I wrote a day ago that I wanted to tell you a bit more about the new, important, and very nicely done Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture by my friend Walt Mueller. As I explained, Walt is not only a friend from our old CCO days (uh, that would be the late 70’s) when we worked in campus ministry, but is a near neighbor here in the Susquehanna Valley. Walt, though, has become nationally known for his helpful and wise work equipping parents, teachers, youth workers, pastors and student leaders to understand high school church, teenage attitudes, trends and the ethos within various sub-cultures in the teen scene. His Center for Parent and Youth Understanding not only has an excellent website, but has now launched into radio spots, and is picked up in numerous radio markets. We commend his work wholeheartedly.
And, we commend this book. The subtitle is Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth which tells you much about his project. Here, Mueller uses his years of experience—as a theological thinker, as a student of Christian worldviews, as a cultural critic, as an entertainment fan, (and, I might add, as a husband and dad)—to offer a wide-ranging tour through the deepest attitudes, presuppositions, values and visions of kids these days.
Although I am not fully sure that Walt is fully sure how to best explain, appreciate and critique what has come to be known as postmodernism—he isn’t an old-school Modernist who just can’t stand the newer philosophical perpsectives, yet he hasn’t jumped the whole way into the pomo deep end, either—I do think that nearly any parent or pastor, youth worker or teacher, could learn much from his serious overview of the current philosophical zietgeist. My, my, how can one not want to figure out what is really going on below the surface of the post-MTV, post-Xer crowd, of kids raised on IM-ing and I-pods, 9-11 and AIDS, the commonplace discussions of oral sex and teen suicide, 50 cent and American Idol, The O.C. and Xanga, E-bay and Amazon.
A few years ago, to remind us of our very new vibe, some of us would say to ourselves, and nearly anyone else that would listen, “We aren’t in Kansas any more Toto” and then give ’em a Len Sweet book or two. Then, here at H&M, we would want to reflect on the worldview approach of the likes of Brian Walsh and Al Wolters, the pop culture studies of Bill Romanowski (mentored somewhat by neo-Calvinist preacher of Bible and creational aesthetics, Cal Seerveld) and, if they’d listen, I’d get ’em to buy some Os Guinness on truth and Ron Sider on justice and Marva Dawn on liturgy and just about anything on spirituality, just to round things out. The old days of straight-arrow arguements about the truth of Christianity and why young folk should go to church and hold moral values are, shall we say, obsolete. So we sell books about culture and action, worldview and faith, spirituality and embodiment. We try to engage the culture in the ways that make sense to that culture. (And, shoot, I started a blog. Ha!)
Well, I do not want to imply that we helped Walt get to where he is with this fully balanced, wide-thinking, open-hearted and culturally relevant view that pervades his helpful research into youth culture and effective youth ministry–that would simply not be true. (It may be somewhat truer to say that I have learned from him, and have watched with a degree of respect and envy his rise to fame.) And, anyway, my favorite authors and movements, schools and leaders, may not be exactly his*. But, fair reader, trust me on this: if you like what we are doing here at Hearts & Minds at all, if you care about culture, kids, media, politics, the gospel and the social implications of the truth claims of Christ, if you want to be reminded of really why we are doing all of this thinking, praying, pondering and working, well, I’ve got three words. BUY THIS BOOK.
Or, I should say, READ THIS BOOK. Walt has done his homework, thought long and hard about what makes kids tick, what worldviews and values are implicit (if not explicit) in their primary attitudes, and gives a strategy (well, that’s a touch simplistic, as he doesn’t give–thank God—a technique or program) for engaging contemporary youth in the midst of their own world, and hearing well what they are saying. Sure, he wants to evaluate, interpret and process the messages of pop culture and youth trends in light of the Big Biblical Story. And yes, he does some marvelously helpful Scriptural studies, here. But to do that–to read the Word and read the world as his friend Steve Garber puts it–we must first listen. He talks about “touchpoints” that help us do that. The theological word for that is, I think: incarnational. And contextualized. Imagine that.
Dick Staub, author of the fabulous book Too Christian Too Pagan (and a recent book about Star Wars which is kinda fun) says this about Mueller’s book: “Devour this thoughtful and practical book and you’ll see why he’s our best source of help for engaging the soul of the next generation.”
* I am thrilled with Walt’s wonderful footnotes in this well-researched book. What a geek I am, but I am happy that his very orginal, thoughtful and helpful views are shaped and informed by such a great array of important theologicans, spiritual writers and cultural critics. Hey, it has a cool cover, too.
Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth Walt Mueller (InterVarsity Press) $17.00
Please tell us–by email or phone or in the shop–that you saw this offer.