Teen Challenge: 50 Years of Miracles, by David Batty and Ethan Campbell. Springfield, MO: Teen Challenge USA, 2008.
Since it first appeared forty-five years ago, The Cross and the Switchblade widely circulated as a book, movie, and comic in Pentecostal and evangelical circles and helped to spur the charismatic movement in mainline Protestant and Catholic churches. At a time when Americans were more concerned than ever about the rise of juvenile delinquency and crime, its author, David Wilkerson, testified to the power of the Christ over addiction, crime, and gang violence.
A handsome coffee table book, Teen Challenge: 50 Years of Miracles provides the rest of the story. David Batty and Ethan Campbell recount how Wilkerson, who had been praying for God’s direction, found himself drawn to the harrowing tale of the brutal murder of Michael Farmer, a handicapped teenager, by several members of the Egyptian Dragons. When it appeared in 1957, the news story shocked the nation and generated tremendous press coverage. To the searching Wilkerson, the plight of gang members appeared a call to action. He moved to New York, where he successfully developed connections with gang members. Batty and Campbell trace how Teen Challenge, the organization he founded, grew to an international organization of over 1000 Christian drug and alcohol treatment centers.
There are a few things the book does not do. It does not place Teen Challenge in the context of the history of the Assemblies of God, youth ministry, or the American conversation on juvenile delinquency. In content and tone, it is a celebration and not an analysis. This is not primarily a scholarly book.
However, what it does do, it does well. It is divided equally into three parts. The first chapter traces the growth of Teen Challenge as a local ministry to youth in Brooklyn during the 1960s. The chapter is broken into easily-read sections profiling important events and Teen Challenge participants. A rich collection of photographs and reproductions of documents tell the story even more powerfully than the text. Those interested in the religious literature of this decade will appreciate the many photographs of books and Teen Challenge promotional materials. The next two chapters trace the growth of Teen Challenge across the United States and globe. These sections follow the same format and focus almost entirely on contemporary personal testimony. Overall, this volume presents a well-organized visual feast and a spiritual chronicle that anyone concerned about the victims of addiction will appreciate.
Reviewed by Danielle DuBois Gottwig, Ph.D. candidate, University of Notre Dame