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    FREEDOM,  AUTHORITY,  AND  THE  IMAGINATION:  A  critical  correlation  of  Maxine   Greene’s  aesthetic  pedagogy  with  Christian  Scripture  and  Tradition  to  Re-­‐‑vision  Practices   of  Bible  Engagement  for  Spiritual  formation  of  Teenagers  

    Graham  Stanton  

    Student  Number:  43421871  

     

    STATEMENT  OF  THESIS  

    The  Christian  church  has  traditionally  emphasised  engagement  with  the  Bible  for  the   spiritual  formation  of  young  people  in  the  Christian  faith.  The  Reformed  Evangelical   tradition,  along  with  many  others  in  the  Christian  church,  considers  the  Bible  to  be  divinely   inspired  and  the  final  authority  in  all  matters  of  Christian  faith  and  practice.  However,   young  people  in  Australia  are  engaging  with  the  Bible  infrequently  and  display  low  levels  of   biblical  literacy.  As  a  proportion  of  church  members  teenagers  are  under-­‐‑represented  in  the   membership  of  Christian  churches  relative  to  the  Australian  population.    

    There  are  approaches  to  encourage  Christian  spiritual  formation  among  young  people  but   which  pay  little  attention  to  engaging  with  the  Bible.  Conversely,  there  are  efforts  to  redress   declining  Bible  engagement  among  young  people  have  but  which  fail  to  make  explicit  how   such  increased  Bible  engagement  would  contribute  to  spiritual  formation.  Adult  mentors  of   Christian  youth  face  the  challenge  of  how  they  might  help  young  people  personally   appropriate  the  Bible  as  an  authoritative  text  for  spiritual  formation.    

    This  thesis  proposes  that  that  there  is  an  imaginative  work  central  to  reading  and   responding  to  Scripture  that  can  be  employed  as  an  effective  approach  to  Christian  spiritual   formation  among  teenagers.  Through  a  correlation  of  the  aesthetic  pedagogy  of  Maxine  Greene  and   the  theological  aesthetics  of  Hans  Urs  von  Balthasar  this  thesis  will  show  that  by  enabling  young   people  to  use  their  imagination  in  the  way  they  read  and  respond  to  the  Bible  adult  mentors  are  able  to   preserve  the  freedom  inherent  in  spiritual  formation  without  diminishing  the  authority  of  Scripture.  

    The  aesthetic  pedagogy  of  educational  philosopher  Maxine  Greene  provides  useful  parallels   with  this  task  of  leading  young  people  in  reading  the  Bible:  both  share  the  same  goal  of   individual  and  societal  transformation;  both  share  the  desire  to  create  learning  spaces  that   promote  questioning  and  dialogue;  and  both  share  an  emphasis  on  freedom  and  personal   agency.  Insights  from  Greene’s  aesthetic  pedagogy  have  the  potential  to  shape  positive  uses   of  Scripture  as  well  as  expose  misuses  in  contemporary  Australian  youth  ministry.  

    Balthasar’s  theological  aesthetics  reflects  on  the  beauty  of  God  as  a  necessary  starting  point   for  assessing  the  goodness  and  truth  of  the  Christian  life.1  In  short,  Balthasar  contends  that   human  beings  are  unable  to  determine  what  is  true  without  having  engaged  in  living  within   that  reality  as  something  good;  but  we  will  not  embrace  the  good  without  having  first  been                                                                                                                   1  Balthasar’s  major  work  is  the  theological  triptych  dealing  with  the  true,  the  good  and  the  beautiful:  The  Glory  of   the  Lord:  a  theological  aesthetics  (7  volumes),  Theo  Drama:  theological  dramatic  theory  (5  volumes);  Theo-­‐‑Logic:   Theological  logical  theory  (3  volumes).  

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    captured  by  its  beauty.  Balthasar  found  in  the  science  of  aesthetics  a  ‘conceptual  framework’   for  his  theology  by  drawing  analogy  between  the  beauty  evident  in  created  things  and  the   beauty  of  God,  identified  as  God’s  glory.  Balthasar’s  theology  provides  a  perspective  on  the   Bible  and  the  human  response  to  the  Bible  that  highlights  the  value  of  imagination  and   wonder.    

    Building  on  the  insights  gained  from  a  correlational  study  of  Greene’s  aesthetic  pedagogy   with  Christian  theology,  the  thesis  will  propose  a  practice  framework  for  using  the   imagination  in  guiding  teenagers’  reading  and  response  to  the  Bible  for  spiritual  formation   within  the  Christian  tradition.  This  framework  can  then  be  shared  with  the  community  of   practitioners  in  youth  ministry  (cf  Wenger,  1998a;  Wenger,  1998b)  and  encourage  further   development  of  imaginative  practice  in  the  use  of  the  Bible  in  Christian  youth  ministry.  

    SITUATING  THE  THESIS  

    BIBLE  ENGAGEMENT  FOR  SPIRITUAL  FORMATION  

    ‘Bible  Engagement’  is  a  coverall  term  used  by  a  number  of  Christian  researches  and  agencies   across  the  world  to  refer  to  how  people  read  and  interact  with  the  Bible.  The  State  of  the  Bible   report  by  the  American  Bible  Society  (2013)  lists  various  activities  under  the  heading  of  Bible   Engagement:  reading  print  versions  of  the  Bible,  attending  a  small  group  or  Bible  study  (not   including  weekend  worship  services),  listening  to  audio  versions  of  the  Bible,  listening  to   teaching  about  the  Bible  via  a  podcast,  and  reading  electronic  versions  of  the  Bible  via  the   internet,  on  smart  phones  or  e-­‐‑readers  (2013,  p.22).  Bible  Engagement  is  closely  related  to   but  distinguished  from  Bible  penetration  (ownership  of  and  access  to  the  Bible),  biblical   literacy  (knowledge  about  the  content  of  the  Bible),  and  Bible  perceptions  (attitudes  to  and   beliefs  about  the  Bible).  

    Bible  engagement  and  biblical  literacy  have  declined  in  the  USA,  the  UK,  and  Canada   (American  Bible  Society,  2013;  Bible  Society,  2014;  Hiemstra,  2014).  Similar  findings  are   evident  among  Australian  young  people.  The  National  Telephone  Survey  that  was  part  of  the   Spirit  of  Generation  Y  study  conducted  in  2005  found  that,  among  young  people  aged  13  to   24,  5%  read  the  Bible  daily,  7.6%  weekly,  and  14.8%  occasionally.  23.8%  of  those  surveyed   said  they  never  read  the  Bible,  but  to  this  could  be  added  the  49%  of  young  people  who   were  not  asked  the  question  about  religious  practices  since  they  had  indicated  that  they  did   not  believe  in  God  at  all.  From  2005  to  2008,  of  students  surveyed  in  mostly  independent  or   Catholic  schools,  4%  indicated  they  had  read  the  Bible  frequently  in  the  previous  year,  6%   had  read  it  occasionally,  and  19%  had  read  it  once  or  twice  (Hughes  and  Pickering,  2010,   p.8).  

    One  exception  noted  by  Australian  researchers  was  among  reformed  evangelical  youth   ministries:  Bible  reading  practices  were  relatively  frequent  and  biblical  literacy  relatively   high.  However,  the  researchers  reflected  that  while  the  young  people  knew  the  Biblical   stories  and  made  some  connections  between  characters  in  the  stories  and  their  own   situations,  most  were  unable  to  draw  that  information  together  into  a  vision  of  what  faith   was  all  about  and  how  their  faith  was  lived  (Hughes,  2014).    

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    Niebuhr’s  description  of  a  Christian  Endeavor  meeting  in  1927  expressed  the  challenge  that   continues  to  face  youth  ministry  in  Australia:  

    Dropped  in  on  the  First  —  Church  of  —  on  my  way  back  from  —  University.  Went   into  the  young  people'ʹs  meeting  before  the  evening  service  and  found  a  typical   Endeavor  meeting  in  progress.  Some  ninety  wholesome  youngsters  were  in   attendance.  All  the  various  tricks  of  a  good  Endeavor  meeting  were  used.  Several  little   poems  clipped  from  the  Endeavor  World  were  recited  at  the  appropriate  time  and   some  of  the  members  contributed  quotations  from  Scripture  and  from  well-­‐‑known   authors.  The  leader  gave  a  good  but  platitudinous  talk.  There  was  no  discussion.  My   impression  was  that  this  type  of  meeting,  if  still  held,  would  be  very  poorly  attended.   But  here  the  facts  belied  my  theor