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Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness

series: Ministry in a Secular Age

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The loss or disaffiliation of young adults is a much-discussed topic in the church today. Many faith-formation programs focus on keeping the young, believing the youthful spirit will save the church. But do these programs have more to do with an obsession with youthfulness than with helping young people encounter the living God?

Questioning the search for new or improved faith-formation programs, leading practical theologian Andrew Root offers an alternative take on the issue of youth drifting away from the church and articulates how faith can be formed in our secular age. He offers a theology of faith constructed from a rich cultural conversation, providing a deeper understanding of the phenomena of the "nones" and "moralistic therapeutic deism." Root helps readers understand why forming faith is so hard in our context and shows that what we have lost is not the ability to keep people connected to our churches but an imagination for how and where God could be present in their lives. He considers what faith is and what steps we can take to move into it, exploring a Pauline concept of faith as encounter with divine action.

This is the first book in Root's Ministry in a Secular Age series.


Introduction: Bonhoeffer Thinks We're Drunk
Part 1: A History of the Age of Authenticity: The Challenge of Forming Faith
1. The Boring Church and the Pursuit of Authenticity
2. The History of Youthfulness
3. The Perceived Scam of the Mass Society
4. The Rise of the Hippie and the Obsession with Youthfulness
5. The Rise of Hip
6. Churches Filled with Bobos--the Beasts of Authenticity
Part 2: A Secular Age Meets Paul, and the Youthful Spirit Meets the Spirit of Ministry
7. Faith and Its Formation in a Secular Age
8. What Is Faith?
9. From Membership to a Mystical Union
10. The Music of Formation
11. Is God a Favor Bestower or Gift Giver?
Conclusion: Practical Steps to Consider as the Household of Ministry


"This is not a 'youth ministry' book. This is a book that holds up a mirror to the contemporary church to help us see how we've come to reflect the culture around us and how that has changed our approach to faith formation. While this shift has had significant impact on youth, none of us are immune. With his typical combination of careful scholarship, pastoral wisdom, and lively prose, Andrew Root not only diagnoses the problem but also constructively charts a way forward. If we care about the future of faith formation, every seminarian should be reading this book."

James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

"Andrew Root has become an iconic figure in youth ministry globally. In him, youth ministry has reached a pinnacle of scholarship, finding its sociocultural identity and theological hope. In this book, he leads readers into the thorny brambles of Charles Taylor's ponderous philosophical account of secularity, through which youth ministry may be viewed as a fetishized site of authenticity, a front for the modern self--a construction of Deism and Freudian libidinal liberation. With a little help from Taylor's notion of transcendence, Root offers a corrective to mere 'authenticity' in a kenotic theology that views Christian formation not as affiliation but as union 'in Christ' in ministry. More than any living writer, Root has sparked the theological imagination of a generation of youth ministers. In a field of practice notorious for 'tips, tricks, and techniques,' this book promises not an easy way forward but one that is faithful nonetheless."

David F. White, C. Ellis Nelson Professor of Christian Education, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

"Root uses the current lament over the loss of the 'nones' to lay bare the ultimately secular understandings of faith that these concerns are grounded on. In exchange, he offers a more biblical, theological, and philosophically coherent vision of faith formation that is grounded in transcendence through participation in Christ. This is a volume worthy of careful study and consideration for the contemporary American church as a whole."

Dave Scott, assistant professor of intercultural studies and children at risk, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Root's book is the perfect response to anyone looking at Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and wondering how in the world we got here. If MTD is the diagnosis, then Faith Formation in a Secular Age is the pathology report. Andy's book is a masterful weaving together of history, the social sciences, and theological disciplines. Simply put, this book epitomizes what it means to be a practical theologian and ultimately leaves the reader knowing and loving God more."

Amanda J. Drury, associate professor of practical theology, examen director, Indiana Wesleyan University

"Since Root first challenged the church to 'revisit relational youth ministry,' his works have led readers on a pilgrimage into an ever deeper understanding of incarnational ministry. This volume brings the rich fruits of that pilgrimage into sharp and accessible focus. Working from a deep engagement with Charles Taylor's diagnosis of how the secular age has yielded notions of faith without encounter, transcendence, or transformation, Root offers the church a glittering vista of faith and ministry recentered on the transcendent encounter with Christ who comes to transform. If you are in seminary, you will want to add this to your canon of must-reads. If you are a youth worker, this volume offers you both fresh inspiration and a prescriptive way forward to a ministry that truly transforms."

Skip Masback, director, Yale Youth Ministry Institute, Yale Divinity School

"Andy Root takes another 'theological turn' by identifying philosopher Charles Taylor as a yet unheard prophetic voice for the church. This book is sure to exercise our imaginations and reframe our perpetual quests for a 'saving' faith formation paradigm by advocating for our only hope--the divine encounter."

Sharon Galgay Ketcham, associate professor of theology and Christian ministries, Gordon College

"Andy Root expands youth ministry's view and refocuses the conversation where it needs to be--on divine action, justification, faith, faith formation, and personhood. If you are a ministry leader, here is vision and language for youth ministry you must consider. If you are a seasoned youth worker with a sneaking suspicion that there's more to your work, read this. If you are an aspiring youth worker, put this on your core reading list."

Steven Argue, assistant professor of youth, family, and culture; applied research strategist, Fuller Youth Institute, Fuller Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Andrew Root
    Caroline Yang

    Andrew Root

    Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Faith Formation in a Secular Age, The...

    Continue reading about Andrew Root


A Top Ten Book for Parish Ministry in 2017, Academy of Parish Clergy

"Don't mistake this book as one shaped only for youth pastors and ministry; this is a potent book for pastoral ministry in our world. It's required reading."

Scot McKnight,

Jesus Creed blog

"Root's works are a refreshing change from the overly pragmatic and theologically muted youth ministry books that crowd bookshelves. Root has become a prolific voice within the field of youth ministry. [This book] offers an insightful and provocative perspective on how one should think about the formation of faith in our current milieu. . . . He helpfully fuses insights from [Charles Taylor's] A Secular Age with his own research and observation. His analysis of how we've developed an obsession with youthfulness was particularly illuminating. . . . Root's Faith Formation in a Secular Age is deeply insightful and challenging. His assessment of our cultural moment is incredibly helpful. Youth ministers and the Church at large would benefit from understanding our current obsession with youth and authenticity. . . . Root helpfully pushes his readers to engage with their own theological framework and forces them to ask whether they need to reassess their understanding of faith and faith formation."

Chris Talbot,

Helwys Society Forum

"Building on the writings of philosopher Charles Taylor, Root offers a scholarly yet approachable perspective on what youth ministry should look like--and when it falls short. . . . Root levels a devastating but legitimate critique against the modern church. Like the world, we make too much of youthfulness. . . . After Root examines the history of our problem with contemporary youth ministry and weighs in with this sobering critique, he turns to the question, 'So what does biblical faith formation look like in a secular age?' . . . Root wants to 'heighten the importance of the church.' But he knows that can only happen when the church knows its true mission: to make disciples of all kinds through teaching, fellowship, and ministry."

Jaquelle Crowe,

The Gospel Coalition

"The book was insightful in its themes, and helpful in understanding the action and reaction of American evangelicalism to secularism in culture. It provided a clear understanding of how this secularization emerged in the context of marketing and advertising, as well as, what marketing and advertising has perpetuated. I also believe the book was sharp (sharp = good) in its critique of the church. There's a lot Dr. Root has provided to chew on as it relates to how ministry interacts with culture and why. . . . Dr. Root's book works because it does what great books should. It causes the reader to think critically about what is happening around them, why, and what to do about it. I immediately recommended Dr. Root's work to others. It is insightful and worth reading. The astute pastor will change for the better according to that insight and thought."

Derek Webster,

Jesus Creed blog