Book Review: Lost in Transition: the dark side of emerging adulthood

lost in transition 2Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: the dark side of emerging adulthood (Oxford, 2011 $27.95) is a refreshingly well-researched take on the current culture of young adults, using real interviews to expose rather than sloppy conjecture to complain.

Smith, a sociology professor at Notre Dame, and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three and recorded many of their answers to questions on five topics: morality, consumerism, intoxication, sexuality, and civic and political involvement.

For the person who works with young adults or who has one that they care about this book is an excellent way to better understand their world. It deftly sifts through cultural assumptions about “kids these days” and exposes the cultural realities about which we thought we new. For anyone who likes to attach hard statistics to what are usually foggy general notions this is the right book.

In terms of the angle of the writing the book pushes toward the thesis that there is a set of alarming trends among what it dubs “emerging adults”. In each category of interview questions it reveals a lack of direction in thought and standards and penetrates into the often self-centered motives behind the lives of emerging adults.

From a philosophical perspective the first chapter alone is worth buying the book for. This is the only non-religious academic book I have found that pushes the conversation of morality back to the cliff of what the basis for morality is in the first place. The answers and questions illustrate with no uncertainty the lack of any coherent response by young adults and the objective need for an objective answer. The researchers have my gratitude for forcing such an important question.

It is not clear what the particular perspective of the authors is. In proper academic form they keep their personal opinions quiet, but it is clear that they are hinting toward a the need for some brand of coherent moral framework. If the book is written by Christian academics then it is an example of a sort of book almost never seen: a solidly academic work with objective research which puts the current moral culture in a skillful checkmate without resorting to knocking all the pieces off the board.  A sociological book based on actual interviews (and the Oxford name on the spine doesn’t hurt) is a valuable tool to have in order to site in a conversation of the basis for and cultural perceptions of morality that can hold the intellectual respect of secular readers. This is the sort of book I wish more Christians were trained and ready to write.

I recommend Lost in Transition to all in college ministry or who work with or simply love a college-age person.


Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In a world littered with the bodies of work of men and women deigning to speak for the Almighty the weary listener longs for the refreshment of a believer who is really something new in Christ. Where are these New Men, the ones who are hollowed out inside and filled not with vacuity but with Someone wonderful? We need not the verbose but the profound – those who live and breathe a fresher air than most and speak from experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a man.

Upon first introduction I was unsure about him. Perhaps as theologian his belief would cause me an allergic reaction. Perhaps as a writer his biography would fail to reflect the resounding words he wrote. And yet, as with scripture, the greatest proclamation of truth comes not so much for a life as from a life. Bonhoeffer’s thought was not just the driving force of his life but his life drove his thought.

Eric Metaxas’s 2010 book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy traces Bonhoeffer’s life from his recent ancestors until his funeral in 1945. This is Metaxas’s second biography, following one of William Wilberforce in 2007. The work is well-researched yet doesn’t bog the reader down in details. Metaxas does not take the time to describe anyone’s personality (except Bonhoeffer’s) and yet as a narrative the book flows along nicely with tributary chapters on the historical context of events and the lives of the actors involved. The final chapter makes Bonhoeffer feel quietly distant from the reader and yet one feels almost in the midst of his last days of life. Metaxas gives the impression that we have gotten to know this great man and yet wish we had really met him as we mourn and admire his death.

The book cannot be called unbiased. Of course it might be difficult to write an unbiased work which deals so closely with the Nazi Reich but it is very clear that Metaxas is a conservative Christian writing about a personal hero. If you are looking for a highly academic historical and clinical study of a third-party theology in the midst of a third-party political system this is not the book for that (for example, Metaxas often characterizes the Nazi leadership as various animals such as shoats). But it is a heartfelt and honest portrait of Bonhoeffer by someone who can understand what he is seeing. If you want to learn to appreciate a painter you may want to talk to a painter of the same school since he knows what he is looking at.

I encourage you to find a copy of this book and get to know the man who knew what it was to follow Christ.