THE NEW FAITHFUL: WHY YOUNG ADULTS ARE
EMBRACING CHRISTIAN ORTHODOXY
by Colleen CarrollLoyola Press, 2002 303 pages, $19.95
The pendulum certainly has swung since the late 1960s, when course requirements and curfews were being abolished on American campuses. Today statistics show that young adults are likely to be more serious about traditional religious beliefs than their parents.
Colleen Carroll, a 28-year-old journalist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has started to chronicle the counterrevolution. Thanks to a fellowship from the Phillips Foundation in Maryland, she was able to spend a sabbatical year interviewing dozens of religious leaders, sociologists, youth ministers and college professors about the current movement of the young toward orthodox Christianity. On her travels to major U.S. cities, she also spoke to hundreds of her peers – members of “Generation X.”
In the book that resulted, verbal snapshots of earnest young believers, at worship or in the workplace, living in Christian communities or in coed dorms, alternate with passages describing social trends and seeking to determine motivating factors.
The author writes that her purpose was to write “a coherent explanation of this draw towards organized religion and traditional morality that gives credence to sociological explanations but refuses to stop there ... [and] an extensive account of this phenomenon that allows young adults themselves to explain what experiences led them to a place many never intended to go, and to envision where they want to go from here.”
Carroll reports the story with commendable objectivity and optimism. She does not conceal her own Catholic faith – in fact, the book begins with a description of eucharistic adoration at Catholic University of America. Yet she has defined her topic broadly enough to investigate the stirrings of renewal in evangelical and mainline Protestant denominations as well.
It is often said that the children of the baby boomers are “searching for structure” in their lives. Carroll's book is skillfully designed to challenge even skeptical readers to explore deeper reasons for that search, reasons rooted in human nature itself. From snippets of personal testimony offered by attractive and talented young people in unlikely places (a Dominican novitiate, a full-time volunteer program in the inner city), a “big picture” begins to emerge. In later chapters, specific issues such as “fellowship,” “sexuality and family” and “politics” come into sharp focus.
Despite the many obstacles they face, young believers today are trying to bring their faith to bear upon their life in the classroom, at home and on the job. One undergraduate woman explained why she left the evangelical enclave where she was brought up in order to attend a secular college: “We'll never be salt and light if we are all huddling together. We're supposed to be influencing the world.”
The new trend toward orthodoxy also holds bright promise for ecumenism. One former Presbyterian considers himself “a ‘mere Christian’ open to Catholicism. The areas where we agree are so vast compared to the areas of disagreement. Our differences seem small compared to the assault of the [secular-] humanist worldview.”
The conflicts that occur within the Catholic Church between young truth-seekers and aging “revolutionaries” are portrayed gently and with humor. Several of the Catholics interviewed by Carroll mention the Catechism of the Catholic Church and World Youth Days as their inspirations.
The trend of young people moving toward traditional religious beliefs and practices is not just an “equal and opposite reaction,” as though generations of human beings in society obeyed Newtonian laws. In her book-length investigation, Carroll helps the reader to discern how the Holy Spirit is moving in American society.
Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.