Reaching Youth with Applied Theology

eutychus youth

BOOK REVIEW

John Oberdeck. Eutychus Youth: Applied Theology for Youth Ministry, Reaching Youth on the Ledge. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010. 270 pp.

Beginning with the biblical story of Eutychus, the young man who falls asleep during the Apostle Paul’s teaching (Acts 20:7–12), Oberdeck introduces the reader to the importance of theology for reaching at-risk youth. He argues that theology is too often the missing element in youth ministry, which tends to focus on activities, safe environment, and felt needs rather than the deep, abiding truths that actually shape and change people’s lives. Theology is the reason to have youth ministry so it must not be lost in the blur of matters that can distract from what is most important.

Oberdeck writes as a Lutheran, emphasizing the role of God’s Word and Sacraments as gracious means through which God reaches young people and brings them to faith. Central to his presentation is the forgiveness of sins that youth need to free them from the many pitfalls of adolescence and equip them for mature life and faith, fulfilling their God-giving responsibilities as redeemed people. He turns often to the distinction between God’s Law, which convicts us of sin and disarms us from our self-righteousness, and God’s Gospel, which declares God’s loving forgiveness and restores us as His holy children.

Oberdeck also distinguishes the “from above” perspective that theology provides and the “from below” perspective through the various forms of research on beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of youth today. The result is a comprehensive look at how to understand youth, apply theology for them, and lead them into the mature life of faith that their heavenly Father desires for them.

Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck is Professor of Theology and Director of the Lay Ministry Program at Concordia University Wisconsin where he teaches courses on youth ministry. In addition to his theological studies, he holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Missouri and has years of experience with youth ministry training. Throughout the book he includes numerous stories about his experiences with youth, which are poignant and worth sharing with others.

The book makes an excellent case for bringing or keeping theology in youth ministry, including a lesson plan approach to developing events so that well-rounded presentations of theology and activities compliment one another. Oberdeck’s writing is conversational and pleasant to read while not shying away from the finer points of theology and studies of human development. Many passages of the book lend themselves to diagrams and visual information to make the points memorable.

The very Greek name “Eutychus” in the title may be off-putting for some readers since the name is more biblical than common. Readers must bear in mind that the author uses the Eutychus story as a metaphor since Acts 20 does not prescribe practices for serving in youth ministry. The fact that Oberdeck writes as a Lutheran makes the book most helpful to that audience, though readers from other traditions may comfortably adapt his points in view of their own doctrine and practice. Missing from the book are the usual helpful indices that allow a reader to return to favorite passages or to find needed topics. A Scripture index would likewise allow readers to access points of doctrine readily for the sake of one’s own teaching. Occasional types appear in the book.

Applying theology for the sake of reaching youth is the proper goal of youth ministry. Eutychus Youth helpfully refocuses and informs professional youth workers and volunteers who would reach that goal.

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