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.