One of the common features of confirmation classes is to have the confirmands produce a creed – a statement of belief. After going through several weeks – or months – of study, they write a Credo.
I have seen other churches that do it differently. When a person – young or old – is baptized or joins the church, they give a testimony of the work of God in their life, and how they came to faith.
The production of a creed aims at the intellect, the production of a testimony at the heart, or at one’s experience. Modernity has developed habits of dichotomizing knowledge and experience, and I think this is one area we can see the dichotomy: the approach is either intellectual or experiential.
My question: Is there a way to do both?
I want my children – and as a leader, the children of others – to have a clear experience of God in their lives. I want them to experience a “heart strangely warmed,” exercise their wills in giving their lives to Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Apart from this kind of experience, I do not think they will have the motivation to live as Christians for very long.
I also want children to develop a biblical and theological language to understand the work of God – in the world, in history, in the church, in their own lives.
As we focus on these dual objectives, experience and understanding, people (this will be true of adults as well as children) will grow in their ability to interpret their lives as part of God’s continuing action in history. They will learn to see their purpose and significance as based not merely on themselves (which can be easily thwarted by a knowledge of their sin and failure), but on the stubborn and active love of God that incorporates them into something bigger than themselves (the Kingdom of God).
In the beginning, an emphasis on Christian experience was the major factor differentiating Methodists from others in the Church of England. John Wesley, however, embodied an approach that kept the experiential and the intellectual tied together. In the past century, however, Methodists have lost the connection to Christian experience for two reasons. First, we have succumbed to the modern notion that experience is essentially and primarily individual and private. Second, we have turned from the usage of language drawn from scripture and tradition to articulate our experience. For the most part we have ceded “saved” language to other groups (like the Baptists).
Because we tend to see experience as personal and private, we are uncomfortable talking about it. Yet it is in talking about if for ourselves that our children (and other adults) come to have the experience. Contrary to much of modernity, knowledge, language and experience are hopelessly intertwined.
We need to recover a robust language of experience from scripture and tradition so our children can have the language and concepts to have the experience of being forgiven, saved, redeemed, sanctified, filled with the Spirit, etc.
This language needs to be explicitly connected with the narrative of scripture and not reduced to psychological or sociological categories. “Gaining self esteem” or “a new outlook on life” are good things – they may even be by-products of Christian experience. But if those kinds of experiences are all we offer, we are missing out on the best God has to offer.
What do you think of this?
thank you so much for laying out the kinds of things that we parents and mentors need teach the youngers.
as an aside I noted that Barack Obama talks often in terms of the “ongoing story that we are all part of”
I, too, think that that is a very important way of thinking that we olders need to impart to the youngers.
(or, rather, use that inborn desire of people to listen to and be a part of stories and the “big picture.”)
Although I don’t think you can separate out intellect (my field would say cognition) from emotion, I think you can learn to say the right things without owning them. I think that’s the real point of incorporating emotion, and personalized experience, into the way we look at our faith and the way we express it to others (including our kids). Show me that you can apply what you know to the everyday problems you encounter in life. Show me that you can recognize God’s hand in what has happened to you. Show me that you can use Scripture as a plumb line for your own behavior, now and in the past. If you can apply them, and if you show me that you have some emotion engaged (joy in the journey, grief over sin …) then I know that you own what you’re trying to transmit over to me.
Oh, next thing … I think that intellectual assent without personal experience equals a critical spirit. If you have all the tools to judge others, but don’t have a real sense of what it’s like to struggle with becoming more like Christ in your own life, then I think you’re more likely to reduce being a Christian to a list of do’s and don’ts, by which you bang others over the head.
By the way, I really really didn’t want to vote on Tuesday. I was exhausted, I had intended to vote early and let the time slip away, I wasn’t an enthusiastic supporter of anybody in particular, and I was really tempted to not do it. I even considered going home and lying to my kids, saying I voted when I didn’t. Yes, time for true confession. But I went and did it, and mainly I did it because I knew that I wasn’t going to lie about it and that they were going to ask. In the end, it was a very small sacrifice of time and energy in order to be a good example to my kids. So, knowing they’re watching sometimes keeps a parent on the straight and narrow even when we prefer the broad and easy path.