Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Conative Domain and Christian education

If you’re a teacher, you probably find reading and thinking about learning domains both helpful and fascinating. Others…not so much. So when I promise to speak about conation and it relationship to Christian education, you might think it irrelevant. Stay with me, because you’ll see why it’s important.

  1. What is conation? Think of it as instinct, mode of operation, or even a person’s method. As opposed to motivation, which deals with the why someone does something, conation (while related) deals with the how. If cognition is the thinking aspects of the mind, and affection is the feeling aspects of the mind, then conation is the doing aspects of the mind.
  2. Educators generally work with the cognitive/thinking aspects of the mind. We concern ourselves with what students know. Our educational system organizes itself around the content of disciplines. Secondarily we concern ourselves with the affective/value aspects of education. We answer the why question of a subject discipline. A well-written course syllabus will have cognitive (I want you to know this by the end of the course) and affective (I want you to value this at the end of the course) objectives. Rarely, you see a behavioral objective (I want you to perform this skill by the end of the course). You never, that I have found, find a conative objective (I want you to do this or operate in this manner by the end of the course).
  3. Christian education involves the cognitive, affective and conative aspects of education. Deuteronomy 6 requires us to love God with our whole mind (cognitive), soul (affective) and strength (conative). Paul in his first letter to Timothy mentions the aim of his instruction is love from a pure heart (cognitive), a good conscience (affective) and a sincere faith (conative). Christian educators must teach and deal with all aspects of the mind: the thoughts, the values, and the methods of the student. Also consider that God has instructed parents to, “train up a child in the way he should go…” which instructs parents to understand that child’s particular leanings and inclinations, and then teach that child how to maximize those so that “he will not depart from it” when he is older.

So what?

  1. Parents should focus on the conative domain. While this does not exclude parents from shaping the values and knowledge of their children (or exclude the academy or church from teaching to the conative domain), parents are in the best position to help shape the methods and instincts by which their children operate.
  2. Curriculum in the Christian academy needs to incorporate the conative domain.
  3. Christian educators need to focus on the conative domain in their classrooms in addition to the other domains.
  4. As an experimental suggestion, I wonder if we should organize the Christian academy around the conative domain rather than the cognitive domain. I will explore this idea more in another post.

Let us shape the whole person, not just 2/3 of a person in Christian education.

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International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Drink up, me hearties. Yo ho! It be international talk like a pirate day! May your swash be buckled and your bounty be filled wit’ booty!

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September 19, 2012 · 7:27 am

The Task of Christian Education

Warning: big words ahead. Bear with me, though. I will land in a relevant, practical place.

J. Scott Horrell, professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, describes the five divisions of sin in Genesis chapter 3 based on his meditations at L’Abri and the writings of Francis Schaffer. In a nutshell, once Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, it causes a division or separation of five relationships: humanity/God, humanity/humanity, humanity/self, humanity/nature, and nature/nature. Jesus’ work on the cross reconciles these relationships, and will ultimately reconcile these relationships in the eschaton (eternity future, when Jesus returns and sets all things right).

However, we don’t live in the eschaton; we live in the here and now. Here  and now, the Bible describes the church as the body of Christ. In a sense we (the church) serve as the incarnation (Christ in the flesh) until the incarnation comes back to complete the job.* If you can accept that the church must carry out the work of Christ, and if you can accept that Christ came (in part) to reconcile the divisions of sin (in fulfillment of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15) then it follows that the church’s task is to carry out the reconciliation of the five divisions of sin.

This means that the task of Christian education is to teach the church how to carry out the task of reconciliation.

Implication: Christian educators need to reconsider the cognitive categories of education. We organize our educational system around content domains, based upon Greek philosophical categories. It seems to me that, while helpful, those categories may not offer the best method or categories.  I think that the Arts/Humanities/Sciences split doesn’t offer the best lens to think through the reconciliatory task. I will offer an alternative at a later date.

Implication: Christian educators also need to reconsider education in light of the academy/church/home split. I have suggested that the academy teaches to the cognitive (knowledge), the church teaches to the affective (values) and the home teaches to the conative (method/drive), but I think theses agencies can coordinate and cooperate more in their efforts to teach the students. In fact, I think these agencies need to do a better job in doing so. Perhaps this offers a path to doing so.

Implication: Christian educators must teach not only to the cognitive (content) aspects of education, but also the affective and conative aspects. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Christian education involves the whole person, and our efforts need to do so with deliberation and with careful and prayerful consideration.

May we renew and pursue the task and the high calling of Christian education.

* – Yes, yes, I know this brings up post/pre/a-millenial arguments and interpretations of Revelation and the particular eschatological views. If you will grant me the basic premise that life now is different than life will be (in other words, that the future when all things are right will be different than life is now when all things are not right) without arguing over how we get there, I believe you might be able to accept where I’m going with this.

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Threefold Office in Christian Education

In doing some research for a project I’m planning to work on with a friend, I had the chance to contemplate and learn about the threefold office. The concept of the threefold office refers to Jesus’ earthly ministry and roles as prophet, priest, and king. Loosely described, the prophet represents God to the people, receiving proclamations from God and delivering them to the populace. The priest represents the people to God, making sacrifice and intercession on their behalf. The king acts as God’s agent on the earth, ruling and reigning over the people. In doing so, the king also provides an example of how to live, often bearing responsibility for the blessing or curse of the people.

So how does this impact Christian education?

CE happens in one of three places: the church, the home, and the academy (school, as in primary, secondary or higher education). While each commits themselves to CE, they  have differing emphases. It also occurs to me that those roles correspond with the threefold offices, and have a primary educational domain in which they focus. For your consideration (and recognizing the idealism in these descriptions):

  1. The church. The church’s CE role corresponds to the priestly function. At the church, we learn what to value (the affective domain) and where we should place our priorities. The Old Covenant priestly function includes some aspects of teaching, as the priest must instruct the people on the proper ways to approach God, and how to understand and value the sacrificial system. This “priestly” function carries over into the church (I know about the priesthood of all believers and as a dyed-in-the-wool protestant I affirm that belief) where we practice the ritual aspects of faith and experience communion.
  2. The home. The home’s CE role corresponds to the kingly function. In the home, we experience the rule and reign (the parents) who model the proper behavior as set forth by God, and wield the authority granted by God with grace and wisdom. In doing so, parents help children understand their role in the body, in society, and train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). In short, the student in the  home learns conation, and the home teaches mainly to the conative domain.
  3. The academy. The academy’s CE role corresponds to the prophetic function. Like the prophet, the academy seeks to receive and understand the revelation of God, and then communicate that to the people of God. As such, the academy studies not only the inspired word of God (the canon) but also that which God spoke into existence (creation). In doing so, the academy teaches the content of God’s revelation (the cognitive domain).

The domain and teaching content are not exclusive, but primary. The parents in the home have primary responsibility to help a child find their way, but will also work to shape the values and knowledge of that child. When that family goes to church, the pastor will primarily shape the values of that family, but will also teach the knowledge and practices of the faith. When the child goes to school, he will learn knowledge of God, but that knowledge will shape his values and methods.

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The Church in Christian Education

At several points in this blog, I have or will mention the church. It occurs to me that I need to make my meaning clear when I refer to it for the sake of clarity.

Definition #1: I took a course in Sanctification and Ecclesiology, and another in Issues in Ecclesiology from Dr. Glenn Kreider of Dallas Theological Seminary. In that course, he defines what most describe as the Universal Church, in a definition from Robert Saucy’s The Church in God’s Program. So, when I refer to the church in a general way, I mean, the New Covenant Community of the Spirit. Christians are members and partakers of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Luke 22:20, Hebrews). We are a community of faith, united in and by the Spirit of God (Acts 2:14-21).

Definition #2: Sometimes I talk about it in connection or contrast to the home and the academy as a location for Christian education. In that case, I’m referring to the institutional, organized assembly where the new covenant community of the Spirit gathers to receive the ordinances and participate in the communal ritual expressions of faith. That definition is long and clunky, and I’m working on shortening it, but it’s what I have so far.

Definition #3: Rarely I refer to the building where the new covenant community of the Spirit assembles to participate in the communal ritual expressions of faith. This doesn’t happen often, however.

Definition #4: Rarer still, I might talk about the church in connection and contrast to the historical Israel of the Bible (Old Testament). In that case, I most likely mean the seed (descendants) of Abraham in relationship to God through the New Covenant. By this I mean the spiritual heirs of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and inheritors of the promise. This means that not all descendents of Abraham will inherit his promise, but this should not surprise anyone (see Ishmael, for one example).

My other half would point out to me that I need to answer the “so what” question, as in, “So why should I care about this definition?” Firstly, I answer this question so that you, the reader, can understand what I mean, but that’s about me. I would encourage others to think through what they mean by “the church” when they refer to it, recognizing that, like me, they probably mean a couple of different things. Secondly, our understanding of the church influences our behavior when we carry out the mission of the church. My first definition implies something about what I believe the Bible to communicate about God, my relationship to God, how I should relate to others, and how I should relate to his creation. It all ties to the New Covenant and shapes how I will educate my children and lead my family. Thirdly, note that I have not defined the church as the body of Christ. I do this because, as I understand it, the New Testament uses the body of Christ as a metaphor to describe the church, rather than define it, a subtle but important distinction.

And there you go. The church, by definition.

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