i've recently received a copy of re:form, the new youth confirmation resource from Augsburg Fortress Press. It consists of 40 sessions (you heard me, 40!) with a range of resources - Leader's Guide, DVD, 'Anti-Workbook' for young people, and supplements. Tony Jones and Andrew Root helped with the theological framework of the materials. So what's it like?
first up, the Leader's Guide doesnt really tell you what's going on, other than to give you a four-page overview of what is in the books. there's nothing about the why or how of approaching confirmation (or baptism) with young people. second, it seemed clear to me early on that this is designed for younger teenagers (which is much more the confirmation age in mainline US churches than here in Australia). having said that, the focus of the sessions, their educational content, and the design dont quite seem to match up. it all looks aimed at 10-12 year olds (teenagers in my church agreed!), but some of the issues explored seem more suited to older teenagers.
Here's a taste on the content:
Bible Unit (5 sessions)
- who wrote the Bible, God or humans?
- is the Bible true?
- why does the Bible contradict itself at times?
Creed Unit (9 sessions)
- is God male?
- am I supposed to believe Mary was a virgin?
- do cremated people go to heaven? (yeah, that one's been bothering me too...)
Discipleship Unit (5 sessions)
- why should I pray when God doesnt answer all my prayers?
- can I be a Christian without going to church?
Jesus Unit (6 sessions)
- if Jesus was God why did he have to die?
- is believing in Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?
Other Beliefs Unit (3 sessions)
- why are there so many different religions
- why are there so many different Christian churches?
- is Santa Claus real? (just kidding... but I wish they'd covered that one...)
Tough Questions Unit (12 sessions)
- is it a sin to think about sex?
- what does it measn to be 'born again'?
- can you accept the theory of evolution and still be a Christan?
- why does God let bad things happen?
Methodist Unit (4 sessions)
- did the Methodist church really start because of some holier-than-thou teenagers?
- what the heck is prevenient grace and do I have to learn geometry to be a Methodist?
- if a Methodist sings out of tune, does that mean they're not perfect?
- what actuallty happens when Methodists are on a mission?
[i'm dead serious... those are the session titles...]
[you can download the full list of session titles and sample sessions at the website]
now some of these questions might scare you. will they take a conservative, liberal or middle-of-the-road line on some of these things? the DVD clips, which introduce the questions, are pretty good at laying out the issue, recognising different perspectives, and taking a fairly 'mainstream' approach. at the same time they leave the question open to be explored further. so, questions like "is the Bible true?", "Is God male?" etc get pretty good treatment as far as I'm concerned.and I must say that, overall, to address this range of issues so well from a perspective that can work across denominations/traditions is a great achievemed. i have something of a problem with confirmation being based primarily around what "our denomination' believes... however my other comment about content is that i would have liked to have seen more integration between belief and discipleship. is confirmation primarily about working out beliefs, or is it primarily about choosing to remain part of a Christian community? so, on the one hand, these resources are great and identifying and trying to deal with faith questions. they are less good at dealing with the intersection between adolescent 'belief' and the lives of teenagers.
the two-disc DVD consists of animated still images that are fast-paced with, errr... humour... the big negative for me (and my teenagers) is that they, like the art in the Anti-Workbook, have a primary school feel about them. and the same form of animation is used for every clip. no 'real life' interviews, etc... what you end up with is mismatch between the complexity of the issue and the style of the presentation. in other words, 13+ young people would get engaged by the questions but find the animations too cheesy and childish (they'd be in revolt by week 3), whereas 10-12 year olds would probably find the issues above them intellectually. maybe all of this works for the first year of high school in the US. here I'm not so sure. so as well as the level, the repetitiveness of the style would just get annoying after a few weeks. (BTW the DVD is not region coded)
here's a sample:
[go to Youtube and search on "re:form" for more previews]
the session plans have four sections - an overview, encounter (DVD plus biblical foundation), engage (activities to explore the issue) and respond (wrapup, sharing, sending). the activites seemd aimed at younger to mid-high school age, with a mix of individual and group stuff. they include electronic ideas involving digital cameras, mobile phones, video cameras, internet - with the option of uploading your stuff online (they don't tell you where).
the Anti-Workbook is a 250 page (!) spiral bound activity book that definitely looks "primary school" ish. it has a number of punch-out card activity thnigs at the back, but the bulk of it is 3-4 pages per unit of activities that may or may not involve writing and drawing. like any curriculum, some ideas are great and some are lame. now its a LOT of paper, and i cant see the book lasting the year. also quite a number of the activities are just ideas that could have been described in a couple of sentences in the leaders book. we all know that 'student' books are how a publisher might recoup costs, as leaders only buy one book, whereas a group...
Augsburg Fortress is the publishing arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - a respected publisher with a good track record in the children, youth & family area. The resources, however, were actually produced by SparkHouse, a small resource design company in Minneapolis.
This new resource comes as a 'generic' set of materials with Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist extra sessions (4 in each). Since we're looking at new or revised materials for the Uniting Church nationally , I was pretty interested to see what they'd done.
I got a copy of the Methodist supplement - 4 session leaders guide, anti-workbook and DVD. the sessions cover the origin of Methodism, some theological emphases (prevenient grace, the quadrilateral, perfection, spiritual gifts, etc...) and some stuff about mission (mainly from a US United Methodist perspective). once again there's a mismatch between cartoons for 9 year olds and some solid theological issues.
overall I'm disappointed. some good thought has gone into exploring these questions in ways that would make sense to young people, but the mismatch between content and style ultimately lets it down. plus at 40 sessions, no-one that I know will even get half-way through this. you might use bits of it over a two year period. if you like the Youtube clips, I'd start with the DVDs...
you can order the materials in Australia from mosaic resources in melbourne.