Christian Nurture and Critical Openness

"Christian Nurture and Critical Openness" Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 34, 1981, pp. 17 37

Reprinted: Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis (eds) Critical Perspectives on Christian Education: A Reader on the Aims, Principles and Philosophy of Christian Education Leominster, Fowler Wright Books 1994, pp. 251-275 ISBN: 0 85244 254 8


The nature of Christian upbringing today needs to be redefined. There can no longer be an easy identification of Christian development with general education. Religious education within the state school systems of modern, pluralist democracies cannot be regarded as intending to nurture Christian faith. (l) But how can Christian nurture be distinguished from good education on the one hand and indoctrination on the other?

An outline of the problem was offered in School Worship. an Obituary (1975) but in the discussions which lay behind The Child in the Church report (British Council of Churches, 1976) it became clearer that Christian nurture must somehow include the idea of critical openness.

A religion can only encourage the personal freedom of its young people towards their future if the religion is free with regard to its own future. If Christian faith sought merely to reduplicate itself, to form young Christians who were the exact repetition of the previous generation, to pass on Christian faith as if it were like a parcel handed down from generation to generation, then it would be very difficult to distinguish between the passing on of this sort of thing and closed, authoritative instruction or even indoctrination. (paragraph 59)

The report suggested (paragraph 60) that the clue lay in the thought that ‘Christian faith is constantly critical of itself.’ This was seen (paragraph 62) as the root of the power of the Christian faith to generate an understanding both of general education as open and inquiring, and of Christian nurture as being other than indoctrination.

But The Child in the Church does not carry the discussion much further. The section ends with the thought ‘that when Christians seek to nurture their young into Christian faith, they. . . do not fully know what they are nurturing them into’ (paragraph 63) and with the enigmatic statement, ‘What we pass on to our children is not the painting but the paint box.’ This was one of the areas in which the working party thought further reflection necessary, ‘since the renewal of the Churches’ ministry in nurturing both children and adults requires for its support a theology which sees critical openness as springing from Christian commitment’ (Recommendation B5). The following remarks are an attempt to carry the discussion a little further.

The problem defined

We are dealing with a problem in practical theology, or a problem of applicability. We must first place the question of critical openness within the nature of practical theology.

In a changing world an unchanging theology soon becomes irrelevant. A theology which is baldly declared, merely proclaimed or applied without pausing to listen and to examine itself presumes for itself an authority which will no longer be recognised. If practical theology is thought of as theology seeking to be related to the problems and possibilities of human life both inside and outside the community of faith, then critical openness must be a key feature of its method, defining (not exhaustively of course) the stance it will adopt towards itself and towards the world of human aspiration, achievement and sin, of which it is a part.

Because documents from the past require constant reinterpretation, critical openness is a central feature of hermeneutics, and so becomes relevant to the branches of practical theology concerned with the theological criticism of history and literature. Critical openness is equally relevant in theological appraisal of the physical sciences, where new claims to knowledge are continually challenging the adequacy of existing claims to knowledge. When we come to the social sciences we find that critical openness is significant in the dialogue between theology and all the disciplines which conceive of development as guided by learning. These include aspects of psychotherapy, politics, education (all these are in principle outside the community of faith) and Christian nurture (inside the community of faith).

Critical Openness and Autonomy as a Goal of Education.

An instructed person thinks what he is told to think, a socialised person thinks what others think, an indoctrinated person does not really think at all, an educated person thinks for himself. ‘Thinking for yourself certainly does not mean ‘thinking whatever you like.’ It is neither ego-centric nor heteronomous. To think for yourself means that irrational authority (i.e. authoritarianism) is rejected, you accept responsibility for your own beliefs and for the actions flowing from them, and you adopt an attitude of appraisal towards your previously and presently held beliefs.(2)

Autonomy of judgment is acquired through a process of growth, so that although it may not make much sense to speak of training a person in autonomy it does make sense to speak of his autonomy being fostered, encouraged or nurtured. Autonomy may be lost not only to other people but also to your own past self. If my past self directs my thinking to the point of preventing me from responding with suitable creativity to the problems of today, then I have lapsed into heteronomy? We must not only grow to reach autonomy, we must continue growing to retain autonomy.

Other aspects of education exhibit similar features. The very idea of learning implies a willingness to see the limitation of what is known, and to respect the unknown, or be curious about it and so open towards it. Curriculum development requires critical criteria for content selection, and the problem of evaluating curricula also calls for clarification of values. So the educator can be thought of as professionally ‘thinking for himself.’

We could build up a picture of education in which critical openness was a

distinguishing feature, marking off education from training, which is imitative and thus heteronomous, and from instruction, which is marked by obedience to authority.

‘Thinking for yourself’ is being used here as a popular slogan including both autonomy and critical openness. Although autonomy (literally ‘self-directed law,’ or ‘self-originated principle’) requires one to be open to the call of reason, it can suggest a degree of independence and even self-enclosed independence, which the expression critical openness does not evoke. Critical openness suggests listening, respecting, being interdependent, being in relation, and it conveys a meaning which is closer to Christian faith, while retaining the force of the more widely used word ‘autonomy.’ It would be an over-simplification to suggest that there is only one concept of autonomy in educational philosophy, or one kind of critical openness in religion. Critical openness in Islam may mean the process of drawing contemporary inferences from a received theological structure, or in Hinduism the devotional and intellectual consequences of the relation between the one and the many. But enough has been said to show how the way the idea occurs in modern western education creates this challenge for Christian thought: can a Christian ‘think for himself?’ Can he be an educated person? And how can Christian processes of upbringing avoid invidious comparisons with general education, which will seem more noble, since it includes the ideal of autonomy?

Christian Nurture and Critical Openness.

Christian nurture is offered by Christians to Christians in order to strengthen Christian faith and to develop Christian character. It is easily distinguished from general education, since the latter does not intend the building up of Christian faith (although it may in passing have this effect) nor must the teachers of general education be Christian (although they may be). It is possible but not necessary to base general education on Christian faith, but it is necessary that Christian nurture should spring from and be defined by Christian faith. It is because Christian nurture is set in a certain community (the Church), the beliefs of which are controversial in society at large, that it may appear to be a form of indoctrination. This is indeed apparently the case with the teaching methods of several religious communities (currently the Korean Moon sect) which attract public attention through their practice of separating young adherents from their schools and families in order to present their teachings with as little distraction as possible, and to avoid the relativising effect of living side by side with different religious and non-religious communities. It is probably true that the reaction of religious groups to pluralism has usually been to create special residential areas. No doubt the Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters of cities in the middle east are not only congenial from the cultural and language points of view, but also simplify the process of passing on religious traditions. But such religious apartheid is ill at ease with the mobility, the mass communications and the common schools of the western democracies. As The Child in the Church report states, ‘Any nurturing group which seeks to work in the middle of a plural society in which an open, critical kind of education is functioning will be exposed to the charge that it is indoctrinatory, simply because it selects one possible future (in the case of Christian nurture, a Christian

future) and ignores others.’ (Paragraph 58) In a society where everything is to be examined, how can a process in which some things are not to be examined (if that is what Christian nurture comes to) escape inferior status? At this point, it may look as if Christian nurture has close affinities with anti-autonomous and conformist processes. The Child in the Church report argues that ‘more open’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’. This is perfectly correct, but only a closer examination of the relation between Christian nurture and critical openness will dispel remaining doubts.

If Christians were content (as some seem to be) to let education have a monopoly of critical openness and to allow Christian nurture to be assimilated into Christian instruction or even Christian (sic) indoctrination this particular problem would be solved. It would then simply be the case that critical openness had little part to play in Christian upbringing.(4)

But other problems would be created.

Either Christian parents think that critical openness is good for other

people's children but not for their own,

or they think it bad for everyone's children,

or they think it good in general for other children and for their own but not in areas connected with Christian upbringing.

In the first case Christian participation in education becomes more difficult, since a basic feature of education is admitted to be alien to Christian upbringing. We would have Christian children withdrawn from religious education classes or from the public schools altogether.(5) The second position, although more consistent, means the breakdown of the Christian enterprise in modem education and the triumph, in Christian circles, of authoritarian instruction. The last position is the worst of all, since the conflict is internal to the young Christian. He may now think for himself in every area except that which is expected to be his deepest commitment. Such a policy will not attract worthwhile youngsters for five minutes, nor would it deserve to.

If Christian nurture were to be collapsed into Christian instruction the idea of being a Christian person would also have changed. Just as education, instruction, socialisation, indoctrination and so on imply different views of man, so Christian nurture, Christian instruction, Christian training and so on imply different views of Christian man. Are Christians to be conformist, passive acceptors of authority, unable to adapt to crises, too set in the received ways to think creatively? Only a Christian nurtured in critical openness can have characteristics other than these. For those who think (as I do) that this other Christian life is essential for the continued vitality and relevance of Christian faith, the problem of how Christian nurture can be like education in possessing critical openness, yet unlike education in intending Christian life and faith, is a central concern.

Theological notes on critical openness

So far we have been considering critical openness as a problem for practical theology with respect to an area outside the community of faith (general education) and inside (Christian nurture). But difficulties in applying theology usually lead back to problems of conceptual coherence within the belief structure itself. The matter was simpler when upbringing processes within the church were modelled on secular education (theories of

psychological development and so on). When an explicitly Christian rationale is sought for Christian nurture today, the main difficulty is whether critical openness can be accommodated within the framework of Christian belief.

Four areas where this tension is apparent are selected for comment. This list is not exhaustive.

1. Finality. If Christian faith is complete and perfect, how can there be room for the exercise of critical openness upon it and within it? One could be critically open towards the outside world, but surely not towards the faith itself?

2. Authority. Does not critical openness seem incompatible with the respectful acceptance which the Christian ought to have towards 'that which has been received from the Lord'? Does it not undermine the teaching office of the church by over-emphasising individual judgment? Is it not far removed from the child-like trust which a creature should have towards the Creator?

3. Revelation. Does not critical openness exalt the reason of man above the Word of God?

4. Spirituality. Is not critical openness hostile to the spirit of discipleship? Surely we are called not to criticise but to follow, to take up our crosses not our syllogisms? Does not the note of detached reserve in critical openness quench the utter abandonment which is demanded of those who would enter the kingdom?

Finality. Perhaps we could distinguish finality in principle from actual finality. This could give us something like John Henry Newman's, understanding of the development of doctrine. What was implicit becomes explicit as the tradition develops. There is a consistent unfolding. In its, Protestant form, the approach subjects the ongoing church and its theology :

to criticism by the Word of God .

‘The attitude of the Presbyterian churches towards their Confession of Faith, which they accept and at the same time criticise, may appear to be anomalous, but it is in accordance with the Confession itself. For the central I principle of the Reformed faith, which it asserts, is that the Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and that no other document. . . can be regarded in the same light.’(6)

Clearly this approach leaves room for considerable criticism. The actual Church can be assessed by the norms of the real Church. The notion that the faith may be expressed more and more fully means that criteria for its fuller expression have to be considered and so there is scope for creative work in ' the life and faith of the Church.

But how are the essentials to be criticised? How is the concept of the ‘real Church ‘to be scrutinised? This approach seems to encourage the notion or a permanent essence of Christianity different from the actual faith which is its temporary linguistic and cultural garb. The distinction between potential and actual finality thus becomes a device for limiting the operation of critical openness.

A second possible approach would be to distinguish the finality of experience from the finality of thought. The idea of the finality of the work of Christ can refer to its experienced religious adequacy. I may find that tomorrow I am even more deeply satisfied. That would not carry the implication that yesterday my satisfaction was less than complete, for me as I was then. I may grow in my capacity for experiencing the profound beauty of the cross of Christ, without ever being conscious of dissatisfaction. In this sense, finality and development are compatible. The last coach on the train is always final, regardless of the speed of the train. But if I articulate my experience in propositions, i.e. if I theologise about it, then my cognitions of today will be in tension with those of yesterday and I will have to choose. Perhaps this distinction between experienced finality (the lack of any experience of religious dissatisfaction) and reflective in finality (the knowledge that sharper and clearer expression may show me that I was at least partly wrong in speaking about it the way I did yesterday) may help to define the nature of critical openness in relation to the finality and perfection of the Christian faith.

The distinction has its limits however. Can experience and reflection be so neatly distinguished? Does not the distinction lead me to be critically open towards the thoughts of others but self-enclosed as far as my experience goes? Does it not fail to open me to the experience of others? And may I not delude myself about my experience, thinking I was satisfied when I was not, or attributing my satisfaction to this when later I realise it was that which was the true source of my satisfaction? Is there not some danger of absolutising experience, so that while I may criticise yesterday’s theology, I may never theologically criticise yesterday’s religious experience, or today’s? It is not easy to see how this approach can be defended any better than the last one from the suspicion that in the end it can become a way for limiting the operation of critical openness.

In discussing the problem of critical openness towards the future of the child, The Child in the Church remarks that the Christian nurturer knows what he is nurturing his children out of, but not what he is nurturing them into. ‘They know the resources but not the use which will be made of them.’ (paragraph 63) This conception could be compatible with either of the two views discussed above. But whereas the report suggests the metaphor of the paintbox, the metaphor of the hidden time capsule would also fit. Christian faith is regarded as a capsule full of items hidden by Christ and the early Church two thousand years ago. We are learning how to unlock the compartments, and to draw out new items, not knowing what impact they will have upon us or our Christian future. But the truth is more complex. The past of Christian faith is not protected from its environment in a time capsule, to be opened by us, to find each thing as it was when first stored away. The past of Christian faith is available to us only in language and ritual. Both are inescapably imbedded in culture, and demand constant interpretation. No doubt the past is just exactly whatever it was. But we do not know what it was, and as we make it our past, our perceptions of it (and apart from these it is only retained in the infallible omniscience of the divine memory) also change. Not only do we not know what we are nurturing the young Christian into, we do not fully know what we are nurturing them out of.

Their perceptions of the Christian past may be as different from ours as ours is from the generation of Christians who lived before form criticism. And just as individuals may have false experience, self-deluding experience, only recognised and corrected in the light of a later wholeness, so whole communities and traditions may pass through periods of mistaken experience. What else are prophets for but to awaken people to this?

The only way left seems to be thorough-going eschatology. The Christian faith has the promise of finality and completeness within it (and perhaps it is not alone in this respect) because it is pressing on towards finality and completeness. The finality and completeness are perceived in hope and love by faith. We see it through a glass darkly. This eschatological finality is the link with the doctrine of justification by faith, which will be discussed below. It is experienced, in so far as believing in eschatological or teleological finality makes a difference to the way life is lived, but it is not a psychological category, as was our earlier idea of religious experience.

We have discussed three forms of finality-experiential, cognitive and eschatological. The latter seems to be the surest ground for a theology of Christian nurture, and the most open to critical openness. But it leads us into the problem of authority.

Authority. If religious authority is authoritarianism, it is immune from criticism. If it is authoritative, it demands criticism. For an authoritative view possesses its authority because of reasons-experience, wisdom, character, rationality. There must be criteria. But where there are criteria (unless these are provided in an authoritarian manner) they must be distinguished, weighed, assessed, assented to. Criteria-referenced authority summons the co-operative effort of the one who stands beneath the authority. But the authoritarian decree is right because of its power alone. The authoritarian person is right because he says so, the authoritarian book is true because it claims to be. Here openness becomes disobedience and criticism is impudence. Of what kind is the authority of God-authoritative or authoritarian?

Sometimes an attempt is made to avoid the force of this distinction, and the implications for Christian life which flow from it, by introducing such euphemisms as ‘innate authority’ or ‘self authenticating authority.’ Innate authority is one which acknowledges no criteria. It remains mysterious, baffling, frustrating. ‘Why don’t you want to go to London?’ ‘I just don’t want to.’ ‘But why? There is no reason why the friend should not change her mind. ‘Oh alright. I will go after all.’ ‘What made you change your mind?’ ‘I don’t know. I just decided to go after all.’ You are pleased with the decision, but as mystified as ever. It is not possible to enter into understanding and sympathetic relations with someone whose decisions are arbitrary. This remains true even if, as in the case of God, the danger of unpredictable ethical changes is removed. Such a God could not be the Thou of man: he could not be the counsellor and guide, for to accept such guidance would be to renounce the status of person and to accept the status of slave.(7) You may trust God in the dark, but you cannot trust a dark God.

The alternatives are clear. Either we have a dictator God, or we are called to the life of critical openness. But God, in declaring himself a God for man, in making himself available to us in personal relation, invites us to accept a reasonable service. Critical openness is the

pedagogical technique adopted by a God who is personal and desires us to be persons. Without it, faith in God could not be purged, nor could it be anything other than the confidence of the gambler.(8) What then of revelation?

Revelation. The calling to critical openness flows from the nature of the Christian revelation of God as offering himself as a God for man. Lt is part of the revelation and should not be thought of as being hostile to it. Only when God is thought of as being authoritarian and his self-revealing is thought of as being outside the context of personal life, an imposition external to the person, can critical openness be thought of as exalting the reason of man against the divine revelation. For if God is not authoritarian, then it must be that through his revelation of himself as being not authoritarian he is summoning us to critical openness. God, in willing to bring us to personhood, may adopt only such means as are compatible with personhood and which tend to the creation of persons. But autonomy or critical openness is an essential attribute of personhood. Authoritarianism and autonomy are incompatible. According to the criteria of personhood I. and what it entails, God is wise-wise in selecting this goal from the lesser goals which might have been selected, and wise in selecting the kinds of relation with his creatures which are best suited to the accomplishment of this goal.(9) It is God’s wise decree that his creatures should be critically open. God has called us into fellowship with himself, having made us mind as well as spirit. The fellowship of spirit with spirit is love and the fellowship of mind with mind is critical openness. The criteria for this situation are drawn from the nature of mind itself. Theism without critical openness (a dictatorial God) would empty the Christian view of man of its dignity, the rational soul, the image of God.

But can critical openness be an attribute of God? We must be open because we know that our knowledge is only a fraction of the total sum of knowledge, and we must be critical because we so easily mistake falsehood for knowledge. The divine knowledge is, however, perfect in its quality and in its extent. God knows all there is to be known, and he knows it infallibly and in perfect accuracy of detail.

On the other hand God has ordained a universe in which freely acting agents (persons) other than himself shall be, and this potential for freedom, being in the nature of things as ordained by God, cannot but be actualised in some degree, however slight, at the lowest level of the universe as well as the highest. Details are added to the universe which it previously lacked, and God, although knowing all the details which might conceivably be added and knowing them infallibly and eternally as soon as they are added, does not know what is not yet there to be known. This is not a limitation on God’s knowledge but an assertion about the cognitive expansion which must be the experience of an infallible knower in the presence of an expanding world capable of genuine novelty (freedom) in which there is always more actually to know. Without ceasing to be all knowing, and possessing no degrees in his omniscience, God is continually receptive and attentive (loving) towards the other centres of value and creativity which have sprung from his own creative work. God is open to the future and to others.

God is critical in the sense that when contemplating the infinite range of possibilities, some of which but not all of which may be actualised, he exercises discrimination, bringing into being those which are compatible with his general purposes and doing so in a manner compatible with the need to preserve the reality of other centres of consciousness and will. God is also critical in the sense that although no cognition can be lost or be beyond recall to God in the successive stages of his divine life, as the supreme repository of all accumulated value, only cognitions which contribute to that enduring accumulation of value are actively present in the ongoing divine life. 'Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more.' The divine forgetting is the judgment and the mercy of God towards the world, and the exercise of it requires the divine criticism.(l0)

God is thus critical and open in all ways in which we are-towards the future, towards the actions and needs of others, in selecting from present possibilities, in discriminating between values, but without the weaknesses in our criticism imposed upon us by the fact that we are never acquainted with all the facts, and the limitations upon our openness imposed by the fact that we build barriers between ourselves and other creatures. He has the kind of critical openness appropriate to a perfect being. Man therefore in being critically open is, however imperfectly, in the image of God. The thought is perhaps a strange one, because the vocabulary is not the traditional religious vocabulary, but the appeal to be ‘perfect as our Father ... in heaven is perfect’ if it means ‘be perfect in this respect and in that respect’-whatever these may be which are appropriate perfections for creatures to aspire towards-may be construed as including amongst these many respects this one: to be critically open (within the limits of finitude) as God is critically open (within the limits of infinitude). How are we to live, before such a God? This brings us to the next point.

Spirituality. People sometimes ask whether we are to be critically open at the expense of our loyalty to Christ.(11) The question arises because critical openness is not one of the traditional Christian virtues, but is preconceived as being in potential hostility to Christian commitment. No Christian even asks whether we should be loving at the expense of our loyalty to Christ. To be loving is to be Christian. But, in a less important but still significant way, to be critically open is also to be Christian. Christians have no monopoly of love just as they have no monopoly of critical openness, but the logic of their faith drives them in these directions. But traditional Christian spirituality with its emphasis on such virtues as obedience and submissiveness might seem ill at ease with a spirituality of critical openness. This feeling (for it is no more) arises simply because the implications of critical openness for spirituality are not thought through. So the following comments are offered.

Critical openness is sometimes thought of as if it exhibited a proud spirit instead of a mood of self-repudiating acceptance. This is a mistake. The critically open person cannot but be humble, because in his openness to others he acknowledges his need for help and in his criticism he acknowledges his own fallibility. In as much as critical openness is certainly not thinking what appeals to you or believing what you like or accepting what makes you comfortable, it is a repudiation of self-centredness. The critically open person is the one who knows he has much to learn.

The critically open Christian is far removed from the one who has the ‘spirit of fear’: Instead he exercises Christian responsibility, is a son not a slave, and seeks to test everything, in order to hold fast that which is good.

It is true that there is some New Testament imagery which might seem to emphasise the passivity and the dependence of discipleship. We are sheep, a little flock, branches of the vine, we are to leave all and to follow him without question or delay. But other strands emphasise Christian responsibility - we are to count the cost like the king setting out to war, we are to take risks with our talents, we are to be wise as serpents. Moreover, critical openness is part of the abandoning of the old securities which is part of discipleship. How could Jewish men who were not critically open have responded to the question of Jesus about who he was? It should also be pointed out that to belong to the school of Christ cannot be similar to belonging to the school of (say) Aristotle. The follower of Aristotle seeks to elaborate the system of Aristotle. But Jesus founded no system, wrote no book.

Christian Autonomy and Justification by Faith.

It may be that critical openness cannot be made compatible with the Presbyterian doctrine of the covenant, as it developed in seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism, in which the idea that the covenant is bestowed conditionally creates a series of limits, which, if transgressed, place one outside the covenant.(12) But if the older reformed principle of justification by faith is taken seriously, and extended into the intellectual realm as well as the moral realm then the Christian, being accepted regardless of conditions, is set free from intellectually inhibiting religious fears. There are no degrees of justification. The justified Christian is thus set free from fear in order to pursue God’s path to personhood. In the ethical area, it may be that situation ethics is the life of the conscience flowing from justification by faith. So critical openness is the life of the Christian mind, flowing from the same principle-which itself is open to critical reflection, and so on for ever. We can see therefore that critical openness is not a basic Christian concept (such as the grace of God is) but a derived or consequential attribute of Christian living. It is derived from ideas such as the personhood of God, the nature of the divine image, the Christian hope in the future, the character of discipleship towards Jesus and so on, and we are emboldened to walk this way because of justification by faith. The old Christian symbol of this is not the maze, which presents one with many hazardous choices, but the single-track labyrinth. This is an incredibly convoluted path, with innumerable doublings back, apparent lack of progress, sudden coming near the goal only to be thrust out to the perimeter, and yet a way in which, at the last, there is no being lost.

Is Theology made Captive to Critical Openness?

I have tried to show that critical openness is a discipline which the Christian follows not in spite of his faith but because of it. The kind of critical openness which flows from Christian faith has many links with the secular educational ideal of autonomy, and yet, as we have seen from many examples, it has distinctive flavour and colouring, which are drawn from the aspects of Christian faith with which critical openness is most closely associated. I do not deny that the secular ideal of autonomy might reveal some important differences if it were examined and compared with greater sharpness, but to do this has not been

the purpose of this discussion. Neither do I deny that in other faiths there may be other models of critical openness, which may also be compared with the Christian ideal. But enough has been said, I think. to show that critical openness as described here is sufficient to do the job which was required of it in the opening statement of the problem. Christian theology is not here being reduced to fit the requirements of the dialogue with secular education and the needs of a contemporary Christian nurture. Rather, Christian faith is itself being listened to, in an attempt to hear whether it offers us the resources for this task.

Are there Limits to Christian Criticism?

To limit criticism would be to resist learning and so to declare that development was complete. But what if criticism were to indicate that all the sacred relics were forgeries, the gospels without historical foundation and the concept of God incoherent? What if criticism explodes the Christian faith? This possibility expresses the ambiguity of faith and it cannot be removed, either by criticism itself or by naive assertion. To restrain criticism because it seemed to be going in the wrong direction would be such an act of intellectual dishonesty that the ethics of Christian intellectual life would be destroyed in any case. One would be left with something more closely approaching the truth than one had before, whereas if criticism is restrained because of fear of unwelcome conclusions, one is left with neither the best truth available nor the Christian faith (since its intellectual calling would have been denied).

Education and Christian nurture-similar yet dissimilar

We have seen that Christian nurture is similar to secular education in that both are committed to inquiry, both are concerned with learning in order to ,r make yet further learning possible. By virtue of this characteristic, Christian faith may provide a rationale for both kinds of processes, since Christian faith is driven towards this position by its own internal logic. We can therefore speak of ‘Christian education’ in the sense of a Christian rationale for the processes of learning, and of ‘Christian nurture’ in the sense of a Christian rationale (and in this case there could be no other kind of rationale) for a Christian learning about Christian faith leading to deeper Christian faith. Christian nurture can thus be defended against the charge that it is closed authoritarian instruction, and its humane and ethical status are assured.

But does our discussion prove too much? We began with the problem of how Christian nurture could be like education in possessing critical openness yet remain unlike it in intending the deepening of Christian faith. The likeness is clear; what about the unlikeness? Is the similarity now so close that we might conclude that anything which a child might gain from Christian nurture he could equally gain by education (if it is of good quality in the area of Christian Studies) and that there is no particular benefit obtained from Christian nurture as offered by Christian families, churches and other Christian groups and institutions?

I have previously suggested four distinguishing features (13) and I would like to comment on these and add further distinctions.

The first distinction has to do with the differing hopes or intentions of the

Christian nurturer and the educator teaching Christian Studies. Christian nurture, through its critical openness, can contemplate the possibility of the collapse of Christian faith, but what it expects, hopes for and intends is the strengthening of Christian faith. Critical openness tests, expands and fulfils Christian faith. Christian nurture is based upon the hypothesis that Christianity is true and can be seen to be yet more true. There is nothing odd or illogical about the combination of this commitment with this critical openness. Scientific commitment and inquiry have similar features. Karl Popper has given approval to dogmatism in science, pointing out that only if the adherents of theories defend them vigorously, try by every scientific means to secure them against attack, try to adapt them to meet objections, and set high standards for their overthrow, can science be protected from the situation where theories were lightly advanced and easily given up. The commitment ensures the depth of probing without which the advance of truth would be difficult because the discussion would be superficial.(14) In religion, although the word ‘dogmatism’ is best avoided because of its pejorative history, the same is true. It is only sensible that there should be a strong commitment to rational religious beliefs provided they are held in the spirit of critical openness and with the contemplation of the possibility (although not the expectation of the likelihood) that they may be false. In the case of the Christian religion, where the commitment and the criticism flow from the same central ideas, the connexion is still more evident and coherent.

The educator qua educator is not interested in the future of Christian faith. He neither intends to deepen Christian faith nor to overthrow it. There is nothing odd about Christian theology offering a rationale for such education. The medical doctor as such does not have any particular intentions one way or the other about strengthening Christian faith, but that does not mean that there cannot be a Christian approach to the conduct of medical work.

The second distinction has to do with the relation between Christian theology and education and nurture respectively. It has already been pointed out that there can be no other rationale for Christian nurture than that provided by Christian theology, which is therefore in a necessary and sufficient relationship to the practice of Christian nurture. But Christian theology has but a partial and a possible relation to the practice of education.

Combining these two distinctions, we may say that Christian nurture is a servant of faith, and it is this faithful service which impels it to be critically open towards faith itself, as faith in the Christian sense requires, but education, although also capable of being justified by faith, is an independent activity of secular man. Reversing the servant metaphor, we may say that theology is lord of Christian nurture (Christian nurture is captive to theology) but theology is servant to education. Theology appraises education, tries to illumine, but cannot prescribe, except in circumstances when education becomes itself captive to ideologies hostile to Christian faith, and then education is no longer Christian education, and Christian theology must denounce it. But as long as a Christian rationale for secular education is possible, that interpretation remains as a service. There can be necessary attack (where education has become anti-Christian) but there can be no necessary support because non-Christians

can be educators. This question has to do with the circumstances when the saying ‘He that is not I against us is on our side’ must be exchanged for the saying ‘He that gathereth not with us scattereth, and he that is not for us is against us.’ The critical openness of Christian nurture is a Christian critical openness; the critical openness of education is merely compatible with Christian faith.

The third reason for maintaining the education/Christian nurture distinction has to do with the spheres in which the two activities take place, or their social agencies. Christian nurture is a domestic activity of the church; education is a public activity of the state. I am assuming that in certain circumstances, the state has the right to educate, although like all the other rights of the state, there are limits to its operation.

The fourth distinction has to do with the pedagogical character of the two processes, but is also connected with the nature of the agencies or spheres. In principle (e.g. in certain countries of Asia) a satisfactory religious education need make but minor reference to Christianity. And even in western countries, pupils can become educated concerning several or any religions. But because it is a prolongation of the conditions of infancy (a prolongation which seeks to bring the infant to maturity and not keep him in infancy and yet begins from the conditions of infancy and takes them seriously as the inheritance of the child, whereas education is an initiation into public discourse) a child can only be nurtured in his own religion. You can indoctrinate a child into anything, and in the case of Christianity, that would mean alienating him from his Christian family tradition, and you can educate a child into anything worthwhile, and in the case of Christianity, that would mean respecting but not promoting his family tradition.

The fifth distinction follows from the fourth. Christian nurture proceeds from an assumption that teacher and learner are inside the Christian faith, whereas education only invites the pupil to imagine what it would be like to be inside a faith, or (in the situation where a pupil is being educated in his own faith) education invites the pupil to imagine what it would be like to be outside his faith. The whole environment of the secular school, the plurality present in the classroom, the range of teacher commitments, the nature and style of the public examinations-all contribute to this ethos. Suspension of belief or disbelief is an important part of educational method in the religious area, but has a smaller and different role to play in Christian nurture.

The sixth distinction is that education in religion is appropriate for all, but Christian nurture is appropriate only for Christians. Christian nurture is based upon the belief that there are Christian children.

Finally, Christian nurture takes place in the context of worship (and not merely the study or exploration of worship), in a specialised faith community, where the child, as a Christian, learns from the Word of God. These factors give Christian nurture an ethos, an emotional context, which are quite different from that provided by education.

Of course it may be the case that these distinctions make little practical difference in some situations, especially with adolescent pupils. It may be that even young people within the churches are so deeply secularised that with them as with the general pupils in the state schools all that the teacher, whether Christian nurturer or educator, can offer is a fundamental pre-catechesis or introduction which will make learning possible in these areas. But even

where this were the case, and the starting point thus similar, the ending point would be different. As the processes got under way, the differences would emerge, or, if they did not. the teacher might have succeeded as educator whilst his colleague in the church might have failed as Christian nurturer.

Perhaps this discussion may seem complex, but the problems raised by Christian presence within secular and pluralist culture are themselves complex. There are no easy answers. But if the problems are not to be approached along the general lines discussed in this paper, it is difficult to see how Christian faith can avoid becoming invisible.