London, SCM Press 1985, XII + 243PP

American edition: Philadelphia, Trinity Press International, 1991.

It is natural and healthy for people to go on learning. When we find that Christian adults often seem to stop learning and developing in their faith, one must ask why.


Chapter Five: Jesus Christ, God and Humanity: Partners in Learning

In our attempt to gain a little more understanding of what prevents Christian adults from learning we have drawn upon sociology, cultural anthropology and history, social psychology and philosophy. Now we must turn to theology. It is important to realise that in doing this we are not turning from problems to solutions. Each one of the disciplines defines the problem in its own way. Each one may be thought of as the framework within which certain questions can be asked. Theology does not offer answers to the problems raised by the other disciplines, although it may have its comments to make just as they may have theirs to make about the problems raised by theology. Theology is a way of understanding the problem as a whole. Certain problems become definable, and certain answers explicable within this framework. What is that framework in so far as it applies to adult religious learning?

From sociology we drew words like ‘modernity’, ‘institution’ and ‘ideology’, and from psychology words such as ‘self’, ‘unconscious’ and ‘identity’. We asked what these might have to tell us about adult religious learning. From theology we may take words like ‘God’, ‘Christ’, ‘creation’ and ‘sin’, asking in what way these and other theological concepts are relevant to these problems. In pursuing our enquiry, we have not yet looked directly at the implications of Christian belief itself. We have considered the social context in which religious belief today finds itself, the way in which religious beliefs relate to the surrounding society, and the way in which they are related to the nature of the evolving self. But we have not yet considered Christian beliefs in themselves, asking what might be the implication of these beliefs for the facilitation or the hindering of adult Christian learning.

There are undoubtedly certain aspects of some Christian beliefs which have a retarding effect upon adult religious learning. Let us consider, for example, the idea of an unlearning Christ who is the image and incarnation of an unlearning God, and is the model or pattern for the unlearning believer. Linked with this theme of hierarchically arranged pattern of unlearning is the theological idea of authority.

In a common sense world, where solutions are important, it is not surprising to find that the person with authority is not so much the one who is seeking as the one who has found. To have found is to know and thus to be able to teach. So it is that in church life men and women are ordained and given authority to teach. We speak of the teaching authority of the church, but seldom if ever of the learning authority of the church, and the idea of somebody being given authority to learn would strike us as being strange, if not ludicrous. If to these reflections we add the fact that in our society education is still largely identified with schooling and is regarded as being more characteristic of the early years of life, then we see that learning is associated with childhood and youth, teaching with the experience and responsibility of adulthood.