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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

Perpetual Adolescence

In the not-too-distant past, the transition from child to adult occurred around the onset of puberty, but now the process of what some are calling “emerging adulthood” has been significantly delayed. What role does technology play in this cultural shift, and how should we address these new challenges? What are the assumptions about “youth” in our time, and how do those beliefs differ from what we find in Scripture? Michael Horton discusses these important questions with T. David Gordon, author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (originally aired June 22, 2014).


A youth-centered culture is driven by the consumer’s desire for people to be impulsive the way children are because impulsive people buy anything you put in front of them. In our culture, it’s as though we try to hold on to youth for as long as we possibly can. What Paul said in passing was interesting, wasn’t it?  When I was child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child.  When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.  I’m not sure in our culture people do give up their childish ways.

David Gordon


“Youth / Teen Culture”

The social category of “youth” is a modern phenomenon which was constructed during the post-Second World War period in the West. This term “youth” is often defined in opposition, and yet in relation, to adulthood. Not every culture or society has equal views of what this term may mean. This new social status has become a private space where young adults use their new access to information through media and new technologies to seemingly create their own culture. This movement to establish their own identity places them in a precarious situation of alienation which seems to place them in opposition to those who have different social identities (i.e. adults and children) and mediums of self-communication, failing to integrate them in the broader family. This restlessness and questioning is itself now part of their identity at this transitional time of life, which is often misunderstood and perceived by adults as inherently disrespectful and insolent, (which it may be in some cases). This process has become the new means by which he/she navigates the path from childhood to adulthood. In the past, the path from adolescence was never cast in tension with adulthood but seen within the confines and nurture adults provided to make the journey productive and healthy. In today’s youth culture, young people’s path is cast in opposition to those familial and social structures which had been seen as necessary in the past, taking a different path often defined by new technologies.

(Adapted from Shirley R. Steinberg, “Why Study Youth Culture?” Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005])

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