I’ve never been a youth ministry sort of guy. When I was looking for a call out of seminary, oftentimes folks would assume that since I was in my 20s I’d be going into youth ministry. They did not know me. Don’t get me wrong: I love youth and youth ministry, but it is not my primary calling. And, believe me, youth out there, it really is “me, not you.”
That said, when I heard Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean had come out with a book on theology and youth ministry, I was most interested, for these fine professors know that youth ministry is not some subset of “real ministry,” but true tough theological work. Their book, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry shows just that.
The work is in two parts, the first on “Theological Starting Points” and the second on “Theology Enacted.” Root and Dean go to great lengths to claim their work as a theological task, and boy did they convince me. Root writes,
“If youth ministry is to have a future that avoids these deadly traps of self-justification and isolation, it must move boldly into deep theological construction. What I mean is that we must begin to see ourselves not primarily as youth ministry directors but as theologians who do constructive theology in the context of ministry with the adolescent population.”
This book is perfect for that Senior Pastor who scoffs at youth activities as simply games and lock-ins; this book is perfect for youth directors who know their work is deeper and richer than it’s perceived, but are searching for the theological means to describe it.
That said, perhaps the book’s main flaw is somehow inherent to its purpose: in so proving the theological richness of youth ministry, the book’s sheer complexity would make it a very challenging read for the average youth ministry volunteer. Thankfully, helpful discussion questions conclude each chapter, but the work stands so far above the fluff some expect of youth ministry that for these folks, Theological Turn will be a bit of a shock.
From its opening pages to its close, Theological Turn does good very well to ground youth ministry as it should. Also compelling, however, is the constant reminder that, as is put in the Introduction, “young people are not bored by theology. They are bored by theology that doesn’t matter.” Those who read Theological Turn will get a wonderful reminder of why theology matters in the first place.