The Means of Grace and Ways of Knowing: A Wesleyan Approach to Sacramental Learning

From: Volume 4NS, Issue 1: Spring 2000 Pages 7-40


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.



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