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Review of ‘Young, Woke and Christian: Words From a Missing Generation’ edited by Victoria Turner

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Comprised of a breadth of voices, Victoria Turner’s Young, Woke and Christian offers prophetic words that promise to lead readers from experience and theological reflection to decisive action. Each contributor offers a fresh response to a current crisis that weighs heavily on the shoulders of young people, even if it is often overlooked by the Church. This book successfully brings together voices that passionately cry out for a truly integrated Church – one seeking truth and justice; one that cares for the world that it inhabits; and one that cares for all people with whom that world is shared.

In an essential prologue, Anthony Reddie highlights the importance of this book. He acknowledges how this work initiates a new trajectory for liberation theology with its focus on the experiences of the young. Although intended for a popular audience, Reddie’s introduction lends this book an air of gravitas, not only as a contribution for the Church, but also, and more broadly, for a more specialised academic audience. Helpfully, Reddie carefully untangles the term ‘woke’, offering some guidance for the contributions that follow. Victoria Turner’s editorial introduction further unpacks the meaning of this theme, highlighting the intention to ‘[react] to the mainstream antagonistic use of the word’ (p. 6). Although ‘wokeness’ may have become somewhat marred in contemporary political discourse, it is used here with a progressive intention.

In the opening contribution, Liz Marsh recommends how we should respond theologically to the climate crisis. She draws upon themes of hopelessness, exposing our own arrogance, and our accounts of hope needing to be reimagined in our relationships with one another, and with the planet in which we live. She offers a beneficial summary for how the Church should respond to many of the issues we face.

In the following chapter, Nosayaba Idehen’s ‘Guidelines to being a More Racially Inclusive Church’ uses autoethnography to pull together several ‘do’s and don’ts’ for churches to appreciate, attract, and celebrate people of black and ethnic minorities. She rejects the rhetoric of oversimplifying racial inclusion, and recognises a combination of strategies of cultural changes that will be needed to begin challenging the systems of injustice that permeate not only our society, but also the institutional Church.

Josh Mock’s chapter on queerness pulls no punches. He explores the inadequacy of dialogue with oppressive institutions. His chapter feels more relevant than ever in the wake of the LLF process and the recent Lambeth Conference of the Church of England. He rejects idle, lazy attempts at queer justice for the sake of acceptability and decency. With Mock’s passionate argument almost leaping off the page, one hopes the readers will find themselves leaping away with a similar sense of radical activism.

Next, Molly Boot’s chapter tenderly and powerfully reconsiders our own relationship with our bodies. They move away from the objectification of the body as ‘it’. Rather, they remind us that our bodies are interwoven with our mind and spirit. Hence, our bodies are worth attending to with our Christian faith, our practices, and with a special concern for purity culture.

Kirsty Borthwick’s chapter tracks the journey in recent decades of women and their ministries in the Church of England. Although this recount may on the surface appear familiar, Borthwick’s attention to feminism’s ‘tendency to leave people behind’ (p. 63) opens up a new focus on intersectional progress that will be required for true gender justice within the Church.

In ‘A Guide to a Trans Christian Experience’, Jack Woodruff offers a broad and yet succinct chapter that explores trans scriptural hermeneutics, the inclusivity of trans people in Christian institutions, and resources for future activism. He endeavours to answer the question ‘can I be trans and Christian?’, though it seems to be more of an answer directed to those who might ask ‘can you be trans and Christian?’.

Chrissie Thwaite’s chapter ‘Waking Up to Ableism in Christian Communities’ announces a shift in tone. It leads not from personal experience but rather with theory and statistics. Nevertheless, she offers helpful practices for churches to implement a more inclusive understanding of disability. She encourages churches to recognise the difference between individual impairment and the disablement brought about by society. Thwaites recommends further how churches can adopt a more ‘enabling’ stance towards the disabled. With this acknowledgement, a more personal narrative could have been fitting. 

With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, Anna Twomlow’s chapter on food poverty is increasingly relevant. She offers a theological justification for eradicating food poverty. She calls us to understand how justice for the poor should ‘fire our souls’ (p. 113). Though very inspiring, an acknowledgment of the important role wider Christian faith communities have played in helping tackle food poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic would have been appropriate. 

Annika Matthews reminds readers of the relevance of mental health for young people. She argues that the Church cannot ‘effectively evangelize to them without ministering to their well-being’, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual (pp. 116-7). Deeply based in scripture as well as experience, she responsibly walks a fine line between knowing how faith in Jesus can help to lift one’s mental health, and acknowledging that professional help may often be needed as well.

Shermara Fletcher’s chapter shifts the narrative of homeless communities from those whom the churches can help, to the ‘unlikely leaders’ who can be fully integrated into their lives, structures, and leadership. The central question is ‘Are we willing to change our structures and cultures of learning so that everyone can participate in the mission?’ (p. 139), which poses a real and thoughtful challenge to how we can have an effective and integrated ministry with, and not to, homeless communities. 

At the heart of this book is the sentiment that social justice is a fundamental part of Christianity. Sophie Mitchell’s chapter argues that this must entail interfaith engagement, in which similarities and differences can be discovered, bridges can be built, and a better understanding can be promoted. Breaking from a Christian bubble, Mitchell argues that living out a Christian faith requires working alongside others of all faiths and none, and boldly widens the scope for what counts as social action.

Annie Sharples concludes the book by focussing on personal, social, and political peace. This chapter aptly connects all of the chapters that precede it. For these young voices have all promoted peace in some way. Fear of the other is, she comments, what most of all threatens peace (p. 165). Young, Woke and Christian thus attempts to tell the stories of the ‘other’, so as to awaken and educate the wider Christian community. 

With this diversity of intersectional voices, this book has brought together a new, young liberation theology. Nevertheless, the distinctiveness of each voice is clear. None of the chapters try to compare themselves to another. Rather, each crisis is judged on its own. And, in each, valuable personal experience is called upon as a source of insight and inspiration. In a world in which so many social justice driven issues are too easily dismissed as‘woke’, this book effectively breaks down those labels to hear the unique contributions of each voice. With this highly commendable volume, we can begin to hear from this missing generation, and contribute to steering the body of Christ’s where God calls us.

Will Moore is training for ordained ministry in the Church of England at Westcott House, Cambridge and is studying for a PhD in Theology with the Cambridge Theological Federation and Anglia Ruskin University. He holds a BA (First Class Honours) and an MTh (Distinction) in theology and biblical studies from Cardiff University, and recently completed a PGCert in Theology, Ministry, and Mission with the Cambridge Theological Federation, accredited by Durham University. His work focuses broadly in the areas of gender, masculinity, sexuality, trauma, and violence, and their intersections with theology, Christianity, and the Bible. His work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. His first book Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities, written to introduce masculinities and biblical studies to a popular Christian audience, has been published with SCM Press in 2022.


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