We try to select worthwhile books to review and recommend to our readers. We do that with awareness that while there are many good books and one cannot read them all, there are special books that we believe deserve special attention and have a unique role to fulfill. Walt Muller’s Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture is one of those books. It is a book like Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey that plays a unique role in our mission to make kingdom disciples.
I have used Total Truth as a companion to my book, Making Kingdom Disciples, a New Framework, in several seminary classes. Now this will be a third required reading with Mueller’s book. It is outstanding at representing solidly Reformed kingdom theology, with all the covenant ramifications, plus an up-to-date understanding of the rising generation. He demonstrates the importance of understanding the youth culture in order to communicate in a sensible and life-oriented manner.
Engaging The Soul of Youth Culture is not just another book on pop culture, but it is a book with solidly biblical and theological principles that enables Mueller to demonstrate an understanding of his target audience. One of his targets is the parents of teenagers. He writes to help them understand their children and the postmodern culture in which they are engulfed. He also writes for youth workers who work with parents in discipling their covenant children. He also writes for Christian educators who have regular contact with students in churches and schools. Mueller might include preachers and pastors in the Christian educators category but in case he doesn’t, this a book for every pastor to read, even if his ministry is only to senior citizens.
Mueller and I agree that the kind of discipleship that is needed with the rising generation is transformational discipleship, which results in a kingdom lifestyle. We also agree that with the rising interest in spirituality among the young people, we must not necessarily equate that with true spirituality in the Christian sense but we must take advantage of that interest and seek to communicate the truth of the life changing Gospel of Christ. Most adults do not have a clue as to what is going on just under the surface in the life of most teens. Teens have questions and many are clumsily trying to voice those questions, but either we are not listening or we are not answering their questions. Mueller’s plea is that the church and home must start listening to the young generation if we are committed to advancing the kingdom and reaching them with the truth.
Quoting the late Francis Schaeffer, Mueller writes, “If we try to talk to our young people before listening to their reality, we will only beat the air.” And the tragedy is that most adults are not aware that they are not listening.
How can we help our youth find meaning to life and know how to address their unmet needs? Mueller concurs that the rising generation is finding it more and more difficult to make sense out of their world and where they fit into it.
Because the church and home are often failing to fill the instructional void in their lives, the media is stepping in a taking up the challenge. Unfortunately that message is often destructive and contrary to God’s reality.
Mueller doesn’t pull any punches in this book. For example, he doesn’t hesitate to say that “In effect popular culture gives them (youth) purpose. Because it has listened to them, the young are returning the favor.” The media is providing them “maps of reality” but not a reality that correlates to God’s. There are numerous studies that indicate that young people are expressing their “religious interests, dreams, fears, hopes, and desires through popular culture.” He says, “Once we know the reality of the young people, we can communicate the gospel in ways that can be heard and understood.”
If I have not convinced you that you should read this book, I’ll conclude with this statement from the author: “The church faces a moment of unprecedented opportunity. The youth culture is calling. If we fail to listen and faithfully respond, we’re effectively telling them we don’t care or we have nothing to say.” The challenge is to listen before we speak so that when we speak, they will listen.