Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    What is Progressive Youth Ministry?

    The interfaith website Patheos just finished up a two week online symposium on the topic of progressive Christianity. It's been interesting following the various essays and realizing how differently many of us define the term "progressive." I guess this makes sense as progressive Christians tend to resist rigid categories, literal interpretations, and overly dogmatic assertions. 

    In my essay, I attempted to answer the simple question "What is progressive youth ministry?" I share briefly about a recent intergenerational study at our church that looked at the big questions of faith. We discovered our congregation was even more theologically diverse than I suspected and we actually celebrated our willingness to live with our theological uncertainty:

    From the perspective of ministry with youth, a progressive theology challenges us to help teens embrace that theological uncertainty and to see faith not as a destination but as a journey. Teens need to be free to ask difficult questions, challenge traditional beliefs, and reevaluate their understanding of Christianity without fear of being labeled "unfaithful."

    I finish the essay by suggesting four quick, basic approaches that might guide those of us striving to lead youth ministries in progressive and/or mainline congregations. You can read the entire column here. This peice serves as a companion to the guest post I did awhile back at the Jesus and Teenagers blog on this same topic.


    Benjer said...


    I appreciate how well you articulate the "tenets" (that word being in quotes, because I realize that you might shy away from that word) of a progressive Christian faith as it relates to youth ministry. A few notes and thoughts to your essay:

    1) I know this wasn't your point in the essay, but I try to point this out when I see someone put it in print: you juxtapose fundamentalism with progressive Christianity. In short, fundamentalism provides answers without allowing questions, and progressive Christianity encourages exploration and critical thinking. I just want to point out that there's a lot of ground between those two views, including broad evangelicalism (which can be quite diverse as well). It's quite possible to hold to an evangelical theological position and still encourage critical thinking (as opposed to dogmatism).

    2) Your second point really hits on the difference between progressive and evangelical youth ministry: is the Bible a document that is inspired by God, and if so, what in the world does that mean? I would say this: most evangelicals who hold to the inerrancy of the Bible would also encourage a study of Scripture "through the lenses of culture, history, and geographical context." Not all of the Bible is meant to be taken "literally." Much of it is poetic--are we to assume rivers have literal hands (Psalm 98)?

    3) Pertaining to your third point, the Kingdom of God exists in the here and now, as well as in a future eternity. I'm not sure it has to be either/or, as you've suggested.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. As I've suggested in the series on youth ministry and theology, this kind of dialogue is really helpful and beneficial, and I'm looking forward to reading all of the symposium contributions on Patheos.com.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Benjer, thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate your efforts to clarify that evangelicalism is not one homogeneous expression within the Church. I often meet people who think that fundamentalism, conservativism, and evangelicalism are all one in the same, which of course they are not.

    As to your comment on how we read the Bible, you point out quite correctly that progressives are not the only ones who read the Bible within cultural/historical context. I only meant to highlight that for progressives this is a commonality we tend to share.

    To your last point on the Kingdom, I have no problem with the theology of the already but not yet Kingdom, but I find that we Christians get a long a lot better when we focus on the Kingdom that is already here. Doing so also helps us to focus on being loving and peaceful for the sake of following Christ and less because we hope to receive some reward in the hereafter.

    As always, I appreciate hearing from those who help me to see the faith from a different perspective.

    Peace! Brian