Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will our children have faith?

Westminster College, Cambridge
This week I started my study leave sabbatical at Cambridge University in England.  When originally interviewed by the principal of the college two years ago as to my topic of interest, I was advised not to come with too fixed an agenda.  She stressed the "process" being as important as the actual research and encouraged me to let things evolve.  Not an easy task for a goal oriented person. 

My initial interest is in the key factors that influence  enduring faith.  We all know the importance of parenting in faith formation and we recognise how much work we need to do as churches if we are to better encourage and equip parents.  But what else can we improve on to help children grow in faith and become committed disciples of Christ for life?  The Search Institute in the United States has done a lot or research on this and I will be delving into this more deeply over the next few weeks, but I thought the best place to start would be with John Westerhoff's book "Will our children have faith?"  I read quite a few articles by John Westerhoff when I piloted Kids Friendly 9 years ago and never forgot the title of that book and the challenge it posed (and continues to pose) for me.

So I headed off to Cambridge University library yesterday bright eyed and bushy tailed to find this renowned book, only to be told they don't stock American published books!  Well there goes half my reading list.  However I couldn't quite believe that a library with so much "mana" couldn't source this book somehow.  My determination paid off and a trip to the Wesley library in town secured me my book.

"Will our children have faith?" In addressing this "dramatic" question Westerhoff says: "Today we face an extremely radical problem which only revolution can address."  Don't you love this guy!  And there's more. "The stakes are high and the ultimate solution belongs to all of us."

Westerhoff stresses the importance of community in Christian education.  He suggests that Christianity is "caught not taught".  Some other gems from Westerhoff.....

"Education grounded in Christian faith must encourage an equal sharing of life in community, a cooperative opportunity for reflection on the meaning and significance of life. "
"We must share our understanding and ways with children, but we must also remember that they have much to bring to us."
"It is easier to impose than to reflect.  Easier to instruct than to share.  Easier to act than to interact."
I love it.  I'm now exploring Westerhoff"s "Theological framework for religious education" as an  an alternative to the 'schooling-instructional' paradigm. 
Westerhoff suggests Christian education should reflect on a series of theological issues, namely:
The nature of God – revelation and authority
The nature of people – conversion and nurture
The nature of the church – discipleship and individual social life.
But that will have to wait for another day because in true English tradition I'm off for a cuppa.  I'll keep you posted!
In the meantime if you have books, articles or websites to recommend on the factors that influence a life-long faith let me know.  I've got some time up my sleeve.

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