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Will There Be Faith? Depends on Every Christian

30 March, 2012

groomeThe challenge implied in the title to this book is a serious one for parents and educators. The author, however, is hopeful that his guiding theme to religious education – ‘bring life to faith and faith to life’ – will give new energy to the task of developing and sustaining faith among all the counteracting cultural influences of today’s world. He develops this theme through various stages: through looking at the example of Jesus as teacher and learner; through looking at the nature and the process of educating and growth in faith; through looking at the desired finished product which is salvation and justice; through reference to the culture, the family and the school; and finally through a detailed analysis of what the “life to faith to life” process is and how in fact it works. One of the most endearing aspects of the book is that the author continually checks himself out by recording how he himself and his wife Colleen are getting on in the process of bringing up their son Teddy in the faith, the questions and reservations Teddy brings and how that pushes Tom and Colleen to re-evaluate what they are doing and to seek new solutions where those they have previously tried didn’t seem to work.

Thomas H. Groome was born in County Kildare, Ireland. He holds the equivalent of an M.Div. from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Carlow, Ireland, an MA from Fordham University and a doctoral degree in religious education from Union Theological Seminary/Columbia University. He holds the chair of department of religious education and pastoral ministry at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Previous books include: What Makes Us Catholic? Eight Gifts for Life (Harper San Francisco) and Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent (Crossroads). 


Will There Be Faith? So Much Depends on How We Share It

To Teach (and Learn) as Jesus Did: Looking to the Master at Work

Who Is Involved Here? Great People, Every One: All Teaching and Learning Together

What Faith and Why Educate? The Nature and Purpose of Educating in Christian Faith

Liberating Salvation with Justice for All: Educating in Faith for the Life of the World

Faith on Earth Requires a Village: Intentional Christian Nurture in a Secular Age

It’s (Almost) All in the Family — with Help: Faith Formation in Households of Faith

Catholic Schools as Educators in Faith: A New Vision for Catholic Education

Life to Faith to Life: The Foundations An Approach of Shared Christian Praxis

Life to Faith to Life: The Movements: Putting the Approach to Work


367 pp.Veritas Publications. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie




Toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry, we hear him wonder, ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Lk 18:8). Though the origins, meaning and translation of ‘Son of Man’ are much debated, all four Gospels have it as Jesus’ favourite title for himself. Here, Jesus’ musings come somewhat as a surprise, just after a teaching about perseverance in prayer and the inspiring story — only in Luke — of the ‘persistent widow’. Jesus’ question reads like a throwaway line or a rhetorical rumination to himself. Taking it at face value, however, it looks as if he really was wondering whether his own mission would endure over time. Jesus was asking, Will there be faith on earth?’

Jesus’ question has become all the more pressing in our postmodern times, at least in the Western democracies. Social scientists now generally agree that present cultural conditions do not encourage religious faith, but actively work against it. A straw in the wind is the recent spate of books by the ‘new’ atheists, many making the bestseller lists, which means they are being read widely. These authors focus on the worst possible versions of religion – all too ready at hand – claiming that religion lends societies a sacred legitimation for violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, domestic abuse, environmental destruction and every other social ill, and on the personal level, that it is the great repressor of sensual pleasure and of human flourishing. They insist that belief in God and practicing religion are simply beneath the intelligence of enlightened people and for safety’s sake the world should rid itself of such destructive superstition.

Far more worrisome to me than the ‘new’ atheists (who will wax and wane like the old ones) is how bewildered and often discouraged are the countless good parents and committed religious educators I meet along the way. Too often they feel overwhelmed with the challenge of educating and growing the upcoming generations in Christian faith and more embattled than empowered in their own faith journey. In my travels I’ve heard, without exaggeration, a thousand personal stories about the roadblocks and deterrents encountered in the struggle to ensure that there will be faith on earth, that is, that faith will be vibrant in people’s lives in our time. These are often painful stories.

Typically their narrators are deeply convinced that they can tell the ‘greatest story ever told’ and that Christian faith is wonderful soil in which to plant seeds that will grow into flourishing lives. They firmly believe that Jesus is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6) and that there is no better or more fulfilling way to live than as his disciples, following the example he modelled and made possible. They fear that the rich spiritual wisdom Jesus left ‘for the life of the world’ (6:51) may be lost for upcoming generations, if faith on earth declines. Yet for those on the front line the battle at times can seem all uphill.

Now, let’s presume that handing on the faith has been a challenge in every era. For example, the proclivity of teenagers to rebel against parental values is likely constitutive of human nature rather than a modern phenomenon. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son infers as much. Note that the second son also had his moment of rebellion; I hope he went into the feast. Social scientists now suggest, however, that our age may be the most challenging yet for faith on earth. And the stories I hear suggest that the difficulties are posed not only by the secular conditions of this postmodern age but, according to some perceptions at least, by the very Church itself. One such story.

On a return trip from some presentations in England, I was bumped to first class and found myself sitting beside a fairly well-known young movie star (though embarrassingly not to me) returning from a film location. After the initial pleasantries and sharing what we ‘do’, we gradually moved into a deep conversation. She volunteered that she was raised in a traditional Catholic home and still goes to Mass regularly. Now, however, she was very hesitant about raising her two-year-old daughter in the Faith and had decided not to have her baptised. I asked why, and the litany began (women priests, respect for gay people, birth control, clergy sex abuse, lack of lay voice, etc.). Eventually I asked, ‘So how will you raise her instead? What faith will you share with her?’ My new friend fell silent.

Throughout the remainder of our conversation – and with some prompting from me, though mostly in the form of questions – it emerged that, in spite of her disagreements with the institution that represents her church on lots of contemporary issues, she still has a deep Catholic faith. She believes in a God who is Love and in love with us; in Jesus, who was God among us to save and liberate us for fullness of life, both here and hereafter; in his gospel, which is the good news’ of God’s unconditional love as the very ground of our lives, calling us to live with love and compassion, peace and justice in the world; that the Holy Spirit is ever present to prompt and sustain our efforts to live ‘life to the full’ (Jn 10:10, JB) for ourselves and for others; and that the Eucharist is indeed the Real Presence of the Risen Christ as the ‘bread … that gives life to the world’ (6:33). She still experiences receiving Holy Communion as a time of personal encounter and deep friendship with Jesus. And the list went on. Indeed, she was totally convinced that the whole collage of her Catholic Christian faith gives us a great positive perspective on ourselves and on life in the world, assuring us that our lives are meaningful and worthwhile, and that we give glory and praise to God just by being alive in the divine image and likeness. And we agreed that this can be a powerful antidote to the rat-race myth about proving ourselves and earning approval.

As our conversation wound down – in Boston – she finally agreed, ‘Yeah. I’d hate her to miss out on all that. Send me a copy of one of your books’ (which I will – this one). My story, of course, is not at all to imply that education in Christian faith is simply a no-brainer. The world in which that young movie star lives epitomises many of the challenges posed by our contemporary situation; I’m sure it’s far more difficult to be a good Christian in Hollywood than in my little neighbourhood. But it is easy nowhere now. Which is why we need a whole new vision and approach that can be effective in our time and place for educating and growing Christian disciples.

When I say that we need a whole new vision and approach to religious education if Christian faith is to flourish in our time and culture, I’m implying that the outcome is not inevitable. People of faith often assume, if only subconsciously, that God will ensure the flourishing of faith. From one perspective, this can be itself a valid act of faith, placing confidence in the promises of the Risen Christ to be with us always until the end of time (Mt 28:20) and that the Holy Spirit continues God’s saving work in the world. Indeed, if Jesus himself had not posed the question first, ‘Will there be faith on earth?’ my posing it here could sound sceptical or even impertinent. On the other hand, a constant danger for Christians is to presume upon ‘cheap grace’, in other words, to rely on God to fulfil what is, in fact, our side of the covenant, our own responsibilities.

Meanwhile, history provides many examples cautioning that we cannot be sanguine about the continued flourishing of faith in any context. For example, there was a large Christian community in North Africa in the time of St Augustine of Hippo (354-430)- It has disappeared. Much of Europe that once had a deep Christian faith now seems to be secularised. Note too the rapid decrease in church participation in what had been, until recently, deeply Catholic contexts like Quebec and Ireland. In both places, Mass attendance has dropped from 80 per cent in some parishes to the low teens. That this happened ‘almost overnight’ is something of a sociological phenomenon. We know that we can rely on God’s grace to encourage faith on earth, but, as I will remind many times throughout this work, grace always comes to us as a responsibility – a response-ability.

Will There be Faith? (1) offers a new vision that can enable parents and teachers to embrace their responsibility for religious education in our time and, with the help of God’s grace, to fulfil it well. It proposes an approach that is contemporary, natural, holistic and flexible. I summarise it quite simply as ‘bringing life to Faith and Faith to life’. It is contemporary in that it takes seriously our present sociocultural situation, draws upon its assets (for it has some), and meets its challenges for educating in faith. It does this while drawing wisdom from the past two thousand years of the Church’s catechetical ministry, beginning with the way Jesus himself taught. A life to Faith to life approach is also natural in that it reflects the process that goes on in our heads and hearts whenever we learn the stuff of life that shapes who we are and how we live, what really matters. And because the approach is natural, any parent or teacher can readily use it effectively. It is holistic too in that just as Christian faith should shape beliefs, relationships and values, this approach engages people’s heads, hearts and hands. Likewise, it encourages family, parish and programme/school, the three stakeholders in religious education, to work together as a coalition for faith on earth.

The life to Faith to life approach is flexible too. It certainly can be used in the formal setting of a classroom. I’ve done so for kindergarten up to the doctoral level, and so have thousands of other educators. It is also effective in less formal contexts, such as youth ministry gatherings, adult education classes, parish scripture study and catechumenal programmes, retreats and faith-sharing groups. Parents can readily take this approach to sharing their faith and use it to guide the everyday conversations about the great and small issues of life that constantly arise in a family. People have also found that life to Faith to life has potential as a style of preaching, spiritual mentoring and pastoral counselling, though I don’t deal with those here (2). I will, however, offer numerous examples and suggestions gleaned from my own thirty-five years of both teaching religious educators and doing religious education myself and, more recently, from my belated experience as a parent.

My focus is explicitly Christian and often reflects my Catholic perspective, identity and context. I know from experience, however, that a life to Faith to life approach can appeal to a broad spectrum of mainline Christian communities. Also, over the years, many of my students from the other great world religions have found it effective for educating in their faith. The approach can also be used in non-confessional contexts as long as the intent is that people learn from and not merely learn about Christian faith or other religions. Last, I try to write in accessible language, keeping notes and technical terms to a minimum (3). In sum, this book is for any parent or teacher, pastor or layperson involved in or concerned about whether there will be faith on earth.

Not Doing So Well — But Tough Times
In addition to anecdotal evidence like my own, there are lots of empirical data that mainline religions in the United States are not doing so well with their religious education (4). Even among churches that seem to have some success in retaining their youth, the research indicates that their young people’s faith often reflects a ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’ rather than authentic Christianity. They embrace a ‘nice guy’ image of a God who comforts and consoles, is called upon only as needed, and makes no real demands on their daily living other than that they ‘be good, nice and fair to each other’ (5).

For my own Catholic community, all the statistics indicate a significant falling away from the practice of faith. The latest report from the Pew Forum indicates that there are as many as 30 million ‘former’ Catholics in the United States (6). Though the American Catholic population appears to remain stable, this is only because of immigration from the Southern Hemisphere. The Pew survey also reveals that all mainline Christian denominations are losing their youth and young adults at an alarming rate; however, the one suffering the greatest losses is the Catholic community. Rather than jumping to easy explanations or playing the blame game, however, let us first recognise that these are extraordinarily difficult times for faith on earth.

Beyond the virulent ‘new atheists’ already mentioned, there are more subtle social and cultural influences at work that actively discourage faith. The brilliant social philosopher Charles Taylor explains how the Western world once had sociocultural conditions that favoured religious belief, even required it. A non-believer in a village might bring the wrath of God on everyone, so the village required all its members to believe and practice their faith. Up until about 1800 and for most people, ours was an ‘enchanted world’ in which faith in God and belief in a spiritual realm pervaded daily life. Except among elites, the notion of atheism was unknown. A strong corporate identity among ordinary people disposed all to believe because the community believed. The social conditions greatly favoured faith.

Taylor makes a convincing argument, however, that ours is a ‘secular age’ in which the sociocultural conditions now actively discourage faith. For a great variety of reasons, we have become ‘disenchanted’ in the sense of not seeing the religious and spiritual as suffusing public or private life or as necessary for keeping evil forces at bay, for legitimating the civil authority, or for human flourishing. Insofar as most people advert to God at all, they do so more in the form of ‘therapeutic deism’, referred to above, in which God is not unlike our childhood Santa Claus. Taylor contends that instead of relying on religious faith as the foundation of life, as it was in premodern times, postmodern society has embraced an ‘exclusive humanism’, exclusive in that it leaves out any reference to God as needed for living humanly. Instead, it encourages self-sufficiency and ‘expressive individualism’ as the fulfilment of our human potential, without any reference to transcendent sources, values, or hopes (7).

In the face of such sociocultural challenges, there are some strong restorationist sentiments in my Catholic context, in other words, a nostalgia for and an attempt to return to old ways. In religious education, for example, the sentiment is loud (more than large) to ‘Just teach the catechism’ or some such doctrinaire presentation of the Faith. Many imagine that returning to the memorised question-and -answer format that dominated Catholic catechesis for some four hundred years 8 will restore people’s faith commitment. Neuroscientists have established, however, that memorised data have little lasting effect on people’s values or identity over time. Meanwhile, values and identity are the central concerns of faith communities. Although there is a place for memorising core prayers, texts of scripture, formulas of faith and moral codes9 (more on this in Chapter 9), regressing to a question-and-answer catechism – or to any doctrinaire didaction of Christian faith – would leave our next state worse than this one.

Instead, what is urgently needed is a comprehensive approach to religious education that is effective in the context of our time and user-friendly for both teachers and parents. Will There Be Faith? attempts to propose as much.

Religious Education as an Enduring Human Need
Regardless of contemporary conditions to the contrary, faith of some kind win always remain a human universal. Everyone needs a centre of value around which to craft their lives, a core commitment that lends meaning to the rest. Whatever that mainstay might be, it always requires ‘a leap’ – of faith. It may range from the Ultimate Transcendent, as in the Christian notion of God, to the totally immanent – fame or fortune, power, pleasure, or prestige, even the ‘self’. No matter what it is, everyone has a ‘god’.

Given the spiritual nature of the human person, the universality of faith should not surprise. The two creation myths in the Bible reflect the conviction that humankind is made in God’s own image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27) and that our life arises from the very life breath of God (2:7). Confirming the truth of such texts, since the dawn of history people have reflected a capacity and a desire to reach for something beyond themselves. Whether awed by the created world and impelled to make sense out of life within it or mesmerised by the dynamics of consciousness (eg, our capacity to think and then to think about our thinking, and then some), people have been prompted to turn to their spirit or soul and respond to their innate yearning for transcendence.

In the effort to realise themselves as spiritual beings, people have developed religions, that is, systems of beliefs, practices and morals that reflect their imagining of and response to the Transcendent; the latter always takes the initiative. Oftentimes, people have created religions from a great leader’s spiritual experience that resonated with their own, or simply because they recognised that the religious remains amorphous and illusive unless brought to explicit expression.

All the disenchantment of our age will not obliterate the innate human disposition for the spiritual or the religious. Just as pornography cannot erase the human desire for love and sexual intimacy, even the negative influences of religion will never quench the human capacity to reach for the Transcendent. The great French scholar Blaise Pascal (1623-62) summarised it well: ‘There is a God-shaped hollow in the human heart that nothing else can fill.’ This is what impels communities of religion to hand on their faith to the upcoming generations and to encourage their adults to grow in the faithful living of the religion’s tenets. Religious education, then, is a vital responsibility for every community of faith, if only for its survival across time. For Christian faith in particular, the last great mandate that the Risen Christ gave to the little remnant community on a hillside in Galilee was that they should ‘make disciples of all nations … teaching them’ what he had taught (Mt 28:16-19). The Christian Church has no greater responsibility than to ‘teach the Faith’ in vital and life-giving ways in every time and place.

Religious Education as a Pressing Social Issue
How and to what end faith communities educate religiously is also a pressing social issue. It is more evident than ever that the quality of religion is crucial to the well-being of civil society and the public realm. The Enlightenment and modernity assumed the inevitability of secularisation — in the sense of banning religion from influence public square. This expectation, however, has been confounded in our time by the force with which religion has returned to centre stage as a social issue. Throughout the twentieth century, we assumed that economics was the fault line of political divide for sdocieties drawn between communism and capitalism. Now that assumption seems passé. Rather, as the morning papers attest, the variable with the most political and social import seems to be religion. And all the great religions have the capacity to promote both life and death, love and hate, peace and war. The pages of history are strewn with their mixed legacy. Again, so much depends on how and to what end we ‘teach them’.

People need to be educated in their own faith traditions in formative and life-flourishing ways and to be encouraged toward interreligious understanding and respect. Everyone needs a home within God’s family. Yet, as Jesus reminded, ‘In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places’ (Jn 14:2). So the first responsibility of religious educators is to inform and form people in their own particular tradition, giving them a sense of belonging to a spiritual home. We must ground them in the particular, however, in a way that diligently discourages sectarianism and bitterness toward ‘others’. Let us enable people, instead, to embrace the universality of God’s love for all humankind and to respect and appreciate all life-giving religious traditions.

Education for interfaith understanding has become all the more urgent with the religious diversity of postmodern societies due to developments in communication, transportation and relocation. Traditionally, the great religions remained located in geographic areas, indigenously intertwined with their local cultures. Not anymore! Now the ashram and mosque that were once ‘over there’ are on the same block as the local church and synagogue. America has become ‘the world’s most religiously diverse nation’ (10). Even within families, almost 40 per cent of married couples in the United States have different religious backgrounds. In the face of such diversity, religious education that maximises the life-giving potential of people’s own traditions and promotes interfaith understanding and respect is imperative, not only for the future of religion, but for the future of the world.

The Approach in Summary
Drawing upon my experience and theoretical work over the past thirty-five years, Will There Be Faith? suggests an approach to religious education that can maximise the life-giving potential of Christian faith for persons, communities and societies. It offers parents and teachers a comprehensive and user-friendly approach that can inform, form and transform in Christian faith and identity. With the help of God’s grace, this approach can:

  • Educate people to know, understand and embrace with personal conviction Christianity’s core beliefs and values (inform).
  • Grow people’s identity through a formative pedagogy and the intentional socialization of Christian family and community (form).
  • Open people to a lifelong journey of conversion toward holiness and fullness of life for themselves and ‘for the life of the world’ (Jn 6:51; transform).

Will There be Faith? also reflects an approach that honours the concern for interreligious understanding raised above. The pedagogy it proposes can effectively ground people in the particulars of Christian faith, but without sectarian bias and in ways that open them to the universal — to the universality of God’s love and saving intent through all worthy religions.

As noted already, the overarching approach I propose invites people to ‘bring their lives to their Faith, and their Faith to their lives’. Whether crafting a formal teaching/learning event, facilitating a faith-sharing group, or carrying on the conversation of faith in the home, parish, or school/programme, such a pedagogy must begin with something of real interest and relevance to participants’ lives. It should engage what the great educator Paulo Freire (1921-97) called a ‘generative theme’, that is, something of pressing concern that can actively engage people in the teaching/learning process, because they perceive the theme to be of real interest and meaningful to their lives. After reflection on and conversation about a particular generative theme, participants need to have ready and persuasive access to the scriptures and traditions of Christian faith relevant to the focused theme, raising up the life-flourishing truths and spiritual wisdom of Christianity in meaningful ways, that is, in ways that echo and strike a chord in participants’ lives. Then the dynamic needs to move back to life again, inviting people to take and make these truths and spiritual wisdom their own, to appropriate the Faith into their lives in the world, and to make decisions – of head, heart, or hands – in its light.

Effective religious education demands the intentional participation of three key `agents’ – the home, the parish and the school or formal programme of instruction. All three stakeholders in faith education must work in coalition. In sum, educating in Christian faith takes a family with a village and a village with a school or programme of some kind. These three contexts and the leaders within them (parents, pastoral ministers, teachers) must review every aspect of their shared life for what they are teaching, including the ‘teachings’ that participants will absorb by osmosis, and intentionally craft their communal life to nurture life-giving Christian faith and identity.

The approach I’m proposing requires all three sets of leaders to be clear about:

  • Who it is they are teaching and those learners’ positive potential as persons and disciples of Jesus Christ;
  • The nature of Christian faith that they want to pass on – how holistic it is (engaging head, heart and hands), its salvific and liberating possibilities and social responsibilities, its potential to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable, and its great truths and spiritual wisdom for life;
  • The purpose of educating in faith – educators’ task of enabling people to flourish through Christian commitment, to know their faith in ways that inform, form and transform their identity, and to commit to the positive difference for life for all that Christian faith can effect in society;
  • The context of Christian religious education – the family, parish and school/programme, and the imperative that the three be intentionally crafted to work together to socialise people into Christian identity and lived faith;
  • How to go about it – how to develop a consistent pedagogy of religious education that constantly invites people, both learners and teachers (who are also learners), to ‘bring their lives to their Faith and their Faith to their lives’.

My proposals with regard to these great foundational issues will unfold in the above sequence throughout the chapters of Will There Be Faith?

The times are most challenging, and we need a new vision and approach for effective religious education in this postmodern age. However, my confidence that there will be faith on earth when the ‘Human One’ (now suggested as a better translation than ‘Son of Man’) returns in glory was renewed by the following experience and still is by the memory of it.

I was walking with my then four-year-old son, Teddy, on a lovely autumn afternoon. He was kicking his way ahead of me through the piles of fallen leaves at road’s edge, and I was reflecting, as parents do, about what life might hold for my little boy. Suddenly, Teddy stopped both of us in our tracks, and said, ‘Dad, listen!’ I wondered what he heard. I could hear nothing. Gradually I began to realise that Teddy wanted me to hear the rustle of the wind through the trees and the lonely singing of the remnant birds not yet left for warmer climes. We stood together for quite a while, drinking it all in. Then it dawned on me. This was more than a magical moment. It was a sacramental one.

Teddy’s attention to the beauty around us reminded me that God ‘still speaks’ in our lives, albeit often in a whispering breeze (cf. I Kings 19:11-13, the story of Elijah’s encounter with God). He helped me remember that God’s grace – the old name for God’s effective love – still is and always will be at work, most often through the ordinary things of everyday life. I realised again that we need not worry about God’s side of the faith equation. God’s covenant partnership with us will remain forever in place and the Risen Christ will be ‘with [us] always to the end of time’ (Mt 28:20 JB) God’s outreach and inbreaking into our lives is unrelenting. As an old Gaelic proverb goes, ‘There is an ebb to every tide, except the tide of God’s grace.’ Toward us God’s grace is ever at high tide. Or to echo the Psalmist, it will always be true that ‘the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD’ (33:5).

The questionable side is ours. Can we, will we, see to it that Christian faith endures, that it remains as the great life-flourishing source that it can be for individual persons, for communities, and for the life of the world? St Paul gave thanks for the ‘grace of God bestowed on [us] in Christ Jesus’, which has ‘enriched [us] in every way’ (I Cor 1:4-5, NAB). So, with the help of God’s grace, I’m confident that we can see to it that there will be Christian faith on earth, and a flourishing rather than withering one. To imagine a new vision and approach to this good purpose, there is no better place to begin than by reflecting on ‘to teach as Jesus did’ (Chapter 1).

A Few Preliminaries
I use ‘educator’ throughout as a comprehensive term to mean everyone and not only teachers, located everywhere and not only in schools. The Latin educare means ‘to lead out’. Thus, anyone who ‘leads out’ others toward faith is a religious educator. In fact, by baptism every Christian bears this responsibility, at the very least by their lived witness to their faith. Therefore, the whole faith community should be an effective religious educator (the theme of Chapter 5). Then, parents and family (including siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents) are the primary educators in faith (Chapter 6). After them, ‘educator’ includes designated religion teachers and catechists, whether professional or volunteer (Chapters 7, 8 and 9). So, although I often explicitly name ‘parents and teachers’ — they are, after all, at the forefront of this good work — I invite every Christian person and community to take seriously their responsibility to be educators in faith. Will there be faith? Depends on every Christian!

Readers will note that I often use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular term, as in, ‘Every Christian must take seriously their responsibility to educate in faith’. This is now deemed permissible by the U.S. National Council of Teachers of English. It is also a return to the practice of Elizabethan English. To quote Shakespeare, ‘May God send everyone their heart’s desire.’ This old and new pattern helps to honour gender inclusivity in our time, while avoiding the awkward ‘he/she’, ‘her/his’ constructions. Further, when quoting an original text that is not gender sensitive, I take the liberty to adjust toward inclusivity when the latter is clearly intended. I do likewise when an original Bible text is, in fact, inclusive, but the translation fails to reflect this. For example, ‘God created humankind in God’s image’ is actually more faithful to the original Hebrew than ‘God created man in his image’ (Gen 1:27). Although I favour the NRSV Bible translation because it is more gender sensitive, I sometimes use the New American Bible or the Jerusalem Bible when their texts seem more apt to the point I’m making.

When I refer to the formal reality of Christian faith but without using the adjective ‘Christian’, I sometimes alert that I intend it by capitalising Faith, as in ‘the Faith’. I also capitalise when the intent is a particular faith tradition, as in life to Faith to life. Likewise, I capitalise when referring to the normative media of Christian revelation as Scripture and Tradition; however, when referring to ‘a passage from scripture’ I do not capitalise. Similarly, I capitalise ‘Church’ when referring to the universal community of Christian faith or particular one, as in ‘Catholic Church’, whereas when used as a generic term, as in ‘church and society’, or as an adjective, as in church structures’, I use lowercase.

Last, note that each chapter reflects a life to Faith to life pedagogy for readers. After establishing the generative theme of the chapter, I invite you first to reflect on your own life-based opinions and wisdom before reading my Christian faith-based proposals. Then pause and discern throughout and toward the end of each chapter what wisdom to embrace as your own and how to integrate it into life as your praxis of Christian faith or of religious education. This is signalled by the heading ‘For Reflection and Conversation’. I encourage you to pause and reflect on the questions as posed. Even better, when possible, bring your reflections into conversation with a neighbour.

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