The responsibility of the Church in Christian education is one area where I think the modern church is missing the mark. This might surprise those of you who know I graduated from a Christian University. My problem is that the scholarship available at universities like the one I attended has not found its way into the life of the Church. Instead, the idea of Christian education remains an option only necessary for those "entering the ministry."
This is particularly a problem in the evangelical church. A good example is my parents who recently attended a "sunday school" class entitled Theology 101, sounds great until you realize that they have both been active in the Church for the past 25 years. (Though I’m sure they could argue the finer nuances of the failure of darwinism against creationism, and they have a healthy repository of apologetics cheat sheets). But where is the discussion of church history, creeds, or the reformation? What about modern day heroes like Deitrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr.? What about even basic textual criticism like a synoptics study? If Christian education is so important for individuals leading the church, why wouldn’t it also be important for everyone else called to practice living the Christian faith?
I think the ’seeker sensitive’ movement bears a lot of the responsibility for this absence. While the seeker sensitive movement was moderately successful in drawing people who wouldn’t ordinarily attend church, it has been horrible at bringing these individuals towards any resemblance of spiritual maturity. It seems the evangelical church’s idea of spiritual formation involves a ‘welcome class’ and a ‘bookstore’ (where the quality of said bookstore is most determined by the decadence of its brand name coffee!)
In contrast, I happen to believe that the knowledge and tools I have acquired in Christian education would be incredibly helpful to others practicing the Christian faith. So how do we go about bringing these resources of academic institutions to the broad Church body?
Notre Dame’s Opencourseware seems like a step in the right direction. Debuting at MIT, Opencourseware was created as a way to enhance society by the dissemination of knowledge. Yet Notre Dame’s Opencourseware operates under a slightly different purpose:
Notre Dame’s participation is of a piece not only with its history, reaching back to its founding as an educational mission to native Americans, but also with its goal ‘to provide a forum where through free inquiry and open discussion the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.’
While it is technically not being ‘offered’ by the local Church, and for that matter not really evangelical either, ND’s Opencourseware is nevertheless targeted to audiences both in and outside of the academy, and I think that is a step in the right direction.