After Church – Christian Education Part 2

Part 1, originally intended as a single entry, made me think of other ways we can implement Christian education. Frankly, Brueggemann’s approach liberally takes from the New Testament, but not necessarily dealing with Christianity as an entity in itself. How do you educate people in way that makes sense as a lived faith, in addition to a textual approach? Brueggamann’s method works well for people such as myself, but not everyone’s a rabid reader or even has time for such things (though, seriously, they should), Thomas Groome, in his Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision, providesan underlying theory for Christian action, and one well-worth a quick look.

Groome develops the idea of Christianity as a lived existential reality, and Christian education as a natural response to this reality. As such, Groome lists three essential components of this experience: first, as a believing conviction, second as a trusting relationship, and third as a lived life of agape. Faith, as well, has three components: faith as believing, trusting, and doing.

Faith as belief does not mean faith is simply a belief; this is a false conflation. It is a moral, historical, and cognitive claim meant to frame meaning in the lived experience of people. There must be a firm conviction about the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. By Augustine’s notions, only belief will lead to further understanding in the Christian
faith, as the intellect will be guided (once it holds these assumptions) by revelation and the teaching of the Church. Even Aquinas believes in the idea of illumination, in that God’s grace gives an a priori (that is, before experience) divine illumination which leads to further intellectual understanding and assent. If faith is not synonymous with belief, that does not mean it is unimportant; it reminds us that God’s grace is a gift that works from within, but faith is also a rational conviction at the same time.

Even with the possibly absurdity and weirdness of doctrines, we still evaluate their truth with our rational mind, which leads to conviction and assent under a certain belief framework. As for education, this aspect is to make the story of the Bible relevant and real to those who need it so they may appropriate it for themselves. To educate in a Christian way is to remove the roadblocks hindering their acceptance of God’s grace.

Faith as trust is inherent in the very word. Loyalty, love, and attachment are given to a loving God who is trustworthy. We depend on God’s power in our daily lives, and the realization of that fact leads to awe and reverence. We dialogue with God through prayer, and continue the relationship through continual acceptance of the symbol that
reassure us of the stability of this relationship. But our trust also works into our practice; we must live with joy and happiness, for our trust assumes we know the victory has
already been won. We, as the redeemed, know that God lives among us and his promises are revealed all around. Of course, overwhelming trust reduces the need for human agency (if God is in control, why bother doing anything?); faith as trust requires trusting God in ethical conduct and daily life as well in real, concrete action.

Faith must also be “doing”, living life in the continual act of neighbor love and agape. We enter into relationship and belief for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel in the world, not just in ourselves. This idea, for Groome, is so essential to Christian life that we tend to take it for granted; faith and doing are inseperable. Or, as Aquinas says, faith and doing go as well together as the Aristotlean matter and form. Faith without function, so to speak, is “bad faith” that only embodies two components while ignoring the most external aspects of action. Still, we can only do what we know, and though what we know does not directly influence what we do, our trust and belief in God requires real action in the world to advance God’s kingdom. You cannot know God except by doing God’s will, and Jesus’ perfect fulfillment as such makes Jesus a role-model for faith as doing. Loving service is obedience (similar to Brueggeman) to God; it is the very essence of Christian practice, and community gatherings remind us of this. But, it cannot be taken in exclusion either; in that case, it becomes a descent into mindless activism (a big problem in more liberal denominations), or our lack of trust and lack of hope on our own strength brings us to despair.

However, all faith also requires a cognitive response, in that human beings always search for patterns of meaning in reality and the universe. The knowing of a tradition requires some stability, wherein faith is embodied and defined with a community in a particular religious tradition. The specificity of this tradition allow knowability and assent to that faith that could not happen otherwise. As Christianity is based on revelation, symbolic statements have come to be attached to Christianity in order to make knowable what exactly Christians believe, the constructed meaning of the community relative to that revelation – it is certainly part of the act of faith. Thus, educational resources needed to expand and present the Christian tradition in a way amenable to that reasonableness, at least in some sense.

Faith as a trusting relationship is exemplified through the way we treat our neighbors. Thus, education fosters both prayer and reverence for God as part of spiritual development. As well, this requires a deep and abiding bond of friendship with the entire human race, a trust toward all of God’s people even in the face of sin and impossible
odds. This is an attitude adjustment of the highest order.

Lastly, faith has a behavorial dimension, specifically engagement in the world as a response to God’s gift, and subsequently a response to the mandate of God’s kingdom. In other words, we live a life of the already-redeemed that allows for full human development in the here and now. It is to affirm the reality of the Gospel message, that
Christ has risen and that we have a new life and are part of a New Story; a promotion of fear, anxiety, and doubt defeats the very purpose of the Christian life. Of course, this fulfillment requires real concrete action, and thus Christian education fosters loving God by loving others, and thus developing a unity between belief and action (very difficult!). As a result, Christian education is not a one and done deal; it is throughout one’s whole lifetime and it involves the entire person. It is faith development and human
development at  at the same time, not allowing one to fall by the wayside at the expense of the other. In other words, as Joshua 1:7-8 tells us,

7 Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

Scripture and action – two sides of the same coin. Quite interesting, don’t you think? Comment below if you think this is a little too heady for you; I’d be happy to discuss it.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.