Taking Transformation Seriously

Book Feature

Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning. David I. Smith, James K. A. Smith, eds.  New York: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 2011.

What Teaching & Christian Practiceswould happen if educators decided to allow Christian practices to shape the way they approached classroom pedagogy? That is the premise of a collection of essays, Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning, edited by David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith.[1] The professors represented by this collection took seriously the responsibility of transformational education, and the notion that “[Christian] practices…are not just ‘the things we do’; they do something to us.”[2] In combining these two beliefs, they attempted to allow the Holy Spirit to transform their students through the intentional integration of Christian practices (such as hospitality, Sabbath-keeping, testimony, and pilgrimage) within their pedagogical approach. The result is a fascinating look at what happens when classroom practices are re-imagined from a perspective that views education as a formational endeavor to foster a sense of worship and understanding of one’s place in the world rather than solely as a means to master information in order to prepare the student for the workplace. Not every attempt at this pedagogical re-alignment was successful, and most of the professors/authors acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges of this experiment came not in maintaining academic rigor, but in trying to help their students approach learning from such a fundamentally different philosophical base. And yet, almost universally, the professors came away with a greater appreciation of the transforming power inherent in the intentional and obedient practice of spiritual disciplines.

While this book deals specifically with post-secondary education, the ideas that it explores are applicable to any teaching that seeks to be transformational. As we seek to teach our students not only the information and skills inherent in the academic disciplines, but the wisdom and discernment to know how, when, and even if, they should employ them, the incorporation of Christian practices may help—especially as it takes the onus of transformation off of us, and reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who is the author of all lasting transformation.

If you are anything like me, you may think that this sounds good in theory, but wonder how to translate it into actually classroom practice. What would hospitality look like in a foreign language classroom? How would you incorporate the idea of pilgrimage in a social studies course? Is it even practical to talk about bringing Christian disciplines in as a means of pedagogical practice? Each chapter in this book (with three exceptions) addresses just those issues.  They follow a real teacher’s attempt to incorporate Christian practices in a practical way, and then discuss what went well and what didn’t. Many of these ideas can be adapted to work in a K-12 environment; some are a bit impractical. But as a whole, this book serves as a great jumping off point for re-imagining what it might mean to engage in transformational education. [3]

Becky Hunsberger

[1] Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning. David I. Smith, James K. A. Smith, eds.  New York; Wm B Eerdmans Publishers, 2011. e-book.

[2] Smith, David & James K. A. Smith.  “Introduction: Practices, Faith, and Pedagogy.” loc 219.

[3] I would recommend saving this book until you have a significant amount of time to devote to it—and even then, I’d approach it in small doses, as some of the chapters/essays can be a bit dense and erudite.

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