2013-03-30

On "The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry"



The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry is actually a pretty huge topic, and I don't have all night to write on it! I think that this book is a great step in the right direction. Kids who are actually still coming to Church in our culture are doing so because they want to find something different than the prevailing culture of consumerism. That something different may be genuine agape-based relationships with caring peers and adult mentors. But often along with that (or because of that) there comes a hunger for WHY Christian life is (or should be) so different from the prevailing culture. This WHY question is precisely theology: Helping people think in a God-centered way that is well-ordered and rational (i.e. theo-logical).

This is what we used to call Christian formation or even discipleship (at least the cognitive, worldview portion of it). But it's tricky. And there are at least 4 reasons why theological formation with youth is tricky:

1. There is a general lack of Biblical literacy among Americans in general and youth in particular. Since theologizing, for Christians, takes place upon the basis of the Grand Narrative found in the narratives of Scripture, it is essential to teach these stories. But...

2. The Churches that are often strongest on teaching the Bible are also often the most legalistic, fundamentalist, and least inclusive and justice oriented. They tell the story, but they tell it with a slant toward individualism and exclusivism. So we must develop a way of teaching the Bible just as strongly, except emphasizing the inclusion and social justice found in Scripture. Which means...

3. We need to develop a lexicon of basic concepts and strategies to get these stories across in a way that avoids the fundamentalist extreme, while staying faithful to Scripture and the best of the Christian tradition. The genius of fundamentalism is that is hones in on a few basic, easily remembered concepts and just hammers them into people. We need to find a way to present the message and theology of Scripture in a way that is equally winsome and easily remembered. However...

4. The massive failure of fundamentalism, other than it's appalling lack of Christlike Love for "The Other", is that its concepts have such narrow boundaries that they crack when challenged by science and rational learning. Thus, kids raised in fundamentalist environments often "loose faith" in college when their legalistic, foundationalist faith gets destroyed. Thus, when we theologically form people, we must do so in a way that the concepts we teach them can grow with them as they grow intellectually.

To give a negative and positive example: Negatively, when kids are taught some form of creationism (often literal, 6-day versions) as an attempt to help them believe in God as "Creator", they often go to college and find this shattered by the facts of evolutionary science. Then they loose faith in God's creative role altogether. Better to teach them a version of creation that welcomes evolution as one mode of God's creativity unfolding across history. This type of concept can grow with them, where as "Six Day Creationism" cannot.

Or, another example: Fundamentalists are rightly taught the centrality of Jesus and his saving work, but they learn it in an exclusivistic way that most postmoderns find unbelievable. When confronted with their virtuous Hindu, Muslim, and Agnostic friends at school, they find it hard to believe that Jesus would send them to hell for eternity, while the (often asshole) Evangelicals get to live forever. Thus, they jettison Christ altogether.

Better to teach them that yes, Jesus is the Incarnation of God, and yes, Jesus is the Way of Salvation, BUT that Jesus fulfills instead of rejects all that is good, true, and beautiful in other religions and cultures. When we meet God face to face, we will see the face of Jesus, and he will fulfill and confirm all that is right in our lives, while also judging and healing all that is wrong in our lives. So that the virtuous Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Agnostic will find that all they have done good has been done in Christ, especially when they reached out to "the least of these" not knowing it was Christ himself that they were ministering to (cf. Mat. 25.31-46).

That is probably more than you wanted to know. But that is a brief outline of the challenge as I see it.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.