Will Our Children Have Faith Westerhoff

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Title: Will Our Children Have Faith?

Author: Westerhoff, John H.

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Originally written in 1976, revised in 2000, and translated in six languages, this classic critique of Christian education is newly revised and expanded and includes Westerhoff’s overview and perspective on the state of Christian education over the past forty years—plus his role in that history.

According to Westerhoff, instead of guiding faith formation within the family, the church, and the school, we relegate religious education to Sunday morning classes. There, children learn the facts about religion, but how will they learn or experience faith? How can we nourish and nurture the faith of children, instead of only teaching the facts?


The shaking of the foundations

  • Beginnings
    • 1903 the Religious Education Foundation was founded in recognition of problems with "Sunday school"
    • Modeled off of public school "modern pedagogy"
    • in 60s & 70s church schools flourished
  • The Problem
    • Since the turn of the century, in spite of nods to other possibilities, Christian educators and local churches have functioned according to a schooling-instructional paradigm.
    • Other models have been considered but have not caught on.
    • John Dewey began his important career by assuring us that all of life educates, and that instruction in schools represents only one small part of our total education.
    • A church school with teachers, subject matter, curriculum resources, supplies, equipment, age-graded classes, classrooms, and, where possible, a professional church educator as administrator, has been the norm. All this must change.
  • Anomalies
  • The small church
    • church schools became divorced from the people and from church life
    • Small churches don't have resources to do "church schools"
  • Ethnic cultures
    • embrace local, cultural norms
  • A broken ecology
    • in first third of the century (assume 20th)... an "ecology" - a pattern of relations between organisms and their environment
      • First the community
      • Second, the family was basically secure, extended, and stable.
      • Third, most public schools were Protestant parochial schools. Roman Catholics, in turn, supported their own parochial school system to educate their children.
      • Fourth, there was the church.
      • Fifth, a great number of popular religious periodicals provided the major source of "entertainment" and religious education in the home.
      • Sixth and last, the Sunday school completed this ecology of institutions deliberately engaged in religious education.
    • These six institutions intentionally worked together to produce an effective educational ecology.
    • Now churches are heterogeneous and families have changed

So we are left with a church school (or parish Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (C.C.D.) program) struggling to do alone what it took an ecology of six institutions to do in the past.

  • The hidden Curriculum
    • This paradigm eliminates the processes of religious socialization from the concern and attention of church educators and parishioners.
    • Education correctly understood is not identical with schooling. It is an aspect of socialization involving all deliberate, systematic and sustained efforts to transmit or evolve knowledge, attitudes, values, behaviors, or sensibilities.
  • The wrong Questions
    • But education grounded in Christian faith cannot be a vehicle for control; it must encourage an equal sharing of life in community, a cooperative opportunity for reflection on the meaning and significance of life.
  • Religion or Faith
    • Faith is deeply personal, dynamic, ultimate. Religion, however, is faith's expression. For example, religion is concerned about institutions (churches), documents, statements of belief (Bible and theology), and our convictions and moral codes.
    • You can teach about religion, butt you cannot teach people faith.
  • A Bankruptcy - I have concluded that the schooling-instructional paradigm is bankrupt. An alternative paradigm, not merely an alternative deucation program is needed.
    • A new paradigm must be found
  • Update
    • Committed to adult education
    • a new paradigm is needed, and what I call a community of faith-formation paradigm is the one that best addresses the needs of our life.
    • I neglected the importance of the intellectual way of thinking and knowing. Christians do need to know the content of Scripture and how to interpret it; they need to have knowledge of ethical principles and to be able to make moral decisions; they need to know historic Christian doctrine and how to think theologically.
    • how cognitive skills develop.
      1. First comes knowing — being able to repeat what I am told or read;
      2. second, comprehension — being able to put what I read or am told into my own words;
      3. third, application - making use of what I have learned in conversation and the sharing of ideas;
      4. fourth, analysis understanding how another person thinks and has arrived at a particular position and being able to compare and contrast different positions;
      5. fifth, synthesis — being able to put together various positions and make my own considered opinion; and
      6. last, evaluation being able to judge the value or worth of different positions.
    • I have more questions than in 1976 but am more hopeful

Beginning and ending with faith

  • We face a crisis on our theological foundations
  • Historical Roots
    • A number of liberal theological presuppositions laid the foundations and gave vitality to the religious education movement.
    • In the 30s a new theological voice was heard. Liberalism had reached its zenith and neo-orthodoxy was born as a necessary corrective to its extremes.
    • The impact of neo-orthodoxy on the church's educational ministry was great. Religious education was transformed into Christian education.
  • A decision
    • Today, liberation theology makes possible a synthesis of these two historic theological movements liberation theology makes possible important coalitions between Roman Catholic and Protestant (witness the ecumenical character of its adherents); liberals and conservatives (witness the continuing concerns of the ); majorities and minorities
    • I contend that liberation theology provides the most helpful theological system for Christian education today.
    • Liberation theology also shares three common perspectives on the experience of God in history. First is the biblical promise of liberation. God is the one who sets people free, and the Gospel announces the good news of liberation. God is biased toward the marginal people—the have-nots, the oppressed, the hurt, the out- siders. Christ has set and is setting the captives free. Second, life is understood as centered in history and is changing and changeable. That is, life is s a series of events moving the world in the direction God intends. Liberation theology asserts that we have hope because we have a memory of God's past acts in history; and we have purpose because God has given us a vision of the future God intends. Third, salvation is a social event in the present, not an escape from history but an engagement within history.
  • God
    • the written words of the Bible are not our final authority, nor are the doctrines of the church, nor are our own personal inner experiential convictions. While each provides us with one aspect of the authority upon which Christian faith is founded, it is God's historical liberating action in Jesus Christ that is the final authority and the foundation for Christian faith.
    • The Bible must once again become our one and only "textbook,
  • Persons
    • The human self, like God is an agent. We know God through his actions
    • Because God is in relationship with all persons, we cannot be in full community with God unless we also identify with and seek the good of all persons.
    • Historically, Christian education has vacillated between a con- cern for conversion and a concern for nurture. With the birth of the religious education movement, nurture through teaching became the dominant underlying purpose.
    • We have expected too much of nurture, for at is very best, nurture makes possible institutional incorporation.
    • Conversion, I believe, is best understood as this radical turning from "faith given" (through nurture) to "faith owned.'
    • we need to understand that both conversion and nurture have a place in religious education if such education is to be Christian.
  • Church and Society
    • One Christian is no Christian, for we cannot be Christian alone- we are created for community. The church is best understood as a creation of God, a community of corporate social agents called to bear witness individually and corporately in word and deed to God's intention for human
    • Today, as in every age, the church struggles to be faithful to God in the political, social, and economic world. We must not equate Christian faith with any nations way of life or with opposition to the ideologies of other nations. Nor can we afford to equate Christian faith with any economic or social system.
    • We are charged to root out racism and prejudice from individuals and institutions, to correct the disparity between rich and poor nations, to stand with women and men of all races, ages, classes, and nationalities as they struggle for dignity, respect, power, and equity.
    • Only an educational paradigm that supports and encourages such an understanding of the church can be defended or advocated.
  • Implications
    • our new paradigm must broaden the context of Christian education to include every aspect of our individual and corporate lives within an intentional, covenanting, pilgrim, radical, counter-cultural, tradition- bearing faith community.
    • a community of faith-enculturation paradigm is the name I have chosen for a new understanding of religious education.
  • Update
    • Liberation theology, which I raised up in this chapter, while still playing a role in my theology, is no longer dominant.
    • I have become more aware of the wisdom in the Anglican principle of the via media, (meaning "the middle road")a theological conviction that truth is comprised of two opposite truths held in tension.
    • There is no way we can say for sure if our children will or will not have faith, but of one thing we can be sure, they will never have faith unless there is a community of faith for them to live in and be influenced by.
    • Another of my continuing concerns is character—a person's sense of identity and how he or she is therefore predisposed to behave. From my perspective, a Christ-like character is best summarized in the Beatitudes:
    • Consciousness—that subjective awareness that makes particular experiences possible, such as the presence and action of God in our lives, and the ability to discern God's will.

In search of community

  • My contention is that the context or place of religious education needs to be changed from an emphasis on schooling to a community of faith. No longer is it helpful or wise to emphasize schools, teachers, pupils, cirrucula, classrooms, equipment, and supplies.
  • The Nature of Community
    • Diversity with a corresponding charity can only be tolerated in nonessentials, such as commitments to particular political, economic, or social causes, or to particular actions or strategies for change.
    • Communities need to be small
    • if one sex is restricted to particular roles or denied equal status, there can be no Christian community.
  • Ritual
    • Worship, therefore, is at the center of the church's life- the word orthodoxy means "right praise"—as well as "right belief
    • As life changes, our rituals must change. every reform movement in history involved liturgical reform.
    • Rituals are first of all orderly, predictable, and stereotyped
    • (1) those rituals which help us to sustain and transmit our understandings and ways, The first I call rites of community. and
    • (2) those rituals which make meaningful the crises or transitions in our lives. I call life crisis rites. e.g. significant turning points: baptism, first communion, confirmation, ordination, and last rites. Other crisis rites—marriage, divorce, coming of age, going away to school, a new home, a move, a new job, a serious ill- ness, retirement
  • Experience
    • Similarly, the experiences we have in a community of faith are important for answering the question: Will our children have faith?
    • Persons learn first inactively through their experience, then by imaging (stories), and last of all through the use of signs (conceptual language).
  • Action
    • Remember that it was the life of Christians in the world that converted persons to Christian faith.
    • the church might take a stand on behalf of democratic socialism, and support the establishment of a guaranteed minimum income for all people and a maximum income above which no one has a right
  • Testing Community
    • Historically, all education has vacillated between three concerns: knowledge, persons, and society. We must balance all 3
    • If our children are to have faith, Christian education must be whole. That means making sure that a Christian understanding of the tradition, persons, and society influeces are expressed in the community's rituals, experiences, and actions in the world
  • The Tradition
    • Education is concerned that the story be known and owned; it is concerned that this story be understood and applied
    • Today we desperately need to remind ourselves that both the artistic and the rationalistic perspectives have value, and that a return to congregational singing of the St. Matthew Passion is as important understanding and interpreting the story of our faith
  • Persons
    • Adoration, as I understand it, is focusing our lives upon God. It is the life of the dreamer and visionary that makes it possible to view every aspect of life as a miracle. Confession is the continual self-examination of our personal and social lives in the presence of God; it is living under the judgment of God's will. Petition and intercession are bringing our desires for self and others in line with God's desires or attuning our hearts and minds and wills to that of God. Thanksgiving is our active daily expression of gratitude to God for his continuing action in history, a celebrative awareness of God's actions in our midst. cal literary-historical study of its message.
    • Two modes of consciousness are possible for human beings. One is intellectual and focused on the universal and the abstract, and is characterized by verbal, linear, conceptual, and analytical activities. The other is intuitional and focuses on the syncretic and the experiential, and is characterized by nonverbal, creative, nonlinear, relational activities. The development and integration of both modes of consciousness is essential to the spiritual life.
    • Christian education requires that we help persons regain their God-given ability to wonder and create; to dream and fantasize, imagine and envision; to sing, paint, dance, and act.
    • we need to explain how we were once oppressed in Egypt and how God liberated us.
  • Society
    • Hope founded in Christ has no alternative but to engage in social action that challenges the evils of society and creates more human alternatives.
  • Conclusion
  • Update
    • I would now put more emphasis on the spiritual life and the importance of the arts and of beauty understood as a revelation of the presence (priestly) or absence (prophetic) of truth and goodness.

The most important means for doing so is to enhance and enliven the intuitive way of thinking and knowing through participation in the arts—music, visual arts, drama, dance, and so on.

Life together

  • is, I have chosen the word "enculturation" to characterize educational method in a faith community.
  • enculturation emphasizes the process of interaction between and among g persons of all ages.
  • In 1816 J.A. James wrote The Sunday School Teachers Guide which included [ "We Learn By Doing," he described life in the Sunday school and included plays and musicals, games, hikes and hunts, parties and picnics, social service projects and community activities in which children, youth, parents, and grandparents participated together
  • In 1887 John Vincent wrote The Modern Sunday School,
  • If we truly are in Christ there should be qualities, characteristics, dispositions, and understandings discernible in our inner and outward lives.
  • We need a new way of thinking about educational method, a way that emphasizes what we know, what we are and what we do.
  • Enculturation is at understanding the processes of interaction in community between "faithing" selves-
  • Faith and its Expansion
    • Faith, as I have used the word, is a verb. Faith is a way of behaving which involves knowing, being, and willing.
    • Four styles of faith Analogy of tree rings... we expand from one faith style to the next given the proper environment Each tree does its own growing and has its own unique characteristics
    • Faith is an action which includes thinking, feeling, and willing and it is transmitted, sustained, and expanded through our interactions with other faithing selves in a community of faith.
  • Experienced Faith
    • preschool and childhood
  • Affiliative Faith
    • Adopted during early adolescent years.
    • /. All of us need to feel that we belong to a self-conscious community and that through our active participation can make a contribution to its life.
    • Of crucial importance is the sense that we are wanted, needed, accepted, and important to the community.
  • Searching Faith
    • Late adolescence -
    • Three characteristics
      1. Action of doubt, and or critical judgement. At this point the "religion of the head becomes equally important with the "religion of the heart," and acts of the intellect, critical judgment, and inquiry into the meanings and purposes of the story
      2. Experimentation
      3. the need to commit our lives to persons and causes
  • Owned Faith
    • Early adulthood -
    • This movement from one stage to the next is what we call conversion.
    • People owned by their faith strive to witness to that faith
  • Conclusion
    • "... no single educational program for any age group is valid."
    • Typically adults have their faith arrested in the affiliative style.
    • We need to provide experiences that help move from one style to the next.
  • Update
    • 3 ways to understand the learning process in people.
      1. chronological age, the metaphor of the production line. e.g. molding each piece of raw material. e.g. B.E. Skinner, John Locke behavioral psychology
      2. Developmental stage. metaphor of the greenhouse. Student is a seed, teacher is a gardener. al a philosophy of Rousseau and developmental psychology of Piaget.
      3. Characteristics of life. metaphor of a pilgrimage. process is a shared journey. 3 pathways
        1. experiential way.
        2. reflective way
        3. integrative way

Hope for the future

  • Evaluation and Planning
    • One parishes definition of "christian Education" all of the deliberate, systematic, and sustained efforts we make in any aspect of our parish life which enable us as persons and a community to be more Christian
    • Three aims each with "aims" and ways to achieve the aim
      • Tradition 1 ) Knowledge and understanding of revelation as found in the bible. 2) Church history, 3) knowledge of the faith as expressed in the Creed.
      • Persons - including community
      • Society able to make moral decisions.
    • Holistic Education consisted of Education, Church School , Town meetings, Issue/Action group, Future planning, In the process there was a net loss of 24 members
  • A New Church School for Dependent Faith examples of churches following the method.
  • Religion of the Head for Searching Faith
  • Witness-Action Education for Owned Faith
    • Principles for adult education 1) Go where they are 2) Have homogeneous group 3) never ask for more than five weeks' commitment 4) begin where they are, 5) work toward some action.
  • Conclusions
    • The faith-enculturation paradigm provides,a frame of reference and an understanding of religious education that adequately and imaginatively address the question: will our children have faith?
  • Update
    • Annual planning


  • Historical Reflections
    • Chapter 1 said Schooling Instructional paradigm was not good and that socialization was a better
    • Chapter 2 suggested that Liberation theology provided Christian education with its most relevant theological system for establishing catechetical aims and means
    • Still contend that the Community of faith enculturation paradigm offers the most helpful way of preceiving catechesis on our day.
    • Chapter 3 tried to describe what what an intentional community of faith might look like
    • 4th chapter described his understanding of the chatechetical process and developmental process.
    • 5th chapter stories of congregations
  • The Birth of a New Era
    • 16th century reformation and counter-reformation, 17th century Renaissance , humanism, individualism, and scientific objectivism, 18th century enlightenment with focus on reason, 19th century romantic movement 20th century the era of technology in which the moral limits of modernity have begun to surface.
    • Modernity placed an unprecedented emphasis on the intellectual way of thinking and knowing. By doing so, it deprecated the intuitive way. Science replaced the arts and humanities
    • One consequence of modernity is secularism, rationalism and materialism and functionalism
    • Natural theology and natural theory with is belief in a reasonable, cause and effect universe dominated our theological and moral thought.
    • During Apostolic period 1st - 4th century, church existed in a hostile alien environment. Tight boundaries and the conversion of adults seemed natural.
    • In 4th century, Western Christendom was born, there was little difference between being a good christian and a good citizen.
    • We now live in a post-Christian society.
    • A new emphasis is being placed on the value of diversity
  • The Challenge of Making Christians in Our Day
  • Achieving Clarity on Our Catechetical Aim
    • We must start with an understanding of what a Christian is
  • Understanding Catechesis
    • Catechesis is composed of 3 intentional, interrelated, lifelong processes.
      • Formation is an intentional effort to engage in the enculturalization, the natural process by which culture, a people's way of understanding and ways of life, their world view and their ethos are transmitted from one generation to the next.
      • education a critical reflection on the christian faith and life in the light of scripture, tradition and reason or it is a reflection on the experience.
      • instruction/training is the means used to acquire the knowledge and the skills foundational to the christian life of faith such as scripture and the ability to interpret it.
    • We can say that is the way that Jesus taught.
    • When I began to explore this natural process of enculturalization, I turned to cultural anthropology and its understanding of how cultural understandings and ways of life were transmitted from generation to generation.

Other facts

Bibliographic info

  • Personal name: Westerhoff, John H.
  • Main title Will our children have faith? / John H. Westerhoff III.
  • Edition 3rd rev. ed.
  • Published/Created: Harrisburg, PA : Morehouse Pub., c2012.
  • ISBN: 9780819228000 (pbk.)
  • LC classification (full): BV1475.3 .W47 2012
  • LC classification (partial) BV1475.3