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Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry (A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry) Hardcover – August 25, 2012
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About the Author
Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Olson Baalson associate professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, Minnesota). He is the author of several books, including Relationships Unfiltered and coauthor of The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry with Kenda Creasy Dean. Andy has worked in congregations, parachurch ministries, and social service programs. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, Kara, two children, Owen and Maisy, and their two dogs, Kirby and Kimmel. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Andy spends far too much time watching TV and movies.
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After recently finishing the journey, I can attest to the towering value of this series. Because of the structure and style of this series, the reader receives more than just a canned collection of doctrine. Andrew Root's interchange between Nadia's wrestling with thinking and then applying theology to youth ministry and Root's own commentary on youth ministry sharpens the mind and forces youth workers to wrestle with the tensions and paradigms Root introduces.
Root undergoes the process of distilling theology by first walking youth workers through the concept of thinking theologically in volume one, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. He proceeds to write on the significance of the cross in volume two, Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry. His third volume tackles the difficult discussion of how to approach the scriptures in Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry. The fourth volume then explores missions and eschatology in Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry.
For the purpose of this review, a brief examination of the series strengths and weaknesses will be addressed, interlaced with observations and examples from each of volumes two through four. An in depth review of volume one has already been written here. Overall, I found this series to be a very rewarding read. Though I do not agree with everything the author says about theology and his philosophy of youth ministry, this work has been a primer for me to sort out my view of applying theology to youth ministry.
Strengths of the Series:
First of all, up to this point no scholar has tackled an undertaken such as Root's. This series is unique, which makes it of great worth. Furthermore, the series is very entertaining. Youth workers will easily relate to the main character, Nadia, and her love/hate relationship with theology. The entertaining storyline also assists youth workers to connect the practical implications of the theological matters Root address. Of extreme merit are the thoughtful footnotes that Root includes in order to validate his theological propositions. This helps the reader grow interest and exposure to some of the key works of theology today.
The structure of the series is very precise. Each volume takes the reader through the same path. Each chapter has the same structure. Every chapter has an inclusio of the "chronicle of Nadia" narrative. Then Root provides commentary sandwiched between the drama. Each volume poses the problem or obstacle that Nadia encounters regarding a significant area of theology. Each problem or obstacle raises a matter of concern regarding the present state of how youth ministry or church operates today. Then Root brings the reader back to a paradigmatic body of scripture that corrects the concern. In volume two Root looks at the book of 1 Corinthians when discussing the Cross. In volume three he relies on the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The resurrection of Lazarus is the text of choice for volume four. Then, Root demonstrates the philosophical shift that must take place for a youth worker to rightly apply this aspect of theology to his or her ministry. Finally, Root displays the fruits reaped from the rightly applied shift. Overall, this structure is very helpful, especially as one progresses through the series.
Root also has a bent to a particular flavor of theology. If anyone has spent some amount of time in Barth's dogmatics, one would immediately see the parallels. Root has a keen fondness for men that fall in line with the German school of theology and its progeny. For many, this will be exposure to new studies.
Another strength of this series is roots overall grasp on the challenges that youth workers face. His anecdotes and quips about youth ministry demonstrate how well he understands where the rubber of theology meets the road of practice in the church.
A strength that should certainly be included is how this series appeals to a post-modern audience. Root's argument for thinking theologically really brings the program of God to humanity in a way that people will connect.
People today want to be a part of something. They want to join with the action of God. Reading scripture is part of the process of participating in God's action. According to Root, "Reading the Bible should direct us not into the world behind the text, but into our world where God acts (Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, 102)." He adds, "This then, is what closes the circle; this is how our Scripture reading becomes participation in God's action...Reading the Bible is an act of discerning how God is moving now (Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, 104)."
People today have taken off the rose-colored lenses and both know and experience the realities of suffering. They see how they teeter on the edge between nothingness and possibility. They need God to enter into their world and share in suffering. Root says, "But those who are willing to suffer, those who allow themselves to be weak, find themselves in position to see something wonderful that the proud and powerful cannot see: that God acts, that God is breaking in. The cross has ushered in an altogether new reality, where from suffering comes joy, from pain comes new community (Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry, 32)."
People today are looking for something that gives them hope. The resurrection of Christ and His future restoration brings us that hope. Root writes, "Hope trusts in the promises of God. Hope seeks the action of God that brings forth a new reality (Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry, 64)." Later he says, "When Jesus calls himself "the resurrection," he is speaking eschatologically; the resurrection is an eschatalogical reality that breaks into the now (Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry, 74)."
Weaknesses of the Series:
Everyone has rants or soap boxes that they love to address, and Andrew Root is no exception to the rule. Each volume has a rant about something common and truly frustrating in youth ministry. Volume two rants about sticking the cross on everything and turning it into a consumeristic symbol. Volume three rants about the little old lady that thinks the solution for kids to stop being knuckleheads is to teach them to memorize scripture and have knowledge about the bible. Volume four rants about the tourist mentality of short-term missions. I agree that these are typical issues that a youth worker will face and have to work through. I just don't know if I entirely agree with the model or method that the narrative followed to address these issues. I'm not saying that Nadia should have been an idealized character. I like how she is well-rounded. However, I think it would have been helpful to present her as a foil to someone else who knew how to better approach these scenarios. Perhaps, there could have been a different tone used to address these issues, also.
Root also appears to create a few false dichotomies. One example is in volume three. Root develops three false dichotomies between what the bible is and is not. He claims that the bible is not a divine reference book, a history book, or a book of principles. I agree that we should not minimalize the scriptures to merely be a divine reference book, history book, or book of principles. However, 2 Timothy 3.16 refers to the scripture as being, "...pr0fitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." There is a sense where we should turn to it for truth and refer to it as being the source of truth. The scriptures also record history and many of the books of the bible are some of our preeminent examples of historiography. Furthermore, the scripture is a book that teaches principles of skillful living, and the book of Proverbs spends 31 chapters developing and imparting those principles. I think Root overstates his case by putting these three ideas contrary to the how scripture is "a witness...a sign that points to the action of God (Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, 77)."
I think another weakness of this series is how much Root leans on secondary resources to validate his theology. I appreciate how he leaned heavily on critical biblical texts for the development of his argument. However, I think readers would have appreciated more of the theology developed off of scripture and less off of Barth, Moltmann, et al. I profoundly appreciate these theologians, but I felt that there was an imbalance of our primary source, the scripture, to other secondary sources. Furthermore, Root's secondary sources were extremely narrow in selection, albeit they were excellent resources. If Root would have liked to cater to the widest possible audience of youth workers and church traditions, he might have done well to select a wider selection for validation.
The final weakness that I would like to address is a critical vacuum of a very important area of theology. In fact, much of the theology developed in this series might be seen purposeless without understanding the real need that people have. Though Root mentions sin from time to time in the series, he never formally addresses the problem of sin. Without properly understanding humanities base problem of rebelling against God, we cannot really understand our great need for Him. I hope that Root might remedy this weakness of the series by possibly releasing a forthcoming book that speak to this effect. He alludes at the very end of volume four that there will be a book that discusses the Holy Spirit. I hope he also writes one that addresses sin.
Once again, I have found this series to be extremely rewarding. I imagine that I will be discussing these works with youth pastor friends as we gather in the near future. If you are a youth worker or considering youth work as a vocation, I encourage you to read through this series. Andrew Root awakens the mind to think critically about how theology applies to youth ministry in this series, A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry.
You are reading this review because Zondervan offered me volumes three and four of A Theological Journey in Youth Ministry in exchange for an honest review.
Read more book reviews from Joey Cochran at jtcochran.com.
The cross is not static or a set of principles to present to students. It is active. It is where God IS found, and it is the place we must point to God's presence for young people. The theology that Root presents is vital to youth ministry. If we present the cross as merely a symbol or something to be used when we need it, we are doing youth a disservice. We need to fully understand the implications of the cross in order to present God in meaningful ways to youth people.
I don't want to summarize the book for you here. All I want to say this book is vital to any youth pastor, adult who works with youth, anyone who works with a church, or pastor. Please, please read this book! And buy them for your whole team!