The current intellectual and social interest in neuroscience invites Christian educators to engage this complex and sometimes disparate field for the sake of transformative teaching and learning. Recognizing that neuroscientists differ over the nature of transformation—as educators differ on a definition of transformative learning—should not detract from neuroscience’s contribution to transformative teaching within Christian education. This article contributes to the conversation by charting a “neuro-logical” approach to resources for transformative teaching and learning. The article maps the field of transformative learning, provides neuroscience insights that support transformative teaching through cognitive, emotional and social domains of neuroscience, and discusses approaches to neuroscience that explain the very processes of transformation within Christian education.
Key Words: neuroscience, transformational teaching, transformative learning, Christian Education
Christian educators need proactive criteria to explore the nature of personal transformation in conversation with new insights from science and technology. Many current approaches treat technology cautiously or focus upon utopian threats. An alternative approach anchored in a view of the practicing self moves beyond traditional Cartesian dualism to offer an alternative approach to understanding holistic formation-even the place of transformation-in the midst of technology. The following research essay offers a mediating position by asserting a role for technological practice that contributes to a sense of relationality, contextuality and complexity. The presentation includes current scientific insights on emergence, as well as the nature of Christian practice, ritual, and developmental theory.
Contemporary attempts to renovate evangelical Christian discipleship in the 21st century include efforts to resolve the relationship between modern Christian education paradigms and the rediscovery of ancient Christian (spiritual formation) practices. One example resides in the current research on Practicing our Faith (Bass, 1997), and in age-level emphases on formational practices beginning to surface (Jones, 2003). Additional studies are needed for comprehensive approaches to Christian education in the 21st century. Evangelical Christian educators seeking new paradigms may find another example closer to home in John Wesley's means of grace. Wesleyan educators may have something distinct to offer contemporary evangelicalism if they can first embrace their own heritage and work to develop an approach that embraces the three emphases of formation, discernment, and transformation. A beginning point may be a new text currently emerging from Wesleyan educators within the Church of the Nazarene that seeks to synthesize the best of modern and postmodern education under this rubric.
Evangelical Christian education has historically been tied to a western, if not outright North American, worldview. However, missional efforts by evangelical churches, like the Church of the Nazarene, as well as a growing global awareness present new challenges for the task of discipleship. Competing concepts within globalization complicate the task. Concepts epitomized in Benjamin Barber's terms "McWorld" and "Jihad" may result in educational strategies resembling either commodity-based commercialism or tribal coercive violence. Christian educators must develop a pedagogical conversation based on alternative visions of diversity and unity, using redemptive images cultivated from ecclesial and family settings. This article proposes such an alternative sacramental/familial image, global pedagogy as table conversation, and projects how such a vision might overcome the educational challenges presented by commercial domination or violent reaction.
Christian educators and psychologists searching for new avenues for teaching and learning have a rich reserve in John Wesley's understanding and classification of "The Means of Grace." The means of grace provide an excellent metaphor for connecting Wesley's sacramental theology, basic Christian practices and various ways of knowing. The term "ways of knowing" is a new metaphor in psychology and education that "ruptures" traditional epistemological categories of cognitive, affective, and behavioral families of learning.
Research from various theorists addressing the ways of knowing provide a new way of identifying and understanding how persons perceive, learn, and construct the world around them. Wesley's category, "the means of grace" also identifies certain basic Christian education practices (including prayer, Scripture, fasting, Eucharist, and Christian community) that are sacramental in nature. This sacramental quality, found particularly in the Eucharist, also encourages a receptivity to learning based upon past, present, and even future experience.
After beginning with a brief overview of the means of grace, the paper provides a brief synopsis of the psychological and educational research associated with "ways of knowing," including some of the new suggested categories for learning (narrative, ritual, interpersonal, etc.). It then describes the power of the Eucharist to convey meaning at multiple levels (past, present, and future). The body of the paper proceeds to suggest how various Christian practices in the means of grace might communicate different ways of knowing God through an epistemological and sacramental synthesis. While primarily focused upon the field of education, this presentation also includes new insights for therapists and other psychologists interested in insight and learning.
Denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene face a crisis of theological identity in the new, postmodern world. Denominational universities and colleges, and their religion departments, are often called upon to teach for ecclesial identity. Religion faculty who desire to teach for identity, however, face a number of tensions in balancing the internal forces of the liberal arts environment with their ministerial background and academic training. These tensions can be explored through an analysis of prescriptive and descriptive educational methods. An alternative approach based upon methods of formation and discernment is offered as a means to reconceive identity formation in higher education and perhaps overcome the current tensions.