I have been dancing around a while, trying to figure out what educational approach the Faith Thinking Foundations course uses. I have come to the conclusion that rather than simply integrating existing educational and information theories, Faith Thinking Foundations represents a new approach to CRE according to everything I have read. I have used the terms “faith thinking,” “religious metaliteracy,” and “religious information literacy” to describe the kind of education that BiblioMinistry endorses and uses, but it did not occur to me until after the Annual Conference on Information and Religion (the paper I presented at the conference, “Faith Thinking Foundations: Online Religious (Meta)Literacy Education Within a Congregational Context“), that Missional Faith Thinking is actually a distinct CRE theory.
As articulated within existing educational theories, Missional Faith Thinking falls into the realm of Christian religious education (CRE), defined by Groome (1980) as: “a political activity with pilgrims in time that deliberately and intentionally attends with them to the activity of God in our present, to the story of the Christian faith community, and to the vision of God’s Kingdom, the seeds of which are already among us” (p. 25). MFT also aligns with Seymour’s (2014) approach to CRE, missional Christian education. Its goal is to empower “all to ‘true humanity’ and [call] the wider church to partner with God in restoring ‘new creation’” (p. 117). Generally speaking, he does a great job of articulating Christian religious education’s roles, needs, and previous inadequacies, and discusses the need for serious educational tools and processes.
The one absence in his work, as I see it, is in its lack of attention to current information theory. As a theological librarian, I am always very much attuned to the ways in which religious and theological educators address (or do not address) concepts such as metaliteracy and information literacy in their work. As I revisited the Faith Thinking Foundations course I taught this past March and April, as well as the conference paper I later wrote about the course, it occurred to me that my integration of metaliteracy goals into a course purporting to integrate faith, intellect, and activism represents a new approach to Christian religious education. It could thus be helpful for myself and other to name, diagram, and otherwise articulate this approach. Since I have expressed frustration at Christian educators who approach CRE with more practice than theory and reflection, I believe in the continued importance of articulating one’s educational approaches and reflecting upon their use, strengths, and weaknesses.
The Role of Metaliteracy in Christian Religious Education
The church as a whole is continually called to be in and with the world as it is. As Barth (1963) told young theologians, “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible” (p. 60). Perhaps one reason why information literacy has not made more serious inroads into society at large is its continued ensconcement within academic institutions. While institutions of higher learning are far from pristine information environments, their resources tend to be more carefully vetted than those encountered in the world at large. Faculty and librarians have often wanted students to use only “authoritative” source for academic work, which is being challenged as authority itself is challenged by the increasing complexity of our information landscape. Information literacy has also tended toward use of already-existing information, rather than the creation and production of new information.
The information theory of metaliteracy, a reframing of information literacy, moves “knowledge acquisition beyond search and retrieval to include the production, distribution, and communication of information in open and online environments” (Jacoson & Mackey, 2013, p. 90). Metaliteracy’s flexibility in encountering “where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be” (Alinsky, 1989, p. xix), provides the world at large with a more robust framework in which religious educators and laypeople may articulate their use of information.
Missional Faith Thinking integrates faith, intellect, and activism, particularly as articulated by Seymour in Teaching the Way of Jesus, within the framework of metaliteracy. Its two main differences from Seymour’s approach are that it situates faith, intellect, and mission/activism within the framework of metaliteracy, and that it places a more overt emphasis on activism, rather than Seymour’s emphasis on mission.
Missional Faith Thinking Themes and Goals
MFT’s themes and goals are largely drawn from the four learning objectives of metaliteracy (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014), but consider them from a particularly theological perspective. The following paragraphs list Missional Faith Thinking themes and articulate what Missional Faith Thinkers do.
MFTs will, as with metaliteracy’s Goal Two, “understand personal privacy, information ethics, and intellectual property issues in changing technology environments” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). MFTs understand that information stewardship begins with management of one’s own information while also considering the questions of who does and does not have access to certain information and why or why not that is. What religious information is available online, to people within one’s congregation, in public libraries, and institutions of higher learning? Do you have access to the information that will help you explore your faith questions?
“….[W]hat is “discernment”? Illustrated by the concepts of wisdom and understanding in the Book of Proverbs, an exegesis of the scriptural texts of Proverbs 1:1-7 and Proverbs 8:1-21 help conceptualize discernment as the ability to regulate one’s thinking in the acquisition and application of knowledge to make decisions that are right, fair, and just” (Trauffer, 2009, p. iii). MFTs will, as with metaliteracy’s Goal One, “evaluate content critically, including dynamic, online content that changes and evolves, such as article preprints, blogs, and wikis” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). MFTs understand the particular criteria via which religious information is evaluated and will prayerfully and critically discern the usefulness of religious information.
MFTs, in conjunction with adroitly managing and evaluating information, are skilled, generous, and hospitable with the results of their information use. Aligned with metaliteracy’s Goal Three, they “Share information and collaborate in a variety of participatory environments” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). They understand the reflexive, praxis-oriented nature of their use of and work with information, and learn as they share the results of their work. Freire (2000) considers the importance of student agency, collaboration, and metacognition in the educational process: “The students – no longer docile listeners – are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own” (p. 81). MFTs use their research and information skills in a variety of ways as activists for the betterment of the world and the greater development of God’s realm.
Missional Assessment and Evaluation
MFTs accept the role of lifelong learners, articulated in metaliteracy’s Goal Four: “demonstrate ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes and personal, academic, and professional goals” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). MFTs understand the need for assessment and evaluation personally, communally, and theologically. They are committed to continual growth and development in faith, intellect, and activism in themselves and their communities and accept the necessity of regular assessment and evaluation mechanisms in their lives and communities.