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Kingdom Learning by David Heywood

15 September 2017

Lyle Dennen assesses an argument about Christian learning

ON THE first page, David Heywood clearly states that the purpose of his new book, Kingdom Learning, is to explain how learning actually takes place; and he offers principles and methods of guidance for teaching and learning in congregations.

He effectively develops through the book the argument that “practical wisdom” gives you the tools to apply patterns of past experience to a present situation. This gives you insights to understand the new situation and formulate appropriate action, but also to reflect on the situation in the light of scripture and tradition and to discover where God is in these events and people.

Heywood bases a significant part of his analysis on Alasdair MacIntyre’s philosophical boo, After Virtue. Heywood makes an attractive critique of the many in the Church who use a rationalistic, Enlightenment view that Christian knowledge comes only from coherent rules and principles. Heywood’s situational view is that knowledge, insights, and appropriate actions come from reflections on experience. For Heywood, core to teaching and learning in the Christian life is not studying dogmatic rules, but, rather, developing character — habits of holiness — to give you understanding and wisdom.

The author has rich experience as a parish priest, a school teacher, and now as an educator at a theological college (Ripon College, Cuddesdon). This enables him to show how learning based on the needs and development of the learner rather than a focus on the teacher can create effective adult learning for discipleship and ministry. Heywood sees Christian learning as a vision of the Kingdom which enables one to grow deeply into discipleship by conforming one’s life to Jesus Christ and aspiring to be Christlike.

The parts of the book where he uses his method of learning as a way of opening up scripture and the ways in which Jesus himself taught are immensely insightful and a joy to read. The parts where he goes into detailed discussion of educationalist methodology can be hard going.

As he works through concrete examples that happened, Heywood’s views come vividly alive. One of the stories that is recounted is how Rob Gallagher, a parish priest, dealt with a prostitute who had sold her body to sustain her drug habit. For the sake of her daughter, she was determined to stop her prostitution and drug habit. She asked Gallagher to baptise her child to mark this change.

Rather than be caught by any rigid rules or what other people might think, Gallagher went through this situational learning process, thought through the experience, and arrived in the end with a theological reflection, looking at the pattern of his past experience, and concluding with a scriptural text and considered gut feeling: “You are not far from the kingdom of heaven.” He baptised the daughter.

Heywood tell us that this method of theological reflection is inspired by lectio divina. It is also like the fourfold pastoral cycle: looking at the Experience, trying to Explore it, Reflecting on it, and then Responding to it. This simple method is very helpful for pastoral situations and developing mature Christians.

Heywood effectively argues that the Church of the 21st century needs to be a learning Church to grow in numbers and holiness. His deep knowledge of educational method that is profoundly participatory, learner-centred, and committed to inclusive — lay and ordained —ministry is outstanding. This is not the easiest book to read, but extremely worth while. This book tells us a lot about teaching and learning. But it also tells us a lot about how to be a Christian.


The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is Archdeacon Emeritus of Hackney, and was a member of the Mission-shaped Church working party.


Kingdom Learning: Experiential and reflective approaches to Christian formation

David Heywood

SCM Press £21.99


Church Times Bookshop £19.80




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