First, let me say I am definitely enjoying this book as a whole. I haven’t had any “aha” moments as of yet (I’m only finished with chapter 2) but am encouraged that much of what I’m thinking isn’t an episode of “Tom’s World” and no one else wants to watch. Oh yeah…I’ve noticed some people out there seem to think Chris is a bit liberal in some of his theological thoughts. All I have to say is you really need to expose yourself to what Christians have said for thousands of years. You’re only at the tip of an iceberg if you think he’s liberal or “risky.” Enough of those comments though…here are some thoughts on chapter 2.
Chris jumps into this chapter by desiring to see a “reculturation” of discipleship in church. He is critical of simply helping students attain head knowledge about a faith that has no forward momentum and applicability to life as each person’s context changes throughout their time on earth. He calls this movement a “mobile faith.”
From this point he dives into something I feel very passionate about. Narrative Theology! Chris writes, “We need to help our students understand the story of God and their own role in God’s story.” (This is one reason I’m really looking forward to his upcoming book.) In light of postmodernism and the awareness of the breakdown of denominationalism, it seems to me that Folmsbee is on to something with the emphasis on story as a way to communicate truth and life and faith in a theologically meaningful way. I’ve ceased referring to our denominations as “denominations” and started calling them accents. No longer is a people in a geographic area representative of a specific religious accent. People from those areas are exposed to the “cereal aisle” of life. They are more and more aware of choices they can make about religion and what different religions and accents say about the God.
One critique I have about the way Chris lays “story” out in his book is the assumption of certain theological positions. Obviously this is the way Chris understands God and his revealed work in creation but I don’t think the story in Scripture ties us to the way Chris exegetes the passages. Namely, I struggle with the idea of original sin that seems to come across in his interpretation of of Adam and Eve in the garden. He says, “Not long into the story, sin impacts and infects God’s entire world. No one can escape the stain of sin.” I do feel like this story shares the idea that humanity is sinful but personally don’t follow the line of thought that Augustine has passed down to us that is “Original Sin.” As I read his comment though, it is possible that I’m misinterpreting what Folmsbee has put into words.
A second critique I would offer is for the reader to not encapsulate themselves within the story Chris has drawn for us as if it is “storybook law.” It seems to me it is possible to understand many themes and images by seeing them throughout the biblical story that are outside one of the options Chris gives us. What I mean is similar to Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, work. Often I meet youth workers who feel like there is no other way to understand the passages that Fields and Rick Warren have exegeted in a specific way. They lock themselves into one understanding as if we’ve arrived at the absolute understanding of those passages. I think it is helpful when an other like Chris mentions to the reader not to lock themselves into only one understanding of Scripture…even within story.
It is helpful that following this narrative thought process that Chris begins to jump into what it means to live out faith and disciple students in understanding what living out faith means. Folmsbee articulates our movement forward in the context of putting trust in Jesus, that his way is the true way for a person to live life. This way is a restorative way of life. This way is categorized by three principals –1) surrendering to God 2) abiding in God 3) reflecting the nature of God.
After Chris’ helpful articulation of the above points he moves into some material that, as I was reading, I thought, “He is making some very particular theological assumptions.” Immediately after this crossed my mind the next paragraph started by saying, “Now, before you jump to any conclusions about me, understand that I am aware of the debates surrounding the theological positions illustrated above.” I had to laugh at myself. He read my mind. The illustration he spoke of was a point by point summary of “Positional Sanctification” and “Practical Sanctification.” One might to understand these categories by answering the question whether or not salvation is instantaneous or or happens over time as a process. Chris helps us wrestle with the tension between these ideas by sharing that he wants us to help our students recognize new life in Jesus and better encourage students to live in Jesus’ way.
In the end, Chris recultures our language and asks youth leaders to begin thinking of themselves as spiritual directors and not program directors. Chris…that thought sings to me and I must say, “I’ll drink to that. Cheers mate!”