Engraved Upon the Heart cover

Book Review: Engraved Upon the Heart: Children, the Cognitively Challenged, and Liturgy's Influence on Faith Formation

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Considering that adults with intellectual disability are different from children in so many ways, I wondered why Moon links these two groups in the subtitle and throughout the book. The answer lies in his intended audience: Reformed and Presbyterian people in North America and Korea.

Many of us, since I’m Reformed myself, have made intellectual assent the most important dimension of faith. While Moon never denigrates the intellectual component of faith, he encourages churches to engage people whose intellectual ability does not match adults with average or above average intelligence.

Because many of us Calvinists look to John Calvin as the model for holding the intellectual dimension of faith above all others, Moon refutes this idea in his chapter, “John Calvin’s Thoughts on Liturgy and Faith Formation.” Calvin’s definition of faith in the Institutes of the Christian Religion revolves around knowledge, “[Faith] is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, . . . ” (p. 40). Moon nuances that apparently cognitive understanding of faith by looking at Calvin’s other descriptions of faith including this (for me) surprising passage, “[Faith] is not a bare knowledge which flutters in the mind, but . . . it carries along with it a lively affection, which has its seat in the heart” (p. 39).  Moon describes the multiple ways that Calvin encouraged faith formation which included not only catechetical instruction and preaching (for the mind), but also weekly participation in worship (which always included communion), bodily gestures, repetition, ceremony, and ritual—all to foster knowledge and piety.

With Calvin on his side, Moon makes a case for engaging people who do not have typical adult intelligence—children and people with intellectual disabilities—in a church’s life, including worship services and the celebration of baptism and communion. Moon references John Westerhoff favorably, “one of the serious problems found in the praxis of church education is that Christian faith is not transferred to the next generation; instead, the church teaches mere knowledge of biblical truth” (p. 170).

In Moon’s own experience, churches exclude children, young people, and people with intellectual disabilities from “adult” worship (p. 154). He argues that this exclusion detracts from everyone’s faith formation. Instead, churches need to engage in intergenerational worship (and other church experiences) that also invites the full participation of people with intellectual disabilities. No one should be excluded, because worship forms faith in a deep and mysterious way: “liturgical practice connects original event and present, so that make [sic] congregation as participants of original event” (p. 93).

Moon strengthens his case by building on the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on covenant: “A relationship with God can be maintained even if the brain ceases to function, because God is gracious and faithful to the covenant . . . Participation in public worship and the sacraments, where God is present and encounters us, is critical” (p. 169).

Engraved Upon the Heart makes a good case for something dear to my own heart as an ordained pastor in the Reformed tradition and as the father of a daughter who has severe intellectual disability. That said, I have some frustrations with the book. Although he telescopes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with children for the sake of his argument, that grouping does not hold up well. Whether or not adults have intellectual disabilities, they should not be so easily lumped together with children. The book would be better if it focused solely on faith formation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Also, the book is well-researched to a fault. Nearly every page has at least five footnotes, and all those quotations become distracting. Yet strangely missing are personal stories. One wonders whether Moon has had any experience being in relationship with the people he argues on behalf of. In addition, he detracts from his argument by using a variety of outdated and potentially offensive terms to refer to people with intellectual disabilities including “handicapped,” “retarded,” and even “weak.” Besides that, he frequently identifies people with their disability such as “the cognitively challenged.” I assume that English is not Moon’s first language. Maybe he does not know how language has evolved in North America, but his editor should have replaced these terms.

These concerns distract from, but do not negate, Moon’s sound argument that the faith of people with intellectual disabilities and the faith of other congregation members grow by engaging together in the life of faith. “Prejudice is strengthened by separation” (p. 201). “Rather than separating a person and permitting participation in public worship only after finishing a designated level of education, . . ., the church now must consider the power of participation and engagement” (p. 169). I wholeheartedly agree!

Hwarang Moon
Engraved Upon the Heart: Children, the Cognitively Challenged, and Liturgy’s Influence on Faith Formation
Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2015
xxii + 245 pp.
Paperback, $32.00 USD
978-1-4982-2012-5

This review was written for publication in the Journal of Religion and Disability, Vol. 20, and published here by permission.

Posted in:
  • Disability Concerns > Intellectual Disabilities
  • Resource > Book or Booklet
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