Already-not yet. Thanks to the groundbreaking New Testament theological studies of Germany’s Oscar Cullman (1902-99) and of Fuller Seminary’s George Eldon Ladd (1911-82), many of today’s Christians speak of the kingdom of God/heaven as having already arrived through the work of the Incarnate Savior, while we still await its full realization to come with Christ’s second advent. Their insights into kingdom theology were profound and, for many of us, paradigmatic.
In an almost trivial play off of their work, this magazine stands in the midst of another already-not yet reality. It is arriving in your office or home around the time of adjournment of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but it has been sent from the Outlook’s offices to the printer’s shop before the GA convened. Accordingly, it is arriving too late to be offering advance analysis to matters that will be debated and is being sent too early for us to report on actions already taken.
It’s a simple, dare I say, simplistic case of the already-not yet.
So what shall we talk about in such a time? Why, of course, we can talk about Christian education. CE: that central task of the church that had its beginnings in the days of Noah, if not before, and has continued uninterrupted ever since.
Uninterrupted? For sure. But consistent? Anything but.
Those of us who revere the Reformed tradition claim that the church’s educational efforts waned badly in the centuries prior to Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses to Wittenberg’s parish church door. We claim that the pedagogy soared to new heights in Calvin’s Geneva. We study with great joy the creeds of the early centuries and the Reformation and later confessions that have provided the textbook for millions of disciples’ catechesis. We look back with favor at the launch of Sunday morning church schools in the 19th century, remembering with affection the felt boards and overhead projectors and ice cream stick figures and energizers and study guides that directed the study of God’s Word.
All of which leads to a curious paradox. While the prime text for understanding God’s will remains the collection of 66 books studied all the way back to Augustine and before, the educators — teaching elders, professional educators, moms and dads, grandmothers and youth directors — have innovated and innovated at every turn to help us to inscribe God’s words upon our hearts, teaching our children, talking of them when sitting in our houses and walking by the way, when lying down and rising up, being signs on our hands, jewelry on faces, signals on our door posts and gates (Deuteronomy 6:6ff. paraphrased).
To our credit, we Presbyterians relentlessly comb over ever-growing research of learning styles and teaching techniques, and never cease to write new study materials, to publish new textbooks, and to experiment with the newest methods. Some curricula have hit a sweet spot — old timers love to hearken back to the Covenant Life curriculum used widely in the 1960s. Others haven’t caught on. But our Presbyterian Mission Agency and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation continue to roll out new resources for our learning.
God bless them.
But coming up short in the process is the leadership role of the professional Christian educators. Having attended their annual convention seven of the past eight years, their diminishing attendance is proof positive that theirs is an endangered species. The spiritual health and enduring witness of our disciples is being diminished as a result. Now I’m not just blindly loyal to the educators. I speak from experience that a trained, skilled, and experienced educator can bring the old, old story to life in the new, new lives of growing believers. The skilled, committed educator can recruit, train and build enthusiasm in the collection of educators needed to facilitate a comprehensive program of faith-formation.
But in an age of diminishing resources, the commission to make disciples continues to beckon for earnest, proactive and innovative Christian education programming. Teaching and ruling elders can lean heavily on the denominational resources made available for such purposes. But let there be no doubt: wherever churches take their educational mission for granted, they already have begun the dying process. Formation of disciples is an already and always calling.