Dr. Groome’s reputation precedes him as his presence has been felt in the religious education landscape for thirty years through his writings. As a result, I eagerly approached the task of reviewing his latest work, Will There Be Faith?. Let me begin by confessing that my former professors critiqued Dr. Groome’s works with severity, often noting the presence of dissenting views of the Church’s teachings and problems with his proposed Christian praxis methodology. I entered into this task reading and reviewing his book with eagerness and hope, that maybe this material would be different.
The first 150 pages lay the foundation regarding the many challenges in post-modernity and the evangelization of our Faith. He goes to great lengths to use inclusive language while attempting to define various theological terms. While I found this personally unnecessary, I understand how it may be of help to a broader readership. Here are three points he makes that I think are important when looking at the landscape of Religious Education in the Third Millennium:
1) “Effective religious education demands the intentional participation of three key “agents” – the home, the parish, and the school or formal program of instruction. All three stakeholders in faith education must work in coalition” (pg. 13-14).
2) “Education at its best, informs, forms, and transforms the very “being” of people and does so in ways that are powerfully life giving for both themselves and their society….The best of education engages and shapes the whole person…(pg. 94).
3) I appreciated his emphasis on the role of the family and how we as educators need to incorporate them more in the formational process.
Thorough out the book I observed Groome’s dissent from Church’s teaching, how he reduced Christianity to a relativistic “powerful resource” and a methodology that relies on “lived human experience” as opposed to God’s revelation of truth.
Beginning in chapter two, Groome says “Since the Council of Trent and until recently, Catholic catechesis has assumed in large part that people are totally dependent on the Church for salvation (as if there is none outside of it) and aspired to make people into obedient members who submit to its teaching authority (pg. 53).” Unfortunately, at this point, Groome’s noted dissent from Church teaching appears. The Catechesim of the Catholic Church states:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”338 (Catechism paragraphs 846-848).
Many of his assertions are vague and tended toward a more relativistic vision, e.g., “Whether we are parents or teachers or both, our common sense of purpose is likely that we want those we educate religiously to become good people, coupled with the conviction that this way of being human and religious which is called “Christian” can be a powerful resource to that noble end. Christian faith can be a wonderful way to live one’s life for self and others, to contribute to the common good of humanity, and to find true happiness here and hereafter (pg. 104-105).” Reducing Christianity to simply a “wonderful way” to live or a “powerful resource” appears to minimize the magnitude of the truths revealed by God and passed on through His Church. Religious Education seeks to educate the person so as to know, love and serve Christ Jesus more fully. “Catechesis is an education of the Faith . . . which includes especially the teachings of Christian doctrine . . . with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian Life. (CCC 5)” We were created for God’s vision of knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him in this life so we can be happy with Him in the next life. Dr. Groome’s broadness in this approach seems to sacrifice an authentic Catholic vision for something more mainstream.
Furthermore, Groome describes the “lived human experience” as a means of recounting the evolution of the person’s understanding of God lived in the self. Revelation of truth seems mitigated to simply the self perception of what is as opposed to the reality of God’s revelation to humanity through time. This proposed approach of fostering a life of Faith to life which begins with the lived faith experience of the person is in essence flawed because God’s initiative throughout salvation history was not based on the lived experience of the believer but upon the truth of God and His desire to reveal Himself. Take for example the discussion in a class about God the Father’s love for His people. If we begin with questioning “How have you been loved by your earthly father?” and some students might not have much contact with their Dad or have a negative experience of their Dad then “lived experience” is not a good starting point to reveal God the Father’s love. This is one of countless examples of the problem with beginning with human experience.
Over the last 30 years Groome’s methodology has made its way into religious education textbooks. Three decades later we know that some of the methods we’ve used in classrooms have not produced disciples who are living their faith in the world. Therefore, it is essential that we consider methods which will bring about a different result. We want to replicate God’s Pedagogy which begins first with His revelation of Himself and His plan of salvation for humanity. Every methodology should help the believer “apply” the Faith to their everyday lives, but it must be rooted and founded on what God has revealed. Blessed Pope John Paul II told a group of US bishops that “methodologies used” to renew catechesis “have to respond to the nature of the faith as truth received (cf. Catechesi Tradendai, #20).”
Dr. Groome’s “new vision for educating and growing disciples” uses a methodology that relies too much on the individual experience of the person. The future of Religious Education does in fact need to empower and involve parents, the parish community and formal religious instruction provided by a Catholic School or Religious Education Program. It is essential that this process seeks to be accomplished by engaging the believer into the life of Christ and His Body, the Church. God is the one who always initiates and has revealed Himself to us. Catechesis in the Third Millennium must pass on the faith organically and systematically so as to lead the believer into an intimate union with Christ if future generations are going to become true disciples. Relying too excessively on our lived experience prevents the believer from being fully formed into the mystery of Christ. Otherwise we would have a tendency to view our own experiences as what is true and right. We must know what God wants (through what He’s revealed) before we can apply it to our lives and respond accordingly.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to Review from TLC Book Tours.