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The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church

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Where is God present in the world? What hope does the church offer to folks who are struggling with death and despair in their many forms, from broken relationships to lost jobs to the seeming lack of meaning in our late-modern context? Some answer these questions by pointing to churches that have had success in growing their worship services and ministries. But Andrew Root invites us to answer the questions from a different angle. Rather than place primary focus on creating a successful church, he asks the church to open its eyes to the suffering and hopelessness of the world, to identify with and embrace it, because it is precisely in the world’s suffering that God is found. Using Luther’s theology of the cross as a lens, Root shows how the church’s willingness to become weak for the world’s sake results in a refocusing of Christian living and ministry, which he examines through the categories of discipleship, authentic hope, community, justice, and resurrection. Thus, as with the other books in the Living Theology series, this book brings theology to bear on life in suggestive and provocative ways, encouraging readers to think theologically about their specific contexts.

161 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 2010

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About the author

Andrew Root

45 books86 followers
Andrew Root joined Luther Seminary in 2005 as assistant professor of youth and family ministry. Previously he was an adjunct professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C., and Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J.

Root received his bachelor of arts degree from Bethel College, St. Paul, Minn., in 1997. He earned his master of divinity (2000) and his master of theology (2001) degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. He completed his doctoral degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2005.

Root's ministry experience includes being a gang prevention counselor in Los Angeles, youth outreach directed in a congregation, staff member of Young Life, and a confirmation teacher. He has also been a research fellow for Princeton Theological Seminary's Faith Practices Project.

Root has published articles in the Journal of Youth and Theology, The International Journal of Practical Theology, and Word and World.

He is a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry and the International Bonhoeffer Society.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Ben Fike.
32 reviews1 follower
September 26, 2017
The premise of The Promise of Despair is to examine Luther's theology of the cross as a way to come to grips with Death and its many guises in the age in which we live. The theology of the cross offers us the opportunity to seek and find God in the midst of loss, grief, despair, and death - which surrounds us much more often than we admit. Rather than retreating from Death, Root calls the church to confront it in its search for the God of the cross revealed through Jesus Christ.

Root's philosophical explorations that open this book are penetrating and provided me with much food for thought. I found the theological turn also interesting, although at times esoteric. I imagine many readers were like me in that they found themselves captivated by the ideas presented in this book, but are still left wondering how these ideas might better inform faith and practice in life and ministry. This is a book that invites deep thought and reflection that I imagine will last far beyond the initial reading.
Profile Image for Rosie Gearhart.
379 reviews14 followers
October 31, 2020
The first half of the book was phenomenal. The author’s explanation of the death of meaning, authority, belonging, and identity truly resonated with my own experience. He explained the existential problem so well that I began to have hope that he may have a satisfactory solution. But, alas, I was not satisfied at all. The answer was basically that Christ is with us in our suffering (which I have not experienced) and that the church should meet people in their suffering (which I have rarely experienced except through my husband and mentor).

Not only that, but his writing was repetitive and so abstract sometimes as to be almost pointless. His theology seemed to lean a little too liberal for me as well.

This still may be worth reading for some, especially those who can’t understand why they keep struggling existentially. Look elsewhere for answers, though.
Profile Image for Jordan Baker.
253 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2022
So many good thoughts and ideas to wrestle with. A little lofty for me at times, but balanced with lots of grounded and poignant moments.
Profile Image for Lance.
49 reviews
November 1, 2012
Review I wrote for Amazon in May 27, 2010
First everyone who is in ministry should read this book. Andy is fearless in putting his ideas out there. This is not a popular subject in a consumerist feel-good era which we live. He takes Martin Luther's "theology on the cross" into our culture and deals with "the monster" of death--a taboo topic in our culture. If you want to remain popular you should be an optimist with a rosy outlook--it sells. When I saw the title, I winced. "The Promise of Despair" is not something that I am looking for in my life. I bought the book because I know Andy and respect him as a theologian. Andy believes that to be in ministry you must put theology into daily ministry. This is hard to do but he did just that in this book.

I think he could have said "get real" and it would have been accurate as well. Death as a theological concept goes beyond physical death of the body. It includes living the reality of the broken home, loss of a spouse, a disappointing job, and especially broken relationships. "The monster" as Andy calls it wins the battle in this world. Andy asks, "Why does the church not live in this reality as this is where God is?" (a summary) The answer is one we all know. It is because we don't want to face our biggest fears and after all we are the church.

You will come away from this book chewing on the main points. You may not agree with all his points but you can't discount them either. He has very good arguments to help you understand where he is going with the points in question. Andy uses his son, Owen, and other family members to make the book an easy read. His writing style is more like a novel than a book on theology. For this reason, many of the less formal ministers will find a book on theology refreshing to read.

In closing I say this is a must read for youth ministers. Most of our youth deal with the real world much easier than adults. The world they exist in, because of where they are in the life cycle, puts them in touch with reality. Andy's book is real. He doesn't waffle or avoid the topic because it is messy. He believes the church should be messy as it consists of messy people (My words). Thanks for a dose of reality.
Profile Image for Tom.
185 reviews43 followers
March 19, 2010
Andrew Root confronts us with the hollow sentimentality that surrounds so much of our culture both outside and especially inside the church. In this challenging book, Root calls for a church that bleeds, a church marked by the cross of Christ, honest about the reality of death and willing to face the myriad of cultural deaths in late modernity (deaths of meaning, authority, belonging, and identity). His argument rests on Luther's understanding of a "theology of the cross," by which we learn to utterly despair of our own ability before we are prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

Part One works through the reality of four deaths (see above) under which we live. The diagnosis of what has replaced meaning, authority, belonging, and identity is cutting and profound. To offer just one example: instead of receiving identity through work and love, we live in a world where careers and marriages are constantly transitional and we are on our own to construct makeshift and flexible identities through consumption and intimacy.

Part Two unpacks how the way of the cross might become the way of the church. Root begins with a complex chapter that reflects on the work of Christ on the cross, where death is taken into God's Triune being and so overcome. The ensuing chapters challenge the church to encounter discipleship through death, community through death, justice through death, and hope through death.

Each chapter begins with a personal story from the author (usually a clever insight from his young son Owen) and concludes with a reflection on a biblical story. I found this narrative framing style to be incredibly effective and powerful.

I highly recommend you read this book. Root's message will not allow you to rest easy, but rather wrestle with the presence of "the monster" in your life by confronting it head-on, and entering death wherein the hope of Christ may be found. The implications of this book for the life and ministry of the church will be an interesting discussion to follow. Application will demand creativity and courage.
Profile Image for Michael Samerdyke.
Author 45 books13 followers
December 7, 2015
I bought this book because I heard Andrew Root speak in 2014.

This was an interesting book. Root argues that Christians need to embrace the theology of the cross and realize that God comes to us in the broken places (and relationships) of the world.

In the first part of the book, Root shows how contemporary life has eroded the old certainties of our culture but has not replaced them with anything. This is perhaps the strongest part of the book or rather the part that is most accessible.

The second part of the book, about finding God in the broken places/relationships/selves around and within us is good, but has an "easier said than done" feel to it.

One thing that irked me about the book was Root's use of the word death, which he seemed to use for everything that is bad. I would have used the word "evil" a good percentage of the time he used the word "death."

Definitely an interesting and thought-provoking book.
Profile Image for Jeremy Serrano.
59 reviews3 followers
April 15, 2014
Andrew Root is quickly becoming one of my favorite Author's for both Youth Ministry and The Theology of the Cross. The second half of this book has made it my Annual Reads shelf. It will serve as a reminder that God is in our brokenness.
Profile Image for Margaret D'Anieri.
297 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2012
This is a book I will re-read - a thoughtful, rigorous, and readable commentary on the ways the church can (but largely doesn't ) connect with people in this age of anxiety and quiet desperation
Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews

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