, for students who do make the most of college, coming out the other side with a clearer knowledge of where they are in God’s world, there was something about their time in youth ministry that prepared them for the challenges presented in college.

For youth ministry to be successful, students will need to be prepared emotionally, intellectually and spiritually for life after high school. If that is the goal, we need to be thinking critically and creatively about our current ministry practices. Are they effective? Are they preparing students for the future? What are the areas of youth ministry that are being done well? What changes need to be made?

I wrestle with these questions as the Director CPYU’s College Transition Initiative and I have the privilege of speaking to youth groups, parents and college students about these issues on a regular basis. One thing I have learned: I can’t answer these questions on my own. I need to pull others into the conversation as well.

Over the years, Steven Garber has become one of my most important conversation partners. He has worked with young people in different ministry settings for over 30 years. His award winning book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, has been re-released in an expanded edition. The book helps readers answer this critical question: How do parents, professors, campus ministers and youth pastors help students—during one of the most eventful and intense periods of life—learn to connect what they believe about the world with how they live in it? Currently, he is the director of The Washington Institute, which has as its core conviction that the church and society are renewed as a richer, truer vision of calling is taught and practiced.

I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Garber a few questions concerning the transition from high school to college. His answers are helpful and challenges for those thinking about preparing students for life after high school…

Download the full interview (.pdf) here.

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The Relevancy of C.S. Lewis for Today’s Transitioning Students

C.S. Lewis has been one of the most influential Christian writers in the last century. I was significantly influenced by him as a college student while coming to terms with one of the most important questions students need to ask when transitioning from high school to college: What do I believe? I discovered the writings of the late Oxford professor and Christian apologist (Lewis died in 1963) at an important time in my college career.

My dilemma? I wasn’t sure the Christian faith could survive the scrutiny of the “new knowledge” and ideas that bombard students on college campuses. In fact, I had a philosophy professor who asked to see the hands of all the professing Christians in the class. All semester he tried to make us look like fools. I needed some encouragement (and fire power!) and someone suggested that I read C.S. Lewis. The first Lewis book I read was his autobiography Surprised by Joy. I was hooked. Here was a man who went through the academic “fire” of the “secular” university and came out the other side not only with his faith intact, but with a much stronger faith for going through it.

About two miles from my office sits a small, liberal arts college. A few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a renowned C.S. Lewis scholar was a professor in the English department. David C. Downing has written many notable books on the life of Lewis including, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis, and Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. I was most interested in Dr. Downing’s book that deals with Lewis’ conversion, The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’ Journey to Faith. This book reveals how Lewis navigated and eventually answered many of the same questions I was being forced to ask in my philosophy course.

I asked Dr. Downing if he would talk with me about the book and about issues facing college students, especially as they make the transition from high school to college. He agreed and what follows are some highlights from our conversation.

Click here to download the interview (PDF).

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