Without theology- can youth ministry keep the faith?

For those who keep up with these things, this is the fourth of my posts that is loosely related to ideas that emerge from Andrew Roots book, Faith formation in a secular age’ a book which is going to be discussed and referred to quite a bit over the next year within the coridoors of youth ministry brand UK, possibly because we cant in the UK get enough of what the Americans think about youth ministry (even if their context, ecclesiology, missiological practices and political context, and spiritual context are vastly different), and that there can be a tendancy to give a free ride to anyone intellectual that isnt that critical themselves. What Andrew Root does do is tell it like it is to his own audience. What we need to do in the UK is discover whether the message needed is the same. And there are questions. But for now, I have a different question. In a book so concerned about the formation of faith, and the context within which faith is formed – why does Root only spend a short time reflecting on what faith is, why faith might be important for young people?

In Chapter 8 of faith formation Root, after finishing an exploration Charles Taylor, sets to work on developing a framework of what faith is, in accordance with , essentially, Gormans view of The apostle Pauls salvation. Stating that faith is about negation. It is that Jesus entered negation, and that Saul (Paul) saw faith as

a transcendent experience born out of negation (death, brokenness and longing) . Faith is to experience the encounter of Christ, through the negation of the Cross, faith is not just an act of trust, but to ‘enter’ into Christ and have our own being taken into the being of Jesus’ (Root, Andrew, 2017, p119-120)

Faith, in this description Root gives is about negating, about giving up, and it is about participating in the actions of Christ, diviine action, which Root goes on to say is a cause for a believer to become a minister, to become one who minister to others, and this is explored by Root in the next chapter, 9. Stating that Faith is about the experience of ministry, and in that ministry which arrives through negation, comes the divine action.

What this means is that Faith is something practical (ministering to others) and Prophetic (causes a giving up, negation, a simplicity) and also transcendent (in an age of ‘realism’ and ‘authenticity’). This links significantly with Healys view of a Theodrammatic framework for ecclesiology, church within the Theodrama is to be practical and prophetic, and not worry about its blemishes, history or ideals.

And culturally talk of faith is cheap. The key conversations surround growth as an antidote to decline within organisations, and this can be reduced to over reliance on the business models that spawned successful or profitable businesses. But Jesus wasnt about being a successful business. Jesus was someone who recognised faith, and asks of us that his return ‘how many will he find on earth who have faith?’ (Luke 18:8)

Faith has 55 references in the Gospels, many directly the words of Jesus who commends or rebukes those who do not have enough, or have enough of it, faith to be made well, faith as much as a mustard seed, faith as much as this– many, many references to the faith of those around him. Often rebuking those who think they have it, and commending those for whom their actions show more faith than they thought. So what might this mean for the ‘faith’ of churches, the faith of people around us in our communities and churches. Are the faithful the large – or the faithful the invisible?

However, Can we take what Root argues for without critique? – after all – Faith will be what the Son of Man comes back to see, and faithful ministry, (that might also be growing) might be the call of the minister of faith. Yet still- talk is about faith- without really pinning down what faith is. Often it can be a tag line, a descriptor- such as ‘faith-based’, or ‘faith motivated’ especially for youth work practice.

Referring to the Bible, Faith is described by the writer of Hebrews as : ‘Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen, it gives us assurance about things we cannot see’ (Hebrews 11;1) Then follows a log line of people who acted according to faith. What they reveal about God is that he communicated and spoke to these people in the midst of day to day and called them to action. Action, that Root might suggest, caused negation – the giving up of a home (abraham), the challenge to build a boat, the giving up of a child (Moses), a welcome to the spies (Rahab). Faith requires action, and God seems to be present in that action. It is as Vanhoozer and others might say, a Divine Drama of Gods being present in ongoing communication (Vanhoozer, 2010, Remythologising Theology)

In The Hermeneutics of Doctrine Anthony Thiselton, refers to Wolfgang Pannenburg who writes:

There is no separation between history and faith; we must reinstate today the original unity of facts and their meaning’, Knowledge is not a stage beyond faith, but leads into faith.

For Thiselton, ‘faith as based on the trustworthiness of that to which it is directed, hence ‘christian faith must not be merely subjective conviction that would allegedly compensate for the uncertainty of an historical knowledge about Jesus’. Jesus stood himself in a horizon where people expected a Saviour, and did not demand trust in his person without giving reasons for it. (Thiselton, 2007, p411-412)

Faith then is inextricably linked to knowledge, for without knowledge of an idea, a situation and belief system then there can be no faith. As Root himself says, young people within evangelical settings (especially youth ministry) now know very little about the tradition, but have been taught over and over about how to get high on the idea of Jesus. The need for knowledge within faith played down, only simple knowledge was enough, and within a vaccuum of knowledge (of God) dangerous theologies and the idolatorous worship of these theologies reign free (prosperity gospel etc) , but it is also Knowledge of God and Theology that Vanhoozer brings as his anti-dote the dangers of MTD, the disease often said to infect american youth ministry. (Vanhoozer, 2014)

From both Root and Vanhoozer, Theology must come first, then practical ministry and action. (In the UK, Pete Ward was arguing for the same in 1997) Faith is inextricably linked to knowledge of God and knowledge of the story of God and accepting an ongoing role in the drama of it all.

When talk is of growth and growing youth ministry, what effect might this have on faith when real faith requires slow knowledge, self sacrifice and denial, living a radical deducted (even simple life) and not just Jesus as the great confidence giver and permisser of a materialist life. Faith seems to be more than belief, it is an act of the will to live a different life. Can growing and growth be detrimental to depth because the emphasis might be on quantity, efficiency and speed.

A faith based ministry or church- what might that mean, based on a faith and acting like the faith that is required. Without a theology of faith, what are young people having faith in? An experience that makes them feel good or gives them a high? Or the kind of dangerous self giving generous discipleship which loves their neighbour and in obedience hears the holy author prompting in the midst, to act in faith towards human and community flourishing? (And it’s not too young to start)

Andrew Root has put faith formation back into the youth ministry headlines, what is as required is to contemplate the life of faith that is required of those who accept the challenge to take on Jesus discipleship.

References

Root, Faith formation in a secular age, 2017

Thiselton A, 2007 the hermeneutics of Doctrine

Vanhoozer, 2005, The drama of doctrine

Vanhoozer, 2010; Remythologising Theology

Ward, Pete, 1997 Youth work and the Mission of God

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