Earlier this week I posted a critique of Dr. Andrew Root’s work, particularly on relational or ‘incarnational’ youth ministry. My hope was to encourage a little more critical reading of his works considering his slightly unorthodox theology.
I’m a great admirer of Root and wanted to give him the opportunity to read and respond to that post before I published it. He graciously did so, and his reply is below in full. I incorporated some of his suggestions and clarifications, and I agreed that my lack of engagement with his later books puts me at a disadvantage. However, as he agrees, many of my issues still remain.
My drive behind this dialogue is not to make anyone simply agree with me, or even with Dr. Root, but to engage in a public exercise that encourages more critical reading of the resources we adopt.
With that in mind, here is – with his permission – Dr. Root’s reply:
Tim,Thanks for this email and thanks for engaging the work. I think this is fine and mostly fair, but there are parts I’m not sure about.
First, the reduction of evangelicalism is a fair critique but this must be read next to my support, affirmation, and commitment to an evangelical perspective in Christopraxis. As a matter of fact, to truly understand what I’m up to, you’d have to look there. The other works, as you mention, are trying to balance idea construction with the practice of ministry.
Second, no doubt, I’m bound to Bonhoeffer as a theological dialogue partner, and seem to understand the atonement different than you. But to understand this all you’d have to engage the conceptions of Luther and the passivity of human action. My point is that your critique is not so much with Bonhoeffer as it is with Luther. Looking at work from Christopraxis on will show a deeper engagement with orthodox and Pauline conceptions, which don’t show up in your review. You mainly just stick with 2007, 2009, and 2011 work. I hope I’ve developed since then. So putting your critiques in dialogue with Christopraxis, Faith Formation, and Exploding Stars would be important, I think. I’d imagine some of your concerns will remain.
Third, the burnout thing is most troubling. I’ve mentioned in multiple places that you can only be a place-sharer to about 5 young people. The push of the perspective is to change the youth worker’s conception from being the one doing all the relational ministry to ordaining other adults into ministry, to take responsibility for their young people. I’ve also discussed a lot about open/closedness and claimed that place-sharing provides starker boundaries than other forms of ministry. And this is based in a certain anthropology. You may rightly disagree, but it isn’t right to assume that my perspective doesn’t see or deal with boundaries. Also, you mention Blair and Christy’s review, but don’t offer how I responded to their critiques. You’re welcome to critique my responses to them and call it inadequate…but I did have responses to their critiques you don’t mention.
Finally, and this is probably where we differ, my whole project revolves around conceptions of revelation. I’m simply trying to explore where and how we encounter the living presence of God. I think a legitimate critique is found in contrasting my views of revelation with those of others. The first question really is, “Do you see ministry as centrally about revelation, or something else?” So critiquing my conception that ministry bears the weight of revelation is fair, as is offering an opposing view of revelation. At the end, stellvertretung (place-sharing) really isn’t the center of my thought (I mean, it’s close to the center) but the real core is ministry as the constituting reality of God’s act and being. So yes, sin, salvation, etc. must be seen through the biblical narrative of God’s act to minister to Israel, to be a God who is found in historical acts. Again, wrestling with Christopraxis will more clearly show this.
These are simply my reactions, since you kindly asked. But again, thanks for writing something up.Blessings to you,Andy
Dr. Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Associate Professor and Carrie Olson Baalson Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, Minnesota. He is the author of fifteen books on ministry and theology, and an experienced youth worker.