Book | Sharing Faith by Thomas Groome

sharing-faithGroome, Thomas H. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

The Author

Areas of Interest:

His primary areas of interest and research are the history, theory and practice of religious education, pastoral ministry and practical theology.

About:

Thomas-GroomeDr. Thomas H. Groome was born in County Kildare, Ireland. Professor Groome 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.[1]

My Thoughts

The term comprehensive in the sub title of this book is an apt description. Sharing Faith is Thomas Groome’s meticulous and comprehensive articulation of the philosophical underpinnings of his pedagogical methodology that he calls Shared Christian Praxis. The book moves in three sections. Part One traces the contours of the history of epistemology in Western culture. Groome draws upon great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume, but cautions against the reductionism into technical rationality and individualism that so dominated the Enlightenment era. Groome draws heavily from the hermeneutical turn found in Hegel, Marx, Heideggar, and Habermas.

The core concept of Groome’s philosophy is the term conation. His concept of religious education is grounded in “epistemic ontology [which] treats people as ‘agent-subjects-in-relationship.’”[2] Conation is more than the acquisition of cognitive knowledge. It is what happens when “the whole ontic being of ‘agent-subjects-in-relationship’ is actively engaged to consciously know, desire, and do what is most humanizing and life-giving (i.e. ‘True’) for all.”[3] The close synonym for conation is wisdom.

Simply put, Groome is trying to move away from the classic Western pedagogy that viewed the teacher as the primary agent who held the power to create meaning, derived from a received past arsenal of knowledge, and filled the passive minds of the student. Freire called this the banking model of education. Groome’s phrase “epistemic ontology” revisits both what it means to know something (epistemic) and what it means to be in the world (ontology). The answer is shared praxis. We know things by entering into constructive dialogue with each other, the world, our history, our culture, and ourselves. This is what it means to share. That dialogue is an action in itself, and that action leads to acting in time and space in the world. We act, then we reflect on that action to make meaning out of it, and then, in turn act upon this newly refined understanding of meaning. This cycle of action-reflection-action is called praxis. We, as human beings, exist within time. History has shaped our present with Story and Symbols and the future shapes our present with hope and expectation. This is what it means to “be in time.” We are embodied creatures in time who are interconnected with all things and are propelled toward the future. The Christian Vision and Story defines our hope and shapes our being. When all these things come together it forms the basis of what Groome means by ‘agents-subjects-in-relationship’ who are defined by “epistemic ontology.”

Part Two identifies the practical methods of Groome’s Shared Christian Praxis. He proposes that pedagogy for conation in Christian faith does five things:

  1. Engage the “being” of people in their self-identity as “agents-subjects-in-relationship”
  2. Engage the “place” in which people’s “being is realized
  3. Engage people’s “being in time” and the faith tradition of the Christian community over time
  4. Engage people’s dynamic structure for conation
  5. Engage people in decision for their “truth” in Christian faith[4]

Groome provides a concise definition of Shared Christian Praxis:

“[It is] a participative and dialogical pedagogy in which people reflect critically on their own historical agency in time and place and on their sociocultural reality, have access together to Christian Story/Vision, and personally appropriate it in community with the creative intent of renewed praxis in Christian faith toward God’s reign for all creation.”[5]

The process plays out in the following movements:

  • Focusing Activity
  • Movement 1: Naming/Expressing “Present Praxis”
  • Movement 2: Critical Reflection on Present Action
  • Movement 3: Making Accessible Christian Story and Vision
  • Movement 4: Dialectical Hermeneutic to Appropriate Christian Story/Vision to Participant’s Stories and Visions
  • Movement 5: Decision/Response for Lived Christian Faith

Section Three demonstrates how the Shared Christian Praxis methodology is not limited to the traditional Religious educational context. It is, in fact, a model for Pastoral ministry. Groome reminds us that Jesus’ ministry was a form of Shared Praxis and that, by all indications, the early church was as well. The church slowly morphed into a hierarchical structure in which the magisterium became the primary agency and only one of Aristotle’s three “lives”—theoria—was counted as worthy of the educational process. When the church reengages with shared praxis it can transform all of pastoral ministry, including Liturgy, Preaching, striving for Justice and Peace, and Pastoral counseling.

This book has been very helpful for my research and my personal call to pastoral ministry. It is helpful to my research because it is based, partly, upon the Critical Social Theory of Habermas and his communicative rationality. Shared Praxis is an embodied way to express the perichoretic power of the social Trinity that I am trying to flesh out in my research. The book is also helpful in my own call because I am a religious educator and a preacher. Groome’s words have both affirmed and challenged my current pedagogical praxis to continually maintain a dialogical approach that is grounded in community.

Selected Quotes

Shared Praxis in Preaching

“In the Sunday assembly, the general purpose of preaching is to place in dialogue some aspect of participants’ present historical reality and some aspect of Christian Story/Vision from the Scripture readings, so that people can come to see for themselves what their Christian faith means for their lives and renew commitment to living it…A shared praxis approach to preaching suggests the following principle: The sermon is a dialogue that actively engages the assembly.

“To create the dialogue, the preacher needs to draw upon four sources of reflection and perspective: (1) the preachers’ story/vision, (2) the stories/visions of the congregation, (3) the social and ecclesial context of the community’s life in place and time, and (4) a Story/Vision of the faith community, especially as reflected through the Scripture readings of the day…[the preacher is a] ‘story-teller’ and  a preaches a ‘shared story.’”[6]

Groome’s Pedagogical Creed[7]

Article 1: Agent-Subjects-in-Relationship

I believe Christian religious educators are to promote an understanding of persons as “agent-subjects-in-relationship’ who reflect the image of God by whose self-communication they have their very ‘being,’ and our pedagogy should help to realize this understanding by educating people to be free and responsible historical agents of their own becoming ‘fully alive’ to the glory of God.

Article 2: Communal Subjects in Right and Loving Relationship

Christian religious educators are to teach persons as communal beings who are to grow in right and loving relationship with God, self, others, and creation. Our pedagogy should honor and help realize the conviction that at the heart of us there is a transcendent disposition that leads us out of ourselves into relationship and interdependence; that ultimately our reach for relationship is to return us to eternal union with the relational God (Trinity) whence we came.

Article 3: Both Capable of Sin and Graced

The praxis of Christian religious educators is to reflect a realistic understanding of persons as capable of and prone to sin and an optimistic image of ourselves and others as more capable, by God’s grace, of freely choosing to do the good and true and of contributing within history to the coming of God’s reign.

Article 4: Transcendent Mystery and Immanent Love

I believe the praxis of Christian religious educators is to reflect and promote understanding and images of God: as Ultimate Mystery and Transcendent ‘Ground of Being;’ as Immanent One of absolute closeness who lovingly sustains and cares for all that is and who is present to our favor in the depths of existence, in creation, in history, in the everyday; as unconditional Love, both within Godself and toward all humankind; as the only God we are to honor and worship as the ‘center’ of our lives.

Article 5: God Reveals Godself

In both content and process, the pedagogy of Christian religious educators is to reflect the conviction that God has revealed and continues to reveal Godself to humankind in history, and that we are capable of encountering, recognizing, and appropriating God’s revelation as our normative source of meaning and ethic of life. Our pedagogy is to make accessible the saving truths of God’s primordial revelation that began for this community with the people of Israel, reached its high point for Christian faith in the event of Jesus Christ, and has continued over time as a living tradition in the community of Jesus’ disciples, the church. Our pedagogy is also to enable people to discern and appropriate God’s disclosure of Godself and will that they existentially encounter in present historical praxis.

Article 6: God as Life-giving and Faithful Partner in Covenant

Christian religious educators are to teach that and as if God completely favors humankind and wills justice and peace, love and freedom, wholeness and fullness of life for all (God’s reign); that God is active through human history opposing all that denies life and promoting the realization of God’s intentions’ that God calls all humankind into partnership (covenant) with Godself and one another to live according to what God wills—shalom.

Article 7: Divine and Human

The praxis of Christian religious educators should reflect and encourage the conviction that Jesus, the Christ, is the fully God and fully human One who, made flesh in time and place, is God’s irrevocable promise and our hope that humankind can come into at-one-ment with God, ourselves, others, and creation that in Jesus we encounter the summit of God’s self-disclosure to us and of us to ourselves.

Article 8: Model and Liberator

The pedagogy of Christian religious educators should enable people to symbolically encounter the historical Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection as the model of Christian discipleship and as the liberating Christ of faith—God’s anointed and effective agent of ‘liberating salvation’ in history, who empowers people to live as disciples for God’s reign.

Article 9: Source of Our Faith

Christian religious educators are to employ pedagogical processes that reflect the conviction that the Holy Spirit is the dynamic source of people’s faith, the One who enables people to recognize and faithfully respond to God’s offer of grace, and to God’s self-disclosure in Scripture and tradition and existentially in their present praxis.

Article 10: Source of Communion and Mission

The pedagogy of Christian religious educators is to reflect and teach the conviction that the Holy Spirit calls and empowers people to authentic community and to right and loving relationship with God and one another, and that the Holy Spirit is the genesis and animator of the Christian community that is to carry on Jesus’ mission of ‘liberating salvation’ in the world.

Article 11: Inclusive Community of Partnership

Christian religious educators are to teach that and as if the church is to be a community of partnership and fundamental equality that welcomes all people to full participation as disciples of Jesus; we are to educate for ‘church’ so that through the ministry of all its members, according to their gifts, the community will be an effective symbol of God’s reign by teaching the faith handed on (kerygma), by worshiping God for the life of the world (leitourgia), by witnessing in its communal life to the kerygma it teaches and the hope it celebrates (koinonia), and by serving on all levels for fullness of life for humankind and the integrity of creation (diakonia).

Article 12: A ‘Mixed Body’

Christian religious educators are to educate people in ecclesial identity with a ‘realistic’ faith in the church: as constituted by divine and human partners; as called to continuity with its apostolic roots and to change its ways toward greater faithfulness to God’s reign; as capable of nurturing people in Christian faith and as constantly in need of education and reformation.

Article 13: A Stance of Faith, Hope, and Love

Christian religious educators are called to reflect and promote in their pedagogy cherishing of Christian Story/Vision as gift and challenge that comes out of the rich heritage bequeathed by God’s activity among our mothers and fathers in faith; faith in its possibilities to reveal God and ourselves to us and thus to be a reliable framework of meaning and ethical norms for our lives; hope that its life-giving memories can be constantly rediscovered, critically appropriated, and developed by ongoing generations of Christians as a source of new life in every age.

Article 14: “Leading Learners”

Christian religious educators are to be ‘leading learners’ in the pedagogy of Christian faith, people who enter subject-to-subject relationships with other participants in faith education events and communities and who render the art of enabling such events and communities but always as learning participants.

Definition of Spirituality

“Christian spirituality is people’s conscious attending to God’s loving initiative and saving presence in their lives and their response to the movement of God’s Spirit, who moves their spirits to freely commit themselves through a Christian community to God’s reign of fullness of life for all, by living in right and loving relationship with God, self, others, and creation, according to the way of Jesus.”[8]

Notes


[1] http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/schools/stm/acadprog/faculty/groome.html (accessed August 6, 2013)

[2] Thomas H. Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.,  85-86.

[5] Ibid.,  135.

[6] Ibid.,  372.

[7] Ibid.,  429-450.

[8] Ibid.,  426.

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