I’ll make this disclaimer up front: I am biased. I’m an Andy Root fan. Andy was my professor in the Children, Youth, & Family program at Luther Seminary, and honestly, his book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry was the reason I chose to attend Luther for seminary. So I can’t claim that this book review will come across as unbiased, objective, and critical.
What I can tell you is this: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, maybe more than any other contemporary theologian in the 20th century, is the most read and widely accepted across all Christian denominations. Mainliners and Evangelicals; liberal and conservative Christians can argue all day long about anything and everything – but mention Bonhoeffer, a lot of heads start nodding in affirmation and agreement.
Andy (sorry, it’s weird for me to call him “Root” or “Mr/Dr Root”) says acknowledges this in his book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, due out October 21st (Baker Academic). I think the most evident strength, and what will likely draw most people to read it, is the little-known history lesson about Bonhoeffer’s work with children, teens, and young adults in his life. Andy tells this story well, and highlights Bonhoeffer’s “Theses on Youth Work in the Church.” Andy’s summary and commentary on this alone will make this a worthwhile read for the “theologically reflecting” youth minister/pastor.
However, I think the real strength of Andy’s work – and he states this in the first paragraph of the Preface – is that for him, this book is deeply personal. You can sense in his words that his passion for youth ministry and reflecting on the action of God among it has been deeply touched by Bonhoeffer’s theological reflection. That cannot be discounted here, because the very essence of this work is that youth ministry is about sharing one’s self for the sake of the other. That is precisely what Andy is being done here. So the reader must realize if they approach this work with the intent to discredit it, then they are discrediting a person and their very being and ethos.
And so approach this work with the intent to wrestle with it. Read the ideas, reflect on them, allow yourself to be challenged by them, and after all that, if you still disagree, be thankful for the gift that the theological reflection has sharpened your own convictions about God and youth ministry. This book will challenge notions that youth ministry is primarily about passing on knowledge or attracting and generating large, loyal, enthusiastic, and well-behaved “Christian youth” – that is the primary argument of the book. But the greater gift is that in reading it, you will embark on a journey into the “theological turn” as Andy calls it, and will come away with stronger convictions about the youth ministry you do (or in my case as a parish pastor, all ministry I do).
That is, if you’re willing to wrestle a bit. (Which this blogger likes to do without ceasing!)