I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. -William Blake
In attempting to construct my own personal philosophy of Christian education, I found that my focal point is that the given philosophy should speak to the context in which it is in. The context is that of my own- the only context of which I know. To be precise, I know of others’ contexts and can even stand in some of their shoes so as to speak, however the context in which I am fully planted is the one from which I can speak from confidently and thus from which my philosophy ultimately derives.
This said, I must admit that I am totally biased, biased by my own experiences and my own interests. I was raised in a fundamentalist Church setting in the southeast of the United States that shunned questions and squelched any form of the spirit of progression. I have spent three years of my life in Latin America. My wife is Mexican and a Narrative Therapist. I am now being acquainted with the United Church of Christ. These are mere facts, not my whole story. I am becoming vulnerable in sharing parts of me with you, I’m giving you power. Now you will be able to critique or affirm as you read this in a new light based on the knowledge you know have. Don’t simply judge based on them, allow them to inform, allow them to be meeting places.
Admitting my own subjectivity and limited objectivity, acknowledging that I bring a lot of baggage with me when I engage any topic- let alone in constructing a philosophy of Christian education, is a stance made possible by the postmodern movement. It is this movement, this current intellectual and cultural milieu that I wish to engage. For my generation this is the current context, philosophically speaking: a popular modern-day sophism. How do we as the Church engage the postmodern situation? How can we transmit ourself across the generations faithfully amid a foggy mist such as postmodernity? Can the Church stand in a time where epistemologies and worldviews shift with such frequency and intensity that it has become faux pas to extend absolute truth claims? Can the Church be postmodern?
Challenges the Postmodern Situation Presents
God is dead. -Friedrich Nietzsche
The postmodern situation in which we currently find ourselves presents a number of issues worthy of discussion. Here I will only briefly outline some. Postmodernism attempts to debase any form of truth claim that appears absolute. One such form of postmodernism is social constructionism, which succeeds social constructivism. It has its basis in language and claims that there are no inherent meanings in words, therefore meaning is derived from and relative to its social context; reality is socially constructed.
Our task then is to deconstruct given social constructions in order to come to a realization of where our realities are coming from- they are not universal. In essence, everyone’s epistemology is determined by their social context.
Postmodernism rejects the idea of Enlightenment thinking that we can truly be objective observers. This strand of philosophy has influenced hermeneutics. Today we are seeing a greater emphasis on not what the text (in this case the Bible) meant originally in antiquity, but how the reader interprets it today.
We very well could be standing at a pivotal point in the progression of human consciousness. We are beginning to internalize others’ viewpoints and are concluding that we influence everything- even that which we observe. This can be traced in art in Western society. For example, art during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was primarily portrayed from the observer of a third person. Today, it has become more common to include numerous points of view, creating a more abstract canvas. Very much the same can be said of the progression of music with the rise of avant garde jazz, and later, free and fusion jazz. The movement is now being reflected in theology and religion. Most religious groups in the West are now admitting that they alone do not hold a monopoly on God’s truth. This has given rise to pluralism and the inter-faith movement. It is the shrinking of the world, the contact made among so many cultures, this altering of human consciousness, as expressed through art, music, and language that has influenced philosophers. Of course pure postmoderns would not label themselves as such and most would follow the principle of “whatever works,” they would not approve of using labels, subscribing to one philosophy, speaking in generalities, and would most certainly disagree with terms such as “pure” as applied to themselves. This paper is not meant to be a treatise on Postmodernity, so I will not go into further detail of what Postmodernism consists of, rather I will focus on how the process of education might proceed in such a climate.
Every society that continues in time faces the problem of transmitting its meanings from one generation to the next, the Christian community is no exception.
ON WORDS AND WORLDS
Everything depends on the poem and the poet, for our worlds come from our words. -Walter Brueggemann
Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned. -Paul Tillich
First, I must attempt to provide an operational definition for education, something that we must try to attain in this assignment. I believe Bernard Bailyn serves as a good starting point for us. He defined education as “the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations.”
Education is this, yet so much more. The task of education must embody a conserving tactic as well as a subversive one.
Paulo Freire states that education is foremost an act of humanization. As an alternative to the enculturation theory, Freire advocates his theory of conscientization, which I believe should stand alongside Bailyn’s statement. Freire defines education as an act of raising awareness, to pique learners’ consciousness of what is going on within their society and environment. This consists of social injustices such as political and economic exploits in order that the learners might be instilled with a passion to pursue justice- the true end to education- within their own social context. This is education as social transformation.
Walter Brueggemann states “education is an act of socialization, a construction of a world, formation of a system of values and symbols.
He goes on to speak of church education within a postmodern context,
church education must avoid every universalizing attempt. . . education is the nurture of a restlessness with every old truth for the sake of a new truth which is breaking upon us. . . church education is intended to nurture people in an open awareness to alternative imagination which never quite perceives the world the way the dominant reality wants us to see it. . . the educational task is sorting through truths and selecting one, one that honors cries from below, new revelations. . . the task of instruction is to teach the new ones to see in the midst of disorder a coherence that can be relied on. . . [Christian] education consists finally in teaching our young to sing doxologies.
I now offer my own definition of Christian education: Christian education is the on-going process of conserving and confronting one’s traditions and surroundings in order to pass on the faith of old while transmuting it to better and more faithfully serve self, community, and creation, all the while honoring Creator.
Soteriology Re-examined: Social Transformation as Purgative and Salvific Act
Hope is the seed of liberation. -Jon Sobrino
Second, I would like to address the concept of salvation. I believe that it is imperative to have a holistic view of salvation. Dangers exist in reading salvation as a unilateral act, which I see as an issue of growing concern as our culture becomes more and more enmeshed in individualism.
Salvation should be broad enough to include both the individual and the corporate, the communal. After careful study of the usage of “salvation” in the Bible, Terence E. Fretheim concluded that “salvation is deliverance from anything inimical to true life, issuing well-being and a trustworthy world in which there is space to live.”
Salvation should encompass socio-economic-political spheres as well as the spiritual; this life as well as the life to come. I follow suit in agreeing that “the objective of God’s saving work is to enable human beings to be what they were created to be.”
Another integral component to salvation is how we interact with it, how we interact with God’s saving grace, God’s will for life. Isaiah might shed light on this matter:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isa. 1:16-17, NRSV).
Here, it is as if the act of seeking justice has a purgative effect. Washing oneself conjures up images of cleansing, elsewhere used in biblical accounts as a medium to justify oneself before God.
So, this salvation that can be experienced as from a God of life can be also imparted to the community. En fin, Salvation is not solely a private matter segregated from the public arena. This will serve as foundational to my philosophy of Christian education.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -(Mic. 6:8 ,NRSV)
Knowledge and Knowing: Epistemological Abuses
But where shall wisdom be found? – Job 28:12
Third, I would like to consider epistemology. This is a field that considers how we know what we know, or modes of knowledge. Different periods of time have emphasized different forms of knowing. For example, one account suggests that all knowledge and wisdom is housed by the gods, all that transpires in life is on their account. This leads one to throw one’s hands up in anguish because we can never know truth, and thus (conveniently?) one evades any type of responsibility of knowing. Another account that arose out of the Enlightenment was empiricism or positivism. Western people began to see their surroundings as objects to be observed, quantified, categorized, and eventually lorded over, secularizing the world from the sacred realm, a “shameless scientism” that “bows before no mystery and reduces all life to objects.”
Deism became a valid alternative to Theism. Knowledge was then to be understood as imparted through the senses, from observation and experience. I don’t want to seem reductionistic in summarizing the Enlightenment in this manner; the scientific method proved to be a great liberating tool of the Enlightenment. However it has had a stifling oppressing effect as well. Can we know all there is to know by mere observation? Is any knowledge inherent within us? Is all knowledge outside of us? How do we interpret knowledge? Do universals exist or is everything relative? Does concrete reality whither away with the altering of signs and symbols? These are questions that philosophers, scribes, and sages have struggled with over the eons. Some attempts to reach a consensus (or attempts to keep the matter unsettled as may be the case) can be found in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). The inadequacy of some answers offered to the above questions have led many people to agnosticism, and even some to atheism. Today, we live in a time of epistemological unrest. Church education must be active in wrestling with these sorts of questions. If it seeks to be relevant in its society it first must make sure it can communicate effectively and offer a genuine alternative to a generation trudging through this epistemological crisis.
One last point concerning knowledge is that we must acknowledge that claiming possession of knowledge equals power. For example, my disclosing part of my story to you in the introduction gave you a sense of who I am. That disclosure makes me vulnerable. Knowing intimate details about me gives you the reader a chance to create an ad hominem argument against me.
On a broader level, knowledge can be controlled as an enterprise by various institutions, not excluding states and nations.
The important aspect is to recognize that we cannot separate our own interests from the pursuit of knowledge- everyone has vested interests.
There is no objective knowledge free of ideological taint. We all select which books we buy, which movies we watch, which journals we subscribe to, what parts of the sermon we listen to. Knowledge has the power to oppress or liberate, free or enslave, empower or stifle. Therefore, church education should be privy to this circumstance. “How the text is interpreted by the preacher, and how it is received in the congregation may depend on the vested interest of both preacher and congregation.”
The Church should go to every length to ensure that it uses knowledge for the sake of compassion, not giving in to hegemonic tendencies as dominant power structures often do.
And just as having knowledge equals power, so not having knowledge equals impotence. Often times systems are constructed to keep those that don’t know “out of the know.” The Church should counter this status quo in its modes of educating, making a determined choice to go to the shadows and teach those that remain untaught and nurture those that possess the awareness of the linkage of knowledge and interest.
The Church has a business of making certainties visible and felt amidst uncertainties, making smooth roads out of rough ones, shining light into darkness. Perhaps some universals do exist.
Even though Brueggemann pleas for church education to avoid universalizing, he finds some ground too sacred to make relative: “The sure sovereign God and the resultant interconnectedness of life are not negotiable.”
This is what the wisdom enterprise concluded. Even though we may not have all knowledge, we have enough to know that that is certain; there are holy places where we are inclined to take our shoes off, where we realize that we are object and not subject. This is the presentation of an epistemology that “lies beyond the conventions of our culture.”
We too must exclaim, “All truth is God’s truth,” along with the sages and Augustine, or more appropriately, “All truths are God’s truths.” We must be reminded: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.”
SOME CONTRIBUTING ELEMENTS IN CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
We are dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. We therefore see more and farther than they, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and born aloft on their gigantic shoulders. – Bernard of Clairvaux
Antecedents & Canon
Religion begins with a question, theology with a problem – Abraham Joshua Heschel
Much can be said of Christian education’s antecedents. I will not go into the details of Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman contributions. They are too monumental and extensive for me to give adequate treatment and require more attention than I am allotted to give here. I know by not engaging them here I am doing violence to their stories, but I can rest assured that their contributions have saturated all aspects of what we now call Christian education. Therefore I will touch only on a certain aspect that pertains to my personal construction of a philosophy of Christian education.
One such antecedent is the text that Christians use. I will focus on the work that Walter Brueggemann has done. He has pointed out that the tripartite division of the Hebrew Bible in itself can be a didactic tool. The divisions embody certain elements of the congregant’s relationship to faith and knowledge and more specifically education. The first part of the canon is the Torah, it represents the ethos of Israel, the disclosure of God’s truth, and the consensus of God’s people. This is one mode of knowing, a firmness, a concreteness, the “old time religion.” The second division of the canon, the Prophets, represents Israel’s pathos, a new word from the LORD, and the disruption of consensus. This also is a mode of knowing and a form of educating, especially when the status quo needs to be checked. It often comes from cries from below rather than from the establishment up on the hill. The third part of the canon is the Writings, a few books of diverse voices jumbled together into a miscellaneous section. It represents Israel’s logos, or wisdom, and the discernment of order. Brueggemann states that it is the task of Church educators “to move back and forth among the modes and substances of the canon, depending on context and intent.”
“Our calling then is to not choose one part of the canon (mode of knowledge, educating tactic) over the other, but to hold them in continual tension, to use one to critique the other and seek true discernment to stay with God through the seasons (Eccl. 3:1-8).”
We must recognize that Scripture is interpreted in, by, and for. Another tripartite division that need not have one part supersede the other two is that of the content of education: doctrine, scripture, and experience. They too need to be held in constant tension.
Teacher/Student, Student/Teacher: A Mutual Process
The important thing is to not stop questioning. -Albert Einstein
I am currently in seminary. I feel myself called to be both a pastor and a scholar. I want to teach Hebrew Bible at either the university level or at seminary. However, I know I feel called to engage in some form of pastoral ministry as well. I recall while in college seeking counsel from local ministers and professors concerning my vocation. I was almost always directed to one field or the other, mostly towards the academia. This tension swelled within me. One day I came across some excerpts of the writings of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), and John Amos Comenicus (1592-1670), and realized that this forced dichotomy of scholar/pastor was a farce.
In order to be a a good minister one must be scholarly,
and in order to be a good scholar one must be pastoral. The monastic and scholastic are not mutually exclusive.
And neither were faith and reason. Why, if these were compatible so then were faith and works.
In deconstructing our usage of language, it has been found that Westerners like to dichotomize, and create polar opposites, e.g. black, white; good, bad; mind, body; physical, spiritual; theist, atheist; the list could go on. In any given setting one word of the pair is esteemed, while its opposite is demonized. Our society still is experiencing a hangover of a double shot of empiricism and positivism. Our language stinks of it. We are still a culture of either/or; I’m a structuralist, you’re a post-structuralist; I’m a constructivist, she’s a constructionist; I’m a Socialist, you’re a Libertarian; he’s a perrenialist, she’s a reconstructionist; I’m gay, you’re straight. We’re still obsessed with labels. I’m Marvin Lance Wiser, and I have a story. I’m sure the person reading this has stories behind the labels he or she is wearing (either intentionally wearing, or because they have been placed there as an act of imposition). This must be something the educators of the Church take a stand on. If it is to be effective for the younger generations, the products of the current cultural milieu, the Church must be non-sectarian, in all “sectors” of life in order to be welcoming and wholly holy.
In keeping with de-labeling, let us turn to the education “system” itself, in particular, the student-teacher relationship. Traditionally, (post-Enlightenment) the teacher has been the bearer of truth, the learners mere tabulae rasae.
With the fall of objectivity comes the fall of the profession of the unbiased expert,
and with the acknowledgement of a Creator comes the goodness inherent within human nature.
With the realization of the finiteness of the teacher, it is no longer necessary for the teacher to pretend that he or she is expert. The teacher is recast as perpetual learner. It is also no longer efficacious for the educator to compartmentalize his or her life, it should be holistic.
The teacher is still cast as model– though not ideal, rather real; an embodiment of what is desired to see in others.
Paulo Freire would term subject-object relationship as one of oppressor-oppressed.
Worded this way makes the stakes seem higher: the end goal of education is liberation. This is now painted with the same semantics that was used to tell the story of the Exodus and the Christ events: to set the captives free. Education no longer consists in the passive handing down of traditions from one generation to the next, in an attempt to conserve, but in an active struggle within and without, confronting to liberate those that are oppressed by systems– including the educational one. In order to overcome the teacher-student relationship as a strict dichotomy of subject-object, the goal of Christian teaching should be just that: relationship. Martin Buber describes relation as “reciprocity, being inscrutably involved.”
He goes further to say, “The person becomes conscious of himself as participating in being, as being-with, and thus a being.”
Essentially, Buber is stating that we derive our sense of being from relations; not “I think, therefore I am,”
but I relate and am related to, therefore I am.
To strip this intimacy of being-making, person-actualizing from the teacher-student relation is to commit a great act of violence indeed. Neither party should be inclined to submit to the other. The act of learning should be a mutual process. This is liberating, this is incarnational.
If a Christian educator would initiate this type of relationship with students, perhaps it could be a model for subsequent relationships in which the student finds her or himself; after all, we are all sisters and brothers (subjects) in the Kingdom of God.
Setting & Curriculum
Experience is the greatest teacher, but is the school of fools. -Proverb
I will only briefly touch this area of where the teacher-student relationship may enter an incarnational subject-subject mode, and where the learning process can and should occur. First of all, educational programs of the Church should not be cast aside, however revitalized. Openness to new forms of worship as expressed through the emergent Church movement should be embraced and utilized alongside more traditional forms. Morphological fundamentalism should be discouraged. Luis Segundo, in referring to the goal of Christian education in a multicultural context, urged that “the goal is not simply the translation of traditional Christian symbols into new language, however the resymbolization of Christianity and culture.”
The tradition must be faithful to the context in which it is in. Often times Christianity must undergo a process of contextualization before it can communicate faithfully its content. This process should be honored among Church educators. Educating thus takes on a supreme liturgical bent.
Other places that the learning process is to occur is the public school. I think it best to not have a confessional stance of educating in public schools as this could be interpreted as an act of tyranny against those of other faiths (as championed by Thomas Jefferson). However, I do believe that times should be set aside for religious devotion, e.g., prayer times, meditation, to provide for a more holistic learning environment. Programs that foster inter-religious dialogue should be encouraged too. In the public arena, religion may be taught from the perspectives of philosophy of religion and history of religions. Emphasis should be placed on the humanities, liberal arts, and character formation. Courses of instruction should not be based on mere lectures but lively interaction which give way to a more dialogical dimension to study. Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University maintains that “it should be an educational priority for the students not only to hear the voices of others but to find their own voices.”
This process is imperative so that they may better participate in dialogue. In addition to classroom instruction, group experiences such as visits to the Holocaust Museum or to art exhibits portraying the Civil Rights Movement, for example, should raise awareness of the human situation. Of private Christian schools, much the same can be said. However in this context it is more appropriate to teach from a confessional standpoint, allowing inclusion to the curriculum constructive and biblical theology, Christian social ethics, pastoral disciplines, etc. In addition to character formation, discipling and spiritual formation become an issue here. As well, outside of the classroom, experiences may hinge on more benevolent acts, e.g., short term mission trips
, feeding the homeless, taking a more definite stance concerning social justice as a confessional and salvific act.
Another setting that may in fact be more conducive to learning is simply put: community. This may occur within the home, congregation, neighborhood, or in either of the aforementioned institutions: public and private schools. It is a vital space defined by mutuality. Allow me to share a personal analogy: When I was in Bolivia one summer I was introduced to a special herbal tea, yerba maté. It is served in a specific gourd with a special straw/strainer, la bombilla. It is offered as a symbol of hospitality. It is commonly shared in groups, passed from hand to hand, while conversation and dialogue develop. The gourd is continually refilled and passed around as stories are told and friendships are forged. If someone has had their fill, they simply say “gracias,” and the maté continues around the circle. The friend that has had their fill is respected and the person next to him or her remembers this so as not to habitually pass it to them. In participating in this ritual I was welcomed into a community, and out of it a new world was created. Is not this indigenous construction of community mirrored in the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist? It is around one table that we gather, and share the same “maté”- some, even the same “bombilla.” Both are community creating acts, where the equity of those who are marginalized or displaced are guaranteed and where we authentically engage cultures (whether they be familial, economic, political, or ethnic) that are not our own.
It is in this act of welcoming and true dialogue that we find solidarity, we empty ourselves, all are learners, are taking part in salvation, and are acknowledging God as the base of life. It is from this solidarity that we can band together to engage in being transformed and embark in social transformation.
Encountering the Religious “Other”- Developing Epistemological Humility
Monotheism is not monochromatic -Gregory Mobley
Art Green, rector of the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, recently remarked that for Israel, God dwelt in the space between the two cherubs facing each other in the Holy of Holies.
This is to say that God dwells in the space where humans are facing each other in genuine dialogue. This practice of facing one another is demonstrated in the art of Chavruta,
a Rabbinic approach to learning in which two individuals engage in dialogue. This process of learning has been transmuted to facilitate broader interaction between Jews and Christians on the campuses of Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School. It should be taken into account by Christian educators that God dwells in the spaces in between, perhaps we should linger for sometime longer facing another in dialogue, whether when we are gathered around the Lord’s Table, around a Peace Pole, or when we’re simply passing yerba maté.
How then are we to enter relationship with the religious “other?” How are we to allow that relationship to inform Christian education? I would like to once again appeal to Walter Brueggemann’s method of canon as canon. If we can use the traditioning process of our own texts to inform us on how to educate, perhaps it too can inform us on how to interact with those outside our faith tradition.
I believe the canon makes evident of how Israel related to its neighbors. Jon D. Levenson points out that substantial sections of the canon (especially parts of the Writings) may not have been composed by Israelites at all.
It is this attitude of ‘honoring what is proven and true regardless of its source, because ultimately all truth is God’s truth’ that permeates Israelite tradition and that sets precedence for our interaction with the religious ‘other.’ Within the Bible exists a so-called Natural theology. Within the Hebrew Bible it is more pronounced in the third section of the canon, the Writings. In the New Testament it is nuanced in the parables of the Gospels, the Johannine Prologue and in Pauline thought (esp. Romans 1:18-32; 2:12-16). Paul may have based his natural theology on a Jewish writing that proceeded Jesus by just a few years that we now find as an Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical book, The Wisdom of Solomon. It has numerous arguments in common with Romans.
One of it’s central tenets concerning ‘natural theology’ can be found in a single verse:
For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. (Wisd. of Sol. 13:5, NRSV)
This allows for more than “specific revelation.” An understanding of theology in this manner embraces a broader divine plan, “general” revelation, and has all of creation in scope.
This allows for more commonality across humanity than it does for difference. Our educating must be broad enough to include these emerging forms and accommodate the touching of previously differentiated sacred worlds. This is especially important in an urban context, where religious “border lines” often scrape against one another and even blurr in the living of daily life. It is a new and courageous goal for Christian education to give a voice to the religious “other” in our own teaching, perhaps this could prove a first step toward genuine reciprocity.
One must take heed to not forsake the particularity of one’s tradition in order to completely embrace the generals.
In order to dialogue one must have a story, a place where one is planted and can speak from. Jennifer Peace, Director of CIRCLE, Center for Inter-religious and Communal Leadership Education, describes this tension as “wanting to convert everyone and wanting everyone to convert me.”
Amy Jill-Levine, a Jewish scholar of New Testament at Vanderbilt University, encourages too often apologetic Christians and the Church to “not sacrifice its own theology, the preeminence of the Christ event on the alter of Interfaith dialogue.”
This is an embodied passion for one’s own story, religious roots, and sense of identity, a valuing of things sacred, and at the same time a willingness to constantly be in contact with the sacred as the ‘other’ experiences it, to understand them and to enter into the broader circle of mutuality and sacred hospitality. Peace states that “we are called to embrace this paradox.” Perhaps the paradox implies the refusal to understand the world as subject-object and to begin to experience it as subject-subject.
A question was posed long ago: “Why was Adam created singly? An answer to inform across the millennia: ‘So that no person might say: My father was greater than yours.’ ”
This teaching can go a long way to inform the sense of mutuality needed to both procure the endurance of Christianity in all of its flavors as well as extended cooperation and dialogue among the religions of the book. In the end, it is relationship, or the type of relationship that is “the difference that makes a difference.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION
I confess that I spent more time on confronting than I did on conserving. However, I remained true to my story. I felt as if though my situation demanded that from me, though there will be times that confronting will take a backseat to conserving. To conclude I would like to raise some additional points that either I did not touch upon or that I did and did not expound upon them in order to raise awareness of how this study could be better complemented in the future by further inquiry.
First, I would have liked to have interacted with greater command with Continental Philosophy. Second, I would have liked to have studied the relationship between personal piety and the way one enters into relationship with others. For example, what type of spiritual disciplines might actually prepare oneself to encounter God as subject and to prepare for a better encounter with others as subject? Next, I did not consider in depth the practice of eliciting questions as didactic tool, e.g., the questioning of the child during the Passover Seder, or simply the construal of art/liturgy to invoke questioning (Joshua 4, “What do these stones mean?”) as means of community formation. It would be interesting to see how the next step in human consciousness, a post-literate or digital age would conceive of a theistic epistemology and how the art of storytelling could fill a huge void in this developing culture. As well, one area that I wanted to consider but was not allowed to due to length constrictions was the ecological implications of a subject-subject worldview. I would have enjoyed interacting with Rosemary Radford Ruether.
This is an area of extreme urgency for Christian educators. A Church-wide paradigm shift needs to be introduced concerning how we interact with and teach others how to interact with creation. This could also be a point of solidarity for inter-faith action. Which brings me to my next point. I touched on Jewish-Christian interaction, yet I never once explored Muslim interactions or other religions. This reflects my story, knowledge, and situation. This section is in need of expansion. And lastly the contour of the U.S. society is drastically changing due to its changing demographic make-up. There are now close to 60 million Latinos residing in the States. This, the now largest minority group, is often a marginalized population. I would like to examine Christian education in a Latino context, as well the idea of ‘other’ as attributed to the ‘undocumented.’ More work needs to be done on how we view the resident alien, the ger,
the sojourner residing with us and how we can initiate a neighborly subject-subject relationship via the Church.
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.
– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
1 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday, 1966).
2 Karl Mannheim, An Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, 1936. (Repr., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2008). The philosophical tenet of Deconstructionism can be traced back to Heidegger’s (1889-1976) rejection of the concepts of “subjectivity” and “objectivity”, but was fully developed by French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) who has had an immense influence on the Post-structuralism movement, French and German philosophical thought, Literary Theory and Continental Philosophy. Another noteworthy contributor is Michel Foucault (1926-1984).
3 Many biblical scholars are addressing the crisis of historiography and objectivity, the limitlessness of interpretations and the rejection of certainty as attained through reason as they relate to biblical studies and biblical interpretation. One such recent study is by John J. Collins. He grapples with these issues in The Bible After Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). He asks the question, “Is Postmodern Biblical Theology Possible?” Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism & God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon, 1983), exclaims, “Human experience is the starting point of the circle of interpretation.”
4 For a thorough treatment of Postmodernism see Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature 10. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).
5 Bernard Bailyn, Educating in the Forming of the American Society (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960), 14.
6 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970 (repr. New York: Continuum, 2000).
7 Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as Model for Biblical Education (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 20. This is similar to what John Westerhoff espouses in his theory of socialization. See his Will Our Children Have Faith? Revised ed. (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2000).
8 Ibid., 23, 41, 47, 63, 81, 89.
9 “Salvation in the Bible vs. Salvation in the Church,” Word & World 13 (1993): 364-365. Fretheim goes on to contend that salvation in biblical usage demands both a redemptive and creative understanding. He likens it to modern situations involving the healing of dysfunctional families, unifying divided congregations, aiding war-ravaged communities, and restructuring our ecological situation. Mark Powell, “Salvation in Luke-Acts,” Word & World 12 (1992) 5, concludes that Luke “makes no distinction between what we might call physical, spiritual or social aspects of human life and relationships.” These studies can help inform our understanding of salvation and Jesus’ overall ministry, e.g., Matthew 25.
10 Ibid., 368.
11 I credit John G. Gammie with the development of this idea. Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 83, 97, 189.
12 For the sake of brevity I will not explore Paul’s writings concerning salvation, although I will state that I do not find the framework of salvation presented to be contrary to the Pauline (and Reformational) argument of works-faith, sola fide. As it is commonly interpreted in Protestantism as dichotomy, is where I disagree, as attested in James 2:17, works cannot be divorced from faith.
13 Brueggemann, 74.
14 cf. God’s self-disclosure to Moses in Exodus 6.
15 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon, 1980). See also Noam Chomsky, eds. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky (New York, The New Press, 2002).
16 See Jügen Habermas. Knowledge & Human Interests, 1968, (repr., Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004).
17 Walter Brueggemann, “The Social Nature of the Biblical Text for Preaching” in A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 215.
18 Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), outlines three ways that knowledge can be used by people: “control, curiosity, and compassion.” Far too often the first option is seen in the socio-economic-political arena, the second can most commonly be found in the academia. It is the mandate of the Church to counter those uses and abuses of knowledge with the third option.
19 This can be argued by the countless pictorial depictions of the sun across time and culture that remain virtually undifferentiated.
20 Brueggemann, The Creative Word, 87. He uses Job 28 to demonstrate the interplay of epistemological certitude and epistemological revolution. From my understanding Derrida, “Force of Law,” (1992), 15, has opined that justice itself is impervious to deconstruction, for deconstruction is justice. Our God is just. Our God seeks to deconstruct us and our society every time we engage our sacred texts, and in Job’s case, creation itself.
21 Idid., 49.
22 Proverbs 25:2
23 Ibid., 112.
24 Ibid., 75. Joseph Blenkinsopp, Prophecy and Canon (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), pg. 152, concurs with Brueggemann, “no one interpretation of the tradition can be accorded final and definite status.” These statements go a long way to overcome the distances between not only the divisions of the HB canon, but also that which exists between the OT and NT. They are to be held in tension, not allowed to seek supremacy. This also stands against the tendency during the Reformation (which still exists in many contemporary churches) of creating a canon within a canon, e.g. Martin Luther removing several books from canonical status. Was not Marcion excommunicated for doing just that? We must allow all the voices to be heard- whether or not they support our theology or ideology. This means as Church pastors/educators we must give neglected passages their due. We ought to keep reading where the lectionary cuts off.
25 The writings of Jewish rabbi Maimonides (1137-1204) should also receive acknowledgement.
26 John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote that “no one is a good minister of the Word who is first not a scholar.”
27 So, it is not a polarity of orthodoxy and orthopraxy that should be discussed but how they encompass one another. The liberal arts, catechisms, spiritual disciplines, biblical criticisms, and the practice of social justice are all a part of the educational process and should be viewed in the both/and category as opposed to a limited either/or field of vision. Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466-1536) considered prayer and knowledge complementary.
28 Plural of Tabula rasa, Latin: “blank slate,” is an epistemological thesis which states that persons are born without inherent mental content.
29 Second-order Cybernetics (which builds upon Gregory Bateson’s work) proved a catalyst in restructuring the relationship between the observer and the participant, the subject-object relationship. It states that the system cannot be explained without including the observer. In essence, scientist cannot be separated from experiment; doctor cannot be separated from patient; teacher cannot be separated from student. The ‘subject’ is an integral part of the system; the teacher is an integral part of the learning process. See Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, 1972. (repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). cf. Bradford P. Keeney, The Aesthetics of Change (New York: The Guilford Press, 1983).
See also Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy of “the Other.”
Martin Buber was ahead of his time when he defined subject-subject relationships. See his seminal work, I and Thou, 1923, repr., trans., and ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 91, we can see the darker side of the Enlightenment seeping through: “What has become an It is then taken as an It, experienced as an It, employed with other things for the project of finding one’s way in the world and eventually for the projects of “conquering the world.” This has led to a vicious cycle of persons and creation being used as means, not ends. Mutuality has for too long been forsaken and it is paramount to reclaim it in order to construct a postmodern philosophy of Christian education. Walter Brueggemann, ibid., pg. 157, applies this concept to devotion to The Other: “Self-groundedness occurs when God becomes an object to be discussed and analyzed rather than the subject to be addressed in complaint and praise.” Might Jesus have had this type of relationship in mind when he quoted the two greatest commandments? Matt. 22:36-40.
30 See the Priestly account of creation, Gen. 1:1-2:4a. The Hebrew t.ôb, good, is used 7 times, t.ôb m‘ōd, very good, is used of mankind.
31 John Westerhoff, Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 1994), pp. 44-45, recounts a Taoist tale originally told by Thomas Merton in which the moral is, “a true teacher is the one who let his life be a resource for others’ learning.” St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is quoted as saying, “Preach at all times, if necessary use words.” A church educator should never be caught saying, “Practice what I preach, not what I do.”
32 Paraphrase of Benjamin Jacobs as quoted by John Westerhoff, ibid. Teachers that come to my mind that are both perpetual learners and models are Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Abraham Heschel (1907-1972), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), and Howard Zinn (1922-2010). In our contemporary society, a person that prays silently has been labeled a mystic; a person that prays loudly a charismatic; a person that prays with their hands and feet an activist. Shall not all these be modeled? Søren Kierkegaard has been ascribed saying “The truth consists not in knowing the truth intellectually, but in being the truth.”
33 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970 (repr. New York: Continuum, 2000), 55. In 1837, Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing criticized educational institutions “for stamping our minds on the young, making them see with our eyes, giving them information, burdening their memories, imposing outward behavior, rules, and prejudices.” Horace Bushnell lamented the fact that after the Great Awakening, children had become the objects of conversion. He emphasized the entire growth process (q.v. Maria Montessori) and was concerned about affects, not only doctrines. John L. Elias, A History of Christian Education: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Perspectives (Malabar: Krieger, 2002), 163-166, 199-204.
34 Buber, 67.
35 Ibid., 113.
36 “Cogito ergo sum,” René Descartes (1596-1650).
37 Brueggemann, ibid., 94, states “The most urgent educational task is asserting that we take our life from another- we exist in community, in relation to the other.”
38 I am trying to call upon Kenotic Christology which is widely attested in evangelical circles, the act of Christ’s emptying divinity, in order to relate to mankind and draw mankind into a relationship with himself. This emphasizes the empathetic nature of Christ. Empathy precedes liberation and reconciliation.
39 Luis Segundo as quoted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. (San Francisco: Harper, 1990). The necessity of this transformation is reflected in the observation: “new wine bursts old wineskins.”
40 Eck, Diana. “Religious Identity in an Age of Religious Diversity.” in “Training Religious Leaders,” eds. Rodney L. Petersen and Marian Gh. Simion. BTI Magazine 9:2. [Spring 2010]: 5-6.
41 Not to go and impart an absolutized truth in colonial imperialistic fashion or to simply detachedly observe their way of life (subject-object relationship), but to go and interact, to engage, to dialogue, to offer a hand and to receive a hand (subject-subject relationship). We’re not in the business of ‘bringing Christ to cultures’- he’s already there, but to live out the mutuality and praxis entailed in the Kingdom of God- that is to bring and to receive Christ, and that’s everyday, everywhere.
42 See Jesus’ table-fellowship ministry/philosophy in the Gospels.
43 Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
44 Green, Art. “Seminary Education in a Threatened World.” in “Training Religious Leaders,” eds. Rodney L. Petersen and Marian Gh. Simion. BTI Magazine 9:2 [Spring 2010]: 8-11.
45 Aramaic for “fellowship.” Chavruta is also exemplified in the saying, “Find yourself a friend, get yourself a teacher.”
46 Jon. D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies (Louisville: Westminster, 1993), 36. For example, Proverbs 22:17-23:11 is virtually an adaptation of the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. See also Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, tr. James D. Martin, 1972 (repr. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1993). However, one must not overlook the too often excluding nature that the “biblical” enterprise produced; see Lawrence Wills, Not God’s People: Insiders and Outsiders in the Biblical World, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).
47 James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 468-496.
48 Cf. Romans 1:19-20.
49 Even when assessing ‘specific’ relation, culture and language must be accounted for. Walter Brueggemann attests “if communities mediate revelation from God, surely different communities in different circumstances will mediate different disclosures. . . if revelation is mediated through community, revelation will reflect the truth available to that community in its life, memory, and experience, and will tend therefore to be partisan disclosure.” This situation further demonstrates the urgency to interact with other faith traditions to move past (all the while still being planted there) the specific, individual to the more general, communal. For the genuineness of alternate stories to the ‘dominant revelation’ see the description of multiple exoduses of different people groups in Amos 9:7, of which we only have a footnote. The journey from God to Ein Sof is riddled with everything and nothing.
50 Mary C. Boys and Sara S. Lee, Christians & Jews In Dialogue: Learning in the Presence of the Other, (Woodstock: Skylight Paths, 2006).
51 Peace, Jennifer, “An Evangelical Interfaith Imperative?” in “Training Religious Leaders,” eds. Rodney L. Petersen and Marian Gh. Simion, BTI Magazine 9:2 [Spring 2010]: 7.
52 Amy Jill_Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, (San Francisco: Harper, 2006).
53 Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
54 Gregory Bateson.
55 Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992).