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An Intimate Revelation

Intercultural Bible Reading with Adolescents

Taggert E. Wolverton

An Intimate Revelation chronicles an unprecedented multi-year research project that investigated what happens when adolescents from around the world read and discuss Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son together. The study gathered together adolescent participants, pastoral leaders, and theologians from several countries to read in conversational communities, and these groups then exchanged their interpretations with each other across cultural and religious distinctions. The result is a helpful step forward in understanding how adolescents make meaning when they read the Bible and how the intercultural reading process can spur participants toward spiritual growth.

The book begins by presenting thorough explanations of the foundational concepts of the project before then focusing on each of the groups’ specific experiences through a close examination of their transcripts and written materials. With that foundation laid, a critical analysis of the material investigates signs of spiritual growth as well as the adolescent participants’ ability to function in the process of intercultural communication. The participants’ hermeneutical interpretive grids are presented along with evidence of their ability to create theological applications, and finally the process of intercultural Bible reading is itself compared to the characteristics of effective youth ministry as a hopeful ally in the development of the next generation’s spirituality.

As a report on the only study of its kind to empirically observe adolescent Bible readers participating in an intercultural reading process, these pages offer insight and motivation to pastoral leaders, theologians, and anyone else questioning how to connect this globally aware generation to a vibrant faith.

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7 Adolescent Interpretive Grids


. 7 .

Adolescent Interpretive Grids

One of the motivations for this study was to capture and examine the interpretations which the adolescent participants generated as they proceeded through intercultural Bible reading exchange. In other words, what meaning are they making as they read through the Biblical text? A close examination of the transcript materials revealed several prominent interpretive themes, so this chapter will present these themes and then compare them to the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion in the U.S., which still remains the largest study to ever survey teens on their thoughts about religion and God. While it may at first seem odd to use a U.S.-based study as a point of reference for an international project, the data, remarkably enough, seems to indicate strong points of similarities among all the groups.

As the data was examined, it soon became clear that a code was needed which could reflect the fact that the participants seemed to overwhelmingly offer analyses of the parable which dealt primarily in the realm of the human psyche and emotion. For the majority of the groups, the bulk of the meaning of the parable of the prodigal son was to be found in how it spoke to the reality of humanity’s experience of life and struggle without framing that experience in the context of an explicitly Christian or theological interpretation. In fact, as a whole, the groups overwhelmingly offered what came to be coded as a...

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