PRACTICING PASSION: YOUTH AND THE QUEST FOR A PASSIONATE CHURCH. By Kendra Creasy Dean. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004, 275 pp. $20.00, paper.
This work is a true scholarly rendering of a theology for youth ministry that begins to fill in a gap too long left unattended. Dean finds a credible balance between biblical and historical references that offers the leader in youth ministry a handle to grasp in developing adolescent imitators of Christ. She calls the church to hearken back to a life phase where passion was instinctive rather than conjured. Passion is identified as the missing component in the contemporary church.
Where is the passion in our churches? "If adolescents and Christianity are both so filled with passion, then why aren't youth flocking to church?" It is as unambiguous as Christ's call to salvation. Clearly, a gulf has emerged between true divine passion and the "largely sanitized love of [Christ's] suffering." The passion of adolescence is redeemed, redirected, and redefined with the Passion of the suffering Christ. Dean asserts a foundational premise for church ministry that is fueled by the passion of youth. Under girded with the Passion of Christ, Dean states that adolescent passions give way to faith; and fueled by the energy of fierce love, this faith leads to ministry. This is a fantastic summation of the purpose of youth ministry in the church. Adolescents are idealistic to a fault, or are they? Dean maintains that Erik Erikson's phrase is accurate in that, adolescents are looking for something or someone "to die for." They are searching for a cause worthy of their suffering and a love of a lifetime and not just a Sunday night. Succinctly, adolescents are searching for passion.
Dean rightly returns to the Latin root of the term passion to bring a clear definition. The term "passio," in short, means "to suffer." Jurgen Moltman renders an exegesis of the term to mean "to submit, to undergo an experience, to be completely affected or overcome." Biblically, Dean relates the negative connotation of the term throughout the New Testament, as well as in Greek culture, to one of being dangerous, disruptive, and as disorderly appetites in dire need of conversion (17). Although the term is only used once to describe the suffering of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:3), it is the crux upon which Dean builds the thesis. If passion is to suffer as in being overwhelmed by a desire, event, or thought, then it follows a logical progression toward a negative end when demonstrated in the flesh or apart from one's identity in Christ. A crucial error of the church has been to limit or relegate the passion of Christ to the cross alone. The passion of the Savior is indisputably greater. Dean effectively addresses this ecclesial pathology by reemphasizing the life of Christ as the full passion, for it was the giving of His life that demonstrates His complete suffering. That is the passion that Dean calls the church and youth to embody and inspire. In summary, passion is "the sense of being unwillingly overwhelmed by a powerful experience, as well as being willingly overtaken by great emotion, especially the voluntary 'suffering' of a great love" (19). Dean anchors the definitive rendering on two main sources in Jurgen Moltman's Crucified God and Albert Heschel's The Prophets, Volume 2. Culturally, the term finds even more meanings and usage in a post-modern world. This would present a potential quandary in using the term in the church. The cultural connotations are replete with negative expressions of passion. Caution suggests rendering an accurate portrait of the term that will hold significant meaning in both arenas: cultural and spiritual. Although the aforementioned sources are highly scholarly and representative, they are limited in scope. The definitions of passion could reflect a more comprehensive review of sources on passion.
This passion is connected to adolescents through the uncovering of the developmental dynamic of the adolescent phenomenon. Dean uses Erik Erikson s work on adolescent development to formulate the inauguration of her thesis. Adolescence is, by nature, developmentally passionate. As Dean addresses the issue, adolescents face the maturing emotions prior to the maturation of their reasoning and judgment abilities. As a result, youths are their true selves when they are passionate. The reader is to understand that the church's historical approach to youth in the church has been to see "young people as objects of mission" (44), rather than address their real need for redemption and forgiveness. Adolescent passion is not a wayward missile looking for a target to impact inasmuch as it is indication of humanness. As such, the passion of youth ministry is not just about youth, says Dean. It is about the whole church, youth and adult, since passion is a "symptom of being human" (10). The question to be addressed is seen in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. How does the frivolous passion of youth forsake its carnality and carry its fervency on for a life of being overwhelmed by the identity of Christ? Although Erikson is reliable and widely used among scholars of adolescent development, a stronger collection of evidence to the physiological maturation that shows the heightened passion among youth would thwart the cynicism from adults reading this work. A caution to the reader-do not overlook the validity of passion in adulthood and categorically dismiss it as the passion of youth.
Dean arranges this work in such a way that is commonsensical and quite effortless to track by organizing the book into three key sections that reveal the process to what is the book's subtitle, the quest for a passionate church. Following the definitive introduction, Dean exposes what she calls three dimensions of passion. These three-fidelity, transcendence, and communion-accurately shape the now allusive generation of adolescents that have boggled the church's outreach strategies. Although these three are pertinent to the youths of our world, they are not completely novel. The author describes fidelity in inquisitive terms that ask, "Will you be there for me?" She maintains that adolescents are looking for others who will be true to them and not leave them. In this assertion, she reveals a deficiency in the contemporary church, fragmentation. This is seen in the propensity of adolescence to become a lifestyle among adults in our worship communities. As a result, it has been noted that true adolescence may be vanishing. The drought of adults in the church who demonstrate a youthful passion for Jesus Christ, while remaining mature in reason and judgment, has relinquished the oversight of the adolescent to whatever stimulates them, often found in secular culture. This dynamic has exposed a lack of what David Elkind called "protected space" (1984, 81), where adolescents can work out their passion tempered by the borrowed maturity of caring adults. Although transcendence remains a focal point of the church's evangelistic quandary, Dean's attention to the dimension of fidelity positions itself at the forefront of the strategy for effective youth ministry and church ministry as a whole. It is the essence of being there that is the forerunner of reaching people with redemptions rescue.
Transcendence is described as "to be moved." It is portrayed in the overkill of reality television and the virtual reality of the newest video games. Dean cites these types of activities as indicators of young people's need to escape or feel something. Much of the new church work circles around Gen X with new sensations of transcendence, while neglecting fidelity and communion. The author defines communion as a dimension of passion that is derived from the term intercourse, which means communion or connection. This does render a deeper understanding of the adolescent's desire to be known. In these terms, communion is a direct line to intimacy, which is primarily concerned with attachment, not sex. Dean's assertions in these three dimensions of passion are accurate. Although there are more areas of need in the lives of adolescents, any focus on these three will lead a church to a more effective outreach and discipleship ministry to young people.