Embrace God’s joy and restore a focus on Christian practices and the virtues they instill.
Published in cooperation with Yale University and taking cues from theologians such as Miroslav Volf and recent reflections on joy as the crown of the good life, this ecumenical group of contributors insists that reclaiming joy for youth ministry is crucial in light of modern secularism, which has eviscerated the world of such things as mystery, wonder, grace, and transcendence. The modern world urges us to work and consume compulsively; to value its creatures only for their use or to serve our egos. While consumption sometimes yields momentary fun or happiness, only rarely does it yield joy. This book contrarily asserts that to reclaim joy is to retrieve a practicable virtue of the Christian faith, express grateful for God’s gracious gifts, move us to worship, and empower us for active love of God and neighbor.
Christian youth ministry has long operated according to a kind of utilitarian pragmatism. Historically, the evangelization of youth was driven by a fear of hell and damnation. Later, young people were nurtured for their utility as the Church of tomorrow or to insure denominational viability. Frequently, youth ministry serves to keep young people safe as adolescent institutions served as a holding environment for truly productive and valuable, adulthood—or, somewhat more generously, to nurture their psychosocial development. Recently, Christian Smith revealed that youth themselves view Christian faith as “benign, moralistic, and therapeutic”—insignificant to interrupt the consumerism and secularity of modern life; focused on certain weak moral ideals; and mostly valuable in moments of crisis.
This book points to a Christian faith that is grounded in a consequential way of life, including substantive moral ethical virtues and a sacramental ontological vision in which all of life participates with God. It focuses on practices that enhance joy by pointing to the contingency of human life and our participation with God’s redemption work for all creation. It grows from and contributes to Miroslav Volf’s recent reflections on joy as the crown of the good life. Hence, this book seeks to restore a focus on Christian faith and youth ministry that necessarily involves a certain way of life, a life well-lived in response to the Creator’s good gifts and the in-breaking kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. At root, a Christian life is ordered by worship and practices that recognize, celebrate, and respond in joy in light of humanity’s contingency and God’s gratuitous liberation of all creation.
An important correlate of this is that, while joy may have social scientific antecedents, it is completed by God’s actions and our participation with God. Thus joy is grounded in a thick web of theological insight and faithful practice. As asserted by many theologians, joy is shorthand for Christian faith. It points to what is essential to faith, and resists youth ministry’s instrumentalization—at the hands of such things as nationalism, consumerism, scientism, ageism, denominational power or fear, and moralisms of all sorts.
Steven Argue, Fuller Theological Seminary
Kyle David Bennett, Caldwell University
Kenda Creasy Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary
Michal Beth Dinkler, Yale Divinity School
Amanda Hontz Drury, Indiana Wesleyan University
Fred P. Edie, Duke Divinity School
Wesley W. Ellis, First United Methodist Church of Toms River, New Jersey
Sarah F. Farmer, Indiana Wesleyan University
Nyle Fort, PhD student, Princeton University
Christian Gonzalez, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Pamela Ebstyne King, Fuller Theological Seminary
Alaina Kleinbeck, Duke Divinity School
John Leedy, University Presbyterian Church
Stephanie Paulsell, Harvard Divinity School
Andrew Root, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
James K. A. Smith, Calvin College
Miroslav Volf, Yale University Divinity School
David F. White, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Anne E. Streaty Wimberly, Interdenominational Theological Center
Almeda M. Wright, Yale Divinity School
Vanessa Zoltan, CEO of Not Sorry Productions and founder of Common Ground Pilgrimages
David F. White is the C. Ellis and Nancy Gribble Nelson Professor of Christian Education and Professor in Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Sarah F. Farmer is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Community Development in the School of Theology and Ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University.