The 1999 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture
An Unexpected Prophet:
What the 21st-Century Church
Can Learn from Youth Ministry
Youth ministry is not just about youth. It’s about ministry, period. By its very nature, adolescence embodies, sometimes acutely, fundamental concerns about being human: Who am I? Whom can I trust? What does it mean to be in communion with others? As a result, youth ministry invites transformation for the entire church and not for youth alone. As we look for ways to renew the church in Christ’s name, we can’t afford to overlook a prophet in our hometown: ministry for, by, and with the young people among us.
The 1999 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture have significant implications for ministry with youth, but they are no less important for the church at large. Kenda Creasy Dean suggests that youth ministry is the point at which Christians should reclaim a theology of desire—not for the sake of youth ministry, but for the sake of the church. Dean then posits that the postmodern crisis of fidelity calls the contemporary church to reclaim holy friendship as central to the life of faith.
Jürgen Moltmann reflects on Jacob’s struggle with God at the Brook Jabbok, on his own journey to faith as a young prisoner-of-war, and on prayer as watchful expectation. He calls Christians to watch for the hidden "yes" in the suffered "no" of God. Moltmann also addresses how one becomes a "true" theologian, exploring the personal side of theology and its existential depths.
Cynthia Rigby unpacks the practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for youth ministry and for the church and demonstrates how this doctrine can help us understand the mystery of our friendships with God and with one another. She then looks at the doctrine of the incarnation from the perspective of young people seeking relevance for today and arrives at timeless truths for all God’s people.
Eugene Rivers calls the church to move from a ministry of church maintenance to a ministry of true reconciliation and justice. He challenges us to listen to those beyond our comfort zone that we might serve as faithful witnesses to Christ in the new millennium. May you find these lectures to be unexpected prophets, calling you to new understandings and new forms of ministry.
Director of Leadership Development
Princeton Theological Seminary
- Holding On to Our Kisses: The Hormonal Theology of Adolescence
- The Sacrament of One Another: Practicing Fidelity through Holy Friendship
- Praying and Watching
- What Is a Theologian?
- More Than a Mystery: The Practical Implications of the Trinity in Ministry with Youth
- More Than a Hero: The Practical Implications of the Incarnation in Ministry with Youth
- Youth Ministry for the World in Which We Live
- New Wineskins, New Models, and Visions for a New Century
MORE THAN A MYSTERY:
THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRINITY IN MINISTRY WITH
Recently I was introduced in a worship service as someone who teaches "relevant theology." "What an oxymoron that is," the introducer added, playing to the congregation's hearty laughter. I winced at the joke, but couldn't help thinking of the comic strip taped to my office door, where Snoopy is sitting atop his doghouse, typing a manuscript. Charlie Brown approaches, commenting: "I hear you're writing a book on theology. I hope you have a good title." "I have the perfect title," Snoopy replies. "Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?” 1 Somehow, theology has gotten a bad rep, the reputation for being boring and smug. If this is what theology really is all about, it will not do our youth—or us—a bit of good.
Theology means, literally, "God talk." If we believe that God is relevant to real life, then theology is not theology unless it says something that makes a difference to the way we live.
This forum will reflect on how God talk matters to the lives of young people today. How do we "talk about God" with young people?
In my first lecture I address the practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for youth ministry. In the second I speak about the relevance of the doctrine of the incarnation. Before I begin discussion of the Trinity, let me briefly discuss how Christian doctrine—the teachings of the church—is “talk about God” that really makes a difference to our everyday lives.page 58
HEART AND MIND
The Phantom Menace is just around the corner, 2 and some of my twenty-something students have big plans to camp out for tickets so they can see it on opening day. What makes them so interested? In this week's Time magazine, Bill Moyers asks George Lucas about the spiritual dimension of his Star Wars movies. Lucas tells Moyers that he "put the Force" into Star Wars:
...in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question "Is there a God or is there not a God?"—that is for me the worst thing that can happen. 3
Lucas's response challenges us to reflect on what we as youth ministers are doing to awaken spirituality. Are we drawing youth into participation in mystery? How do we challenge young people to ask the important questions?
One cannot ask questions about "the mystery," it seems to me, without involving both the heart and the mind. On the one hand, throwing up our hands with a mindless "God said it; I believe it; that settles it" attitude keeps the mystery of God at arm's length, spurning the sense of awe that comes in the search for understanding. On the other hand, reflecting on mystery in an attempt to move from understanding to faith forgets that faith itself is a mysterious gift that cannot be arrived at or achieved. As twelfth-century theologian Anselm put it, a Christian is a person of "faith seeking understanding." "Faith seeking understanding" begins with faith (i.e., it involves the heart as well as the mind) but also explores the significance and meaning of this faith (i.e., it involves the mind as well as the heart).
How do we enable young people to reflect on their lives in relationship to God in ways that deepen their participation in this relationship? Recently, the trend has been to oversimplify the content of the faith in mass-marketing attempts to communicate the relevance of Christianity to everyday life. 4 Fortunately, not all youth "buy" the practice of checking their minds at the door of the church—or the youth meeting—as the way to go. And yet they also don't want to enter into endlessly qualified theological debates. Rather, they long for some clear and substantive instruction from youth leaders who don't pretend life is easy, but who do believe the Christian faith has something to offer.page 59
COMPLEXITY AND CONVICTION
Three years ago, New York Times writer Peter Steinfels raised concerns about how the Christian faith is being represented in contemporary American society. In a column describing his experience at a national conference for religious journalists, Steinfels reported that participants were incessantly complaining about the "900-pound gorilla" that dominates the American media as representative of the "Christian position." This "gorilla" to which the journalists referred was none other than the Christian Coalition. Steinfels remembers that James Wall, editor of The Christian Century, finally got fed up with the blaming game. When he had opportunity to speak, he called on representatives from mainline denominations to stop finger-pointing at the Christian Coalition and to take responsibility for their role in the lopsided representation of Christianity. Wall did not say that the road to influence was to develop and market simpler, slicker slogans. In fact, Wall asserted that if mainline denominations are to have influence, "We must retreat to our religious tents, reexamine our classical text and scriptural traditions, and be ready to fight again for complexity and ambiguity." 5
Though "conviction" is often associated with "simplicity," and "complexity" with "wishy-washiness," there is no reason why we cannot speak simultaneously with both complexity and conviction. As Wall and Steinfels imply, it is only when we speak boldly and complexly about our faith that the relevance of Christianity to the complexities of life is apparent.
Faith that involves both the heart and mind, God talk that is simultaneously complex and filled with conviction—these are guiding principles to keep in mind as we begin to reflect on the practical implications of Christian doctrine for youth ministry.
DOCTRINE AND YOUTH MINISTRY?
What role does Christian doctrine play in drawing young people to participate in the mystery of God? This is a tough question to answer in generalities, so I will give a very specific example. In this lecture, I will show how the doctrine of the Trinity can help our youth—and all of us—understand the mystery of our friendships with God and with one another.
Last week fifteen children were shot and killed in Littleton, Colorado. And the question we are all asking is: Why? Why did it happen? If we could only answer this question, if we could only make some sense of this heinous occurrence, we might be able to prevent such things from happening in the future.
But the fact remains that we do not know why. We can blame the parents, or page 60 the school system, or chemical imbalances in the brain, but we still don't really know what combination of factors, exactly, might lead one kid to seek help and another to go on a shooting spree. Perhaps the most faithful response we have is to cry out with the psalmist, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget us forever?. . . How long must we bear pain in our souls, and have sorrow in our hearts all the day long?" 6 We continue to seek God's faithful reply.
Meanwhile, we are bombarded by a continuous stream of opinions on the subject being broadcast by the media. Every time I turn on my TV, it seems, someone from Littleton is being interviewed. Yesterday, they were asking students from Columbine High School if they had any idea what could have been in the minds of the killers.
"I don't understand how they could shoot everyone," one youth said, trying to be honest. "But I can understand the feeling of being left out. If you're not a jock and you're a guy, you're a second-class citizen. Don't get me wrong... I don't think that means you go around and murder people. But graffiti on the school building... stuff like that... that I can see. Not that I think you should do that, either, but I can see doing it." 7 It seems to me that this empathetic youth is trying to tell us that the pressure and loneliness he feels, as a high school student, has gotten out of hand. What do we have to offer him, as an alternative to killing, as an alternative to graffiti, as a remedy for feeling he is "second-class"?
BOOMERS AND BUSTERS
Youth today, following the "Baby Boomers" (Boomers) generation, are commonly referred to as the "Baby Busters" (Busters). Born between 1965 and 1981, 8 the Busters are telling us that the Boom was, in significant ways, an illusion. Economic prosperity was coupled with heightened divorce rates; two-income families occasioned twelve-hour child care and kids coming home from school to empty houses. In the course of learning to value individuals in all their particularities in the '60s and '70s, the Boomers compromised on the formation of community. And our youth are speaking out. Interestingly, they remain believers in the value and power of individuals, but they do not want to compromise on their participation in community even as they pursue autonomy. They want to live.
When I was growing up there was a popular commercial featuring a working mother, home from her job, wearing a business suit and holding a frying pan. She did not look the least bit tired. To the tune of a striptease, she sang: "I can bring home the bacon . // Fry it up in a pan. // 'Cause I'm a / WO-MAN. . . . oh yeah. . . A woman." How strange it is, now, to hear young women talk about how they want to "have it all" without being exhausted, confident that they deserve to be treated equally even if they take time from work to have and take care of children.page 61
When I was in high school, "real men didn't eat quiche," never mind admitting they enjoyed watching Disney films meant for young children. How odd it was to hear a sixteen-year-old guy in my youth group talk about how he was feeling so depressed he thought he would go home and watch The Lion King for the thirty-first time!
If the Boomers learned to act self-sufficient and impervious in order to succeed, the Busters are brazen about brandishing their frailty in order to live humanly. They yearn for connection and community and are willing to exhibit their vulnerability in order to do so.
TECHNOLOGY AND TRANSCENDENCE
In 1975, my fifth-grade science teacher confidently told us that by the year 2000 we would live in a more harmonious, communal society. Her logic was perfectly sound. Technology was advancing by leaps and bounds. We were producing more products and services, and better ones, with less expenditure of energy. Inevitably, our efforts would lead us to be more efficient. By the year 2000, my teacher thought, our culture would function so adeptly through technological advances that we would only have to work half time to support ourselves. The machines would do the rest. We would have plenty of time left for the development of relationships, and we would have a more peaceful, community-oriented world.
Of course, my teacher was wrong. Hypnotized by productivity and efficiency, the Boomer population of the past twenty-five years has been determined to do it better. The Boomers cashed in their carbon paper for copy machines and computers. More work can now be done, more perfectly, and more at the last minute. (By the way, have you heard that Federal Express will soon be starting to pick up on Sundays? It's about time! Now we can work through the weekend and still get materials there by first thing on Monday morning. Of course, sending email attachments is even faster, almost instantaneous if you have a fast server.) Faster and faster, sleeker and sleeker, more and more. Boomers can even do several things at once. A recent article in the "Circuits" section of The New York Times, devoted to the art of "multitasking," featured a photograph of a man standing in an airport between two rows of pay telephones, with a phone at each ear. He was receiving calls in one ear and answering messages in the other simultaneously!
Monotheism hasn't helped much with this predicament. If we think that God is a super-efficient, multitasking, self-sufficient "doer," we might on some level justify our drives for excellence and independence with the theological claim that this is the way God is, and we are created in God's image, after all. Mental pictures of an "omni" God 9 —austere, unaffected, and self-contained—can readily reinforce the "Just Do It," 10 pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps model that has challenged page 62 Boomers but led Busters to feel inadequate and alone. They seem to be asking, "What happens when it is not possible to 'do it'?"
Besides Peanuts, another comic strip that I find particularly insightful is The Far Side by Gary Larson. One Far Side cartoon that depicts all-too-well a popular conception of monotheism features an elderly man with a long white beard sitting in front of a computer monitor. And there is some poor soul, walking along, a piano dangling over his head from out of a fifth-story window. God's finger is poised over a button marked "smite." What did this guy do wrong? Can he do anything to get God to punch the "save" button instead?
But wait! you might be saying to yourselves. This isn't what the one true God is like. Certainly, our God does hit the "save" button, rescuing us from our loneliness. . . right?
If we minister to Busters by arguing that our God is "the God of the save button," not "the smite button," we have missed the whole point. Busters are not looking for someone to rescue them from life, but to stand with them in life. Having learned from the Boomers the value of individual autonomy, they have no desire to be replaced, but yearn for someone to help them find their place. The Columbine student who commented that he could understand the violent pain of the killers because they were considered "second-class citizens" will not be helped by a God who sits at a distance from him, "smiting" him or "saving" him. Salvation that takes place at arm's length does not cure loneliness, for you are still left alone. The Busters want to know that God—and their youth leaders—stand with them.
Unimpressed by emphasis on divine transcendence, the Busters are not interested in portraying themselves as self-transcendent, either. They often frustrate Boomers who have difficulty communicating with them not only because they won't accept a hero God, but because they "let it all hang out." The "grunge" look is popular these days, and Busters tend to underestimate their capacities rather than to play up their skills. 11
One professor, a Boomer, was recently telling me that he tried to explain to a class full of students, mainly Busters, why he thought they should dress up a bit more to come to class. "It'll make you feel better about who you are than dressing in grubby jeans and T-shirts, with all those holes poked in your bodies," he explained. "But that would be hypocritical," a student replied, full of sincerity. "This is who we are. And to tell you the truth, we wish you would dress down a bit. Sometimes it seems to us like you feel you have to put on a show. We don't care what you wear!"
THE PUZZLING TRINITY
Maybe Busters are looking for a God who does not put on airs, a God who is really going to be Godself. Maybe they are looking for a God who will not ask them to strive for self-sufficiency—to learn to "sell" themselves. And so they are in luck. For the God we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is never other than who God is. And the triune God welcomes vulnerability, particularity, and mutuality because the triune God is vulnerable, particular, and mutual.
Notice that thinking of God as triune immediately addresses what some theologians have identified as "the problem with monotheism," namely, the idea that God stands at a distance from us, choosing to intervene as God sees fit. To recognize that God is not only one, but three-in-one and one-in-three, is to see that the "God of the smite button" represents a mistaken understanding of monotheism. To say that God is triune is to say that the one God is not only singular, but also many; and to say that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to say not only that God is transcendent to the world, but that God is immanent in creation. God created us, God lived and died for us, God abides with us in the context of the community of faith.
And so the answer to the loneliness felt by youth today is the Trinity. The Trinity? Certainly of all the Christian doctrines this one seems the most esoteric. What difference does it make to talk about the Trinity?
I always know when Trinity Sunday is coming around because the phone begins to ring. Cindy. . . this is Reverend such and such. I know you are always talking about how the Trinity matters in "real life," but I just can't seem to get a handle on it. What do you think I should say in my sermon?
An even harder task is the children's sermon. What do you tell kids about the Trinity? Imagine this. . .
Good morning, kids. Today we're going to talk about the Trinity. Can you say, "Trinity"? Now I've brought along my Bunsen burner, and I'm just going to flip it on and—don't touch that, Hannah!—let's all look in this saucepan. What do I have in here? That's right, ice cubes. And you know what? Ice cubes are also called "H2O." Can you say "H2O"? Now I'm just going to put these ice cubes on the burner and. . . what's happening now? That's right. . . they're melting. What's in the saucepan now? Water? Guess what, boys and girls? Water is also H2O. Can you say "H2O"? OK. . . now the water is getting hotter and hotter and (don't touch that, Hannah!). . . what's that wispy stuff coming off the top of it? No, Johnny, not smoke. . . that's called "steam." And guess what? Steam is also H2O. Can you say "H2O"?
And then you go for your big transition.
"God is kind of like H2O. Just like H2O can be ice, and water, and steam, so God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."page 64
That afternoon, you receive a phone call. It is an irate parent:
"When my kid got home he opened the freezer and said, 'M-o-m! What's God doing in the icebox?'"
And you realize you've missed the point. Instead of expressing to those kids why it matters that we believe God is triune, we've acted as though the Trinity is some kind of a puzzle, a mathematical marvel to be figured out. Even if we could come up with the perfect way of explaining the three-in-one—an apple (with core, flesh, and skin), a pie cut into three pieces, a family with three members—we still would not have answered the important question: so what? In trying to explain the mystery rather than participating in it, we have dropped the theological ball. The Trinity becomes a cold, distant doctrine. Unable to figure out the mathematics, we might throw up our hands and cry, "I don't know. . . it's a mystery!"
Maybe we should just give up and leave such matters to George Lucas.
GOD AS FRIEND
So, what difference does the Trinity make? What difference does it make especially for Busters, who are lonely and yearning for community? I propose, as others have, that it might be helpful to think of the Trinity in relation to friendship.
Let me explore four ways in which the Trinity communicates that the mysterious God is our friend, and that therefore we can be friends with God and with one another.
First, to say that God is triune is to say that God is friends with Godself. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the context of the immanent Trinity, 12 God relates to Godself. God loves Godself. God lives in fellowship and partnership in God's own, internal life. How do we know that God is friends with Godself? Because God has befriended us in particular ways. God befriended us by creating us and lavishing us with gifts in the way good friends give to one another. God befriended us by forgiving us for our wrongdoing. In Jesus Christ, God communicates that friendship with us is too valuable to lose. And God the Holy Spirit befriends us by sustaining us in our lives, listening when we speak, and understanding even when we have no words to say. 13
Because God has befriended us, we are confident that God is a friend. Unlike us, who do things all the time that we hope are not true to who we really are, God always acts in ways that are consistent with who God is. We believe that God is never playacting in relationship to us in the way we might playact with one another. When God acts lovingly toward us, this means that God is love. When God befriends us, this means that God is a friend. God so loved the world that God met us in Jesus Christ; we know that God loves us because Jesus Christ revealed God's love to us in his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection.page 65
The Son prays to the Father, submitting to the Father's will, and we learn that God prays and God submits. The Holy Spirit testifies to the reality of Jesus Christ, and we see that God knows how to be for the Other, representing him or her. The Father exalts the Son, who judges all creation, and we learn that resurrected humanity participates in the very life of God, interceding on our behalf.
The mystery of the triune God is not that God is mathematically unfathomable. Rather, the mystery is that the unfathomable, omnipotent God is known by us, known to be a friend.
Second, to say that God is triune means that God is friends with us. When we know God as Trinity, we recognize that the "God of the smite button" is not God. As Daniel Migliore puts it in Faith Seeking Understanding:
God is not a solitary monad but free, self-communicating love... . The power of the triune God is not coercive but creative, sacrificial, and empowering love; and the glory of the triune God consists not in dominating others but in sharing life with others. In this sense, confession of the triune God is the only understanding of God that is appropriate to and consistent with the New Testament declaration that God is love.(I John 4:8) 14
Because God is love, because God is friend, because God has chosen to share life with others, we can claim with boldness that God is our friend. To say that God is our friend is not to compromise the divine mystery; it is not to disrespect God. There is no greater mystery, in fact, than that God is our friend, that the one who oversees the entire universe has entered into a relationship with us.
It would make a lot more sense to us if the governor of the universe steered clear of us. After all, what is my relevance in the context of the universe, in relation to eternity? Bill Watterson's comic boy Calvin once defiantly shouted up at a clear, starry, night sky: "I'm significant!" After a moment of reflection, he added: ". . . screamed the dust speck." If the God of the universe ignored the dust specks, it would be no mystery, given the number of other things such a God has to do.
When we have trouble believing that God would bother with us, we might come up with ways of explaining God's actions toward us that compromise on God's friendship. "God didn't have to love us," we might think to ourselves, attempting to keep God at a respectable distance. "After all, the omnipotent God doesn't gain anything by being in relationship to us. Thank goodness that God went out of God's way for us, even though God didn't have to!"
When we make such statements, we are missing something important. We are still keeping God at arm's length, rather than recognizing God's friendship. Clearly, page 66 the triune God is not in heaven looking down at us and saying, "Hmmmm. I could help them out or not, makes no difference to me." Think of how ridiculous it would be to think of our very best friend pausing to consider our trouble and saying, "Hmmm. . . Wonder if I should help my buddy out. After all, I don't have to." Close friends help each other. The question of whether or not they "have to" is really beside the point. If they are our friends, they help. If they don't help, they are not acting like friends. Imagine, again, a marriage proposal being made in which a man looks a woman in the eyes and says, "Listen, I'm a pretty self-sufficient guy. We've been going together now for close to two years, and you haven't really added much to my life. We could marry or not, as far as I'm concerned. But I've decided to love you, even though I could get along just as well without your love. And you should be all the more grateful for my love, given that I have chosen to love you despite the fact that I don't need you." This scenario seems ridiculous to us because we know that real love has to be vulnerable love.
But do we ever refuse to recognize God's vulnerability? If so, we have lost sight of the fact that God does not simply choose to be friendly, but is our friend. God not only decides to love, but is our lover. God is not going out of God's way to do things for us. Rather, God is for us.
For God to befriend the dust specks—to enter into creative, forgiving, sustaining relationship with them—is unfathomable. And yet this is precisely what God has done. To say that God is our friend, then, is not to compromise God's sovereign character, but to respect who God has revealed Godself to be as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because God has entered into human history, God could do no other.
How can we learn this comforting truth that God is a friend who has entered into relationship with us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? A helpful exercise for both youth and adults is to invite reflection on where they see each of the distinct persons of the Trinity present and active in their lives. Where do we see God at work in our lives in the person of the Father, who is most strongly associated with creation? Where is God at work in our lives as the Son, who understands what it is to be human, who has conquered sin and death, and who invites us to participate in the ministry of reconciliation? And where is God at work as the Spirit, who joins us together in the fellowship of believers?
Third, to say that God is triune means that we can be friends with God. This is because the triune God is not distant and austere, but friendly to the depths of God's beings—even friends with Godself. This is because God could do no other than to reach out to us because God is, indeed, our friend. Because God is our friend we are free to be the friends of God. In John 15 Jesus tells the disciples, "I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends. . . for you have been made privy to the very mystery of God!" (John 15:15)page 67
As the friends of God, we can come to God in prayer any time we choose. We are invited to cry out, "Where are you?" in times of crisis and suffering. After all, when it seems like a friend is letting us down we certainly cry out to that friend, recalling him or her to the covenant of friendship. "Why have you forsaken me?" we might ask, hoping that the friend will come and comfort us. When youth are gunned down by other youth we ask, "Where are you?" The God of the smite button doesn't allow such a question. But the God who is with us and for us does. Because God has befriended us and we are friends with God, we are able to pray constantly, thanking God for good gifts, asking for God's guidance, and even getting in God's face when disaster strikes.
Fourth, to say that God is triune means we can be friends with each other. Remember how we are made in God's image? Well, think about this: what does it mean to say that we are made in the image of a God who is triune? Because the Trinity reveals to us that God is not alone, but exists in communal relationship with Godself and with us, we learn that we reflect the image of God not when we live in isolation from one another, but when we live in communion with one another. In short, friendship reflects the image of God because the triune God is friend.
In the world of the Buster, a world marked by distance, loneliness, and broken relationships, the Trinity offers resources for really being with one another. Seeking to live in accordance with our creation in the image of the triune God, our challenge to youth and to one another should not only be to be independent, to be self-sufficient, to be those who can "Just Do It." Our commitment to one another should not be thought of as going out of the way for each other. Rather, our call is to live in mutual support of one another. Our call is to be for one another, not just to do things for one another. Our calling is to have and to be friends.
“BEING FOR” FOR BUSTERS
But do young people in the United States today really care about "being for" one another as much as I am claiming? Will they really be empowered to live in relationship to God and to one another through consideration of the doctrine of the Trinity?
In reading the literature written on Generation Xers and Busters, I have been struck by the tendency of Boomers to associate Busters with "radical relativity," defined as having a lack of moral values or absolutes. Another word that comes up consistently in relation to this generation is "postmodernity." In contrast to "modernity," when we cared about truth and values, postmoderns are portrayed as those who flout an "anything goes" attitude.
The December 1997 issue of The New York Times Magazine was devoted to the subject of religion in the United States. The cover story, titled "God De-Centered," page 68 made the point that religion is popular in the United States in the late 1990s. Church attendance is, the Times reported, higher than it has been since the 1950s. And yet what is not popular is belief. It doesn't matter so much what you believe, it seems, as that you go to church.
Going to church makes a lot of sense, if—with the Busters—community is what we, as a nation, are after. But should we not also be eager to figure out what we believe? To participate in the mystery of God? If we are to help Busters reflect on what they believe, I suggest we need to stop pointing at them and crying "relativism!" Instead, we might join with them in exploring what their postmodern approach has to offer to the way we all engage in God talk.
What do I mean by this? Perhaps the God who is being de-centered by the Busters is the monad God, the God who is distant, the God who is unaffected. Perhaps de-centering this God will enable us to meet again the triune God, the God who de-centers us, drawing us deeper into the mystery of the God/human relationship.
Perhaps Busters are not the only ones who need to reflect deeply on the mystery of the Trinity. Perhaps all of us need to be de-centered from our self-transcendence, from the belief that we can always succeed. Perhaps the Busters teach us better to seek a God who cries in the manger and cries out on the cross, a God who works in and through us in surprising ways, a God who created us and will not be without us.
I am shifting, then, from what we need to teach Busters about God to what we can learn about God from Busters.
For those of us who are Boomers, how do we respond to the charge that we have distanced ourselves from one another? Are we listening to the criticism of the young people around us, responding by participating more deeply ourselves in the mystery of the Trinity? Isn't the closeness, acceptance, and community the Busters want precisely what we are all called to? And isn't friendship the realization of our telos—our purpose—if we are, indeed, created in the image of One who is "not a monad, but free, self-communicating love". . . friends with Godself?
In the second lecture I will continue exploring what it means to "be for" one another by considering the doctrine of the Incarnation.page 69
Study Guide Questions for Youth Leaders:
(1) Do you agree with Rigby's analysis that Boomers tend to emphasize self-sufficiency and individuality and Busters emphasize vulnerability and community? How do Busters' particular concerns and needs shape your approach to youth ministry?
(2) Would youth benefit from learning about Christian doctrine? Why or why not? Is there any way "theology" is relevant to their "real lives"? How?
(3) What does Rigby think the Trinity has to do with friendship?
(4) Would reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity help your youth understand their relationship with God and their relationships with one another? If not, why not? If so, how would you develop a program that would enable your youth to reflect on friendship via the Trinity?
Bible Study Idea:
Study John 15:1-17. Focus issues: What did Jesus mean when he said "I do not call you servants any longer. . . but I have called you friends"? (v. 15) What role do we play in what God is doing?