In the beginning …
… God created teenagers …
Well … actually no.
In the beginning, God created order out of chaos.
20th century American culture created teenagers.
Chaos, Creation, and Wisdom
God created the world through wisdom, bringing it forth out of chaos by making distinctions (light/darkness, land/waters, etc.).
The making of distinctions is thus the essence of wisdom, leading to more and more order.
The blurring of distinctions is the essence of “unwisdom,” leading back to chaos.
Chaos, the Social Role of “Teenager,” and Wisdom
The role of teenager is grounded in the isolation of young people from adult society.
That isolation produces an artificial immaturity that blurs the distinction between child and adult.
That blur shifts the transition from child to adult from objective fact to subjective experience.
That shift from objectivity to subjectivity fosters chaos– physical, moral, and social.
Teenagers and the Church
The church is “stupefied” (made stupid/unwise) by the teenage social role in at least five ways.
First, teenagers can be treated neither as children nor adults, fostering moral and social confusion.
Second, status as a teenager becomes more important than whether an individual is a Christian or not– more confusion.
Third, indulgence of the artificial immaturity imposed on teenagers overflows into an indulgence of immaturity in general.
Fourth, young people are transformed from valuable resources into liabilities that consume resources.
Fifth, the subjectivity inherent to the teenage social role moves the church to a “conversional” understanding of Christian identity.
The Marks of a Christian: “Confessional” versus “Conversional”
From a conversional standpoint, the mark of a Christian is subjective– a personal testimony to a salvation experience.
From a confessional standpoint, the mark of a Christian is objective– most prominently, baptism.
From a conversional standpoint, self-doubt prompts the desire for rebaptism.
From a confessional standpoint, objective defects in a person’s confession prompts rebaptism.
From a conversional standpoint, rebaptism is an individual choice and is common.
From a confessional standpoint, rebaptism is decision made by the church and is rare.
From a conversional standpoint, a person can easily move in and out of Christianity based on moods of the moment.
From a confessional standpoint, becoming a Christian is a once-for-all event.
From a conversional standpoint, the church never really knows who is and who is not a Christian.
From a confessional standpoint, the church has an objective claim on who is and who is not a Christian.
The Marks of an Adult: “Confessional” versus “Conversional”
The teenage social role has similar effects on identity as an adult.
From a “conversional” standpoint, status as an adult is a subjective experience.
From a “confessional” standpoint, status as an adult is an objective event.
From a “conversional” standpoint, young people can move in and out of adulthood based on moods of the moment.
From a “confessional” standpoint, becoming an adult is a once-for-all event.
And on and on…
Coexistence of “Confessional” and “Coversionsal” Understandings of Christian Identity?
“Confessional” and “conversional” understandings of Christian identity cannot coexist as equals (see above).
They can, however, exist in subordinate relationship; i.e., an objective event (confession) can have a subjective component (conversion experience) and vice-versa.
Subordination of conversion experiences to confessional events sets groups and individuals FREE FROM their subjectivities.
Subordination of confessional events to conversion experiences locks groups and individuals INTO their subjectivities.
The governing principle is whether Christian faith and practices are defined by objective history or personal experience.
Some suggestions for preserving a confessional understanding of Christian (and adult) identity–
Lose the teenage social role. (I know that’s easier said than done, but simple awareness of the pathologies inherent to the teenage social role is a healthy thing.)
Establish and socialize an objective, public transition from child to adult.
Recognize the church’s ability to “bind and loose” obligations/exemptions for adults and children.
Normalize the coincidence of adulthood and Christian conversion for those who “grow up in the church.”
Solution to questions on children’s baptism–
Under a confessional regime, the normative transition from God-fearing child to Christian adult would be an act of baptism that would accomplish both transformations in objective history. Prior to that, children having a guilty conscience would be expected to have had a conversion experience whereby they could stand before God, not having been baptized, yet with a clear conscience despite not having been immersed because the community of which they were a part held them as children and therefore ineligible for baptism. God would respect all of this because He respects the church’s binding and loosing authority.
The net effect is to say that a confessional understanding of Christian identity is appropriate to adults while children are limited to a conversional understanding.
All of this is well and good and works smoothly. But problems do arise when people try to hold onto a confessional understanding of Christian identity (i.e., adult baptism) while also trying to accommodate a new social role (teenager) that blurs the distinction between child and adult.