Education and Transformation: An Interview with Carla Nelson


Photo from last week's BWA General Council meeting in Seoul, South Korea. (Robert Parham)
"The struggle with North American evangelical Christianity just may be that we have tried to shape the gospel to ourselves and we are finding that it is not big enough for a global world. Therefore we find it hard to discern between the ethics of the Kingdom of God and the ethics of our own world."

How successful are Baptist churches in their educational practices at enhancing the ethical formation of church members?

 

The struggle with North American evangelical Christianity just may be that we have tried to shape the gospel to ourselves and we are finding that it is not big enough for a global world. Therefore we find it hard to discern between the ethics of the Kingdom of God and the ethics of our own world. 

 

As we learn to be the church as we should, we are to flesh out the gospel; but still we emphasize proclamation rather than formation. We have assumed that speaking the gospel is the same as living out the gospel. Jesus says that we will be judged, not just by proclaiming Christ as Lord, but by living out the ethics of the Kingdom as well—by being his incarnation.

 

How successful are our educational practices at this? It seems to me that there is a lot of room for improvement.

 

You write that Baptists have not been successful "at producing a people with a Christian mind and therefore a Christian ethic that distinguishes us from the culture in which we live." What do you mean by the phrase "Christian mind?"

 

By this I mean more than just having our theological "thinking" straight. Educating for formation is to develop a people that can think biblically and theologically and not just quote Scripture. Our God and our world require followers of Christ who are able to think through the complexities of our world on a daily basis. It is a process of becoming rooted enough in Christ that we are not afraid of the happenings around us, becoming followers of Jesus Christ who take the Great Commission seriously and understand that we will be judged by how we fulfill the mandate that Christ chose to live by in Luke 4. 

 

It seems that we have spent the past 2000 years trying to explain why the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to us. A Christian mind knows it applies and must make choices to engage it. 

 

What educational practices would enhance the formation of the Christian mind and what ethical traits should distinguish us from the larger culture?

 

The Christian manifesto.  Beatitudes. Love God and love your neighbor. "What does the Lord require of you?"   

 

Scripture is rather direct and clear and uncomplicated about this. Yet we seem to try to avoid the obvious. Educational practices are not an end in themselves, but learning to love God and love neighbor will take more than a photocopied worksheet on Sunday mornings.

 

Why do Baptists have a tendency toward framing issues in terms of an either/or approach?

 

Perhaps it is because we tend to need to know "who is in" and "who is out." It might be our own insecurity. We all draw inclusionary and exclusionary lines. We think in terms of "sacred and secular" and "us and them." 

 

This kind of thinking makes us feel more secure about our own position and helps us "peg" where someone else stands. I think our world responds better to the question of "have you ever been interested in finding out more about Jesus?" Rather than, "are you or are you not a Christian?"

 

What are some ways local church educators can wed Christian content and experience in order to produce transformation?

 

By offering short-term structured experiences with leadership that will help learners incarnate the content. This is one reason why mission trips for young people and adults are so powerful. Our Sunday school programs need to attend to the worlds of our people and help them interpret them, analyze them, and engage them. 

 

Wasn't it Karl Barth who said that Christians need to live with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other?

 

In your paper, you note that Baptists are people of the word in which preaching is central. Yet you argue that we also need to learn other means of effective communication and education. Give some examples of non-preaching forms.

 

Let me clarify my position on this. I am not against preaching. I am even married to a man who is very gifted at it! I affirm and celebrate that Baptists are people of the word. And, I encourage us to consider that the Spirit of God just may be able to work through other means of communication as well.  Dialogue, drama, art forms, service, small groups, mentoring …

 

Many of our readers are Southern Baptists, who know very little about Canadian Baptist Ministries. How would you introduce CBM to your family members of the South?

 

Canadian Baptists are a network of 1,100 churches which are diverse in worship—charismatic to high liturgy. We are organized in four autonomous regional conventions, which join together in ministry and mission both nationally and internationally. We are perhaps the most multicultural denomination in Canada for we worship in 42 languages across our country on a Sunday morning.

 

We are trying to learn to engage a culture which is predominantly secular—21 percent checked the box "no religion" in the last census and only 16 percent of population goes to church on Sunday. This is a dramatic change from the 1950s when approximately 70 percent of the population attended church. 

 

We believe that we must truly be Baptist by renewing ourselves in this generation. Internationally, we have been invited to work alongside 60 national partners in four strategic areas: grass-root transformational leadership development, joint pioneer outreach, sustainable community development and global discipleship.

 

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

 

 

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