From where I sit, I’d say that the most important sentence in this issue of In Trust is: “Seventeen-year-olds want to have serious conversations with adults who are not their parents.”
The speaker, quoted in associate editor Melinda R. Heppe’s article “Teens Teaching Teachers,” is Dr. M. Thomas Thangaraj, professor of world Christianity at Candler School of Theology of Emory University. One of the most striking aspects of Heppe’s article on youth theology programs is her reporting on how they have changed teachers who have participated in them. And Thangaraj’s observation is plainly a comment from a teacher who has been changed.
It reminded me of a story I heard some years ago from Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. The Starr King board was listening to a report on Unitarian Universalist history and the school’s great archive of Radical Reformation materials by Dr. Alicia Forsey, whose Ph.D. was based on her reorganization of the archive. A trustee observed that something Forsey had said was “way over” his head. Forsey immediately stopped and said the trustee’s puzzlement didn’t mean that he was “intellectually impaired.” Rather, she said, it was evidence that specialists have forgotten how to talk to outsiders. In the case of theology, she went on, if it’s not understandable by ordinary people, it might not be worth talking about.
This issue of In Trust offers some evidence that North American churches and their theological schools may be strengthening their ability to communicate theological ideas to ordinary people, including the young. It provides information on how some seminaries are working at better communication with the young, including Cornelius Plantinga’s winsome essay on the theology of hope from his new book for young people, Engaging God’s World. More than fifty years after the event, his words reminded me anew of how as a teenager I fell in love with God. Across the decades the sense of yearning of which he speaks rushed back at me. Looking back, I remember so well discovering a few years later Augustine’s words, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” and saying to myself, “That’s right, that’s right.”
As you leaf through the articles in this issue, and dive more deeply into some of them, the question you might want to pose for yourself and others concerned for your school is: Are we communicating effectively to those we wish would study here—especially the young—what we really are about here, what the big issues are that we wrestle with? If the answer is “No,” of course, you’ll want to go on to ask, How can we improve?
A note of warning: It’s possible you have no sense that your school is wrestling with big issues. In that case, you need to ask yourself why.