Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Evangelical Giveaway 9

Yesterday a blogger commented that Fitch got him to recall, in his chps 4-5, that IH Marshall had written an article back in 1985 that argued that the NT evidence does not suggest the Christians got together for “worship” (as we tend to define it) but to learn and to exhort and to fellowship. This is what Fitch’s book will do in every chapter: get you to wonder about your local church and its practices. The last chp of the book does the same — this time with the theory of education in the local church. What is education about? What about public schooling, home-schooling, and parochial schooling? Are any of these adequate models for us?
We come to the last chp of David Fitch’s stimulating book, The Great Giveaway. This chp concerns “moral education,” and the subtitle is once again a poke in the eye: “Evangelicals and the Training of our children to be good Americans: the example of charter education in the public schools.” His contention is that American evangelical parents see Christian education as though it were just another element of the education of the child. Fitch contends that Christians need to restore the sense of catechesis. He thinks that many think that moral and Christian education are the job of the family and that the family can make up for what takes place in the local church. But, can it and should it?
Postmodernity shows that education is more about “formation” than “information,” and if this is the case, then our children are more “formed” by what they experience the most: and that is public education. Is the current arrangement, he asks, adequate?
Public education (esp in the Western world) trains students how to function as citizens of a liberal democracy. In local churches, we have age-specific classes, turning the church into a set of modules of age-specific groups. Catechesis, he contends, is “the initiating of the child into the language and ways of Christian life and practice” (203). Christians are mostly concerned about morals in public education (rather than character formation): the school itself is the character-forming community and it forms students into citizens of a liberal democracy. Home-schooling and Christian schools are not simple alternatives, for both of them are divorced from church formation. Evangelicals, therefore, “give away” the moral formation of their children.
William Bennett’s model is a virtue-shaped-for-liberal-democracy program rather than a genuinely Christian formation. Bennett’s “common heritage” is a bottom line, modernist, liberal, individualistic, capitalistic democracy. Virtues are shaped by the cultural context that teaches them. Fitch contends there are not “universal virtues.” When public schools take over “virtues,” the public school becomes the cultural context shaping the virtue’s meaning. In other words, what many take to be Christian virtues are diluted by pluralism so radically that they are no longer genuinely Christian.
The challenge is to form a robust culture that can shape virtues in the local church. He then surveys three options: activistic participation in public schools, home-schooling, and parochial schooling. Activism at best produces “little victories” that do not stem the tide of the culture (e.g., intelligent design activism). The home is not big enough to counter public culture. He picks on parochial schools for being too patriotic. What is most needed is a catechetical tradition in a community of faith. [Frankly, at this point I think he’s unfair to both the home-schooling and the parochial schools, and I’m not so sure he sees the impact a family can have alongside public schooling — for not all public schools are alike. For my take, the most successful parochial schools are Lutheran schools, and they are so tied to local churches they are as effective as one might expect.]
What is his idea of catechesis? Evangelicals tend to be nervous about catechesis, about any idea that one can be “initiated” into the faith. The current model is disjointed: each group doing its own thing and little sense of development into the larger, adult body. Catechesis envisions the community of faith embodying the faith and leading its youth into that faith. The church is the “social space” for proper formation. The church engages the schools by being a countercommunity (221).
1. Do deliberate catechesis: all the elements are mentioned.
2. Children’s programs need to be tied to the rest of the church
3. Integrate communal worship and children’s ministries
4. Integrate service in the church and teenage youth groups: adult mentoring
5. Subordinate public schools

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Scot McKnight

posted January 12, 2006 at 8:55 pm

There is a lengthy response to Fitch about capitalism at:

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meggan judge

posted January 13, 2006 at 12:04 am

I haven’t read the book, but how sectarian is Fitch? Is this a book in the Resident Alien mode? I remember when Robert Gundry came out with a book on what he thought evangelicalism needed, basically a Johannine sectarianism. I was at the SBL meeting in 2001 I think and there was a big round table with some luminaries, Mark Noll, Miroslav Volf, Maryanne Maye Thompson, some others. He (Gundry) was quite insistant that the church was in need of some sectarianism to couter the wider ranging pluralism of the surrounding culture. It is too bad that he seems dismissive of the families role in moral formation. Is it perhaps because he hasn’t also rethought the role of the family in the church? What is a Christian family? NOw that is an interesting question. Anyway, this was a lot of rambling thoughts, all my kids are in bed and my wife is out and I have some time to respond. Thanks for the reviews of the book. I was leading discussion for sunday school at our church last sunday and used your comment that you were suspicious of any church that doesn’t grow, from one of your first chapter reviews and it really got people thinking. It is interesting, back to the current post that in my church, which is a very small Mennonite church, in fact the only one in Alaska, that we do integrate the kids into the service, with the old fashioned childrens story and sunday school for the kids after church. Maybe not quite what Fitch has in mind, but it was a big reason that we stayed at our church, after coming from a much larger church ie 3000+ that profoundly divided people into little groups demographically. Ok. enough. I hope that more people respond to this post. Education is really an important topic. Any discusion of education as the pursuit of wisdom? Anyway. Goodnight
Grace and Peace,
Eric Judge

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posted January 13, 2006 at 11:01 am

I’ve been away from your blog for a while but enjoy it whenever I’m here. I’m a big supporter of the family’s role in the formation of children and adults. Your list of “Hows” here seem to point in the right direction.
One thing I’ve noticed in raising my family is that children seem to learn best by simply observing the life of their parents (and other adult role models). (Learning in the foramtive sense rather than educational sense.) The departmentalization of churches (children, youth, adult, seniors) has left them without this important component.
Another thing is that formative learning seems to take place in informal settings. I think every parent has had their child come up to them and ask them a question that seems to come out of left field. Then you find out that something they observed days (or weeks) ago has bubbled back to their minds in the form of a question. When the event occurred, the child was learning information. When the question is asked (and answered), the child is experiencing formation.
Unfortunately, the pastor/sunday school class/youth group isn’t around at this point and if the parents (or other adult role model) aren’t engaged with the child’s life, the formation doesn’t happen.
We need to get back to mixing generations and sharing lives beyond programs. Information can be delivered in event times but formation happens in the “in between” times.

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Scot McKnight

posted January 13, 2006 at 11:28 am

David’s last chp has sent my mind reeling a few times in the last two days, and it has wandered into this thought: what is the long-term impact, structurally and formatively, in age-specific classrooms in the church? Has anyone done much research on this?
Here’s an issue: the Barna report, Revolution, indicates a growing number of Christians who both committed to Jesus and not committed to the local church, and I wonder how much of this is related to teenage ministries and young adult ministries and 20somethings ministries that, when adults move out of them, find the drabness of the regular service completely meaningless — this is a simplification, of course, but this is what I’m wondering.

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