The Intellect and Spiritual Formation

2 Weeks of Pagan Christianity

Chapter 10 discusses various aspects of Christian education including, seminary, bible colleges, sunday school, and the history of the role of the youth pastor.

I didn’t realize that Sunday school was originally an effort to provide education for poor children. Public education now provides that service. As far as sunday school and youth ministry today, there is not a scriptural precedent for segregating gatherings according to age.

A couple of quotes:

“First-century training was hands on, rather than academic. It was a matter of apprenticeship, rather than intellectual learning. It was aimed primarily at the spirit, rather than at the frontal lobe.”

“Extensive bible knowledge, a high-powered intellect, and razor-sharp reasoning skills do not automatically produce spiritual men and women who know Jesus Christ profoundly and who can impart a life-giving revelation of Him to others.”

While not discounting the value of theology, this chapter really leaves us with the question of whether existing practices of Christian education are spiritually transformative. Have we been effective at spiritual formation and producing disciples who reproduce disciples?

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10 thoughts on “The Intellect and Spiritual Formation

  1. I would have to say the answer is a resounding NO…we have not been effective at spiritual formation and producing disciples who reproduce disciples. I am very much for the return of the apprentice, but it will not come unless we can get the mutual submission thing to catch on.

    I am thinking of Alan Hirsch’s book and the graphic about acting our way into a new way of living, rather than trying to think our way into a new way of acting.

    In my experiences, the problem is that we get stuck on the acquiring of knowledge and never get to the application of that knowledge. Somehow we have to do a better job of teaching by doing, so that the knowledge and the implementation go hand in hand.

  2. I would have to agree with Peggy. The current model in the west just does not allow for hands-on, transformative discipleship. This is why so many people are writing books about why the church isn’t working anymore, at least that is my opinion.

    The existence of Sunday school makes it easier for parents to ignore their role of discipling their children. I stopped sending my son several years ago and caught a lot of flack. He initiated the decision when he asked why the teachers didn’t teach him that the main lesson in the David and Goliath story was that God wanted the Philistines to know who He was, not that God blesses the little guy. My 9-year-old son actually asked this! For me, the best thing to do was to stop sending him…

    Of course, my son knows these things because he lives with me and walks with me and is trained by me. He is my little apprentice…

  3. “Extensive bible knowledge, a high-powered intellect, and razor-sharp reasoning skills do not automatically produce spiritual men and women who know Jesus Christ profoundly and who can impart a life-giving revelation of Him to others.”

    Well, it worked for St. Paul. :-D

    And… Jesus. :-D

    If we’re supposed to be like Jesus, doesn’t that mean studying like him?

    The 1st century folks, including Jesus and Paul, had spent years and years studying Scripture, through the synagogue system (the first public schools in history) and on their own, daily, in gatherings.

    In other words, I don’t think it’s an either/or. We can be too quick to discount how really, really, even if informally, studied just about every church revolutionary in history has been, beginning with Jesus.

  4. I am a youth Pastor and I object. Of course my job is important. Why, if it wasn’t for me, your daughter would be looking up to and learning wisdom from an old fart like her grandmother instead of me!

  5. Well, Patrick…I seem to remember that the apprentice model was still being utilized in the day of Jesus and Paul. :)

    I didn’t say that knowledge isn’t important…just that there has to be intentional times of real, hands-on application in order for the knowledge to become “real” rather than just “theory.”

    Absolutely…study like Jesus and Paul…and then get out there and DO IT, instead of just talking about it. 8) This was Eric’s point, wasn’t it…a lot of folks are writing books about it, people are reading about it, conferences abound…we just need to be sure that we get around to the doing, that’s all I’m saying.

  6. I think the new models of discipleship will eventually supplant the seminary. Eventually we as a church will wake up to the reality of the priesthood of all believers and trust the leading of the Holy Spirit, who is so much better at figuring out what to do than we are.

    And get this…I have on good authority that the Holy Spirit actually knows God pretty well too. BFF even. ;-P

  7. I would say that the church hasn’t been effective at spiritual formation, and pruducing disciples that produce more disciples, as frustrated as I am with the institutional church, I do have to admit that is slowly changing in many churches.

    I do think that Sunday school for children can be a great thing. There are many children who wouldnt learn any thing about the Bible with out it. The reality is that many parents with in the church just won’t take the time to teach or disciple their children.

    Also many churches bring children in from the outside from homes where God is given no thought. Sunday school can give those kids a foundation, and give them something to turn to when they get holder. The system is obviously less than perfect, but it can be helpful.

  8. Peggy, I think my sensitivity comes from growing up in Pentecostal and Baptist traditions that really did emphasize going out and doing, while de-emphasizing learning. And the draw to going to do is so strong, even still, among so many I know in missions or pastoring that they almost entirely neglect real study or focus on personal growth. They dismiss the study for doing. That’s how I’ve seen this emphasis in practice. De-emphasize study and there’s no study hardly at all. Making the faith anti-intellectual. With people who only study things get left undone and people don’t get reached. With people who go out and do, without study and really knowing the depths of God, people get destroyed and lives crushed and chaos formed. Because they introduce a form of religion that sounds good to them, and sounds kingdom like, but really isn’t.

    I’ve learned to be much more scared of the doers than the thinkers in church life. But, of course, having a balance and right versions of both is absolutely ideal. One cannot understand without doing, one cannot do right without understanding.

    This is going to make this comment long, but this post reminded me of something Moltmann wrote in his Spirit of Life, and I like it so much I’m going to risk a way overlong comment:

    “If we compare the two ways of knowing, it is easy to see that modern men and women need at least a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplative, the active and the contemplative life, if they are not to atrophy spiritually. The pragmatic way of grasping things has very obvious limits, and beyond these limits the destruction of life begins. This odes not apply only to our dealings with other people. It is true of our dealings with the natural environment too.

    But the meditative way of understanding seems to be even more important when it is applied to our dealings with our own selves. People take flight into relationships, into social action and into political praxis, because they cannot endure what they themselves are. They have ‘fallen out’ with themselves. So they cannot stand being alone. To be alone is torture. Silence is unendurable. Solitude is felt to be ‘social death’. Every disappointment becomes a torment which has to be avoided at all costs.

    “But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities. Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom towards themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else. Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology.

    “Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving. Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.”

  9. mmm…
    – doers of the word, not just hearers, certainly
    – a real need for real discipleship, absolutely!
    – but I have to echo Patrick’s caution about anti-intellectionism; too often I’ve encountered churches who’s response to academic biblical criticism, or to secular philosophical comment, is to effectively bury their heads in the sand. And worse(!), preachers and teachers who have no understanding of their interlocutors points, and actively discourage their congregants from questioning (or even thinking!)
    I love the drive in these threads towards the ‘priesthood of all believers’ but I still think there is a need for both an increase in personal study, and for theological professionals within churches (or groups of churches) – not to say ‘I have the truth’, but to help members engage with the difficult questions and the real challenges to our faith.

  10. Very good points ,
    Still it seems to me that a person who is “in love ” with knowledge of the bible is not necessarily a maker of disciples. I do think balance is important, knowledge of scripture is a priceless treasure , but I have seen it used to alienate and drive away people rather than drawing them. I my self have been guilty of bludgeoning someone with scripture. Most of the time when you hear a well learned theologian say something to some one “in love” you can almost hear the snicker under their breath and often times see the condescending look on the face.
    I believe what we do and who we are in the world is the thing that will create a desire to become a disciple, but of course it is very important to know what the bible says if you are to be a disciple.

    Peace

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