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Friday, September 27, 2013

My Work on Catechesis as Discipleship (Conclusion)

It has been demonstrated that discipleship in the Christian tradition began as the literal walking with Jesus Christ during his itinerant ministry. It was then shown that in the absence of Jesus’ physical presence with his followers, discipleship developed into imitation, first of the Lord’s work and then of the apostles and saints, too. In the Patristic era the mode of discipleship was shown to be catechesis, that is, the program of intense preparation for baptism and the Christian life that was seen as an on-going journey.
            Baptist discipleship was also shown to have inherited the modes of Revivialism, which offered little formative discipleship to converts other than to encourage the evangelistic outreach of every believer. There is a movement among Baptists toward more contemplative, catholic, traditional methods of making life-long disciples who are capable not only of evangelism but also of progressive maturity in their faith.
What is needed among these Baptists is a starting point for this new discipleship. J. I. Packer, Gary Parrett, and Steve Kang have recommended that the educational ministries of the church be transformed into catechetical ministries that prepare both old and young alike for life-long discipleship though an intense, personal study of specific Scriptures, creeds, and extra-biblical documents.[1] Glassford insists that the local congregation should demand a close relationship between those being taught the traditions of Christianity and the ones teaching, implying a mentor-style catechesis that is reminiscent of the ancient Church.[2] Westerhoff also recommends a mentor-disciple relationship within the framework of catechesis in the local congregation that is reminiscent of the Didache.[3]
Baptists are not the only Christians instituting catechesis as the model for discipleship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has instituted adult catechesis throughout its congregations.[4] The United Methodist Church has similarly published a revised catechumenal resource.[5] Miesel surmises that this trend in catechetical thinking among Protestants is due at least in part to, “the presence of the church in various mission settings, including cultures in which support for Christianity is diminishing, the continuing energy of the liturgical renewal movement as it brings to bear insights from the study of the early church’s liturgy as well as studies in human ritual, and increasing numbers of adults inquiring into the Christian faith who have little or no background in the teaching or life of the church.”[6]
In order for the discipleship habits of most Baptists in the American South to change, local congregations must adopt new catechetical frameworks. It may be the case that catechesis will work best among the children of the congregation at first.[7] The local Baptist congregation must not be so quick to abandon the adult generations of the church to discipleship types that leave them, in Marshall’s words, without a model for the journey of faith.
A potentially fruitful method of implementation would be to emphasize the mentor-disciple model of catechesis. If a group of relatively mature adults could be catechized so that they are familiar with the modes and vocabulary of a modernized version of the ancient church’s catechetical practices, they could then in turn serve as mentors to other adults who are less mature in their faith. Therefore the catechetical model, once instituted in the local congregation, could serve to generate mature disciples who, in turn, nurture others to be mature disciples. Thus could Baptists re-appropriate ancient catechetical forms of discipleship, the spiritual practices that are often lacking in Baptist ecclesiology, and maintain the evangelistic fervor that is essential to the Baptist way of life.

[1] See Packer and Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010; Parrett and Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, Downers Grove: IVP, 2009.
[2] See Glassford, Darwin K., “The Future is Behind Us: Catechesis and Educational Ministries,” Christian Education Journal, Series 3 Vol. 9, Supplement, S-172 – 179.
[3] Westerhoff, 161.
[4] Division of Parish Life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Living Witnesses: The Adult Catechumenate – A Manual for the Catechumenal Process (Canada: ECIC undated).
[5] Daniel T. Benedict, Come to the Waters: Our Ministry of Welcoming Seekers and Making Disciples, Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996.
[6] Miesel, Richard L., “The Adult Catechumenate: Divine Courtship and Tryst,” Worship, 79 no. 3 (2005), 237-257.
[7] An excellent example of this type of children’s discipleship is “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,” which is being implemented by the Rev. Lesley Ratcliff at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, MS among 3-12 year olds.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Work on Catechesis as Discipleship (Toward a Progressive Baptist Discipleship)

Discipleship in Baptist Life[1]
It has been demonstrated that Christian discipleship developed from a master/disciple relationship to one of imitation of increasing degrees of separation from the object of imitation. It has further been demonstrated that the catechesis of the early church was developed to be an atmosphere of progressive discipleship that began with the individual’s response to the kerygma, led them through a program of baptismal preparation, and then ushered new Christians into the deeper understandings of the faith.
            Baptists have, in large part, abandoned the principles and practices of catechesis in favor of short-term low-risk conversions. This trend is owed in large part to the revivalist heritage of modern Baptists, which emphasized an emotional response to the revival preacher rather than a slow, gradual process of what we could comfortably call catechesis. Revivalism drastically shortened the preparatory time for baptism from a period of years to mere minutes. Loyd Allen suggests that the ultimate goal of Baptist revival conversions was “spiritual conversion, the vertically oriented experience of human communion with transcendence.”[2] Allen makes the case that a fundamental transition in Baptist conversions from the “revivalistic” to an “intellectual” experience. He locates this in the twentieth century evolution of Baptist life, saying, “…the revival form retreated from affective conversion as a precursor to spiritual conversion in favor of an intellectual conversion approach.”[3] Steven Harmon identifies the lasting impact of revivalism on Baptist life, especially in worship, saying, “Revivalism has also left its imprint upon Baptist worship, not only in the addition of an evangelistic invitation to a service of the word but also in a different sort of twofold division of the service: the “music service” or “song service” and the “preaching service.”[4]
            This transition should not be underemphasized. In the early spread of Baptists in America through the revival and circuit preaching of evangelists, converts were catechized by the spiritual formation they experienced in the context of a local congregation. The transition from the spiritual formation catechesis of discipleship, which in the great majority of cases led to a “testimony” of conversion before the congregation, turned toward the intellectual assent of basic propositional statements about various points of Christian theology. Once this transition was complete, conversion was equivalent to the intellectual assent to propositional statements about Jesus Christ and catechesis was reduced to Christian education. Molly Marshall relates her experience in this intellectual catechesis in a Southern Baptist Church, saying,
“The catechesis was uniform and predictable. The minimum was regular attendance at all the services (including Wednesday night prayer services). When a revival came to town, one as not only to be there but to invite whatever local sinners (usually family members of another denomination) he or she could round up in order to “pack the pew.” Of course one was to attend Sunday School with two tangible proofs of the seriousness of personal discipleship: a Bible and an offering envelope “filled out,” where one recorded on “the eight-point record system” the varied ways in which he or she had attempted to come well prepared for Sunday’s marathon by attentiveness all week long. Coming back on Sunday evening, the pupil supplemented Sunday morning’s Bible study and “preaching service” with Training Union, a session in which we learned about Baptist identity and Christian leadership skills such as speaking and personal witness. The really spiritual were unfailingly present, able to “give their parts” without consulting the quarterly even once.”[5]
Marshall’s experience is, sadly, typical for many in the SBC discipleship tradition. Much like the ancient Church, the Baptists put a critical emphasis on baptism; however, rather than a thorough catechesis in preparation for that baptism, Baptists substituted various education and training programs that focused on Southern Baptist traditions and evangelism.
            Marshall laments the outcomes of these traditions among Southern Baptists, saying, “What we did not know was how to help [disciples] move from a borrowed faith to a personal faith. We did not know how to engage their hard and forthright questions that challenged the inculcated approach to life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They learned the first part of the formula of faith, how to begin the Christian life, but not the struggle of the saints to mature as pilgrims of faith.”[6] This lack of a formative catechetical framework leads Marshall to conclude, “Southern Baptists’ catechetical practices did not form many adult Christians."[7]
            It is inaccurate to say that Southern Baptists did not practice a catechesis. The strongly emotional conversion experience followed up by the discipleship framework that emphasizes evangelism and missions forms a de facto catechesis, as Marshall mentioned above. However, compared to the ancient church model of imitation and then the mentor-based period of preparation for Baptism, modern American Baptists have inverted the idea of catechesis. Instead of emphasizing commitment to Christ and holy living before baptism, Southern Baptists emphasize a dramatic turning point that is immediate upon baptism and leads to holy living on its own.[8]
The catechesis of the Southern Baptist tradition is much more passive than what was examined above. Propositional statements of truth according to SBC orthodoxy are generally transmitted by cursory examinations of the Baptist Faith and Message. Theology is implicitly taught through the singing of congregational hymns and the participation in worship and the local congregation’s educational ministries.[9] Even for a tradition that is non-creedal and wants not tradition but the Bible, catechesis is inevitable. The problem, as Marshall pointed out, is that few of these disciples ever reach adulthood in the Christian faith.
What is necessary for Baptist discipleship is a return to the more personal spiritual practices of other branches of the Christian family tree. Baptists would benefit greatly from a re-interpretation of discipleship beyond the intellectual assent to certain doctrinal propositions and to begin moving toward an incarnational discipleship model. Westerhoff clearly demonstrates the contrast between these two styles, saying “evangelization is understood as a personal journey that calls for creativity, flexibility, and adaptability. It is not an institutional program that is identical for everyone. It is a person, with a personal story and life history, who is being evangelized. Evangelization, therefore, is a process that needs to be made relevant to each person. For another thing, evangelization is a process that takes place in a community of faith, a community that is continually being renewed and reformed.”[10] Baptists would do well to recognize the personal, relational language of this process; instead of making disciples through modern educational efforts the Church might regain its ancient imitative catechesis.

Finding Help in Baptist Catholicity
            As was examined above, the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) brought the language of catechesis back into the minds of many Catholic leaders and clergy. An unintended consequence of that development was that spiritual formation entered once again into the discussion of discipleship among Protestants, too. Marshall points out that in the years since Vatican II, “Not only did Protestants pay more attention to the common pre-Reformation heritage of the whole church…they began to read contemporary Catholic teachers of prayer and spiritual formation.”[11] Such exposure to Catholic sources led Baptists both to dialogue and to reinforce bright lines of theological difference even as Baptists sought to learn from the Roman Catholic Church.[12]
            Since Vatican II, Baptists have sought a renewed practice of spiritual formation, spurred on in some instances by the painful ecclesial controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979. This new Baptist Catholicity, or, as many call it, the new ecumenism, “is emerging primarily in the area of spirituality.”[13] Marshall continues, “We are rediscovering the richness of vision in those antecedents to Baptist life…Further, the nearly two-decade long intra-Baptist controversy has prompted careful review of our confessional as well as devotional heritage.”[14]
            Seven Harmon has written a scholarly attempt to map the trend toward Baptist catholicity, a text that demonstrate that “Baptists and Roman Catholics have even more in common than contemporary ecumenism leads us to believe, particularly when it comes to hammering out the “catholic” nature of our Christianity.”[15] The idea of Harmon’s work, and the work of others striving for a Baptist catholicity, is not to merge the Baptist stream of faith with that of our Roman Catholic neighbors, but to find a common ground upon which a broader coalition of Christ’s church might stand for the good of the Church and the world.
            One obvious dividing issue between Baptists and Roman Catholics (and other traditions, as well) is that of the use of creeds. Whereas Baptists are creedal only insofar as they adhere to “no creed but the Bible,” other traditions find both spiritual and ecclesial strength in the common creeds of the basics of Christianity. Harmon notes that instead of seeing the Creed as a restrictive, non-inspired restraint on the priesthood of the believer, Baptist should see the Creed as “the Christian ‘pledge of allegiance’ for they [the creeds] declare the story to which Christians committed themselves in baptism.”[16] O’Connell narrows the focus of the usefulness of creeds as “dynamic and evolving relationships between the content and practices of faith, between embodied memories and future promises, between the verbal convictions of faith and nonverbal commitments to it, and between contemplation of God’s action in the past and action with God in the present.”[17] The creeds, along with the biblical, historical, and theological resources associated with them, are not oppressive, static masters that lord over the believers; rather they are touchstones to which Baptists may turn and re-turn as they journey along the pilgrimage of faith.
            Harmon understands the resistance that will be felt by many Baptists to the implementation of anything resembling creedalism. However, by an insightful analysis of the connectedness between fourth century Patristic theology and modern Baptist confessions, Harmon concludes that an explicit integration of Patristic theology into future Baptist statements of faith will reinvigorate Baptist identity as well as serve to clarify the nature and use of creeds in Baptist life.[18] An more thorough appreciation of Christian history, especially that of the Patristic era, will serve modern Baptists by helping congregations see themselves as part of the larger Christian story and as having a meaningful contribution to the emerging ecumenical movement among both Catholics and Protestants.
The inclination toward Baptist catholicity is not simply to be trendy or even to reclaim a “paleo-orthodoxy.” Marshall warns against the trendiness of Baptist/Catholic relationships, saying, “While the “otherness” of the Catholic tradition may make it quite attractive, it is imperative to attend to the spirituality of our own heritage as well.”[19] Harmon proposes that an appropriation of the patristic tradition “will require a Baptist re-envisioning of the nature and function of creeds” and that “a contemporary Baptist confession must express what Baptists share with other Christians as well as what makes Baptists unique.”[20] Catholicity is a re-appropriation, a resoucement, and a movement among Baptists to something more ancient and less provincial than where their theology has resided in recent generations. It is not the dilution of Baptist identity, but rather Baptist Catholicity is the clarifying of Baptist theology in dialogue with other Christian traditions.[21] Harmon’s analysis helps to re-integrate the spiritual life into the broader life of the church, which O’Connell identifies as “the relationship among creeds, congregational worship, and the formation of the community…the emotional facets and wisdom of narrative traditions…and the “epistemological humility” necessary for intra-ecclesial relationships.”[22]
Harmon is not alone in recognizing a burgeoning interest in Baptist spiritual formation that tends toward catholicity. Many Baptists are familiar with the work of Richard Foster, who describes five different types of the spiritual life through an analysis of major historical church traditions.[23] This and Foster’s other works on Spiritual Formation are not explicitly addressed to those seeking Baptist catholicity; however, Foster’s use of Patristic and other pre-Reformation sources cannot help but expose readers to what Harmon intends in the development of Baptist/Catholic dialogue.[24] Brian McLaren also calls Christians into something new by honoring what has come before us. He concludes his seminal work A New Kind of Christianity by saying that
“We don’t want to betray our heritage. We don’t want to prove unfaithful to the faith that has nourished our souls and formed the communities to which we belong. Yet we must realize what being faithful and true to our spiritual forbears really requires. It’s not simply a matter of repeating again and again what Luther and the other Reformers said (or going back farther and repeating what the scholastics or eremetics or patristics said). Rather, true fidelity means we must do what they did.”[25]
McLaren sees hope in the spiritual practices of the ancient Church much like Foster: he encourages both the individual and the corporate community to participate in spiritual practices aimed at renewal.
            Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, has offered contemplative spiritual practices as a source of discipleship.[26] Although writing from a Catholic perspective, Rohr’s ideas are applicable and accessible to Baptists and other Protestants. Rohr uses psychological categories to address the modern spiritual needs of believers while masterfully integrating ancient spiritual practices. His work represents a bridge to Baptist spiritual formation from the “other” direction, that is, an accessible spiritual practices guide from a Catholic source.
            In much the same way as Harmon attempts to make a way into Baptist catholicity, D. H. Williams examines the early church’s formative influence on the Reformation and on Baptist groups in modern world.[27] His work is an apologetic for the Tradition of the Church, which is often a scandalizing word among Baptists. Williams’ work is a first step in achieving what Harmon envisions as a fully formed Baptist community shaped by the Tradition of the Church yet maintaining the distinct characteristics of the Baptist faith. Williams highlights the relationship Baptists and Roman Catholics could have through a re-appropriation of the ancient Church’s forms and content, saying, “Today’s Protestants should take a lesson from their ancestors. To be Protestant does not imply detachment from doctrinal theology, liberation from ecclesiastical authority, or discarding the tradition(s) of the past. Being Protestant is not synonymous with being anticatholic (sic) in the sense of rejecting the faith as it developed prior to the Reformation. For that matter, being Protestant is not the antithesis of being Roman Catholic…”[28] Williams hopes that by demonstrating the need for an acknowledged and accepted tradition among Protestants that Baptist catholicity with other branches of the Christian family tree will be a step congregations will see and embrace.
            Because local congregations are the essential units in Baptist life, a local congregation must be led to examine its own traditions and discipleship methods in light of this trend toward catholicity.[29] No matter how wise or convincing the aforementioned authors’ words are, little will be accomplished in Baptist life until local congregations adopt new commitments in their discipleship frameworks.
Molly Marshall is again helpful here by identifying four types of discipleship that are practiced among Baptists today: 1) Conversionist; 2) Charismatic; 3) Crusading or Prophetic; and 4) Contemplative.[30] Marshall does not pit one style against another out of necessity, but recognizes that local congregations will develop a style that emphasizes one type over another. She comments, “While these types coalesce at many points, for example, their common concern for strengthening worship in the gathered community as the foundational mode of spiritual formation, their disparate accents are needed for a balanced discipleship.”[31]It will be helpful to this project to examine two of these traditions, specifically the Conversionist and the Contemplative modes of discipleship.
Marshall describes the Conversionist type as what she and “most of us” grew up with. She traces the development of this type of discipleship through the Lutheran language of salvation as a transaction, through revivalism, and finally to the “Southern Baptists’ highly individualistic preoccupation with [a conversion event] rather than an ongoing conversion experience, the journey of faith.”[32] Marshall identifies the strength of this type of “discipleship” as the demand for repentance in faith to enable salvation.
The Contemplative type of discipleship, according to Marshall, “is attracting more attention of late because of Baptists’ deepened acquaintance with the Catholic tradition and their own expressed need for a more reflective discipleship.”[33] She continues, “Reclaiming their roots in the biblical spirituality of the desert tradition, Baptists are learning afresh how one’s entire way of living and being can be informed by the Word of God.”[34] This contemplative style remains open to the spiritual practices of which Rohr and Foster write while maintaining a Baptist framework for that discipleship. Marshall concludes, saying, “the Contemplative type suggests that certain practices and a posture of receptivity make space for the unfinished presence of God in our lives.”[35]
Baptists who experienced the limited discipleship of the Conversionist type, which is certainly the experience of many in the American South, need a more thorough grounding in the Christian tradition to maintain their spiritual formation. The Contemplative types’ recent growth among Baptists may represent an attempt to accomplish just that. More than spiritual practices, though, these Baptists need a new framework upon which to build their identities as disciples of Jesus Christ. Whether Conversionist or Contemplative, Baptists need to examine the object of their faith and the manner in which they pursue their discipleship. Marshall is correct, though, in describing this last type of discipleship that seems to be growing in popularity among non SBC Baptists in the South. Perhaps it is this method of discipleship that will help make a road into Baptist catholicity that discipleship might be experienced as a life-long journey of faith development.

[1] I am a Baptist of Southern Baptist Convention heritage, Baptist General Convention of Texas experience, and a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship future. This section addresses the issues inherent in my personal SBC discipleship experience viewed through the lens of having come through and out of that heritage toward something new.
[2] Allen, Loyd; “Being Born Agan – And Again, and Again,” Baptist History and Heritage 45 no. 3, p. 23-27.
[3] Ibid. 34.
[4] Harmon, 158.
[5] Marshall, Molly T., “The Changing Face of Baptist Discipleship,” Review and Expositor, 95 no. 1, 59-73.
[6] Ibid, 60.
[7] Ibid. Marshall’s experience is similar to my own, and that of Steven Harmon who generalizes Baptist catechesis through worship as “not a service of word and table but rather a service of the word, which nonetheless is capable of a multifaceted telling of the Christian story in itself” (157).
[8] There is plenty to investigate in this idea, but these theological starting points are beyond the scope of this project.
[9] For more on the catechesis of a congregation’s liturgy, see E. Bryon Anderson, “Liturgical Catechesis: Congregational Practice as Formation,” Religious Education 92 no. 3 (1997), p. 349-362.
[10] Westerhoff, 162. Please remember that for Westerhoff, “evangelization” is a component of catechesis. He says, “Evangelization is the participation in and practice of the Christian life of faith, an intentional process within a community of faith that influences the transformation of a person’s faith, character, and consciousness…” (161).
[11] Marshall, 62.
[12] For a contemporary assessment of the Baptist/Catholic dialogue surrounding the calling of Vatican II, see James Leo Garrett, “Polemic, Conversion, and/or Dialogue: Baptist Postures Toward the Roman Catholic Church,” Review and Expositor, 60 no. 3 (1963), p. 319-342.
[13] Marshall, 62.
[14] Ibid.
[15] See Harmon, Steven R. Towards Baptist Catholicity. Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf & Stock, 2006. 270 pages and O’Connell, Maureen H., “Towards a Baptist (and Roman Catholic) Catholicity,” Pro Ecclesia, 18 no. 4, p. 381-385.
[16] Harmon, 164.
[17] O’Connell, 382.
[18] See Harmon, 81-87.
[19] Marshall, 62.
[20] Wilkins, 82.
[21] Harmon finds connections, often ironically, between the modern experience of Baptists and the Patristic modes of worship and church polity. This would certainly serve to be the starting point for a more thorough examination of Patristic writing, which, Harmon believes, will lead to a greater catholicity among otherwise historically and ecumenically ignorant Baptists.
[22] O’Connell referencing Harmon, 383.
[23] His five categories are: 1)the prayer-filled life; 2) the virtuous life; 3) the Spirit-empowered life; 4) the compassionate life; and 5) the Word-centered life. See his Streams of Living Water, New York: Harper-Collins, 2001. Marshall comments on Foster’s use of these categories as a guide to reading spiritual classics that such artifice “seems rather arbitrary at points and difficult to interface for contemporary disciples.” See Marshall, 67.
[24] See Foster, Richard J., Celebration of Discipline, San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998; Freedom of Simplicity, New York: Harper-Collins, 2005; Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, New York: Harper-Collins, 2002.
[25] McLaren, Brian D., A New Kind of Christianity, New York: Harper-Collins, 2010, 258.
[26] See Rohr, Richard, Falling Upward, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011; Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, New York: Crossroad, 2003; The Naked Now, New York: Crossroad, 2009.
[27] See Williams, D. H., Evangelicals and Tradition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005 and Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
[28] Williams, Retrieving the Tradition, 174.
[29] It can easily be argued from Baptist principles that the individual believer is the essential unit within a Baptist church; however, I am assuming that discipleship happens within the context of the discipleship community, that is, the local congregation.
[30] Marshall, 68.
[31] Marshall, 69.
[32] Marshall, 68. See also Bill Leonard’s “Getting Saved in America: Conversion Event in a Pluralistic Culture,” Review and Expositor 82 (Winter 1985): 111-27.
[33] Marshall, 69.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Marshall, 69-70.