Thursday, July 14, 2011

The (Possible) Failure of a Cognitivist Approach to Evangelism and Discipleship (Or, My Most Boring Post Title Yet)

Religion cannot be pictured in the cognitivist (and voluntarist) manner as primarily a matter of deliberately choosing to believe or follow explicitly known propositions or directives. Rather, to become religious - no less than to become culturally or linguistically competent, is to interiorize a set of skills by practice and training. One learns how to feel, act, and think in conformity with a religious tradition that is, in its inner structure, far richer and more subtle than can be explicitly articulated. The primary knowledge is not about the religion, nor that the religion teaches such and such, but rather how to be religious in such and such ways. Sometimes explicitly formulated statements of belief or behavioral norms of a religion may be helpful in the learning process, but by no means always. Ritual, prayer, and example are normally much more important. 
- Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine

I'm far from an expert on evangelism and discipleship, but would it be fair comment to say that in the last 300 years the almost exclusive form of evangelism and discipleship in the West has been "cognitivist", and that this form -- or rather, the people who have employed it -- have largely failed in their task to make disciples in the mold of Jesus?

This is the form in caricature:

These are the absolute fundamental things that we believe. Do you believe them too? Yes? Then you are now a convert to Christianity. Now we will give you more stuff to believe, thus forming you into a mature Christian.

I think Lindbeck's notion of "interiorizing a set of skills by practice and training" opens up the possibility of a far deeper and richer form of discipleship, although I do wonder what his cultural-linguistic approach to religion does for evangelism.

1 comment:

  1. Can we summarise and say it makes the church the mode, means and content of evangelism?