So what does good theological education look like and do?
In a previous post I listed some damning criticisms made by Perry Shaw on badly done theological education that remains rooted in a predominantly cognitive and theoretical Enlightenment paradigm.* Such an approach is rooted in the ‘objectivist myth’ where
truth is a set of propositions about objects; education is a system for delivering those propositions to students; and an educated person is one who can remember and repeat the experts’ propositions. The image is hierarchical, linear, and compulsive-hygienic, as if truth came down an antiseptic conveyer belt to be deposited as pure product at the end.
Objectivism puts ‘us’ at a safe distance, above the subject. Yet ‘knowing’ biblically is deeply passionate, personal and relational within community. Knowing involves cognition, but also the learning domains of affect and behaviour.
And it is only when these three domains are all present will ‘learners become increasingly disposed to think and feel and act like Jesus – the ultimate goal of all Christian teaching.’
So Shaw on the affective domain – and what do you think of what he says here?*
Real people have real feelings, not just disembodied information systems called brains. Thus, thinking always occurs within some combination of emotional colorations …
It is noteworthy that the great commandment does not begin “Love the Lord your God with all your mind” but “with all your heart.” Throughout the Scriptures the heart plays a central role in the process of knowing. According to Paul, justifying belief occurs through the heart not the mind. The characteristics of the mature Christian as expressed in the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – these are all attitudinal in nature. While right doctrine is certainly important in the Scriptures, right attitude and right motivation seem to be of even greater significance.
Shaw quotes a taxonomy of affective learning based on the role played by emotions, attitudes, and motivations in learning, and the stages towards full affective embrace.
The first stage of affective learning is Receiving – being willing to receive (or attend to) a particular viewpoint. But passive receiving is a poor sort of learning.
Responding – where not only do they listen but they actually do something with the material, entering into classroom discussion, asking intelligent questions, or even discussing key points with the instructor after class.
Valuing – where the students have wrestled with a perspective and come to express a preference for the particular viewpoint expressed.
But expression of preference is only meaningful when Organisation takes place – where the students internalise the material and begins acting on it in practical ways.
The final goal is Characterisation – where the student builds his or her life around the particular viewpoint and its value system.
And the heart of affective learning is the quality of the teacher-student relationship.
In a wide variety of formal studies it has been found that while such qualities as a passionate love for the subject, knowledge of the material, and creative teaching styles are common among exceptional teachers, even more so are warmth, genuine concern for the students, learning, even love – all characteristics which speak of relationship and a hospitable classroom environment.
And this last quote raises challenges for all Christian teachers – whether in a classroom or in a pulpit ..
If we are serious about nurturing Christian attitude and character it is not going to occur through maintaining a formal emotional distance in the classroom but through a relationship of love in which we mentor and model a life of quality to those God has called us to develop as future leaders of his Church.
(* I have taken out footnotes)