What is theological education for? (3) behavioural domain

Perry Shaw says some great things in this section on the behavioural domain. Here’s some

For a long time teachers in our seminaries have thought that if they could teach students sound theology, Greek exegesis, and Church history, then these students would begin to function like Christian leaders. We have assumed that students would naturally put into practice what they learn in homiletics, education, and counseling classes. In short we have assumed that if we could persuade students to understand and believe the right things, they would act accordingly.

The problem is this doesn’t tend to work very well. It works the other way round as well – as we behave so we believe and learn truth. There is a long way to go for what is taught to be translated into actual praxis.


And Shaw continues

In the words of the great 19th century educator Horace Bushnell, ‘No truth is taught by words or learned by intellectual means … Truth must be lived into meaning before it can be truly known.’ The key to this process of behavioral learning is understanding the principles associated with the lost art of apprenticeship.

And anything that colleges can do to deepen the behavioural side of learning with profoundly impact the quality of the learning. We have a Mentoring and Apprenticeship Programme at IBI. I know there has been quite a revolution in theological education in this area in the last couple of decades with much more behavioural emphasis. It strikes me that a full-time apprenticeship year (or similiar placements) within a degree in theology – like a work experience year – is an excellent way to embed this behaviour domain.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Missional in Dublin

Here’s a great story of being missional in Dublin.

HOPE IN THE INNER CITY: a story of theology in action

Sometimes I get asked “So what’s this emphasis on applied theology at IBI all about?” Maybe there is no better answer to this than tell a story of one recent MA graduate, Joe Donnelly.

Joe grew up in Ringsend, an inner city dockland area. There wasn’t much hope or opportunity in Ringsend in those days. As a kid he used to vandalise the ‘foreign’ local Protestant mission hall, or get wasted on cider in its back yard at nights. Like many of his friends, Joe didn’t finish school and drifted until, at one particular low point in a foreign land, life didn’t seem to be worth living any more.

It was into that hopelessness that Joe first heard the Good News of the Gospel and it transformed his life. And the power of Christian hope has always fascinated and stayed with him.

Years later, he and his wife Sharon were asked to consider returning to Ringsend – right back to that same old mission hall building – to see what they could do in bringing hope to the area. Joe would say this seemed crazy, this hall, an old Protestant relic, was the worst place to begin to connect with the neighbourhood.

One thing he was sure of; mission would have to begin with listening and serving. And over the next few years Joe and the team, with no state funding, built an award winning community centre called the Anchorage Project. Its name links back to that theme of hope (Heb. 6:19).

This was very much ‘doing church’ from Monday–Saturday: building relationships and trust by serving the community rather than starting with a Sunday programme and inviting people to ‘come to us’.

But Joe came to the stage where he needed fresh vision for the next stage of development so he joined the IBI MA programme on a part-time basis. Joe wanted to explore hope theologically. What practical difference would an applied theology make in the inner city – a place of hardship, deprivation and cynicism? What would it look like ‘on the ground’?

“As I had been working in Christian ministry for more than 20 years, more than 10 of these in Ringsend, I was equally terrified and excited at the prospect of using my MA dissertation to provide a missiological and theological framework for our ministry of Christian Hope.”

To cut a long story short, after completing the taught modules over two years, Joe completed a first-class dissertation on Hope in Dublin’s Inner City Docklands (engaging with theologians like Bauckham, Volf, Moltmann, Wright, Pannenberg and others along the way). Quite some going for the boy who never finished school …

But this was no academic piece of research to sit on a shelf gathering dust. A group of us gathered recently in the Anchorage to hear Joe share how his studies were working out in practice. Four clear themes emerged that are currently in the process of re-shaping the vision and work of the Anchorage as it seeks to be a ‘signpost of the kingdom of God’ in Ringsend.

“Notwithstanding the great fellowship and craic among fellow students and tutors, I think that the real legacy of doing an MA in applied theology in IBI has got to be the application of that same theology into your local context.”

Beauty: Christian hope looks forward to a beautiful city, the heavenly Jerusalem. So building on ideas of authenticity and simplicity, the Anchorage is re-developing an urban concrete space into a beautiful space, full of flowers, a greenhouse and aviary. There will a space for visitors to sit and ‘consider the birds of the air’ and ‘the lilies of the field’.

Justice: Christian hope longs for justice. From its early days the Anchorage has developed several income generation projects which give away all their proceeds each year towards projects around the world that are promoting justice for the weak and marginalised. Over the years it has helped projects in places as far afield as Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and locally in Ireland. This is a powerful symbol of how even those with little can help others in even greater need.

Community: as part of a vision for serving the area, the Anchorage has recently opened a missional café. Staffed by Christian volunteers, it is beginning to provide an attractive and welcoming community space within a Christian context for people to meet, use the internet, eat, drink and talk. There is planning permission for a family support centre on the site to help provide hope to those in need.

Children: a significant way of serving the community and building relationships has been to provide a pre-school playgroup for the children of local residents. In an area of high unemployment and limited facilities for children, play, fun, laughter are all profoundly hopeful things!

“I’ve come to see that a ministry like IBI is crucial for instilling a sense of confidence in Irish Christians so that we can step up to the mark in our generation”

It was deeply encouraging listening to Joe. This is why IBI exists – to be a place of learning, reflection, discussion, ideas – all to better equip and prepare people already called by God and active in ministry to go out and make a difference for the Lord wherever he has called them – whether Ringsend, Ringaskiddy or Roscrea!

[If you are interested in doing some volunteer work at the Anchorage Project you can contact Joe at jdonnely[at]indigo.ie or check out the Cafe Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Fair-Play-Cafe/116373981773959.]

What is theological education for? (2) The Affective Domain

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)

Democracy or capitalism in Europe?

Fintan O’Toole argues that recent events have marked a choice between democracy or continuing to attempt to shore up’rapacious finance capitalism’.

What happened was that two of the big shaping forces of western Europe, forces that have been working broadly in tandem for 300 years, clearly fell apart. One force is capitalism; the other democracy. From the Enlightenment onwards, it has been an accepted truth that democracy and capitalism were at the very least compatible with each other. The things that were needed in order for capitalism to develop – the breaking of aristocratic power, the free movement of labour, an open market in ideas, functioning parliaments, independent legal systems, states that could command popular consent and thus underpin stability, taxation to fund mass education and infrastructure – were also conditions for political democracy. They may not have been sufficient conditions, but they were necessary ones.

…. What became so dramatically clear last week was that this compatibility has ended. The leading form of capitalism – the finance capitalism that has expanded so monstrously over the last 30 years – is no longer compatible with democracy in Europe.

And by democracy in this context I mean just the limited, basic form: universal suffrage and sovereign governments. This is a pretty big deal.

Consider the three things that happened in Greece and Ireland last week. Firstly, it was made explicit that the most reckless, irresponsible and ultimately impermissible thing a government could do was to seek the consent of its own people to decisions that would shape their lives. And, indeed, even if it had gone ahead, the Greek referendum would have been largely meaningless. As one Greek MP put it, the question would have been: do you want to take your own life or to be killed? Secondly, there was open and shameless intervention by European leaders (Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy) in the internal affairs of another state. Sarkozy hailed the “courageous and responsible” stance of the main Greek opposition party – in effect a call for the replacement of the elected Greek government.

The third part of this moment of clarity was what happened in Ireland: the payment of a billion dollars to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. Apart from its obvious obscenity, the most striking aspect of this was that, for the first time, we had a government performing an action it openly declared to be wrong. Michael Noonan wasn’t handing over these vast sums of cash from a bankrupt nation to vulture capitalist gamblers because he thought it was a good idea. He was doing it because there was a gun to his head. The threat came from the European Central Bank and it was as crude as it was brutal: give the spivs your taxpayers’ money or we’ll bring down your banking system.

Again, as in Greece, even the basic forms of democracy were incompatible with this process. There could not be a Greek referendum because there is no acceptable question that can be answered by a democratic vote. And there could not be a debate in the Irish parliament about the extortion of a billion dollars because there is nothing to be debated. Referendums and parliamentary votes are rituals of public consent. But the question of consent is now not just irrelevant. It is reckless, outrageous, downright scandalous.

…. Europe, and the rest of the western world, is thus at a parting of the ways. We can have the form of rapacious finance capitalism that has become the dominant force in our economies and societies.

Or we can have democracy. But we can’t have both.

And David McWilliams, hardly a left leaning journalist like our Fintan, says some pretty similiar things here …

What is happening in Europe? Greek prime minister Georgios Papandreou was hauled over the coals for suggesting that the Greek people might want to be consulted on their own future. Let’s consider this. Why should a referendum threaten anyone? Indeed, why should democracy threaten anyone? Or maybe the other way to ask this question is: who is threatened by democracy?

Maybe those who are trying to foist something on the population that the population does not want are threatened by democracy.


The Ides of March

I’m more waffley than Hargaden, so here is a 5 sentence review of The Ides of March with a PS.

At one point Paul Giamatti’s character tells Ryan Gosling’s character to get out of politics while he can, before he gets jaded and cynical. And without spoiling a very smart, fast-moving and twisty plot (with great performances by all the leads, esp Philip Seymour Hoffman), the overall message is that politics, even with a Democratic dream George Clooney Presidential candidate, is an irredeemably jaded and cynical business.

Hardly news that. Everyone’s dirty by the end of this movie. I wanted to take a shower when I got home.

PS ‘The Ides of March is a protest feminist film – discuss’

Urban Theology 4 Urban Visions Urban Nightmares

David Smith’s fascinating discussion of the idea of the city continues into the 20thCentury.Chapter 4 is on Urban Visions, Urban Nightmares.

David Smith

This is a wide-ranging overview and I am not going to do him justice in a short space ..

The development of the city in the USA

Post WW1 there was a ‘cultural crisis’ as sociologists, planners and architects sought fresh models for urban environments in which people could flourish.

One strand was inspired by the work of Ebenezer Howard and his utopian vision of the garden city published in Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902). This was the city with limits, relating to the natural environment in a sustainable way.  In England, Welwyn Garden City was a result of this vision, and cities surrounded by green belts – Milton Keynes is another.

Another vision, this time post-war, was that of Le Corbusier and his modernist vision of concrete, glass and steel to replace the cramped and overcrowded slums and tight city streets. These were to be cities of space, efficiency, and progress. Brasilia is one of the few actually built – with its own problems of anonymity and soullessness.

New York

And it is Le Corbusier whose vision has shaped the great American cities – think New York and Chicago. The vast interstate highway systems, cutting through old existing neighbourhoods. The future is always better, the old making way for the new. This was a vision deeply enmeshed with American optimism and sense of progress. Now the boundary of city and country is blurred, with huge commuting distances to suburban ‘edge cities’. A vision of development utterly dependent on the automobile. The city is now ‘everywhere and in everything.’

It is also a vision deeply connected to residents as consumers, built around the hypermarket or mall. (And I think that if you are a European, unless you have been to an American mega-mall you can’t really conceive of the scale being talked of here).

Smith suggests fresh expression’s of Durkheim’s ‘anomie’ and the need once again to ask what is the meaning of this new city form? So the development of places like the ‘Mall of America’, opened in 1992 and proudly boasting is five times larger than Red Square, twenty times the size of St Peter’s in Rome ….’

– the loss of community

– the loss of centre

– gendered space – male space of functionality, of efficiency, not child or woman friendly. Studies show the particular stress on women in the city.

– consumer as king – is the purpose of the city really ultimately about profit. Where do the poor and the weak and vulnerable fit into this vision of the city?

The Cities of the Global South

Modernization and its associated urbanisation associated with European imperialism, has marginalised native and indigenous peoples of the south. This was city building to serve European economies. Cities to establish control and serve particular economic and social objectives. Havana, Mexico City, Cuzco, Arequipa, Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala are named by Smith.

These former colonial cities have now expanded to become megacities, sucking in millions and dominating the entire life of a nation. Think Mexico City – three times the size of any other Mexican city.

These mega-cities are homes to the urban poor. In Latin America, 20% of the entire population live in poverty without adequate food or shelter.

And so the clash of visions of the city. Modern cities of glass and steel and concrete do exist – but right beside the favellas – the ‘other cities’ made up of corrugated tin, mud bricks, recycled paper, scrap wood, squalor, pollution, excrement and decay ..

Take Nigeria’s Abjua: built in Le Corbusier’s international style; built for the rich and the government elites, yet the official city is surrounded by slums.

And you could go to many other examples here – think Rio de Janero, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Or Mexico City’s Santa Fe district – a high profile ‘success’ of modern life, but increasingly a ‘glass cage’ symptomatic of what Smith calls ‘the most radical social and economic polarization in the whole of human history’. Wealth, glamour and opulence living right beside ‘un-policable’ hidden cities of the urban poor.

Where to from here?

There is too much to cover here, so briefly Smith mentions two future visions being articulated for the city:

An Apocalyptic Vision:

– such as James Kunstler. Future catastrophes, sparked by the end of cheap energy and ecological crisis, bring the development of the city to a juddering halt and a return to earlier, more sustainable models of city life.

Jane Jacobs, a serious American urbanist and her book Dark Age Ahead. Perhaps the end of the cities, the collapse of the Western modernist vision of endless growth and development.

An optimistic post-modernist vision

Leonie Sandercock has a more optimistic vision which embraces ‘concerns for social and environmental justice, for human community, for cultural diversity and for the spirit.’ Here is protest against crushing modernism that kills communities and an alternative feminist vision for cities that can nourish the soul and spirit.

Signs of Hope?

And following Sandercock’s hopes that the city can be reformed and re-envisaged, Smith looks for signs of hope for the urban world in the remainder of the 21st century:

1. A movement in the USA called New Urbanism. Reacting against soulless modernism, and seeking to restore communities and towns within larger metropolitan areas, making space for the pedestrian and developing compact local identities rather than fragmented ones. He mentions Catholic thinker on architecture, Philip Bess who says

New Urbanism is about “the best practices of city making from the past toward the end of making better cities for the future.”

2. Movements in the Global South seeking to reclaim neglected cultural and spiritual values to the task of city-building in the face of the destruction being wrought when market forces are given free reign with little or no regard to social consequences.

He gives the encouraging (and to me totally unknown) examples of Curitiba in Brazil and Bogata in Colombia. Take Bogata, a megacity with 7 million people and with a history of violent civil conflict:

– a vision of urban harmony built on equity

– reclamation of public space through the provision of public pavements, parks and plazas

– provision of a high class public transport system offering affordable fares and managed by a non-profit company

– building schools, libraries and nurseries in the poorest part of the city

– micro-credit schemes to reform urban land use using public-private partnerships

The results?

– air quality has dramatically improved

– road deaths down over 50%

– murder rate and general crime rates reduced

– measureable economic and social benefits (he does not give facts and figures here)

This is a political vision that takes political courage to enact. It shows that values and ethics are fundamental to building better cities

3. The third sign of hope is, Smith well knows, a bit of a surprise – Islam.

Written before the ‘Arab Spring’, Smith’s words here are prescient. He talks about the powder-keg situation of millions living in extreme poverty as Muslim elites failed to live up to the political ethics of Islam itself. For example, 6 million people live in extreme poverty in Cairo and such rampant inequality is replicated across the Muslim world.

The radical Islamist response of Bin Laden et al represented one reaction. But the Arab Spring demonstrates powerful movements for democracy and liberation from those old corrupt elites. And a powerful desire for justice. These movements did not ‘spring’ from nowhere – for decades it has been a local on the ground Islam which has been educating, supporting the poor, offering medical aid, and gathering support from across the community.

Smith’s point here is that the success of a ‘ground-up’ religious movement has offered hope of the possibility of urban transformation. And he quotes urban theorists Lubeck and Britts,

“For, like it or not, Islamism will constitute a powerful social force shaping Muslim-majority cities in the twenty-first century”

Smith’s conclusion. The rich and prosperous city dwellers of the world need to realise thatwe cannot go on as we are.”

There are fundamental ethical challenges which confront humanity (remember I said this is a book about the human story not just cities). And that ethical challenge involves accepting that it is environmentally and economically unattainable for the mass of the world’s poor to be brought up to the living standards of today’s well-off minority. Future sustainability will mean a more equal sharing of the world’s resources and an accompanying more modest conception of what the good life involves.

But this is heresy to the modern Western dream of endless progress and ever-growing consumption.

“Unfortunately, both Western political rhetoric and the ideology of consumerism suppress this truth, employing forms of double-speak in which economic growth is presented as the solution to the ills of the world, when in fact, in the form it currently takes, it is the source of those ills.

 Strong stuff. Comments, as ever, welcome.

what is theological education for? (1) Criticisms

David Castillo Dominici, Freedigitialphotos.net

I thought it worth keeping going with some thinking about theological education after Alister McGrath’s proxy contributions to this blog 😉

Well I think about it all the time – preparing, teaching, reviewing and discussing with students how courses are going is happening continually raises questions.

And they point to the special demands of teaching the Bible – whether in church or in a theological college. For such teaching must be holistic if it is to be worth much …

And by holistic I mean it needs meaningfully to engage the affective, behavioural and cognitive elements of learning. And that is some challenge – one that reaches far beyond most other forms of teaching.

I plan a couple more posts on this engaging with some reading ..

But first some quotes of criticisms of the way much theological education is actually done. These are drawn from a very useful article by Perry Shaw, ‘Towards a Multidimensional Approach to Theological Education’ in International Congregational Journal 6.1, (2006), 53-63.

“the only similiarity between Jesus’ way of training and the seminary’s is that each takes three years” (Joe Bayly)

“our schools train academics not Christian leaders”

“the centrality of the mind and cognitive learning in our theological institutions is rooted in a faulty Enlightenment-based epistemology where knowledge is seen as some sort of object that needs to be acquired.” …  And this myth  “ falsely portrays how we know and has profoundly deformed the way we educate.”

Knowing God entails “a type of knowledge that speaks less of acquiring a masters degree in divinity as it does of being mastered by Divinity.”

“Most of our institutions of theological education are appallingly anachronistic. We decry secular rationalism while affirming through the hidden curriculum the basic tenets of rationalism in our almost exclusive focus on the cognitive domain.”

 Comments, as ever, welcome.