Continuing Our Discussion of Divine Pedagogy and the Shared Praxis Approach

Last week, we began an excellent conversation about the catechetical process and, in particular, the principles of divine pedagogy and the role of human experience (the shared praxis approach of Dr. Thomas Groome). Thanks to all for your rich insights and thoughts.

Today, I’d like to continue that conversation by offering my critique of Dr. Caroline Farey’s article, “The Truth Will Set You Free”), Faith Magazine, Vol. 41, No. 5, Sept-Oct 2009) which I referred to in that original post

I invite you to read Dr. Farey’s article and then my response.

 I look forward to your thoughts, comments, and questions.

About Joe Paprocki 2736 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

9 Comments on Continuing Our Discussion of Divine Pedagogy and the Shared Praxis Approach

  1. Just a note of thanks, Joe, for your wonderfully articulated response to Dr. Farey’s article. I have read the resources mentioned (Dr. Farey’s article; Thomas Groome’s books on shared praxis; The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis), and I still think that “shared praxis” (especially in today’s culture) is a wonderful methodology. I agree with everything you stated——and you stated it in a wonderful way. Thanks.

  2. Joe,
    It’s great that you are continuing the conversation. This is a very important topic for the future of Catechesis. You travel throughout the country and hear lots of testimonies of what is happening in parishes and I know you have a strong pulse on how catechists are actually carrying out these methods. In my experience and being in dialogue with DRE’s and catechists I agree with Dr. Farey on the reality that that “God’s message” or the proclamation of the content tends to be the “shortest moment” in the process. As I’ve said before, I think there is a perception from catechists that we need to “get through the content part” so that we can apply it to their lives (which they believe is the most important part of the classroom experience).

    Also, I find that in practice the pitfalls that Dr. Farey mentions are true. Let me specify: 1) One does “lose control of the content” because the Christian Praxis approch seeks to unite the experience of the believer with the Christian narrative to a fault. Yes, we all have experiences and they are very valuable, however, God’s truths and revelation take primacy over our personal ideas and experiences. Groom’s method for too long has pitted revelation against experience. He seems to want to treat revelation and experience as equals. Often this causes the believer, at times, to doubt God’s ways. 2) Dr. Farey says “it moves into the realm of psychology” because of what Groome speaks of in Movement 4 of his method. Its purpose is to have the participants place their own “stories” in dialectic with the “Christian Story” presented in Movement Three. This means that besides examining their current beliefs and practices in light of the “Christian Story,” the students are to, according to Groome, “bring present praxis to interpret Christian Story / Vision . . . there are aspects of it they affirm and cherish and aspects of present understanding and living of Christian faith that are called into question and refused if necessary (the Story has had distortions), and . . . participants can construct a more appropriate understanding of the Story (from his book Sharing Faith).” 3) With the approach just mentioned the faith of the Church is seen as something that has to be proved beyond a doubt verses it being given the benefit of the doubt. 4) Finally, catechesis for the last couple decades has been too focused on the Christian Praxis approach with relating it to our lives that it spends too much time on the passing issues of the students (which is important but should not dominate the class or direct the lesson at hand). What is needed is a greater emphasis on the Holy Spirit guiding the work of catechesis in the classroom and drawing on the richness of the Gospel Message and the Church to lead the students into an encounter with Christ and greater friendship with Him.

    What are the results of a lack of a revelation based approach over the popular Christian Praxis approach? For one, the Pew Survey that came out a few years ago shows the reality of the lack of fruit of a catechesis that relies too much on personal experience over God’s revelation, his invitation, his abundant life that He gives us through the truths of the Gospel message and apostolic tradition. Although there are many factors why so many leave the Church, one reason is they never understood the truths of the faith and as a result many leave because of how they feel. I believe a limited knowledge of the faith is one reason why they leave. So many young people do not know their faith and therefore struggle to apply it to their daily lives. Action follows knowledge.

    I would love to hear what others have to say, because I do not think Dr. Farey’s examples are “rare”.

    Thanks again Joe for continuing to explore this conversation.

    • Thanks William for sharing your thoughts. I am sincerely grateful that you are contributing to this discussion which, I agree, is very important for the future of catechesis.

      Since I made it clear that I’m not looking to debate in order to see which approach comes out the “winner” (but am rather seeking to gain clarity and grow in my/our understanding of these catechetical concepts), I will not rebut your comment point by point. Suffice to say that we disagree over how prevalent are the pitfalls cited by Dr. Farey. I give you credit for reading and reviewing Dr. Groome’s book, Will There Be Faith? I would say, however, that you give Dr. Groome far too much credit for shaping an entire generation of Catholics, many of whom received poor catechesis. Most of that is due to poor catechist formation that provided catechists with NO catechetical process to follow. We did not provide our catechists with what they needed and deserved to effectively proclaim the Gospel to a rapidly changing society. And this problem is getting worse instead of better. In parishes all over the country, pastors are foregoing professional catechetical leaders like yourself who offer substantive formation for catechists in favor of part time or volunteer leaders with no professional background (who have never heard of the words “divine pedagogy” or “praxis”) and who have no competency to form catechists. Without proper training and formation, catechists often know to do little more with their participants than open the book and read, and if that’s all they do, I don’t care what pedagogy the text follows, it’s simply not going to “take.”

      What I would love to see from you, William, is a lesson plan, on the topic of your choice for the age group of your choice, that articulates how you would recommend that lesson be taught, making clear the methodology that you are asking your catechist to follow. I would be happy to share that as a guest post along with your commentary on what principles are guiding that methodology. I think this would make a great contribution to our ongoing conversation. Let me know if this is something you would consider. Thanks again!

  3. Guys,

    I think y’all are worrying too much about theoretical frameworks, and letting that worry obscure what’s actually happening in classrooms that work.

    Christian LeBlanc & I were having a conversation the other day, and I told him that for all the word “Praxis” sounds like some kind of sugary cajun crawfish-pecan sidedish casserole, Joe P.’s descriptions of what he does in the classroom are dead-on. Christian’s answer: Of course. He spends time in the classroom.

    William, I think you’re absolutely right, that a person could take the “shared praxis” approach and turn it into an I’m-okay-you’re-okay group affirmation session. It’s a serious hazard that needs to be avoided. But I think Joe has outlined very clearly how he has taken the framework as a starting point, and figured out what works and what doesn’t, to actually help students learn the faith.

    I’m reminded here of my son’s 5th grade year, when he was assigned to the Other 5th Grade, which is heavy on group discussion, along the lines “What’s on the calendar? What’s on the news? How does this fit with your faith? And let’s pray a decade of the Rosary”. Not at all the systematic theological-nuts-and-bolts of my 5th grade class next door.

    My son loved the class (he thought he wouldn’t), and it really helped him grow in his faith. He was already getting plenty o’ theology at home (Faith & Life). My class would have drowned him in review. Getting to talk and focus on personal application was exactly what he needed.

    There’s a time and a place for different methods. Invariably when I see problems in catechesis, it’s when one approach is relied upon exclusively, or almost exclusively. Gotta have a balanced diet.

    • Jennifer, thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. I know on the surface, it looks like a strictly theoretical conversation however there are significant ramifications for what actually happens in catechetical settings, especially if bishops decide (and this is already happening in some dioceses) that they want to limit the selection of textbook series for use in their diocese so that it fits their notion of what follows divine pedagogy and avoids an experiential approach. Some catechetical leaders and catechists are up in arms because they are no longer allowed to use a particular textbook series that they value and find effective simply because the bishop flipped through a few pages of a textbook, saw pictures that reflect examples of everyday human experience and decided the whole program was experiential and therefore unfit for his diocese. There could also be significant ramifications for how catechist formation is done. Maybe it exists, but I’ve yet to see an approach to teaching divine pedagogy in a way that speaks to the everyday catechist and that’s what I’m seeking and encouraging so that it does not remain an ivory tower concept.

      • Coming back to this late – but gotcha. Yes, that’s a major concern. I’m fortunate to live in a diocese where we aren’t seeing that, to my knowledge. Lots of flexibility to meet the needs of the parish. I think we hit a good balance, here in SC, in terms of the variety of approaches people use, and the different tools the diocese presents at catechist formation days.

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