Lent viewed as alternative to D.I.Y. Christianity by younger Christians

Younger Christians are “reclaiming Lent” by rehabilitating older traditions as a reaction against techniques of self-help and self-optimization both within evangelical churches and in the broader culture, writes Molly Worthen in the New York Times (February 18). In informal interviews, Worthen finds that younger Christians who have recently adopted Lenten traditions, such as fasting, often see them as an alternative to the evangelical traditions and their D.I.Y. emphasis of affirming and expressing one’s own preferences in spiritual practices. However, the attraction to traditional rules is counterbalanced by the eschewal of older traditions and practices of “self-punishment” and ritualism. Among the young Christians with whom Worthen spoke, most started taking Lent seriously only when they got to college, often in the process adopting a more liturgical Christian church, such as Anglicanism.

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More than the liturgy, these respondents valued the Lenten traditions of these traditional churches and how they provided them with a structure. Fasting seems to be the most favored Lenten discipline, with one woman linking fasting to developing a deeper prayer life. The respondents also showed an interest in learning from Christians outside of the West and how they practiced Lent. For instance, Korean churches were cited as showing a more communal approach than that found in the individualistic West. “In revival meetings in Korean communities, there’s this crying out in suffering. It’s not purely, ‘I did all these bad things and therefore I need to repent of them,’ but ‘I’m in the midst of this suffering, broken reality, and part of it is my fault, but part of it is the world I live in,’” said Soong Chan Rah of Fuller Theological Seminary. Accompanying this approach, fasting was often linked to affluent Christians’ awareness of world hunger.