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The Teaching of Religion.

The Teaching of Religion.

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Published by glennpease



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Published by: glennpease on Feb 20, 2013
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THE TEACHING OF RELIGION.BY PHILLIPS BROOKS(Divinity School of Yale University, February 28, 1878.)A YEAR has passed away since I had the satisfaction of meeting you here before ù a year in which we have allbeen busy in doing or preparing to do the work of theChristian ministry. At its close I come back to you witha deepened sense of what a privilege it is to be a preacher,and with a renewed pleasure and gratitude in being al-lowed to address those who are making ready to preach.I come at the kind invitation of your faculty to speak toyou on the teaching of religion. But I want to say atonce that I should not venture to come unless I might beallowed to stand in precisely the same position towardyou in which I stood last year. I am no professor deal-ing wisely with the philosophy of a great subject ; norscholar to interpret to you its history. I am simply aworking minister, ready and glad, if they care to listen,to tell those who are almost ministers how the problemsof religious teaching have presented themselves to myexperience. I rely entirely upon the sympathy of ourcommon work. It is more in suggestions than in contin-uous and systematic treatise that I shall give you what Ihave to say, and I can only promise you in recompensefor your courteous attention that I will tell you franklyand honestly just how the work of teaching religion hasseemed to me as I have labored in it.And we must begin with definitions which need notdetain us very long. I am to speak about the teaching of 34THE TEACHING OF BELIGION. 35religion. What is religion? Eeligion I hold to be thelife of man in gratitude and obedience and gradually de-veloping likeness to God. There are no doubt more sub-tle definitions to be given, but that is the sum of it all, asit stands out in the experience of men. For a man to bereligious is for him to be grateful to God for some mercyand goodness, to be obedient as the utterance of his grati-tude, and to be shaped by the natural power of obedienceinto the likeness of the God whom he obeys. And theChristian religion ù using the term not as the title for ascheme of truth but as the description of a character ù theChristian religion is the life of man in gratitude and obe-dience and consequent growing likeness to God in Christ.A Christian, when I look to find the simplest definition of him which any thoughtful man can understand, is a manwho is trying to serve Christ out of the grateful love of Christ, and who by his service of Christ is becoming
Christ-like. It is not simply service, for service may bethe mere slavery of fear, and that is superstition, notreligion. It is not simply grateful love, for that may ex-haust itself as a mere sentiment. It is gratitude assuredby obedience, obedience uttering gratitude, and both to-gether bearing witness of themselves and accomplishingtheir true result in character. The life of man in grati-tude, obedience, and growing likeness to Jesus Christ, assimple as that let us make and keep the definition of thereligion in which we live ourselves, to which we tempt, inwhich we try to instruct our fellow-men.And now, upon this essential character of the religionwhich we wish to teach mu8t depend, of course, the possi-bility and the way of teaching it. But notice first howout of vague or partial ideas about what religion is, therehave grown up and have been always present among re-ligious men various views about the possibility of teachingreligion and the general method by which, if such teach-36 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES.ing were possible, it must proceed. Such views in generalare four.First, there is the disbeliever's view. I do not meanthe man who disbelieves in religion, but the man who dis-believes in teaching it. Of the disbehever in religionitself we can say nothing. He does not come in here. Of course he cannot believe in teaching that which is to hima fraud or a mistake. But there are many men, them-selves religious, to whom it seems a full impossibility toteach religion. Many of such men are thoroughly devoutand earnest souls. Sometimes, I think, the very intense-ness of their personal experience makes it seem to themincapable of being shared. It seems as if every man'sreligion must come to him as theirs has come to them,direct from God Himself. In times like these of ours inwhich the institutional and traditional methods of religionare shattered and disturbed, there are many, I think, who,driven inward from the tumult and distress around them,realizing supremely the personalness of their own lifewith Christ, feeling how little they were led to it or upheldin it by any outward influence, distrust such outward in-fluence for any man. There are parents who feel so abouttheir children. " Let them be taught of God," says thedevout father. " Let them find out for themselves," saysthe undevout father. " I cannot teach them," says each," religion is unteachable. It is too personal. It is notlike history or arithmetic. There is a notion of fate aboutit. The soul seems to be like the sea-shore rock at whosefeet the tide is rising. No hand can bend the rock todrink the water. No hand can lift the water to the rock.Only the appointed time of the full tide can bring the twotogether."
I must not stop now to speak about this first convictionof despair. It would not certainly be hard to point outthe fallacy of such an exaggeration of the personal respon-THE TEACHING OF BELIGION 37sibility as would forbid any most kindly and sympathetichand to help it see the task it has to do. It is like sajdngthat you must not feed a child gratuitously because thefull-grown man is bound to earn his own bread. Theresult is that he dies a baby.But pass on and see what are the suggestions whichcome from various persons who do believe that religionis teachable, and who undertake to teach it. One man,one class of men, taking the intellectual idea which be-longs preeminently to that word " teaching," think of re-ligious teaching as something purely intellectual. It isthe hard method of the hard sort of Protestantism. It isthe method of the catechism and the doctrinal sermon.We shall come in a few minutes to the description of whatpart it has to play in the full religious teaching of a man.Notice now simply that it is partial, that it involves a verypartial notion of what religion is. The idea that religionhas been taught when certain truths have been imparted,that the church is a school-room in the narrowest sense,this idea, with the consequences that follow from it of thesaving power of the tenure of right beliefs, was far morecommon once than it is now. It belongs to every era of confessions when special conditions lead to the making of minute creeds. The very disHke which this idea excitesin some men's minds, the violence with which they railagainst it, is one sign that it is passing away. There is acertain condition of the ocean which is neither storm norcalm. It shows that there has been a storm where we aresailing and that it is over. And there are persons whosuffer more with seasickness there upon the dying swellof an old storm than when the fury of the gale is all aboutthem. So there are many writers on religion who growmore excited over the honors or errors of some system of thought that is in decay than they do over the systemwhich is vigorous and live around them. They are always38 ESSAYS AXD ADDRESSES.full of indignation abont the shade or aspect of orthodoxywhich is just passing out of sight. And you can tell thatan idea is obsolescent when it begins to vigorously stirthose men's dislike. So it is now with the abuse of purelydogmatic teaching which we often hear.Next to the conception of reUgious teaching whichthinks of it solely as the imparting of knowledge comesthat which dwells entirely on the creation of feeling. This

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