Sunday, March 26, 2006

In Defense of Teenagers

When a scholar begins a book with an extended personal confession, beware. Which leads me back to Bart Ehrman, who begins his Text Criticism 101 with the story of his teenage conversion. His youth pastor Bruce was
"a completely winsome personality - younger than our parents but older and more experienced than we - with a powerful message, that the void we felt inside (We were teenagers! All of us felt a void!) was from not having Christ in our hearts. If we would only ask Christ in, he would enter and fill us with joy and happiness that only the 'saved' could know" (3)
As one can imagine, Ehrman relates that the journey then begun led to a (his words) "dead end." The conformity and comforts of adulthood showed him that "void" he felt as a teenager was an illusion.

In contrast, consider the work of the late Princeton Seminary professor Jim Loder, who made quite an impact on campus after a crisis in his life (a horrific car accident) led him to shake off the comforts of adult conformity. His renewed spiritual fervor made many at P.T.S. nervous. Loder relates that the he was even accused of reverted to his (brace yourself) Methodist roots (gasp). But with impeccable Harvard credentials, and already having secured tenure, what could be done? Loder did not slacken academically as a result of his spiritual renewal, and the best of his many books is perhaps the Christ-centered psychology of the human lifespan (that runs circles around its therapeucrocratic alternatives) The Logic of the Spirit. Here's a snapshot of what Loder has to say about teenagers:
"Because of their totalism, their deep ideological hunger, their heightened awareness of their potential nonbeing, and their sense of urgency about the meaning of life, adolescents are especially capable of the kind of commitment and 'fidelity' in self-sacrifice that life in the Spirit calls for. Apart from a sense of identity, commitment may come too easily and be misleading, but given clarity about the object of faith, Jesus Christ, and the transformational work of this spirit, the struggle to work out who one is only in relation to why one exists at all forges an identity of theological proprotions (248)."
Certainly teenagers need continue to mature, but Loder's point is that the "void" Ehrman felt was real. Adulthood sometimes gives the illusion of having conquered it, but such false security is the real illusion. The void, to which teenagers are particularly sensitive, should lead us to its opposite, which is God. Perhaps then teenagers know something we adults do not, or more accurately, have forgotten.

I heard once there was evidence to suggest the disciples (not to mention Mary) may have been teenagers when they were called. Thank God then for ill adjusted teenagers, car accidents, and the dissatisfactions of the fishing life. Without them the void might go unnoticed, and God might go unsought.

Incidentally, I wonder if Professor Ehrman's research has uncoverd any scribal variations on Revelation 2:14?