December 31, 2007 - A PHILOSOPHY OF ADULT MINISTRY- part One

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 God’s 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 God’s 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 the will.

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 Christian milieu.

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 12:13).

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 adult ministry.


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, man’s 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 God’s 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 man’s ability to know such Truth. All ultimate solutions to evil, pain, suffering and destiny must be based not in man’s 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. Man’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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. Man’s 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.

Educational Aims

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 one’s 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. Man’s 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 fruit.

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, 55-74).

Role of the Student/Member

The imperative to renew one’s 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.

Appropriate Methodology

All methodologies must be based upon godly philosophy and righteous praxis.
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.

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