Swiss authorities studied how religious traditions are passed from generation to generation. The results published in 2000 were staggering. When the father of the home attends weekly services, 4 out of 10 children will regularly follow his example as adults. But when dad’s participation is taken out of the equation, only 2% are committed to church or synagogue later in life. Adult relationships in the life of a young person’s religious commitment can be described in simple “make or break” terms.
Christian Smith’s latest research advanced by Souls in Transition confirms Swiss findings and biblical foundations. Perhaps the most important statement in the book appears not in the text but in a footnote. “One of the most common, if not the most common, among the variety of answers that teenagers offered was that they wished they were closer to their parents” (344). Over and over again qualitative and quantitative sociological analysis reached the same conclusions: “Parents matter a great deal . . . in shaping religion during the emerging adult years” (246). Of course, Solomon was ahead of the curve. Timeless truths are drilled deep into ancient Scriptural practices. The fear of Yahweh provide a family refuge when the righteous man sets the standard for his children (Proverbs 14:26; 20:7).
Indeed, the more significant adult personal relationships, the better tethered the young adult is to The Church’s shoreline. Reinforcement of truth from various religious authoritative sources solidifies belief. Identity with any house of worship is immediately impacted by corporate interaction with multiple believers (233). Standing against counter-cultural currents is maintained by consistency in ecclesiastical teaching (238). The oft quoted anecdotal connection to peers outweighing parental impact cannot be supported. Home and church exert the strongest, sustained influences on children (286). Statistics are sustained by interview analysis: adult training and mentorship matters most in longevity of commitment to supernatural doctrine.
It is imperative, then, that all Christian leaders read this book. If parental influence is absent, biblical adult believers in other settings can make a difference (226-27). Institutions committed to faith-learning integration matter (248-49). Chapter two is crucial to understand the streams feeding American cultural lakes. Chapter six shows how those waters infiltrate religious positions of young people. Chapter ten is the lakefront view: a picture of religious young adults today. And not to be missed is Smith’s assessment of liberal Protestantism’s cultural triumph in America (287-89).
Souls in Transition supports earlier Swiss findings. Does adult impact on young lives matter in the American home and church? Yes. Should this answer come as a surprise to biblical believers? No. Christian commitment to The Church community and credo must continue (2 Thessalonians 2:13-16). The words of Psalm 71:18 should motivate: even when I am old and gray, I will continue to teach Yahweh’s Word to the next generation.
A review of Christian Smith Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Oxford, 2009. Reviewed by Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN. [Originally published online in the Englewood Review of Books.]