Some parents resent being the taxi driver. I offer to do it whenever I can. When else do your teenagers actually consent to sit within 10 metres of you, let alone talk to their friends while you listen? And besides, the opportunity to pay out their appalling music and inflict your own Classic Hits and Memories upon them is too much to resist.
A few years back, I arrived to collect my daughter from some youth event, and ended up with a gaggle of teenagers to deposit at various points around the city. That’s what you get for turning up in a people-mover.
The conversation flowed pretty freely, and they were even liking some of my dad jokes. (I could just imagine them saying later on instant messenger, “Hey, you’ve got the coolest dad!”)
Anyway, my confidence was up, so I thought I’d try a little Matthias Media focus group research on them. “Tell me”, I asked them, “if Matthias Media was going to publish some books especially for you—for Christian young people in their mid-to-late teens—what sort of thing do you think it should be?”
“Well”, said one of them, “whatever you do, don’t publish something on, like, ‘youth issues’. You know, like drugs and alcohol, and unemployment, and all these things we’re, like, all supposed to be so interested in.”
“Yeah”, said another, “and don’t try to make it like cool. You will fail.”
“What I really want”, said another, “is, like, just some good Bible teaching that’s easy to read.”
Resisting the very strong urge to, like, have a go at them for, like, not being able to, like, finish a sentence without the word ‘like’, I asked them what sort of biblical subjects they were like interested in. And they told me.
Now all this floored me a bit. Weren’t they teenagers? Weren’t they ‘youth’ (as we Christian adults call them)? Where was the angst and the attitude?
It occurred to me that I often over-read the differences in subcultures—especially with young people. I tend to think that if we’re going to ‘reach youth’, then everything has to be edgy, cool, bad, gay, sick, wicked, or whatever the latest term is. And I assume that the bulk of kids we want to reach are all the hippest, coolest dudes who want to talk about the hippest, coolest topics.
But the most significant fact about the bunch in the car that night was not their age or their subculture, but the fact that they were genuinely Christian, and wanted to know God and understand the Bible better. And like the vast bulk of teenagers in youth groups all over the world, they were pretty normal kids. They were not particularly ‘out there’, and not particularly daggy. Those of them who were Christians just wanted to be taught the good stuff.
So some time later when Scott Petty approached us with the idea of publishing some books for young people, my antennas were up. Was this going to be a try-hard attempt to ‘connect with youth’?
Thankfully it wasn’t. Not at all.
What I immediately liked about Scott’s proposal was its simple premise and goal: Christian young people have lots of questions about God, the Bible and what it means to follow Jesus, and they are the same sorts of questions that all Christians ask at one time or another. Scott’s aim was simply to address those questions in a short, readable, straightforward way from the Bible—questions like these: “Why does God allow suffering and evil in the world?”, “Can I really trust the Bible? How do I read and make sense of it?”, “Can I believe (and practise) what the Bible says about sex and relationships?”, “Is the Bible anti-gay? And if so, isn’t that hopelessly out of date?”, “If God is so sovereign and in control, what does that do to my own will and decision-making?” and “How can I have a choice if he ‘predestines’ me?”
Scott has written a series of short books to answer these questions. We’re publishing them in basic black, and the series is called (imaginatively) Little Black Books.
They’re simple and straightforward, but by no means boring. Scott is a funny guy: he writes well, he answers the questions compellingly, he tells a good yarn, and he does a good trade in one-liners.