December 31, 2007 - A PHILOSOPHY OF ADULT MINISTRY-
Christian adult ministry has the distinct purpose of fully integrating
faith and learning in a Christian worldview context. Christian ministry
must endeavor to equip students to understand that "belief"
is not inferior to "fact", in fact all faith is compatible
with proper reasoning and in this context, faith is transformative of
the culture. The Christian ministry will help its participants understand
the times and to know what to do (1 Chr 12:32). After laying the proper
foundations, this paper will follow the approach taken by George Knight
(Knight 1998, 13-36), Gangel (Gangel 1966, 325-334; 1967, 22-29) and
Pazmino (Pazmino 1997, 89-103) in framing the philosophical issues.
Christian adult ministry must be thought of as distinctively Christian
ministry to adults, and not limited to Christian adults. Its purpose
is the glorification of God in enabling adults to live up to the privilege
they were created for. This is the purpose of education. Romans 12:1-2
intrinsically links service, ministry, and renewal of the mind. As Gaebelein
contended over forty years ago, "The major premise of any Christian
philosophy of education may be put in a single sentence: All truth is
Gods truth" (Gaebelein 1962, 12).
A first distinctive, therefore, must acknowledge and reckon the truth
of the infinite qualitative difference between God and humankind. We
must not mistake instruction for inspiration or teaching for redemption
and salvation. Education is a key tool for apprehending and realizing
Gods purposes and any adult ministry must address common objections
to Truth in a pre-evangelistic manner; metaphorically and parabolically,
it is a tilling of soils in cases where the soil is hard (Matthew 13,
Mark 4, Luke 8) and of nurture where the spoil is receptive.
A cornerstone of establishing any philosophy of ministry to adults is
the nature of man, and this issue underscores millennia of discourse
(Noddings 2007, 16-17). The foundational biblical notion is that man
is fallen and was not created to be self-sufficient. Man has a mandate
to be a steward over creation (Gen 1:27ff), but Man is not to be dependent
upon himself and his methodologies to achieve and subjugate the environment.
Rather, man is created in and as the image of God and as such, respect
and dignity should be accorded every human. The image of God is hideously
distorted because of the fall, but the basic characteristics of humanness
derive from its presence and persistence.
The image of God has often been spoken of in more than one sense. In
the broad sense, man is spoken of as retaining the image of God after
the fall. This sense incorporates the developmental attributes of spirituality,
rationality, and dominion. In the narrower sense, man had nevertheless
lost some aspects of the image of God: knowledge, holiness and righteousness.
He only regains these attributes by being placed in Christ, but these
qualities are then developed over time by knowing God, another developmental
process. Man is the "image and glory of God" (1 Cor 1:7) changed
from glory to glory by the supernatural superintending of the Spirit
of God. This glory is reflected in a royal, judicial, ethical, and physical
imaging as man mirrors God (Kline 1977, 2-27 ).
As a creature, man is intrinsically limited in his ability to know,
yet that which is revealed to him is perspicacious and clear. In the
biblical economy, men learn by instruction in righteousness, study,
meditation, experience, appropriation of blessing and cursing, suffering,
and correctly apprehending reality through revelation (natural and supernatural).
Christian adult ministry seeks to partner with the Holy Spirit in leading
humans to the Truth, and once supernaturally apprehended, seeking to
help them grow to maturity. The comprehensive purpose of special revelation
is the reestablishment of the full communion of sinful people with God
(Lewis and Demarest 1987, 122).
What is Learning? What is to be Learned?
Pazmino does a creditable job of laying the foundations for Christian
Education (Pazmino 1997, 52). He initially bases his foundation in the
deliberative tone of the Shema (Deut 6:1-9) and then further fleshes
out the concept of responsiveness from Deuteronomy 30-31. Education
must be intergenerational (Psalm 78) and shared as seen in the Wisdom
literature. Teachers must foster understanding and obedience (Neh 8:1-18)
as we are accountable to God (the Prophetic literature). From a New
Testament perspective, we must use our minds for Christ (Colossians
and Philippians). The Holy Spirit empowers spiritual wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-16).
One benefit that issues from the pursuit of loving God with heart, soul
and mind is the overturning of what the Bible calls foolishness. This
can be a lack of knowledge or a lack of discernment, but ultimately
it issues in instruction about man's approach to life in covenant with
Yahweh. Life mastery is in view (Proverbs 8:32-36). Right action and
conduct depends on obedience to the will of God, rather than theoretical
insight. This requires moving beyond the merely empirical, as it requires
"living in the light of the unseen." 2 Corinthians 4:18 says
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
Wisdom is a mode of existence before God, not primarily adherence to
a body of knowledge. The cross turns the world's wisdom into foolishness
(1 Cor 1:29-31). Minds are closed to the wisdom of God revealed in creation
and attempt to create their own wisdom (Romans 1:18). The Old Testament
terms that refer to the mind or reason include heart, spirit and soul,
but they are not limited to these meanings. This limited vocabulary
is pregnant with different purposes. The inward, holistic dimensions
of human existence are in view, a rather oriental view of man (Eichrodt,
1961, 131-150). Also in view is a balance between the sovereignty of
God and the responsibility of man. The biblical concept of mind holds
these in tension.
From a biblical perspective, the cognitive, spiritual, and moral aspects
of wisdom are evidenced in Scripture, just as they are evidenced in
the imago Dei. Issler and Habermas add a fourth category to the behavioral,
cognitive, and affective domain, which they feel has become a catch
all for anything that is not cognitive or behavioral in nature. They
differentiate between values and motivation and what is more clearly
of the affections, such as emotion and feeling. In this "dispositional"
domain (Issler and Habermas 1994, 40-42) one learns by disciplining
Wisdom is to be gotten (Prov 4:5,7), sought, (Prov 23:23) and learned
(Prov 4:1).Yet it remains a gift from God (Ps 119:34). Hearing is not
a guarantee of understanding (Dan 12:8). God makes apprehension possible,
but man is responsible to employ the mind to so apprehend the Truth.
How Do We Learn?
Gangel and Hendricks have distilled a couple of basic distinctives as
to how adults learn: adults learn by their own initiative, and they
want to know the importance of learning any given subject (Gangel and
Hendricks 1988, 151.) Truth is a premium, and alignment with Truth is
taken as a primary goal. Therefore, adult learning is particularly focused
in the area of critical reflection on the perceptual filters that can
skew the perception of reality. Christianity adds a perspective of absolute,
knowable, revealed Truth. New experiences are passed through this sieve
and is assimilated into these structures. If it is radically incongruent,
disequilibrium occurs and it is either rejected or the meaning perspective
is transformed to accommodate it.
Transformative learning offers a theory of learning that in many ways
reflects the biblical witness of how adults learn. It is more than a
developmental process; it is "understood as the process of using
a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of
the meaning of one's experience in order to guide future action"
(Mezirow 1996, 162). It is grounded in the nature of human communication,
which in turn is grounded in the imago Dei.
The revision of meaning structures from experiences is addressed by
the theory of perspective transformation. A meaning perspective is a
general frame of reference or world view involving "a collection
of meaning schemes made up of high order schemata, theories, propositions,
beliefs, prototypes, goal orientations, and evaluations" (Mezirow
1990, 2). Our frame of reference is composed of two dimensions: habits
of mind that are expressed in a point of view. Meaning perspectives
are more often than not acquired uncritically as a person develops through
childhood, and often provide a rationale for an often irrational world.
The Christian ministry should provide challenges and oportunities to
recursively test these cultural and psychological presuppositions in
the light of Truth. We are admonished to "test all things, hold
on to the good" (1 Thess 5:21 and Acts 17:11).
Other human research on the way we learn has provided secondary witness
from nature to the biblical revelation. Knowles has articulated four
basic assumptions about the maturing process in adults: the adult's
migration from dependence to self directedness; the exponentially different
repository of experience that forms the basis for contextualized and
relation to prior knowledge; readiness to learn tied to need, desire,
and practical social demand; and the shift from future orientation to
just-in-time application of knowledge (Knowles 1980, 44-45).
Numerous theories and their related research propose that adult learning
is substantially motivated by the following conditions: inclusion (respect
and connection), attitude (positive predispositions), meaning (experiential
understanding) , and competence (effective interactions) (Wlodkowski
1999, 69-88).These can be found in the Scriptural witness to learning
in koinonia, wisdom as praxis, and the approved workman that "needs
not be ashamed."
Transformative learning requires learning to purposively question one's
own assumptions, beliefs, feelings, and perspectives in order to grow
or mature personally and intellectually (Herod 2002, 122). Experience,
critical reflection, and rational discourse form three common themes
in this theory. Many adults do not have a sound basis for their worldview,
or have accepted tenets of belief without critical appropriation. It
is the test of Christian adult ministry to reckon a right estimation
of reality as revealed from God's perspective. Mezirow's perspectives
have been augmented by other researchers who see his processes in a
less linear and more recursive mode and who raise the issue of other
ways of knowing. If one makes such presuppositional adjustments, the
theory can basically but powerfully align with a biblical world view:
"to help the individual become a more autonomous thinker by learning
to negotiate his or her own values, meanings, and purpose rather than
uncritically acting on those of others" (Mezirow 1997, 11). However,
autonomous thinking, values, and inclusivity must be redefined in a
As Paul outlines in Romans 6, we effect this in response to the Truth
by reckoning the reality of God's truth (Ro 6:1-11, 14), rejecting the
reign of sin and faithlessness (Ro 6:12), and rendering every part of
our lives as instruments of righteousness to God (Ro 6:13). God has
placed us between the dialectic of Heraclitus and Parminides in giving
us the means of choosing to be a force of change, of becoming.
Understanding has a moral dimension and character (Job 28:28) but this
does not preclude a cognitive character as well (Ps 49:3-4). There are
a diversity of wisdoms evidenced in Scripture. The big picture is to
bring all areas of life into accord with the revelation of God. (Ecc
The most controversial issue surrounding transformation theory is its
relationship to power and social action, especially since it is situated
in Habermas' emancipatory framework (Taylor 1998, 22). Mezirow places
the focus on personal rather than societal change; what do the Scriptures
attest to here? Wisdom's way of building a society that will reflect
God's will is from the individual up, but an individual in a community
of faith, a people to whom truth is revealed. The locus is on the right
estimation of the real value of the One doing the revealing. The Old
Testament ideal of the fear of the Lord is largely analogous to faith.
To know is to apprehend and experience reality and as a result to be
transformed, not just possess information about reality (Mezirow 2000,
48-51). Paramount is the knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25,
3:7; and Titus 1:1), enlightenment and acceptance of the cognitive aspects
of faith. Galatians 4::8-9 reveals the Divine initiative in this.
In transformative learning, the most significant learning occurs in
the communicative domain, which, according to Mezirow, involves "identifying
problematic ideas, values, beliefs, and feelings, critically examining
the assumptions on which they are based, testing their justification
through rational discourse and making decisions predicated upon the
resulting consensus (Mezirow 1995, 58.) Herein lies a key adjustment
for the Christian: consensus is superintended by the revelation of Truth.
This leads us to an examination of the philosophical underpinnings of
The beginning point for defining the purposes of ministry is in our
understanding of the reality of the universe and how this affects our
ontological presuppositions. Basic to this is the biblical understanding
that Truth is not constructed and we are fallen and limited. Ultimate
truth is supernaturally revealed, revealed truth is discovered, and
neither is constructed. Thus, mans purpose rests on his relationship
to the One who reveals Truth. Any attempt at autonomy ends in self-destruction.
We must look beyond our world for reality that will inform any discovery
of Gods truth in the fallen natural order. Cosmos was created
ex nihilo, chaos was superintended, and order was fixed and patterned.
The fall has impacted this world that now labors in a state of entropy.
The nature of ultimate reality is the starting place to understand the
material universe, and all such relationships must be filtered through
mans ability to know such Truth. All ultimate solutions to evil,
pain, suffering and destiny must be based not in mans autonomous
abilities, such as intelligence and processes, but rather in the authority
invested in man based upon the Sovereign God who calls us to stewardship
of this world. As with all research from a non biblical perspective,
the constructs must be held to the light of revealed truth, especially
when they touch upon the themes of autonomy, values, and inclusivity.
Truth is Absolute and revealed. Finite man develops through change processes
anchored in this reality. Truth is true because it accurately discloses
and parses reality. The truth claims of concepts and ideas are directly
proportional to the level of efficacy and accuracy with which they disclose
this reality. Mans response to truth is not that of an utilitarian
tool or commodity that exists to suit and serve his purposes. Truth
is eternal and self existent in the source of Truth, the Christ, the
Logos. Even historical appropriations of truth must be verified in the
light of this revelation. Truth is always true for all beings, and is
not relative. Certainty is possible, and assurance that we actually
KNOW is based on the authority of Gods more sure Word. The quest
for Truth is over. A key aspect of the Truth that sometimes escapes
even Christian discourse on truth is basic Biblical literacy. Brian
Richardson has observed that "factual bible knowledge in the life
of a Christian provides the necessary foundation on which the Holy Spirit
must build (Richardson 1983, 168.)
Since Truth in metaphysical terms is Absolute, values are based in an
absolute moral universe defined by the Creator. The worth of experience
is found in how it aligns with Truth. We are not good nor wise of ourselves,
and we are unable to value rightly apart from an absolute standard of
value. Therefore experience is not a worthy basis for life standards
and norms. Standards are therefore Real, and not open to contextualized
differentiation. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are externally
defined and intrinsic in themselves. The norm of all value, noral and
otherwise, is Gods declaration of its value, and we must align
ourselves and our price tags with this reality. The greatest sin is
to NOT accord the proper value and worth to the most valuable One, who
is worthy of worth-ship. Mans values can be ordered based on their
relationship to this absolute value. Both the worthwhile things of completed
experience and the judging of worth as it is being experienced can only
be accomplished by comparison to the absolute. This includes both ethical
and aesthetic considerations.
The aims of education are, in a sense dependent upon the state of being
of the student. If the student is regenerate, the aim is the conformation
to the likeness of Christ. If the student is unregenerate, education
takes on the tack of pre-evangelism, tilling the fields of the student
in order to make them optimally receptive of the call to salvation.
Spiritual discernment is not the result of profane reasoning (1 Tim
6:2). The former aim, conformation, is progressive in nature and any
ordered activities only completes its aim in context of sanctification.
Proper education yields a proper estimation of Reality. Instruction
on conduct and morality and answering the philosophical questions of
life are evidenced from the Shema. Thus this writer would contend that
education plays a role in the perseverance of the saints. Accurately
reckoning reality and a moment by moment alignment and realignment of
ones appropriation of reality with the Truth is paramount. This
results in the biblical concept of wisdom, of which the fear of the
Lord is the beginning, being realized. The fruit of the Spirit grow
in the fertile soils of right thinking and right action. The obedience
of faith is contingent upon the learning and doing of the wills of God-
His will of decree, which we can only respond to, and his will of command,
which we are active participants in.
As Litfin has described, there are basically two educational paradigms
within which Christian thinking can be realized: an umbrella system
that covers a multitude of voices which may remain largely unchecked
by any authroritative filter, and a second approach is a systemic one,
within which the locus is the sponsoring Christian tradition (Litfin
2004, 14-20). These may be seen as complementing each other, but it
is important for the educator to define which paradigm they are operating
in and make their vocational choices accordingly.
Role of the Teacher/Leader
Teachers teach to the end of enriching the lives of other human beings
who they encounter in the learning environments that comprise our lives
The teacher is answerable to God for the stewardship of minds entrusted
to their teaching. Thus the teacher has real authority. Mans mind
is a gift from God and reflective of the imago Dei in its rational processes
and purposes. Mind renewal is the charge of New Creation, and some are
given as teachers to nurture this process. The role of the teacher changes
all along the continuum of the education of the student, and the best
teachers understand the state of being of their students in terms of
readiness to learn, learning styles, levels of understanding, and other
The teacher should thrive on the energy, time and planning required
to give me mastery over their subject matter so that they can be a deep
well for students to draw from; any reservoir of knowledge becomes stagnant
if living streams do not continually flow into it and out from it. Thus
teachers must be life-long learners.
Teachers must be attentive to students (Luke 24:13-35), sharing their
life in their teaching (1 Thess 2:7-12). As Brookfield posits, teachers
should build upon and respond to the rhythms of learning (Brookfield
2006, 35-96). The teacher must help others examine assumptins underlying
their thoughts and actions (Brookfield 1987, 89). Critically responsive
teaching addresses the values students look for in teachers: credibility
; expertise, experience, rationale and conviction; and authenticity:
congruency, disclosure, responsiveness, and personhood (Brookfield 2006,
Role of the Student/Member
The imperative to renew ones mind (Ro 12:2) is based in New Creation.
Therefore the learner must take an active responsibility for their learning
and transformation. We must cultivate an appropriate understanding that
we are never sufficient ontologically, and are dependent upon Grace
in this regard; but we are tasked to expand our sufficiency of experience.
The imperative to learn is based in the cultural mandate to exercise
authority in the earth. The learning of skills, the application of gifts
and resources all presuppose a developmental impetus in the fallen order.
The fact that man is not good in his basic moral structure demands that
all men learn of God. This is life: that they know the Father. To fail
to pursue Truth is to suppress it.
All methodologies must be based upon godly philosophy and righteous
Therefore the curriculum must be neither teacher not learner centered,
but centered on the critical appropriation of external absolutes resident
in Truth. This is the Scriptural perspective of "reckoning reality."
We move not from individual experience to learning process, nor do we
impose our independent value judgments upon the learning environment,
rather we are to allow the Absolute define the curriculum. We are to
facilitate the recognition of life problems within the framework of
ultimate reality, and introduce the biblical prescriptions for righteous
resolution of disequilibrium caused by this encounter.
Collaborative learning, motivation, group dynamics, critical thinking
and mastery of logic, active engagement of the student, character formation,
maximization of the learning environment, and focus on objectified learning
all have a righteous place in a Christian milieu of educational ministry.
All these are evidenced in Scripture and are necessitated by the nature
of reality. In the specific context the student operates in may demand
specialized methodologies to maximize student learning. Technologies
may be employed to facilitate this methodology if they are utilized
from a stance of sound learning theory and practice. A primary methodology
consists in setting up scenarios in which students are required to think
critically to solve problems from real life. This is a key adult learning
precept. Resolution of disequilibrium is key.