In my 30-plus years of teaching the New Testament, I have developed a great fondness and respect for the theology of the Apostle Paul. His Spirit-inspired insight into life has not only been profound and fascinating; it has been a practical guide for me personally in reordering my life around God’s priorities and, in turn, for helping my students.
But I have also grown to have deep appreciation for how Paul could read people. He worked hard to understand the unique situations in the churches and to shape the remarks he made in his letters in a way that became precisely what they needed to hear. Paul clearly had a comprehensive systematic theology in his head and undoubtedly could have expressed it in a massive set of volumes that would have been superior to those of Grudem, Erickson, Hodge or Shedd. But what he has given us in his letters are expressions of his theology tailored precisely to the needs of his congregations. He has selected and crafted his comments according to what they most needed to hear.
If we are to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, we need to be students of people, cultural trends and the times in which we live. What are the prevailing worldview assumptions of people in a given context? What do they struggle with the most? What are their aspirations? And, as a result, we then ask, how can we communicate the Bible and theology to them in the most relevant and meaningful ways?
Earlier this year, Barna Group released a detailed study of “Gen Z” (the current generation of teenagers, but specifically focused on 13- to 18-year-olds). The study provides “a snapshot of the ways Gen Z sees the world, their faith (or lack thereof) and our culture.” Knowing the characteristics of this generational group is essential for parents, youth leaders, teachers and church leaders in helping to equip and disciple them.
In this issue of Talbot magazine, Octavio Esqueda presents some of the major findings of the study and reflects on the implications for ministry to this group. Ryan Peterson discusses what this study means for helping teenagers in their identity formation. I am confident that these essays will be helpful to you as they have been for me.
May the Lord grant to you empathy, wisdom and grace in communicating his Word to this generation.