Changes in Core Identity and Cultural Engagement after Expansion of Theological Understanding

Jonathan Gregory Wynne, Zachary P. Badon


Zachary P. Badon and Jonathan G. Wynne

Undergraduate Research

Vocati: A Missional Youth Theology Institute

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ranging from ages 10-24, affecting approximately 4,600 individuals annually in the United States.[1] Research suggests that adolescent suicide may be connected to multiple cultural obstacles delaying youth identity development.[2] This multifaceted crisis of the self is believed to affect the processes of cognitive development, moral discernment, and participation within culture.[3] However, few solutions have emerged to orient youth towards identity development. In an increasingly pluralistic world,[4] little is known about the potential impact of theology on adolescents concerning identity development and subsequent cultural engagement. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore adolescent perspectives of Christian theology and how this encounter affects youth identity formation and subsequent cultural engagement.  This study used a qualitative comparative analysis research design.  Qualitative focus group data was collected from an n=27 group of high-school students attending Vocati, a Youth Theology Institute. Narrative data was analyzed using Atlas.ti7.  Word counts were used to visualize emerging themes before and after participating in Vocati. Themes of loving and serving others, character, unity, and reconciliation surfaced following this theological encounter. These findings suggest that engagement with Christian theological material supports adolescent core identity development and potentially contribute to healthy functioning as an individual participating within culture.

[1] CDC, “Suicide Prevention,” Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, March 10, 2015),

[2] Adam B. Miller et al., “The Relation between Child Maltreatment and Adolescent Suicidal Behavior: A Systematic Review and Critical Examination of the Literature,” NCBI 16, no. 2 (2013),

[3] Chris Tanti et al., “Tripartite Self-Concept Change: Shifts in the Individual, Relational, and Collective Self in Adolescence,” Self and Identity 7, no. 4 (2008): 360–79.

[4] Sharon G. Ketcham, “A Question of Capacity: Can Adolescents Practice Discernment?,” The Journal of Youth Ministry 6, no. 2 (2008): 11–29.


Trinity; God; Jesus; Holy Spirit; Gospel

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