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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry

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The shift from adolescence to adulthood, a recently identified stage of life called "emerging adulthood," covers an increasing span of years in today's culture (roughly ages 18-30) due to later marriages and extended education. During this prolonged stage of exploration and self-definition, many young adults drift away from the church.

Here two authors--both veteran teachers who are experienced in young adult and campus ministry--address this new and urgent field of study, offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be spiritually formed into adulthood. They provide a "practical theology" for emerging adult ministry and offer insight into the key developmental issues of this stage of life, including identity, intimacy and sexuality, morality, church involvement, spiritual formation, vocation, and mentoring. The book bridges the gap between academic and popular literature on emerging adulthood and offers concrete ways to facilitate spiritual formation among emerging adults.

1. Faith: The Emerging Adult Landscape
2. Spiritual Formation: Reversing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
3. Identity: Internalization, Refusal, and Engagement
4. Church: Forming an Ecclesiological Vision
5. Vocation: Purpose and Providence
6. Morality: Training the Dispositions of the Soul
7. Sexuality: Forming a Sexual Ethic
8. Relationships: Pitfalls and Pathways
9. Mentoring: Past, Present, and Future


"A thoughtful, well-informed analysis of the spiritual lives of today's emerging adults, this book provides a smooth integration of social science research and Christian insights. The authors go beyond the data to offer helpful suggestions for engaging these young people in religious life. Everyone who cares about guiding the spiritual development of emerging adults will benefit from reading this book."

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author, Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties

"David Setran and Chris Kiesling have written a conceptually rich book that also includes wise suggestions for formational practices. They are very aware of the challenges facing those in this generation but are also optimistic about how grace can work during this time of transition."

James C. Wilhoit, author, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community

"Setran and Kiesling issue a timely call for a 'practical theology' that responds to the distinctive hungers of emerging adults. This well-researched, informative, practical, and evocative book will serve those who harbor a traditional Christianity--and others--as a significant response to that vital call."

Sharon Daloz Parks, author, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith

"In this book, Setran and Kiesling set the agenda for Christian ministry with emerging adults. Cutting through the fog of confusion and fear that surrounds this life stage, the authors convincingly and sympathetically explain why so many emerging adults struggle to grow into spiritually mature followers of Jesus. The authors offer wise, theologically grounded advice that can help emerging adulthood become a season of spiritual opportunity rather than a decade of life in which discipleship is on hold. Parents, pastors, counselors, campus ministers, college professors, and all those who care about the spiritual lives of emerging adults need to read this book."

Thomas E. Bergler, professor of ministry and missions, Huntington University; author, The Juvenilization of American Christianity; senior associate editor, The Journal of Youth Ministry

"Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ."

Derek Melleby, director, CPYU's College Transition Initiative; author, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning; coauthor, Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness

"David Setran and Chris Kiesling have written a marvelous book that seasons social science research with biblical and theological wisdom. Each chapter covers critical features of the complexities of emerging adult development and the authors' guidance on mentoring alone is worth the price of the book. This book is well conceived and ably written. I highly recommend Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood."

Steve Rankin, chaplain, Southern Methodist University

"Recognized for their judicious scholarship and reflective ministry practice, Setran and Kiesling offer a comprehensive guide to both understanding and ministering among emerging adults in their faith journeys. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood pulsates with a passion to nurture young adults toward growing faithfulness and conformity to the image of Christ. This is practical theology of spiritual formation at its best."

S. Steven Kang, professor of educational ministries and interdisciplinary studies, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The Authors

  1. David P. Setran
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    David P. Setran

    David P. Setran (PhD, Indiana University) is Price-LeBar Chair of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of The College "Y": Student Religion in the Era of Secularization.

    Continue reading about David P. Setran

  2. Chris A. Kiesling

    Chris A. Kiesling

    Chris A. Kiesling (PhD, Texas Tech University) is professor of human development and Christian discipleship at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church, he has served as a pastor and a campus...

    Continue reading about Chris A. Kiesling


One of the "Top 10 Books for 2013," College Transition Initiative blog (CPYU)

"An esteemed contribution to the field of 'practical theology' and trending discussions regarding the changing nature of young adult spiritual development in contemporary Western society. . . . Setran and Kiesling have penned a well-organized, thorough, and perceptive guidebook for college and young adult instructional and ministry contexts. . . . In academic circles, Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood could be utilized effectively as a primary or secondary resource for Christian ministry, psychological, or social science courses that address specific generational faith development issues. For instructors, best practices for informative teaching could easily be rendered from the authors' insights concerning how young adults learn, interact, and take initiative. In church ministry circles, this book could inform the practical shape of fellowship activities and discipleship goals for college ministry students, seminary students, and young adult ministry pastors. And for young adults themselves, this book could serve as an insightful journey of self-discovery and appropriate challenge towards abiding with Christ through the emerging adult years."

Ken Castor,

Journal of Youth Ministry

"Down-to-earth narratives of actual emerging adults are blended with in-depth research showing the challenges faced in pursuing spiritual formation and the practical methods for facing these challenges successfully. . . . Throughout the book the authors are honest, refusing to pull any punches in their assessment of emerging adults, the church, or the process they believe will reverse the current trajectory of spiritual formation among emerging adults. This is one of the book's strengths. In addition, the authors speak with a unique measure of authority because of the breadth of the research contained in the book and their own experience as professors engaged in regular interaction with emerging adults. For all is academic strength, the book also displays an earthy readability that will appeal to many church and para-church leaders who need some gritty material to help them sift through the challenges of being in the trenches of emerging adult ministry."

Mark Simpson,

Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

"The strength of this book lies in its straightforward and practical insights into the emerging adult development based on key developmental theories. Setran and Kiesling's arguments are biblically sound. . . . Their writing style is very engaging and filled with meaningful stories, anecdotes, and impactful quotes from notable thinkers and theologians. Each chapter includes practical application ideas for ministry leaders. . . . Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is well written and would be a useful resource for training youth and young adult ministry leaders at the undergraduate and graduate level. Integrating theology with practical insight and wisdom, this book provides an effective summary of the issues facing emerging adults, as well as possible solutions to ease these trying times. The information is comprehensive and concise, yet still easily accessible to students."

Sheila Lanky,

Christian Education Journal

"Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood stands out among similar works on ministering with emerging adults in that it puts emerging adulthood into conversation with theological wisdom and insight. . . . The authors demonstrate their theological fluency and prowess as practical theologians concerned with bringing theological realities to bear on cultural and ecclesial realities. In addition, their conclusions on how to best minister to emerging adults are grounded in their work as former campus ministers, observers and researchers of emerging adult culture, and scholars in the areas of Christian education and formation. . . . Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is an important book for college pastors and those ministering to and with young adults. The book will significantly impact those studying the phenomenon of emerging adulthood, and will certainly become a staple text in coursework on campus ministry, young adult ministry, and even Christian cultural engagement. It will also be of use to Christian college and seminary professors interested in understanding the unique developmental and cultural space their students inhabit."

Benjamin D. Espinoza,


"[An] important resource. . . . This is just the sort of book that many who work with 'emerging adults' need and should read. . . . The book is well-conceived and well-ordered. It contains very informative, helpful, and insightful chapters. . . . This is really a fantastic resource for those who minister to, and want to understand, the present generation of 18-30 year olds. As a College Chaplain, I found the work full of practical insights that will contribute to how I relate to, communicate with, and preach the gospel to my students. The book is not shallow or filled with common-sense platitudes. It is well-researched, faithful to scripture, and is much-needed. . . . Those, like me, who work with this age group cannot afford to rely upon our own memories or experience. We need this practical theology that directly addresses our ministry context. I am thankful for this work and recommend it highly to my colleagues in college ministry."

Jonathan Huggins,


"The book provides a thorough exploration of developmental, cultural, and spiritual issues that shape the process of spiritual formation in emerging adults. The book provides a rich collection of insights as well as current research in the field of emerging adult ministry. . . . I see this book as a tremendous addition to the library of anyone who works with emerging adults within the church or within the academy. Most chapters struck the right balance between theoretical-descriptive content and prescriptive-practical content. Each chapter challenged the reader to explore and understand the philosophical and cultural underpinnings and assumptions that weigh in on the lives of emerging adults. The authors have done a tremendous service by collecting up-to-date resources and references and integrating them into a cogent and applicable whole. Many will enjoy and benefit from this important addition."

Rob Rhea,

CCCU Advance

"For those who are serious, who want the best research and the most fruitful practices in the field, then this exploration of spiritual formation among emerging adults is just the best. . . . This explores human development, cultural trends, and insists that this life stage has some unique features, features which those serious about ministry must know. Impressive stuff."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog