The Expository Files

The American Teen and God

O God, You have taught me from my youth,
And I still declare Your wondrous deeds.
18 And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to all who are to come.
19 For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens,
You who have done great things;
O God, who is like You? (Psalm 71:17-19)

In the Old Testament, warnings were given concerning developing proper reverence for the Lord and His Law as it related to the future wellbeing of the nation itself.

"So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time." (Deuteronomy 4:40).

Most American teens believe in God. A majority of them worship in conventional congregations, but their Bible knowledge is shallow. They find it difficult to express the effect that their faith makes in their lives, a new survey says.

Still, the very comprehensive National of Study of Youth and Religion concluded that "religion really does matter" to teens. As one might expect, it was found that devout teens hold more traditional sexual and other values than their nonreligious counterparts. There is also indications that religious teens are better off in emotional health, have greater academic success, are more involved in their community, show more concern for others and are more likely to avoid risky behavior.

The four-year effort was conducted by 133 researchers and consultants led by sociologist Christian Smith of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Smith says the material "is not just about teenagers. It speaks more broadly about the direction of American religion."

While America is becoming a more diverse nation, at least 80 percent of teens still identify as Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon or Jewish, with most teens adhering to their parents' faith tradition, the report said.

Substantial majorities said they: Were affiliated with a local congregation (82 percent); had few or no doubts about their beliefs in the past year (80 percent); felt "extremely," "very" or "somewhat" close to God (71 percent); prayed alone a few times a week or more often (65 percent); and "definitely" believed in divine miracles from God (61 percent). Fifty-two percent said they attended worship two to three times a month or more often.

It was found that that many teens' religious knowledge was "meager, nebulous and often fallacious" and engagement with the substance of their traditions remarkably shallow. Most seemed hard put to express coherently their beliefs and what difference they make.

Many were so detached from the traditions of their faith, says the report, that they're virtually following a different creed in which an undemanding God exists mostly to solve problems and make people feel good. Truth in any absolute, theological sense, takes a back seat.

"God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist" who's on call as needed, Smith writes. He says the trend reflects tendencies among teens' Baby Boomer parents. The report speculates that poor educational and youth programs, and competition for teens' time from school, sports, friends and entertainment also are part of the picture.

While most teens are somewhat appreciative of religious beliefs, we can see that the all important aspect of reverence for the Lord's commandments, as stated in Deuteronomy 4:40, is lacking. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15).

More reverential obedience to the Lord, God Almighty would be an ideal which, if realized, would wonderfully bless our nation

"Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a disgrace to any people." (Proverbs 14:34).


By Jon W. Quinn
Final Page
From Expository Files 12.3; March 2005