Not Engaging the Postmodern Soul
I picked up Walt Mueller’s Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth because I teach a class called Canadian Youth Culture at Tyndale. I’m always on the hunt for new text books because I’m not sure that my selection last time was perfect (Gordon Lynch’s Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture and Adams Fire and Ice; the Lynch was good, the Niebuhr ok but the Adams didn't work the way I wanted it to). I needed something more evangelical. I needed something that was more directly related to youth culture and youth ministry in particular.
Mueller's latest doesn't exactly fit the bill either. It certainly is evangelical and Mueller is perhaps strongest when he is gracefully dealing with what he describes as the "bunker" mentality found in many evangelical/fundamentalist circles. I came across some of this bunker mentality in my class and I think that Mueller's response is both Biblical and helpful so I may assign that chapter near the start of the class. At the same time as Mueller's evangelicalism is a strength, he also has some of the weaknesses as well. He never develops a systematic theology but rather relies on some amorphous "Biblical worldview" as his touchstone for the Eternal Truth of the Gospel. I'm never sure what author's mean when they say a "Biblical worldview." The Bible does not present on particular worldview having been written over a thousand years in various places and in various genres. To reconcile Paul's epistles with the Deuteronimistic history and the prophets is very difficult if not impossible. What I think Mueller means by "Biblical worldview" are some very strongly held orthodox theological beliefs. That is, a "Biblical worldview" is really the Evangelical interpretation of the Bible but that interpretation is never given systematic definition.
This becomes a bigger problem when Mueller begins to interact with postmodernity. Correction Mueller doesn't actually interact with postmodernity. He interacts with postmodernity's evangelical detractors with a few supporters thrown in for good measure. If IVP, Zondervan, Eerdman's and a handful of other Christian presses disappeared (say in the rapture?), Mueller would have no one to quote. The 3 1/2 page bibliography contains about half a dozen books not published by a Christian press. Middleton and Walsh get some quote-time as does Stanley Grenz but unlike Mueller, these scholars actually engage primary postmodern sources. Not once that I could find does Mueller quote a postmodern philosopher or theologian, evangelical or otherwise. The irony is that Mueller puts forth Paul in Acts 17 as the prototype for cultural engagement but misses that Paul engaged with the philosophies of Athens not with the folk culture of Athens. I am quite glad that Mueller and his oft promoted Center for Parent/Youth Understanding know popular culture but I do not think that he can mistake Marilyn Manson for Derrida or Hoobastank for Stanley Grenz and John Franke. How can Mueller call the culture that youth grow up in today "postmodern" but never engage in serious debate with the sources of postmodern thought?
I'm still waiting to find a book that combines the best of cultural studies with a thorough going evangelical theological position. If there are any suggestions out there, feel free to post them.