The question posed to me for this session really
has to do with whether or not—and how—we can measure, or accurately
assess, moral and spiritual development. We are especially
interested in 'measuring' such development as a result
of the context and training on Christian campuses. Some fairly
lavish promises are made by spokespeople for our various schools.
How can we be held accountable, by ourselves and others, for
the outcomes which we promise and hope for? How do we know
which outcomes have occurred and why they have occurred?
In speaking of "matters of the heart"
we are speaking of character. We are not just interested
in actions and declared intentions, or even particular choices.
We are, rather, looking at the nature and dynamics of the
'hidden' aspects of the self or of the human being as a
whole. We are looking at the reliable sources of actions.
That is what character means. In order to bring this before
us, see the two diagrams from Renovation of the Heart
of the Heart
of the Heart
Let us take as a plausible hypothesis at the
outset that it is possible to know what the character
of an individual is, and to know how it may have changed over
a period of time, and why it changed in the way it did. Perhaps
it is difficult to do, and easy to get it wrong. But it is
fairly obvious in some cases, from reasons that can be given
and verified, that some people are self-absorbed, hard-hearted,
dominated by lust, have no regard for God, or are deceitful,
etc. Or the moral and spiritual opposites. We can assess Growth
in Christlikeness (the stages or levels of spiritual formation
in Christlikeness), and may be able to determine why and how
that growth occurs.
We will take Christian "spiritual formation"
to be the process through which the individual increasingly
comes to resemble Christ in all of the essential dimensions
of the self seen in the diagrams. Spiritual formation
is not just a matter of increasing "will power"
or of greater inspiration in the moment of need. To direct
the person steadily toward the good, the "heart"
(will, human spirit) requires support from every essential
dimension of the self. These too must be transformed for character
to be established.
Of course Christians do constantly evaluate
themselves and others as to "spirituality" and moral
character anyway. Often because we simply have to—for purposes
of placing people in positions of responsibility and evaluating
their performance. Or because we enjoy putting people in their
place (at least in our own minds) or enjoy gossiping. Or because
of our own sense of need to change. Often this is done in
uninformed, biased, haphazard and harmful ways. But that is
not necessary. It can be done in ways that are intelligent,
biblical, helpful and compassionate—even if that is not the
usual case now.
It should be noted that it is now fashionable
in some professional circles to disown character evaluations,
and to even hold that such evaluations are immoral. Such evaluations
are thought to be non-objective, arrogant, and hurtful to
feelings—and feelings are sacred. But this just drives such
evaluations underground, for they are unavoidable. We have
to make responsible judgments about what people will be likely
to do, and this cannot be done without assessments of character.
The setting of evaluation is absolutely
crucial if it is to be effective, accurate and helpful; and
it must be done in a communal or at least non-individualistic
setting. Here we are very specifically going to be talking
about the setting of an explicitly Christian community
such as is represented by the public discourse of a Christian
school. For such a setting there will need to be:
Public statements that substantial growth
in Christlikeness is accepted as the norm by the community,
and by those who enter the community. Everyone must understand
this upon entry or upon considering entry. That this is
a communal norm cannot be simply assumed, and the usual
data (letters of recommendation, etc.) will not guarantee
that people share this understanding. Church membership
certainly does not guarantee it.
These public statements must not be vague
"public relations" talk. The entering student
(faculty, staff) must understand that they are accepting
the responsibility for their growth in Christlikeness, and
that there will be thorough teaching of what this amounts
to and fairly precise and realistic expectations that they
The expectation and teaching, and the accompanying
evaluations, will be done in a spirit of love and acceptance.
By taking individuals in, we have made a commitment to
them that would mark expulsion as a very extreme measure.
It must be understood that evaluation will be without
condemnation, attack or withdrawal (distancing), isolation,
stigmatization or gossip. Complete privacy must be an
It is absolutely indispensable
that the individual (student, faculty, staff) should own
Spiritual Formation, growth in grace, putting on the Character
of Christ, as their project. The school is in a
helping role only, helping them with the project that
they are committed to. It is not the school’s project,
in which they must co-operate. It should be understood
and explicitly said that procedures of evaluation are
for the purpose of aiding the student or others to understand
themselves and where they are on the spiritual path with
Christ. It is to help them achieve the goals they have
committed to as disciples of Jesus and members of your
academic community under him. Intelligent and biblical
evaluation procedures for spiritual formation simply cannot
be done unless the subject desires that it be done. It
cannot be done in an adversarial posture. (Here it is
useful to re-think the entire matter of "grading.")
Here the school will find a great disadvantage
in the fact that "Christians" are not automatically
"disciples of Jesus" in any meaningful sense today.
What it teaches and practices on this painful matter will
have a direct and substantial bearing on what it can do
by way of assessment of character growth.
It should be clear to all that faculty,
staff and administration are all involved in, subject
to, the same growth and evaluation process as the students.
There will be differences in applications, but it is surely
unthinkable that only students should be subject
to the norms and evaluation procedures of a spiritual
formation program. We cannot follow the saying, "Do
as I say, not as I do." It is also clear that such
a program would have to be led from the top level
of the school: the Board of Trustees, and the President
and his or her staff, must give it central priority. It
cannot be left to designated underlings. The idea that
the work of the school is teaching and research
in the standardly recognized disciplines, and that all
else can be farmed out to Student Life, will require adjustment.
Otherwise the current presumption that spiritual growth
is not what really matters will continue to prevail
and have its effects.
This much, then, on the setting of assessment
programs and procedures. It is crucial to say that if A-D
above are not clearly understood and heartily accepted and
communicated by the campus leaders—those who determine policy
and practice and preside over its execution—then we should
not proceed with serious efforts at assessment of "matters
of the heart." It would be ineffectual and do more harm
than good. Of course A-D does not have to be totally worked
out before you start some serious assessment. But the clear
and clearly understood intent on the part of the school
must be there.
What are we testing for? This is something
we must be very clear about. And we must be very sure that
we are not just testing for conformity to the particular
"faith and practice" that distinguishes the school.
We will be strongly tempted to do that. So here we will come
up against tough theological issues.
We are not testing for behavior. Behavior/actions
must be identified, and in some cases must be dealt with.
Behavior creates problems on its own that must be recognized,
but actions are symptoms of what we are looking
for in assessment. We are looking at "the inside
of the cup," to borrow the language of Jesus.
We are assessing or
testing for the sources of behavior in the "hidden"
dimensions of the self already referred to.
The inclusive term
for what we are assessing is "love," love of
God, and love of neighbor. Here again we take Jesus as
our leader, as seen in Mark 12:29-31, drawing together
the outcome of the Jewish experience of God. This love
is seen through the fruit it produces in character and
action, in Gla. 5:22-25 and I Cor. 13 and elsewhere. Love
is, as the song says, a "many-splendored thing,"
and we look for it in the many ways it displays itself
in the character of individuals. Growth in love is a function
of change in the essential dimensions of personality.
What is in our mind and feelings, in our body and social
relations, as well as in our dispositions of will.
Now how do you test for the character of
love thus understood? Remember, we are primarily helping
the individual subject understand where they are and where
they are going.
Certainly actions are indicative of something,
and must be noted, but it would never be appropriate to simply
draw conclusions from an act that love is or is not the source.
(I Cor. 13:1-3) Patterns of action over time and in diverse
situations are much better indications of character, and tracking
these can be illuminative of the state and of changes of the
"heart." The individual can learn much by thoughtful
and prayerful interpretations of their patterns of action.
On the assumption that the evaluation is going
to be primarily self-assessment, carefully crafted questionnaires
can be used to help the subject understand where they are
and, possibly, what’s going on in their trajectory through
life. Such a questionnaire might be repeated at intervals
(say at the end of the Spring semester or quarter), possibly
revised in ways more aptly suited to show progress or lack
thereof in specific dimensions of character. The results should
be discussed with the subject in at least one interview, soon
after its completion: an interview conducted in the manner
of a spiritual director. Perhaps further personal interactions
will seem advisable at that point, and could be suggested.
With respect to the questionnaire used, there
are several available. The best one available, in my very
non-expert opinion, is The Christian Life Profile,
developed in a local church context by Randy Frazee and some
of his associates. Just Google "Christian Life Profile"
to find out all about it.
On the basis of the questionnaire and interview
the subject can be directed on how to deal with specific issues:
e.g., fear (of various things), cheating, sexual issues, anger
and so forth. Assessment would have to go hand in hand with
teaching. There should be good public teaching on campus that
helps them understand why they fail, and what they can do
to change the causes of the failure. Understanding and use
of spiritual disciplines is vital for helping people change,
and the keeping of a journal on problems and progress will
be vital both to teaching and to assessment. It would itself
indicate some growth. Intention to grow must be assisted by
the willingness to implement means of change in all
dimensions of the self, but especially in the thought life.
What is constantly before the mind? A journal can be very
useful in tracking this and leading to change.
Of course in progression in Christlikeness the
individual increasingly is holistically preoccupied by the
good, and not with avoidance of evil. This comes through the
transformation of each dimension of the self. Evil becomes
less and less a thing of interest, less and less before the
mind, and temptation therefore is more and more routinely
and simply avoided. This can be helpfully tracked by journal
keeping, which might then be a subject of discussion with
the individual. Just tracking can have an immense effect for
spiritual growth, and it lays a foundation for meaningful
discussion, or even intervention with means of change.
The combination of (i) observation of patterns
of actions, (ii) questionnaires with (iii) individual guidance/interaction,
and (iv) journaling can yield the data for reliable assessment
of how things are (or are not) changing on the inside
of the personal and social life, on campus and off. In particular,
they can reveal the degree to which the individual is living
in the great commandment in every dimension of their personality.
A major issue, now, will be what records are
kept, if any, and how they might be used. For example, would
a spiritual director write up something (per semester, year,
or at completion)? Would it be kept on file or given to the
student, or made entirely optional to the student as to what
would be done with it? Or would nothing at all be recorded?
Or perhaps the subject him or herself should write up something
and decide what should be done with it. Needless to say, these
matters would have to be handled very carefully, and policies
and practices developed tentatively and slowly over the years.
They would certainly have to be a part of the explicit understandings
of those who enter the community at whatever level.
It would be possible, in a carefully handled
program, for the university or college’s self-understanding
and accountability, to check the substance of their claims
to developing character and spiritual growth in their students
by keeping records of what is actually happening (according
to the above kinds of data) that are totally purged of reference
to any individuals or sub-groups of individuals. This would
serve the school’s need to direct policy wisely and know to
what extent their claims about impacting character are true.
I close by expressing my strong belief that
"matters of the heart" can be measured, or at least
assessed with substantial accuracy, and, furthermore, that
we should seriously undertake it. Certainly it can only be
done on the basis of a profound understanding and teaching
of the spiritual life in Christ.