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But how do institutions of Christian higher education achieve spiritual transformation? 

By

Provost Dr. Jonathan Henry

Christo Lombaard points to a broad range of methodologies in Christian Spirituality, including  “phenomenological-dialogical, hermeneutical, systematic, or mystagogical…critical theory, cultural analysis…theology, anthropological/hermeneutical.”54 Although I alluded to the need to move beyond the cognitive domain, it should not be neglected. Lombaard concludes that the academic study of the Scriptures and deeper spirituality are not mutually exclusive because the former arises out of faith.55 He states, “For various reasons, I do not share the view of a number of academics and practitioners in the area of Christian Spirituality that less exegetical prowess would necessarily facilitate more spiritual interactions with or via the Bible texts….”56 One way to achieve spiritual transformation is in the context of adult learning theory.

Human disciplines slowly but surely catch up to biblical principles, and educators have found that solely transmissive teaching does not work for all learners, thus it is ineffectual.

Human disciplines slowly but surely catch up to biblical principles, and educators have found that solely transmissive teaching does not work for all learners, thus it is ineffectual. However, andragogy 54 Christo Lombaard, “Biblical Spirituality and Interdisciplinarity: The Discipline at Cross-Methodological Intersection,” Religion & Theology 18.1–2 (2011): 216. 55 Lombaard, “Biblical Spirituality and Interdisciplinarity,” 222. 56 Lombaard, “Biblical Spirituality and Interdisciplinarity,” 222. 13 and transformative learning theory could be effective not only in relation to academics, but to spiritual formation.57 Christopher Beard found the following: This review has shown that the connections and commonalities between the two run deep, particularly in the areas of identity, process, and experience in missional spiritual formation and the adult learning theories of andragogy and transformative learning theory…As the connection between these two disciplines is further explored and developed, the spiritual formation practitioner may find the knowledge generated in the field of adult learning to be an invaluable asset in spiritual formation program development and execution.58 

Identity refers to who a person is in Christ as well as to the “unique learner” in andragogy.59 Process relates the ubiquitous nature of a spiritual walk to the adult learning cycle. Beard compared Breen and Cockram’s Learning Circle to Mezirow’s Perspective Transformation. For example, he found a connection between the Account phase of the Learning Circle and the Acquisition of Knowledge of Skills phase of Perspective Transformation. Experience refers to the importance of direct application for both adult learners and disciples.60 Similarly, Perry Shaw suggests problem-based learning (PBL). Shaw quotes Howard Barrows, “The basic outline of the problem based learning process is: encountering the problem first, problem-solving with clinical reasoning skills and identifying learning needs in an interactive process, self-study, applying newly gained knowledge to the problem, and summarizing what has been learned.”61 If spiritual formation truly touches the human spirit, then an institution will be successful only to the extent that it is prayerful. Even if the aim is the molding of the soul, which it tends to be for most institutions, prayerfulness is important, and it is powerful when joined with learning theory, and spiritual activity. The question remains, how does an institution define success? 57

If spiritual formation truly touches the human spirit, then an institution will be successful only to the extent that it is prayerful.

The Christopher B Beard, “Connecting Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory: An Examination of Common Principles,” Christian Education Journal 14.2 (2017): 265. 58 Beard, “Connecting Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory,” 265. 59 Beard, “Connecting Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory,” 253. 60 Beard, “Connecting Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory,” 261–62. 61 Perry Shaw, Transforming Theological Education: A Practical Handbook for Integrative Learning (Langham Global Library, 2014), 100. 

14 Oberlin historian said more than a quarter of any given class would enter into the ministry. It was established before that difficulty in spiritual formation is the difficulty of employing metrics; however, Oberlin found a metric that seemed to work for it. Whether interest in ministry is a good indicator remains to be seen. Perhaps further study could be done on the spiritual climate of a given place in relation to the interest in ecclesiastical ministry. Another way to track the success of spiritual formation is qualitative studies. Questions could include not only whether a student is saved but how the student knows he is saved. Students may also give feedback on different aspects of spiritual life and whether they understood, agreed, and/or were affected by them. 


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