People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

So it’s a little bit of a long word, but catechesis is a historic part of Christian faith. It’s how we pass on the faith to the next generation, entrusting the Gospel to them, and bring people into the way that we live it out. Thanks to some great classes, I’ve had the chance to think about it a lot lately, and to read about it (Pentecostal Formation by Cheryl Bridges Johns is a recommended title). Here are some of my thoughts (if it sounds like a formal paper or presentation…it is), but I’d love to hear what people think should be the practices in Pentecostal catechesis.

The Christian conviction about catechesis is summarized succinctly by Cheryl Bridges Johns: “Education enables a person to pursue his or her ontological vocation of becoming fully human” (Johns, 2010 113-4). This enterprise is contextualized in the Kingdom of God. “Education is by a kingdom and for citizenship in that kingdom”  (Wolterstorff, 2004 17). Until now, the Pentecostal stream of Christianity has never developed its own pedagogy, but has borrowed (with very little adaptation) from traditions that do not share its fundamental distinctive. Believing that the Pentecostal movement has a contribution to make to the Church, I offer these as hopeful first steps toward developing a Pentecostal vision for catechesis and Christian education.

To begin this, it would be necessary to define knowledge. Christians in many traditions object to the secularized notion that knowledge is the possession of information or fact. Where Christians have not been able to find as much agreement is on what knowledge actually is. Acknowledging that humans are creatures composed of body, soul, and spirit, knowledge can be adequately defined as “the response of the total person to God…grounded in concrete historical experience” (Johns 100). As such, knowledge has three primary characteristics: it emerges from a covenantal relationship with God, is expressed in obedience, and transforms the individual and the world (44).[1]

This definition of knowledge demands learning. Learning here ought to be understood as the altering of perception from the old reality that was previously observed and experienced to the new reality inaugurated in the Kingdom of God. Brueggeman describes this as “letting people see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice” (2001 116). Johns agrees and expresses that this learning is not merely seen, but experienced by the whole person (90). The revelation of the Kingdom of God is not merely the acquisition of a new lens on personal experience however. It is the process of “unveiling God’s will for the world” (Johns 107).

This unveiling can be broken down  into three steps that have been adapted from Johns.[2] The first of these is “bridge-burning” (Johns 92). Learning begins as there is a conversion of the individual to a new way of knowing (a change in their relationship with God). In this conversion, they have been cut off from their old way of being in the world and are moved forward to “re-creation” (93). In re-creation, the individual’s way of knowing is reconciled with the new reality of the Kingdom of God and their thoughts, will, and way of life begin to align with the will of God. This progression develops into “a holy partnership with humankind” – being co-creator with God (93). In being co-creators with God, the learning community is invited to participate in the sanctification of the world, aligning it with the will of God (123).

In order to do this, the foundational content of what is worth teaching is the Gospel of the Kingdom in Jesus. There are some important qualifiers, however. First of all, the Gospel of the Kingdom is taught as defined by Scripture in order to actualize Scripture. “Scripture is the standard for the process and the outcome” (Johns 122). We also ought to do this in a way that is committed to the interconnectedness of knowledge.[2] God created all things. In Christ, He redeems all things. By the Spirit, He sanctifies all things. The Kingdom inaugurated by God’s covenanting includes the whole creation, as does the scope of knowledge human beings are called to pursue. So, it is completely appropriate for us to narrate God’s revelation in Scripture and history. It is appropriate to demonstrate Christ’s Lordship over every sphere of human activity. It is appropriate to to encourage responsible community living, faithful fulfillment of vocation and provide guidance in ethical decisions. It is appropriate to equip individuals for discernment and action in the life of God’s Kingdom until Christ returns to consummate it and make all things new.[3] The guiding question for what is worth teaching is this: does it announce the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ?[4]

The nature of Christian experience and community necessarily requires that it should offer alternative patterns for thinking and living (Wolterstorff 97). Accessing Pentecostal values, the thinking should emphasize the narrativity of life and the immediacy of the text (Johns 84), expressed through “stories, testimonies, songs” and other modes of creative expression (67). Alternative ways of living begins with the assumption that there is “no dichotomy between the social self and spiritual self” (68), so there is an inevitable need for correspondence between the life of the soul and the life of the body. This Pentecostal ethos places a high value on total-person participation and community, inevitably resulting in a dynamic liturgy for catechesis (136).[5]

So what’s it look like, folks?

[1] Some might object that this reserves knowledge to Christians alone. In the Biblical narrative, it is evident that those who are not among the people of God do have knowledge on the basis of God’s covenantal relationship with Adam & Eve, and the covenant of preservation with Noah. These covenants have universal application, and put the whole (fallen) creation in a relationship with God, that apart from the redemptive work of Jesus and the New Covenant, remains unreconciled – and is thus, incomplete, limited, and temporary.

[1] “I submit that it is the discovery, premise, assumption, and conviction of the interconnectedness of life that is the central substance of the wisdom teachers.” (Pg. 84 in Brueggemann, W. [1982]. The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

[2] This list is adapted from Pp. 106-109 in Westerhoff, J. H. (1976). Will Our Children Have Faith? Minneapolis: Seabury Press.

[3] This emphasis is supported by Brueggemann (1980 85-87), Wolterstorff (266), and Johns (116).

[4] Pazmiño offers an exploration of a model of Christian education that puts leitourgia at the center (Pp. 46-53 in Pazmiño, R. W. [2008].  Foundational Issues in Christian Education: An Introduction in Evangelical Perspective, Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic). While the content of these models differ, their structures are similar.


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