Faith Formation Communities Need Depth

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A friend of mine from Redeemer College University, Syd Hielema, shared a powerful quote with me recently. He came across it in a book he was reading — To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press, 2010). Here’s the quote. Chew on it for awhile.

"The depth and stability of (faith) formation are directly tied to the depth and stability of the social and cultural environment in which it takes place. Formation into a vision of human flourishing requires an environment that embodies continuity, historical memory, rituals marking seasons of life, intergenerational interdependence, and most important of all, common worship. Absent these things, new Christians will have no idea where to begin their walk of faith no matter how many books they are given. Families certainly cannot do this work for their children on their own, for the family has become a weak institution over against, say, the institutions of popular culture. As a rule, young people in the early stages of a job or career cannot figure out their formation by themselves either. At all levels, formation into a vision of human flourishing requires intentionality and the social, economic, intellectual, and cultural resources of a healthy, mutually dependent, and worshipping community provided for Christians by the church." (p.283)

It puts the light on our social and cultural environment. How much depth and stability are we providing there?

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This is a profound thought and one that, I think, is extremely important when considering faith formation. In terms of where we are at as a church in regards to the criteria mentioned in the quote, it seems to me some things we are strong on and others quite weak. The CRC seems to do well with continuity (most members have parents/grandparents in the CRC) and also with common worship.

I do fear common worship may be falling mainly because of two things--1. the development of two morning services, often one 'contemporary' and one 'traditional' and 2. the loss or decline of evening services in many churches. I also think we as a church could do better to emphasize historical memory, rituals marking seasons of life, and intergenerational interdependence. Exactly how we go about those things goes beyond the means of my post here (or my ability).

In terms of faith formation, I believe it's vital to have this solid depth and stability in order for any meaningful formation to take place. It's clear this stability is absent in our culture, so the church will have to come up with unique ways to try and achieve this stable, deep formation.

Dr. Vanderwell, thanks for sharing this! See you back at the sem in just a few weeks!