- Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness by Andrew Root
This book is a wake-up call. Everything once assumed about love and preference for youthfulness, and its influence on how to think about church is about to change—at least it will after reading this book. In this, the first of three books (two of which are yet to be published) Root takes the reader on a journey across many disciplines to reframe old assumptions, affirm current instincts, and create a new vision for youth and faith formation.
Root taps into multiple disciplines in a complex, but efficient, way to provide a new vision of faith, formation, and ministry grounded not in culture, but in the personhood of Christ. Drawing heavily from Charles Taylor's The Secular Age (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), Root creates a conversation between Taylor's work, biblical scholars, systematic theologians, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists. The journey goes through places not previously imagined and comes back to a familiar place.
The book is divided into two sections. In the first half, Root explores Taylor's age of authenticity, defined as "the post-1960s world that assumes each person has his or her own right to define for himself or herself what it means to be human" (xi). After a quick walk through the history of western culture's obsession with youthfulness, he challenges our assumptions about the secular and divine, and introduces the reader into new perspectives on transcendence. "In the age of authenticity, the self is buffered, the world is disenchanted, and God is always on the verge of being reduced to a psychologically created imaginary friend" (101).
In the second part, Root provides a theological frame for understanding Taylor's work, leading readers into a new way of thinking about faith, ministry, faith formation, and ultimately what it means to be church. Root claims that "it is only through authenticity (and its ethic) that we can reimage ways of speaking about divine action as ministry" (xi). While Root gives readers the option to skip the first part and go right to the second, I advise against it. The second half is so much sweeter after doing the hard work in the first half. [End Page 241]
Faith, for Root, is "not about institutional participation" (30). Nor is faith "just an act of trust … Faith is actually to enter into Christ; it is to have our own being taken into the being of Jesus" (119–20), to be "bound in a relational personhood" (142). Ministry or ministering is then the "act of sharing in the life of another for the sake of love and communion" (120). To be formed this way "is to be in Christ by being ministered to and ministering to others through the cross of their death experience, allowing our own personhood to be the tangible manifestation of resurrection" (160). Inevitability, these new definitions force us to shift a definition of church from religious institution to serving as the "outpost for ministry in the world" (201).
This book is for people who care about faith and faith formation. It is for the young and the old, leaders and followers, educators and students. It is also for people grieving a loss about church that they cannot name, yet they hold on to a hope that there is more to come. Root's book can be a bit thick in places for some readers, but the journey through is half the fun. Read it alone. Reread it with others. This book is conversation worthy.