For the Bookshelf: The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry

For the Bookshelf: The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry

Root, Andrew, and Dean, Kendra Creasy, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (2011), InterVaristy Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

By Guest Blogger Pat Olds

This book’s content is collection of published essays from Dr. Kendra Creasy Dean and Dr. Andrew Roots. It is a resource for reshaping or reframing a youth ministry that is more relational and relevant to the spiritual needs of 21st century youth. The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry offers practical theology as a means of connecting together the culture content and context of youth to biblical truths for Christ-centered reflective thinking and application that informs faith formation.

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry story is divided into two sections: the first section on the what, how and why of practical theology; a theological turn replaces an existing youth ministry model that is 70+ years of age and is not meeting the needs of youth, youth workers or youth ministers nor facilitating meaningful relationships with God, self and different. The second half of the book supports practical theology as the theological turn in youth ministry through possible youth ministry contexts. Insights on how youth engaged in reflective thinking upon real life events and spiritual journey strengthens and encourages “on-the-ground” youth workers and/or youth ministers.

According to Dr. Kendra Creasy Dean, faith formation is primary and Christian education is secondary, thus the theological turn in youth ministry. Dr. Andrew Root adds to the thought of theology being ministry and ministry is theology. Theological reflection is becoming the norm for youth ministry in this millennial era. Both Dean and Root share the belief that youth ministry is a living lab for practical theology, salvation and faith formation. Both authors also see practical theology as a means of connecting youths’ hard questions to biblical truths and experiences with God in life happening realities, i.e., beliefs, sin and sex, etc.

The strength of their argument for the use of practical theology in youth ministry is the goal of Christ-centeredness. I agree with Dean’s and Root’s assessment of how the church understands youth ministry as being a microcosm of the congregation. I also agree with their idea of youth ministry being a living lab for engaging practical theology. Protecting the footprints of traditions (stories, ethics, language, traditions) that nurtures faith formation also connects generations together through praxis and intentional dialogue.

The two areas of this text that I find to be problematic for me is the academic language and Dean’s prioritizing of faith formation and Christian education. The academic language overshadows the helpful and valuable discussion questions and exercises offered to youth workers and/or youth ministers at the end of each chapter. The language would be challenging for non-seminary trained youth workers or youth ministers who are searching for a practical, user-friendly resource for upgrading the image of youth ministry, adding value to the ministry and its workers or expanding the content for faith formation.

The image of faith formation being primary and Christian education being secondary is counter to my beliefs and understanding of Christian education. Christian education facilitates theological content and context in narrative dialogic communal settings with peers, youth workers and multi-generations. Without Christian education, practical theology becomes a fruitless exercise. Identifying the active presence of God in life happening events not only forms faith, but also makes real God’s image, presence and wisdom in and through relationships, and the hope for authentic fellowship. We must remember that individual and inter-generational faith formation competes with the dominant socio-culture.

Pat Olds is a DEdMin graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary.

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