Will There Be Faith? A New Vision for Educating and Growing Disciples

Groome sees clearly that questions as seemingly abstruse as how one understands the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity can affect brass tacks kinds of problems like how power is shared in the context of educating children to know and love their Savior. What he also does so well is to keep from going too deeply in one direction or the other: He neither lingers too long, for example, on Trinitarian questions, nor is so bound by his (Roman Catholic) church context that readers outside his tradition are locked out of his generous vision.

Groome locates the concern that drove him to write this book in the recent observations of social scientists, particularly Charles Taylor, about the extent to which secularization works against much of what we do when we educate in religious communities. He makes these observations useful to the Christian reader when he turns to a consideration of the place family ministry should occupy in the life of the church. For Groome, families — however imperfect — have to be recalled to a place of central importance in order to de-center the onset of what Melissa Denton and Christian Smith have called “moralistic therapeutic deism.” This replacement faith has inhabited and largely replaced orthodox Christian belief and practice in most mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, leaving many families confused about how to take up genuine leadership in their homes and engendering less-than-fulsome participation in the life of churches. It is to Groome’s great credit that he does not pose something like an ideal Christian family as the antidote to this very real problem, but seeks to understand the family as a “community of welcome” — a truly human place characterized by the Christ’s hospitality.

Reformed readers of Groome’s book will be given much food for thought and, if led carefully through it by an experienced member or leader of the church, will be able to engage theologically with the first half of the book and will grasp the significant differences that remain between Catholic and Reformed/Presbyterian ways of understanding the church in the second half. If that happens, then a very potent — and potentially transforming — conversation could begin in local churches about questions as important as: How do we understand Christ’s work on this cross? How do committees, educators, lay leaders and pastors witness to what we confess day by day, week by week, until we see our Lord face-to-face? Surely both questions are the most important we can pose in our time. Thomas Groome’s “Will There Be Faith?” is a powerful catalyst for that conversation, and if engaged with genuine prayer may become a building block for the revival we clearly need.

 

JAMES F. CUBIE is director of youth ministries at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, Takoma Park, Md.

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