Missional Faith Thinking Overview
Missional Faith Thinking (MFT) is an educational framework developed to describe BiblioMinistry’s conception of Christian Religious Education (CRE). MFT particularly focuses on the resources, tools, and processes that Christians who believe that Jesus calls us to participate in building the Empire of God through our commitment to him and God, study of God’s Word, and the history, tradition, and the recorded (written) conversations of these things. In God and in Christ we are freed for the work to which God and Jesus have called us: building the Empire of God. Missional Faith Thinking (MFT) provides people and communities of faith with goals and objectives by which to plan, implement, assess, and evaluate personal and communal religious education. It includes four main goals and related learning objectives that integrate faith, intellect, and activism within the information framework of metaliteracy. These goals and learning objectives articulate what learners should be able to do (behavioral), what learners should know (cognitive), how learners’ emotions and attitudes may change (metanoia / affective), and what learners think about their own thinking (metacognitive).
Missional Faith Thinking Elements
MFT integrates three main elements: faith, intellect, and activism within the information theory of metaliteracy. In doing so it also utilizes the educational theory of constructivism and the concept of praxis. Following are summaries of what these concepts mean to MFT.
MFT is less concerned with what people believe, and more interested in how people form and articulate their beliefs, particularly as related to their religious denomination’s/church’s beliefs. MFT encourages people of faith to explore their faith questions, appreciate the wonder of God, God’s creation, and God’s created ones. It encourages us to explore our capacity that allows us to contemplate our own existence, why we are here, and who and how we were created.
God gave us brains and minds, and free will to make our own decisions. MFT encourages people of faith to use their minds in God-honoring ways that connect with modern scholarship and intellectual methods. While most major religions, including Christianity, have long intellectual traditions within them, there have often been issues of access to those traditions by religious adherents. MFT places a priority on theological education as “ordered learning” in the church, described by Edward Farley as “ongoing studies in disciplines and skills necessary for the understanding and interpretation of Scripture, doctrines, moral principles and policies, and areas of praxis” (1985, p. 158). The phrase “thinking Christian” is not an oxymoron.
All major world religions have to some degree prioritized care of others, both individually and collectively. Jesus’ interest in building the Empire of God (as opposed to furthering the Empire of Rome) upends “proper” social orders so that all of humanity may know themselves as beloved by God, and know this in tangible, earthly ways as practiced by him and his disciples in his time and now. This interest obligates Christians to act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable, both in immediate acts of mercy and charity, and via more systemic means as found in faith-based activism and social justice movements (known as “The Social Gospel” in the early 20th century). As the educations that many Christians obtain in and out of church may have focused more on a “sit down and shut up” approach to learning, thus educating them for complacency instead of empowered action, MFT aims to “flip the script” on educational approaches to emphasize a “stand up and speak out” approach to learning, particularly in solidarity with individuals and groups of impoverished and oppressed people. George Lakey (2013) provides inspiration regarding things all, including faith-based, activists should know how to do.
CRE has often focused more on educational content than critical reflection on resources, tools, and processes by which that content is created. Metaliteracy, as a 21st century manifestation of information literacy that unleashes information literacy into the wilds of the world at large (rather than only into the more carefully-controlled atmosphere of institutions of higher education, particularly academic libraries), offers a robust environment in which faith communities may thoroughly explore their discovery, creation, sharing, and other use of information within congregational life and beyond. Though metaliteracy, as a concept originating among librarians, may seem like an unusual concept in which to so heavily weight a CRE framework, it is simply making apparent what librarians have known for decades: as information becomes more and more accessible, all people, including people of faith, must be able to competently engage with information – in their case, for a more vibrant faith informed by intellect.
Constructivism, in short, is student-centered learning, further described as “the educational philosophy that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own” (Slavin, 2000, p. 20) Freire (2000), a constructivist, critiqued and rejected the “banking” education for what he calls “problem-posing education” in which the curriculum originates in what the student wishes to learn, and the student learns through dialogue with the teacher. The teacher evolves from expert to dialogue partner, and the relationship becomes that of teacher-student, student-teacher in which both simultaneously fill each role. This educational style, while seldom truly practiced in formal learning environments, is an obvious fit for the voluntary nature of faith communities, in which people are there because they want to be. Once they are there, it is well-worth it to use their self-motivation in God’s service.
Freire may not have been the first person to use the word “praxis,” generally meaning “reflective practice,” but his use of it may be the most popular one in social justice circles. Freire’s (2000) definition of it is “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 51). While some may dismiss praxis as a fancy word for “practice” that makes its user sound more important, praxis emphasizes that all practice should be subject to renewal. While God may be eternal, as the world in which we live changes, faith communities must always find new ways to empower and equip disciples of Jesus for their respective ministries. This means that our theories must always be informed by our living practice, and vice versa. They act and re-act upon each other, and Christians who accept this reality are less likely to become enmeshed in doing something “because we’ve always done it that way.” CRE as with anything else languishes if it remains the same; likewise, it may flourish if it is allowed to grow and change with life as we know it.
Missional Faith Thinking Goals and Objectives
1. Information Stewardship
As with metaliteracy’s second goal, MFTs “understand personal privacy, information ethics, and intellectual property issues in changing technology environments” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). MFTs consider who has access to what information, why, and the theological, real-life implications of that access. As WACC (2008) believes, “accessing and sharing information and knowledge resources lies at the heart of equitable intellectual property rights, respect for the moral rights and integrity of created works and genuine plurality” (p. x-xi).
Objectives 1 – 7 are from metaliteracy Goal 2: Understand personal privacy, information ethics, and intellectual property issues in changing technology environments
- Differentiate between the production of original information and remixing or re-purposing open resources (C)
- Distinguish the kinds of information appropriate to reproduce and share publicly, and private information disseminated in more restricted/discreet environments (C)
- Use technology to build a positive web presence (B)
- Apply copyright and Creative Commons licensing as appropriate to the creation of original or repurposed information (B)
- Recognize the ethical considerations of sharing information (A)
- Articulate the necessity of attribution when borrowing the intellectual property of others, regardless of format (A)
- Identify the context for which accurate attribution is needed and consistently apply that attribution (C, B) (Mackey et al., 2014)
Objectives 8 – 9 are specific to MFT:
- Understand who has access to which religious and theological information and why (C)
- Advocate for making all information, particularly that of a religious and theological nature, more open source and widely available (B, A)
2. Information Discernment
Aligned with metaliteracy’s first goal, MFTs can “evaluate content critically, including dynamic online content” (Mackey et al., 2014). They understand the particular criteria by which to evaluate religious and theological information.
Objectives 1 – 5 are objectives from metaliteracy Goal 1: Evaluate content critically, including dynamic, online content that changes and evolves, such as article preprints, blogs, and wikis
- Place an information source in its context (for example, author’s purpose, format of information, and delivery mode) in order to ascertain the value of the material for that particular situation (B, C)
- Distinguish between editorial commentary and information presented from a more research-based perspective, recognizing that values and beliefs are embedded in all information (C)
- Determine the value of formal and informal information from various networked sources (scholarly, user-generated, OERs, etc.) (C)
- Evaluate user response as an active researcher; understand the differing natures of feedback mechanisms and context in traditional and social media platforms (B, C)
- Appreciate the importance of assessing content from different sources, including dynamic content from social media, critically (A) (Mackey et al., 2014)
Objectives 6 – 8 are particular to MFT:
- Understand the role information assessment and evaluation plays in faith
- Determine the ways in which social justice issues connect with faith
- Evaluate and apply nonviolent action in situations of threat and turbulence
3. Information Evangelism
MFTs “share information and collaborate in a variety of participatory environments” (Mackey et al., 2014), metaliteracy’s third goal. This includes courageously and vulnerably responding “to the demands of the Kingdom in their own personal, social, and political contexts” (Groome, 1980, p. 99).
Objectives 1 – 9 are objectives from metaliteracy Goal 3: Share information and collaborate in a variety of participatory environments
- Participate conscientiously in collaborative environments (B)
- Take responsibility for participation in collaborative environments (A)
- Compare the unique attributes of different information formats (e.g., scholarly article, blog, wiki, online community), and have the ability to use effectively and to cite information for the development of original content (B)
- Describe the potential impact of online resources for sharing information (text, images, video, and other media) in collaboration with others (A)
- Demonstrate the ability to translate information presented in one manner to another in order to best meet the needs of particular audiences; Integrate information from multiple sources into coherent new forms (M, C)
- Effectively communicate personal and professional experiences to inform and assist others; and recognize that learners can also be teachers (A, B)
- Produce original content appropriate to specific needs in multiple media formats; transfer knowledge gained to new formats in unpredictable and evolving environments (B)
- Value user-generated content and critically evaluate contributions made by others: see self as a producer as well as consumer, of information (A)
- Be open to global perspectives; use communication with others in a global context to encourage deep learning (A) (Mackey et al., 2014)
Objectives 10 – 14 are particular to MFT:
- Articulate integrated faith that considers the whole person (A, B, C)
- Articulate the processes by which CRE occurs (B)
- Engage in creative non-violent direct action strategy and tactics with others
- Recognize and prepare psychologically for the struggle in social justice movements
- Develop group morale and solidarity for more effective non-violent direct social justice action
4. Missional Planning, Assessment and Evaluation
Reck (2012) comments upon the “lack of serious evaluation of Christian religious education material” (p. 28). As with metaliteracy’s fourth goal, MFTs “demonstrate ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes and personal, academic, and professional goals” (Mackey et al., 2014). They are committed to continual growth and development in faith, intellect, and activism, accepting the necessity and embracing the benefit of regular assessment and evaluation mechanisms in their lives and communities.
Objectives 1 – 11 are objectives from metaliteracy Goal 4: Demonstrate ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes and personal, academic, and professional goals
- Determine scope of the question or task required to meet one’s needs (C)
- Reevaluate needs and next steps throughout the process (C)
- Demonstrate the importance of matching information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools (C)
- Use self-reflection to assess one’s own learning and knowledge of the learning process (M)
- Demonstrate the ability to think critically in context and to transfer critical thinking to new learning (M)
- Value persistence, adaptability, and flexibility (M)
- Communicate effectively with collaborators in shared spaces and learn from multiple points of view (M)
- Recognize that learning is a process and that reflecting on errors or mistakes leads to new insights and discoveries (M)
- Engage in informed, self-directed learning that encourages a broader worldview through the global reach of today’s information technology. (M)
- Demonstrate self-empowerment through interaction and the presentation of ideas; gain the ability to see what is transferable, translatable, and teachable (learners are both students and teachers) (M)
- Conclude that metaliteracy is a lifelong value and practice (M) (Mackey et al., 2014)
Objectives 12 – 16 are particular to MFT:
- Understand the process of CRE: plan, implement, assess, and evaluate
- Engage in the process of CRE
- Create effective and engaging activist organizations and movements
- Develop intersectional social justice alliances
- Increase shared power within social justice organizations and movements