When I was growing up, my parents and I would battle consistently. It was a battle that started in elementary school and continued all the way through high school, always over the same topic. I imagine many of you fought this battle as well; maybe you fight it now as parents: the battle over grades.
This battle was not because my parents were disappointed in my intelligence; they were disappointed that I did not try. They knew I could do better, and every now and then I was foolish enough to get As and prove them right. The problem was not a lack of time on my part or even a lack of effort, but a lack of appreciation. I just did not care—I did better in Latin than I did in English, and I assure you that I have a better grasp of English. I did better in Latin because the teacher made me care. I might not be able to tell you what Wuthering Heights is about, but I can tell you that Cato the Elder ended a good many of his speeches with “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage must be destroyed).
Now why do I say any of this? Because I teach confirmation, and it took me a while to realize the first thing I need to teach kids is to care. I know that church workers the world over bemoan the biblical illiteracy in the church. “Kids don’t know their Bibles anymore!” Let me be clear on this—I agree. It is a problem, a prevalent problem. However, I grow ever more convinced that it is not our biggest problem. The problem is primarily a lack of care. Kids do not value or desire life in the church above the other things in their lives. If kids show little concern for life in the church, the Bible, or what it means to follow Christ, why would they desire to learn about it? And more importantly, why would they conform their lives to Christ?
Even if kids know every story in the Bible and have memorized the catechism, it does not matter if they do not care; knowledge alone will not conform them to Christ. It will not change anything if we do not also teach them to value those things. I have known more than a few people who know a lot about the Bible and yet they do not conform to Christ.
Let me now get to the real core of what I am saying: I believe that the church has forgotten—or at least severely downplayed—people’s feelings and desires. If we want to reach the coming generations, or the existing generations, we need to approach people as creatures that not only think, but also feel and desire. We need to be holistic in our proclaiming and teaching.
I am not trying to attack anyone’s ministry. I think we accidentally walked into this problem and did so over a long period of time. Along with the rest of Western culture, we have allowed ourselves to fall into Enlightenment/modernist views concerning our humanity. As James K. A. Smith said, “Many Christian schools, colleges, and universities—particularly in the Protestant tradition—have taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons. In particular, Christian education has absorbed a philosophical anthropology that sees human persons as primarily thinking things.” We, the church, give undue preference to cognition at the expense of affect and desire. We treat people more like mere thinking machines than humans with feelings and desires. Our view of humanity treats people like Spock, who wishes to be free from emotion, instead of his passionate captain, Kirk.
I believe that you do not have to look far to see the ways your church or school deals primarily in cognition and neglects affect and desire. Think about that lament concerning biblical literacy mentioned earlier. Do you hear similar laments about kids no longer desiring to love their neighbor? What does your church hold up as a bar for confirmation? Is it that they show a desire to be conformed to Christ in His life and death or that their attendance is high enough and they have reached the minimum level of memory work? What are the goals of your lesson plans? That the learner would be able to explain justification or grow in an appreciation of justification? The problem is not that students do not care about confirmation; the problem is that we have not taught them to care.
While the church has neglected to shape the care of children and adults, culture has not. Take a walk through any mall and notice the “saints” formed in plastic or printed in billboards. Watch a car commercial. You learn nothing about the car or clothing, but get a glimpse of the life that comes with those things. The ads teach us to desire these products. “If only I had that car.” “If only I had those jeans.” Rarely do we say, “If only I had loved my neighbor the way Christ wants me to.” “If only I acted more like the saints who persevere in the face of martyrdom.” If you think I am wrong, then look at the research showing that the majority of students being confirmed this year will not remain in the church. They are not leaving due to a lack of knowledge about Jesus. I think they leave because they have not been taught to care about Christ or His church. What is more terrifying is the church knows why students should care, yet we fail to communicate it to them.
The reason we fail to teach, as Smith argues, is that we have fallen into a view of humanity that does not treat humans as creatures that think and feel. We need to reclaim a view of humanity that sees our fellow creatures in a holistic way and attempts to shape not only cognition, but affect as well. We need to take hold of our first article belief that “God created me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them.” With this list, found in Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther is saying that God made everything. Everything. That means that God made us as whole persons who both think and feel. Therefore, it is important for us to make sure that our worship, lesson plans, Bible studies, prayers, conversations, and anything else that we do show concern for the cognitive and affective domains. It is time to go back to Bloom’s taxonomy and start crafting more than just cognitive goals.
The church needs to stop trying to be like Spock, who evaluates each situation with the coldness of a computer, and try to be like Kirk, a man who has a passion that drives him to explore the reaches of the galaxy and risk life and limb for his fellow travelers.
Rev. Matt Wait
Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church Lakeville, Minnesota