Considering Theological Education

            As a framework for education, I employ Willie James Jennings’ term, “a pedagogy of belonging.” A “pedagogy of belonging” suggests that community is both the means and ends of education, especially Christian education. We are formed in community and we are formed for community. Learning flourishes where people are valued, loved, and where deep relational connections are formed. Community is the seedbed for maturing character through spiritual and educational formation. Whereas typical Western modes of education move toward the mastery of content, “pedagogies of belonging” move toward knowledge in service of the greater good through the flourishing of wisdom, knowledge used fittingly.

            Educators strategically mentor persons by embodying a posture of mutual learning that invites students into a posture of mutual receptivity – a posture of humility. Faculty and staff model a “pedagogy of belonging” as they learn from one another and from their students by creating environments of hospitality, creativity, and wonder. Such an environment requires a non-anxious presence open to receiving as well as giving.

            Christian education intends to form people who reflect the image of Christ. Formation requires a discipleship framework that habituates disciples into a “living tradition,” beyond simply acquiring knowledge.  Like any language, it is best learned through immersion in a community and through practices rooted in a particular form of life (tradition). To “comprehend” a form of life, one must practice the language, try it out, make mistakes, watch/hear exemplars, and have guides to help steer communicators toward fitting language.

             Christian education as discipleship involves a cycle of practice and reflection. Discipleship shapes persons who understand the tradition well enough that it can be adapted to new contextual circumstances, thus extending a living tradition into the future. This living tradition is Christ crucified and resurrected who shall return to make all things new – it is Gospel. Christian education equips disciples to do “every good work.”[1] This is no less true for math majors as ministry majors. Christian education empowers students to see their vocation through the life and witness of Christ. Every vocation has the potential to bear witness to Christ.

            This merges beautifully with John Wesley’s framework for Christian discipleship and epistemology. Wesley saw the interaction of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as a hermeneutical spiral. The merger suggests the continual process of interpretation, application, and reflection. It was the “experience” (“experiment” for Wesley) of the community that served as the testing ground for discerning the good, the true, and the beautiful. The community of faith wrestled with the difficult questions of life using this ongoing interpretive process (e.g., band and class meetings). Wesley imparted knowledge without neglecting accountability and community discernment. Out of this, they practiced their faith together, aiming their shared life toward the crucified and resurrected Christ. Christian education provides an environment where this rigorous work can be done in an intensive and intentional way.

             Christian education, across the disciplines, recognizes that Jesus is the fullness of humanity. Jesus is the revelation of God and humanity in full communion. Because Jesus is the fullness of what it entails to be human, we are given a vision of what our lives should resemble. Christian education participates in the forming of human persons to and for the glory of God. Christian education and formation are not simply the practicing of ethics. It is the forming of persons who embody an ethic, namely the way of Jesus. Christian education is a belonging, a habit forming, in community, in discipleship to Christ.  

[1] 2 Timothy 3:17, NLT.

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