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Charles F. Melchert

By Nam Soon Song


CHARLES F. MELCHERT (1936- ): A lay theologian and religious educator, affiliated with the Lutheran Church throughout his life. Professor and Dean at Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union-PSCE in Richmond, VA), a prophetic sage, passionate teacher, thoughtful and creative educator, generous mentor, articulate writer and theorist, excellent storyteller, who has worked to make theories and practices congruent in religious education as well as in his own life.


Charles F. Melchert (commonly called by Chuck) was born in Ridgeville Corners, Ohio in 1936, the eldest of four children born to Elmer and Virginia Melchert. The family moved to Detroit, Michigan and then to Perrysburg, Ohio in 1944, where his father served Zoar Lutheran Church for forty years. Melcher graduated from Perrysburg High School in 1954, and entered Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, beginning as a Math major, but completed his degree as a Drama major in 1958. Drama has remained a life-long interest, especially Shakespeare.

Since his father has served faithfully as a Lutheran Pastor for over 70 years, his mother was a gifted Sunday school teacher, and four of his uncles were pastors, there was little surprise when, in response to a sense of God's call Melchert entered what is now Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in 1958, intending to become a pastor.

During his seminary training, he interned at First Lutheran Church in Havre, Montana in 1960-61. This internship was a turning point for Melchert. He describes the move: "While on internship in Montana, I discovered I was not cut out to be a pastor - I was too naive, introverted, socially inept, immature, etc. In desperation my supervising pastor assigned me a small adult class to teach - and gave me free choice of subject matter. I decided that they needed to know about the Documentary Hypothesis in Genesis. (I said I was naive!) I began with about 15 adults and after six weeks or so I regularly had forty attending. After some weeks, I was approached after class by three women in their seventies (all widows of Norwegian homesteaders) who said, 'You said that this way of looking at Genesis has been around for 75 or more years?' I said, tentatively, not knowing what was coming next, 'Yes.' They replied, "We find this such a fascinating way to look at these texts; who has been keeping this a secret from us?"

Thus Melchert discovered that he had a gift for teaching and that he loved it. He loved seeing learner's faces light up as they discovered new ways of thinking about the Bible and about their faith. He found his ministry. He returned to finish seminary with a new direction, deciding to go on to graduate school and to specialize in educational ministry. In seminary he was heavily influenced by the works of Luther, Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard and focused on biblical studies.

After graduating from Seminary with his B.D. (cum laude) he was admitted to a Doctoral Program in Religious Education at Yale University with Paul Vieth and Randolph Crump Miller, with additional courses from Iris Cully, Jurgen Herbst, and D. Campbell Wyckoff. Under the influence of Miller, Paul Holmer and Robert Brumbaugh, he became fascinated by Wittgenstein, R.S. Peters, Austin, Whitehead, Marc Belth, Ian Ramsey, sparking his life-long interest in the philosophy of education. At Yale the Ph.D. comprehensive exams were in Religious Education and one other major field, which for Melchert was Bible. He studied with Paul Minear, Paul Meyer, Brevard Childs, Nils Dahl, and Erhard Gerstenberger. He graduated with the M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale Divinity School in 1969. His dissertation topic was An Exploration in the Presuppositions of Objective Formation for Contemporary Protestant Christian Educational Ministry.

Melchert had married Joyce Block in 1960, just before his internship in Montana, and they had two sons, Mark and Tim, though their marriage ended amicably after twenty years. Melchert married Anabel Proffitt in 1984, who was then a Doctoral student in Religious Education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

His first son, Mark, who was then a junior at Oberlin University, died in 1985 as a result of an automobile accident. This whole experience had a profound effect on Melchert's life, his teaching, and his theological reflections. He has written about this experience in a 1988 article titled, "Suffering, silence and death." (However the published version of that article in Religious Education had omitted two critical pages, thus dramatically changing the author's intent.)

Melchert's hobbies have long been and still are golfing, fishing, camping, drama, reading novels, biographies and poetry, and singing and listening to music - classical and jazz. Melchert is introverted, shuns self-promotion and political manipulation, preferring to be an "absence in presence" (two quote one of his chapter headings). However, his most unique characteristic, his memorable laugh, makes him a "presence in absence." A former student, Karen Tye describes his laugh, "It is one of the most infectious laughs I've ever heard. It so obviously comes from deep within him and expresses such delight. Sometimes we take ourselves so seriously as religious educators, knowing that our work is vital, necessary and important. But Chuck reminds us of our need to laugh. His laughter invited us to stand back, look at the absurdity of it all and still embrace life fully. It is quite a gift!"

Melchert has been an active member of his local churches, sings in his church choir, as well as in the Ephrata Cloister Chorus. He takes peace and justice issues seriously, participating in civil rights marches, Nuclear Freeze groups, and candle-light vigils for death-penalty criminals. As Jan Dirk Imelman says, Melchert is "a liberal and creative thinker about philosophical themes and questions within the realm of religion. He is also more a man of uncertainty and social sensibility than of straight (religious-based political) thinking."

Teaching Career

Dr. Charles Melchert's professional teaching ministry began at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1966. In his early days of teaching he taught a range of subjects - human and child development (especially Erikson and Piaget), adult education, teaching theory and methods, group dynamics, and spirituality and brain research as it related to religious education. While at Colgate Rochester he placed students as teacher aides in public school classrooms, so they would have direct experience with youngsters alongside their readings in child development. He and his colleague, Prof. Jim Ashbrook, initiated and supervised Glasser groups (teacher-pupil discussion groups) in 52 public elementary school classrooms in Rochester, NY. On his first sabbatical in 1973, Melchert studied at Oxford and London University with John Wilson, R.S. Peters, H.D. Lewis and R.F. Dearden, to further his understanding of educational philosophy.

In 1974 he moved to the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, where he taught students preparing to be elementary and secondary school teachers how to teach religion in their classrooms. Part of the mandate in his going to Memorial University was to start a graduate program in Religious Education, but new financial restraints scuttled those plans.

In 1976 Melchert moved to PSCE (formerly Presbyterian School of Christian Education, now Union-PSCE) in Richmond, Virginia, where he also became Dean of Faculty (from 1977 to 1985). At PSCE, as a school specializing in educational ministry, he was able to focus his teaching in the foundational disciplines. While at PSCE he spent 1980-81 on sabbatical at the University of Virginia, studying the philosophy of education and action theory. During a 1988 sabbatical he did a six-week tour in South Korean universities and seminaries, lecturing on Biblical wisdom and educational ministry. Melchert also helped create the doctoral program at PSCE and became its first coordinator from 1983 to 1992.

Melchert retired from full-time teaching in 1992 and moved to Lancaster where his wife, Anabel Proffitt, had been teaching since 1989, in order to devote more of his time to writing. He has taught part time at Lancaster Theological Seminary offering courses not only in religious education, but also in the wisdom texts of the Bible and regularly teaching a year-long interdisciplinary seminar for Doctor of Ministry students. In 1997 he accompanied Proffitt on her sabbatical to Birmingham, England, and taught Religious Education at Westhill College (the British Equivalent of PSCE). and also taught a seminar on his book Wise Teaching at the School of Education at the University of Birmingham, and team-taught a graduate tutorial on human development and religious education with John Hull.

(1) Melchert's commitment to teaching is a commitment to learning: Melchert has been a committed life-long learner. Throughout his career it was his practice to audit one class each semester taught by a colleague. In this way, Melchert broadened his understanding of the various fields with which religious educators must be concerned. He noted, "It also is a good way to stay in touch with what it feels like to be a student-learner, not just a teacher-learner."

Melchert also profited from special institutes, for example, he was privileged to attend an early ATS Case Study Institute at Harvard Business School, taught by Chris Argyris. He has been using case studies in his teaching ever since, and has been much influenced by the work of both Chris Argyris and Donald Schoen.

Melchert's commitment to learning has been also demonstrated through his full participation in academic meetings. He is a charter member and regular attendee of both REA (The Religious Education Association) and APRRE (The Association of Professors and Researchers of Religious Education). He served on the Board of both groups and was elected President of APRRE in 1980. He also served as Executive Secretary of APRRE from 1994 to 2001.

Also as a member of ISREV (The International Seminar on Religious Education and Values) since 1984, he has actively participated in Annual Seminars, not only as a presenter but also as a participant. As an active, gracious and inviting senior colleague, he also nominated other junior scholars in North America to be members of ISREV through the years. He was Convener of the International meeting in Los Angeles in 1996, responsible for the program, planning and financial arrangements for that meeting. He also served on the Coordinating Committee for several terms. He has been a member of the International Network of Philosophers of Education.

(2) Teaching ministry is collaborative: Throughout his teaching ministry, Melchert has always sought opportunities to team-teach. He has worked with many colleagues from a variety of departments, including Lamar Williamson (Professor of Bible, PSCE), J.C. Wynn (Professor of Pastoral Theology, Colgate Rochester), Sara Little (Professor of Christian education, Union Theological Seminary), Lee Barrett (Professor of Theology, PSCE), John Hull (Professor of Religious Education, Birmingham University in England), and Jim Ashbrook (Professor of Pastoral Psychology, Colgate Rochester).

(3) Teaching ministry is for church and society: For Charles Melchert teaching was clearly his ministry to the church. He has given presentations and workshops in over 300 local churches and regional and denominational gatherings on educational ministry, on Biblical wisdom and on the effects of TV on religion, culture, and church, under the title "Is TV changing your religion?" He has taught Sunday school in his local church, and served on various committees.

Melchert worked with a group of parents to persuade the school board of the Richmond, Virginia public schools to open, design and operate an open-school unit as a new alternative middle school in 1978- 80. He has worked with parent-teacher groups and with public school teachers in workshops to understand the dynamics and effects of television on children and the educational process.

Major Writings

Melchert is a superb teacher with a breadth and depth of knowledge in philosophy, education, theology, Bible, as well as "modern philosophies like existentialism and the analytical philosophy of language as well as with more "traditional" forms of philosophizing" (Jan Dirk Imelman). He challenges us to see the reality of ourselves, of religious education, of the church, and of the world. Beginning with his dissertation ("An exploration in the presuppositions of objective formation for contemporary Protestant Christian educational ministry," Yale, 1969) he has asked very important questions through his writings, such as "Is theological education moral?" (1972), "Does the church really want religious education?" (1974) "What is religious education?" (1977)," "Is education intrinsically tragic?" (1985), "Why didn't Jesus tell Bible stories?" (1998). There are other significant writings such as "'Understanding' as a purpose of religious education" (1981), "Theories as practiced" (1983), " and "Learning from suffering, silence and death" (1989) (see bibliography and recommended reading).

Melchert's writing's can be categorized in five significant areas: Questions and foundations of educational theory; Theories as practiced; Peace and justice; TV and religious education; Education and wisdom literature. These areas are his life-long interests. His other specialty, biblical literature, is reflected in his early writings: "Wisdom: A new-old paradigm for education" (1974), "The sage as paradigm for the religious educator" (1979), "Jesus as sage-teacher" (1988), "The book of Job: Education through and by diversity" (1997), culminating in his Wise Teaching (1998, translated into Korean, 2002). It has been his life-long craft and is a very important work in the field of education and the bible. Looking at this book, one can say, "Melchert the religious educator wrote a remarkable biblical work, just as Brugumann the biblical scholar wrote a remarkable book on religious education."

Melchert's thought and writings were very consistent through his life and contributed prophetically to the field. Melchert has often been at the cutting edge of the field. The question he asked in 1970s, "Does the church really want religious education?" is still a pressing question for us today in the twenty-first century. However, Melchert's writing and teaching have not always been fully understood - they require much of the reader and do not provide easy "how-to" answers. Of course, the same is true of the Bible's wisdom teachers. "Let anyone with ears to hear listen (NRSV)."

Contributions to Christian Education

Melchert's contribution can be grouped in four significant areas: (1) the living legacy (his students); (2) the educational importance of questions; (3) philosophy for educational ministry - (A) Conceptualizing, (B) Educational theory structure; (4) Biblical wisdom and educational ministry. In this section, Melchert's former students, his colleagues in religious education, and Melchert himself speak about his contributions to the field of Christian education.

Living Legacies

Melchert's teaching ministry contributed to the field through the contributions of his students, among whom are: Karen Tye (Professor, Eden Theological Seminary), Pamela M. Legg (Professor, Union-PSCE), Mary-Ruth Marshall (Professor, Erskine Theological Seminary), Anabel Proffitt (Professor, Lancaster Theological Seminary), Debbie Hough (Christian Educator, Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, PA ), David Hindman, College of Willim & Mary), Tak Ho Lam (President, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong), Kadarmanto Harjowasito and Andar Ismail (Professors, in Indonesia), One Ho Park, (Formerly Professor, Seoul Theological Seminary, Korea, and currently pastor in Detroit in USA) and myself, Nam Soon Song (Professor, Knox College, Toronto School of Theology).

Debbie Hough who worked with Melchert as a teaching assistant recalls: "Chuck always treated me as a peer - which I find absolutely amazing as I look back on it. I hope I have learned from him to treat all others as fellow teachers and to be myself a constant learner."

Karen Tye describes Melchert's influence on her profession: "One of Chuck's important influences on my own work as a professor is in my own passion for clear thinking and the need to name what we are about as fully and richly as we can. Both my writing and my teaching reflect this. It is important for me to invite students to think carefully and critically. It is also important for them to look at their own behavior and actions and to name the concept, theory, and theology embedded in that. Only then do they have the knowledge they need to make decisions, to choose to change or not."

Mary-Ruth Marshall reflects on what she learned from Melchert: "I believe the most important thing was the freedom and encouragement he gave me to be and become the kind of teacher/professor I should be, and not a kind of ersatz Chuck Melchert or Sara Little. He was not, at least in my case, about creating disciples. Quite the opposite. He pushed me to clarify my own thinking, to adopt my own carefully worked out theoretical principles, to give reasons that made sense. He made me seek reward in myself rather than in his approval. I recall telling him that a particular book was hogwash. "Oh? What makes you say that?" I gave my reasons, but I kept thinking about it. It is, of course, one of my most used and favorite books now. So I think of Chuck as exemplifying the sage tradition, and not just because of the beard!"

The Educational Importance of Questions

For Melchert, education is far more about questions than it is about answers. Too many people seem to think that when one finds an answer, the question goes away. That is hardly so for all of the most important questions: "What is justice? What is love? Are power and authority the same thing? What is education?" What is ministry? What do all these questions have to do with one another? Is Christianity about giving answers or helping us cope with 'life's persistent questions'? And when will we have final answers for such questions?" In Melchert's view, a significant part of the art of education is stimulating learners to ask increasingly fruitful questions.

Both in classes and in his writing, Melchert consistently asks provocative and important questions, such as "Is theological education moral?" (1972), "Does the church really want religious education?" (1974) "What is religious education?" (1977), "Is education intrinsically tragic?" (1985), "Why didn't Jesus tell Bible stories?" (1998). One reviewer of his book Wise Teaching even commented on Melchert's "disconcerting habit of putting several questions in a row without really answering them."

Karen Tye appreciated Melchert's use of questions. "Chuck clearly played a role in my commitment to the use of questions and the need to invite students to ask them and live with them. I regularly tell my students that I am not there to provide them with answers but to help them name and ponder the questions they need to be exploring. Only then will they come to the answers that will be appropriate and meaningful for them."

Thomas Groome also values Melchert's raising a crucial question - does the church want "real" education? - and the importance of questioning in his education. "At APRRE meetings over the years, I came to expect Chuck Melchert to ask people the "so what" question - after some great paper or report, he would typically ask, "so what does this mean in practice." Sometimes it proved to be a devastating question. " In that regard Groome values Melchert's essay "Does the church really want religious education?"

Philosophy for Educational Ministry

(A) Conceptualizing

Melchert contributed to the field through making use of philosophical conceptual analysis to attempt to gain conceptual clarity in educational ministry. His early writings all addressed this need for clear thought, as did his course "Theory for education in religion." He still thinks that "the focus on clarity of thinking about education - to see it whole, not just in little pieces and not solely limited to the Christian church, is still much needed, as the 'field' seems to be wandering about searching for a reason for being."

Karen Tye: "One of Chuck's major contributions to the field of Christian religious education has been his passion for conceptual clarity. Much of his writing and work has been focused on helping those of us in the field to think clearly about what education is and what we are doing in its name. His emphasis didn't stop with just having us look at what we were saying and what we meant by the words and terms we used." In Melchert's class, after students said something, they often heard his question, "What do you mean by that?"

Melchert's use of conceptual analysis a tool for gaining clarity and educational integrity began in his doctoral dissertation (1969), where he argued that "Christian education" is a misnomer or at least is misleading. Why should "Christian" be seen as an adjective modifying "education"? Melchert says, "I recommended using the term 'educational ministry' which more accurately identifies what we do in the church as a ministry which is modified by its educational interests; that is, it is more educational in nature than it is preaching, counseling, sacramental, evangelistic or administrative (even though each of those might well entail some educational dimensions)." We see the term "educational ministry" is used more often these days in courses that were called "Christian education" in the past.

Portraying Melchert as one of the most thoughtful and creative contributors to the field of religious education, Richard Osmer says: "He is one of a small handful of thinkers who have contributed significantly to theoretical and interdisciplinary matters in religious education. His early writings on the nature of understanding as a goal of teaching and on the nature of religious education as a field remain important contributions even several decades later."

Melchert often says: "We are not born Christian, Jewish or Buddhist, it is not in our genes - we learn to be religious - that is an inherent, fundamental educational task. It is not an "option" in ministry. How is that task best done?"

Debbie Hough, Christian educator, still deeply appreciates the Melchert criteria of "education" and still uses them on a bulletin board in her office - checking herself to see if what she is planning or proposing would meet the criteria (See 1974 article).

Mary-Ruth Marshall remembers a philosophy seminar class, looking expectantly at Melchert and sitting in silence for about 15 minutes, yet he said nothing: "Chuck's caution about the potential negative outcomes of the 'helper' role as the or a major model for the church educator was both radical and helpful. I remember masters students telling me that they felt lost during some of Chuck's capstone course, but that he made it possible for them to pull it all together for themselves at the end. It's the 'for themselves' part that's important."

(B) Educational Theory Structure

Melchert contributed to the field by forming an educational theory structure as a tool to examine the congruence of our educational theory with our actual practice. Through the use of an adaptation of the Argyris and Schoen case studies (See their Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, 1974), Melchert asked religious educators to look at what they actually do compared to what they think are doing. He thereby designed a dual educational structure, based in philosophical action theory (not based upon a "scientific theory" model, but an action theory). This structure helps identify one "theory" based on what was intended and planned, and a comparable one inferred from what was actually done, by comparing in each the problematic, desired outcome, context, setting, understanding of learner, understanding of teacher, the relationship between learner(s) and teacher(s), content, strategies/methods, time, resistance, and evaluation. Within each structural component Melchert helps us to see the congruence between our educational thinking/planning and our actual practice, by learning to see more clearly and to name the concepts, values and theological assumptions embedded in our actions as well as in our more conscious thoughts.

Marshall said, "At a time when theory was considered to be something of a 'bad word' in Christian/religious education, he emphasized its necessary and practical role, pointing out that the undergirding theoretical assumptions were there and operating whether we ever verbalized them or even realized this to be the case."

Melchert's long-standing concern for integrity in our thinking and our acting, and between what we believe and what we live and teach, is also reflected in his recent writings: "Practice what you teach: Patterns of truth and self-deception in education and ministry" (1998, 1999) and "Perceiving self-deception in teaching and learning" (2006), as well as his interest in wisdom and education.

Biblical Wisdom and Educational Ministry

Finally Melchert contributed to the field with his major work, Wise Teaching, which is "one of the most important books in religious education during the past ten years" (Richard Osmer), and where he brings together his Biblical and educational interests to unpack the implicit educational approaches present in Biblical wisdom texts. His initiating a dialogue between pedagogy and biblical texts sheds light on curriculum content, methods, aims, and the concepts of education found in biblical wisdom literature, from Proverbs to Jesus and James. He shows us that education in the wisdom traditions includes: education as dialogue; education as apprenticeship; education as play; education as forming persons of integrity; and education as death and resurrection. He helps us understand education more broadly, not just education in the Christian church. Even though there is a vast gap between the time of the biblical wisdom and the present time of the modern technology, educational approaches in biblical wisdom help us stop and think what is valuable, what is moral, what is educational, and why we do what we do in our teaching and learning environments. He also provides a window to look at ourselves as educators. Reader/listeners, who engage with the text, are invited to enter the story and allow oneself to be read so that one might come to know whom one is and what to do with one's life (1998, p. 227). It is an invitation to reader/learners to participate in biblical stories and embody them into themselves.

Theodore Brelsford says, "Chuck created with this book a bridge from religious education to biblical studies in a similar way that Walter Brueggemann created the bridge from biblical studies to religious education in his book The creative word." Richard Osmer adds, "Not only does it exemplify the very best of interdisciplinary work, bringing biblical studies and religious education into conversation, but it also charts new directions for the teaching practices in religious communities." Jan Dirk Imelman says after hearing Melchert's lecture on interpretation of Job: "Now in my thinking (and speaking with others) about reality and existence and about the borders of both, and in my reflecting on moral matters, I am remembering his interpretation as very useful. In my view Chuck's interpretation gives sense to the unapproachable power of the Unknown and the moral implications of that." Surely this book, Wise Teaching, contributes to both biblical and educational fields, and it is read in courses on education and on Biblical studies. For example, it is required reading for a course "Issues in Teaching Mathematics" at the National Institute for Christian Education in Australia.

We cannot conclude without mentioning Melchert's contribution to the field through his work as Executive Secretary for APRRE (1994-2001). Members of APRRE acknowledge his strong, excellent and gracious leadership. Thomas Groome says, "He was an excellent Executive Secretary for APRRE when he so served; we've never had a better one in that function than Chuck." Theodore Brelsford says, "He put APRRE on very strong ground financially and organizationally." He contributed to the field, not only through his writings, but through his teaching and through his leadership in the academic organization.


Works Cited

  • Melchert, C. F. (1998). Wise teaching. Harrisonburg, PA: Trinity Press International.
  • Contributors and consulters through email correspondence:
  • Brelsford, Theodore W. Professor of Religion and Education, Candler School of Theology.
  • Groome, Thomas, Professor of Religious Education, Boston College.
  • Hough, Debbie. Christian Educator, Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershy, PA.
  • Imelman, Jan Dirk, Professor of Philosophy and History of Education, (Retired), Universities of Groningen and Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  • Marshall, Mary-Ruth. Professor of Christian Educaiton, Erskine Theological Seminary, SC.
  • Osmer, Richard, Professor of Christian Education, Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Priestley, Jack, Principal of Westhill College, (Retired) Birmingham, England.
  • Tye, Karen, Professor of Christian Education, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis.


  • Melchert, C. F. (1998). Wise teaching: Biblical wisdom and educational ministry. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.
  • Melchert, C. F. (2002). Wise Teaching. Translated into Korean by (D. Kim & S. S. Nam, Trans.). Seoul: Publisher of Presbyterian Church of Korea.


  • Melchert, C. F. (2006). Perceiving self-deception in teaching and learning. In D. Bates, G. Durka & F. Schweitzer (Eds.), Education, Religion, and Society: Essays in honor of John M. Hull. London: Routledge, 139-150.
  • Melchert, C. F. (2004). What is religious education? In Astley, Jeff (Eds.), Critical Perspectives on Christian Education, (Part 1.4). Durham: North of England Institute for Christian Education. (Reprinted from 1977).
  • Melchert, C. F. (2002). Expressions of gratitude for Randolph Crump Miller. Religious Education, 97, 296-300.
  • Melchert, C. F. & Litchfield R. G. (2002). Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education. Bulletin of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion, 31, 45-48.
  • Melchert, C. F. & Miller, R. C. (1998). A tribute to Sara Little - An educator's educator. Panorama, 10, 6-9.
  • Melchert, C. F. & Proffitt, A. (1998). Playing in the presence of God: Wonder, wisdom and education. Journal of Children's Spirituality, 3:1, 21-34.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1997). The book of Job: Education through and by diversity. Religious Education, 92, 9-23.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1995). Pluralistic religious education in a postmodern world. Religious Education, 90, 346-359.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1993). TV: A competing religion. Prism, 8, 88-96.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1992, May). Spiritual junk food: How should the church respond to TV? Presbyterian School of Christian Education.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1992). The effects of TV on church and educational ministry. The Presbyterian Outlook, April 27, 1992, 7-8.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1992). Biblical sages and today's educational ministry. Journal of Theology, XCVI, 42-53.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1992). Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Religious Education, 87, 127-151.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1990). Creation and justice among the sages. Religious Education, 85, 368-381.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1989, April 24). PSCE celebrates 75th anniversary. Presbyterian Outlook, 14-15.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1989). Learning from suffering, silence and death. In Symposium, Theodicy and Religious Education. Religious Education, 84, 37-47.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1988). The wisdom traditions and peace. Published in Korea.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1984). Abstracts of doctoral dissertations in religious education: 1982-83. Religious Education, 79, 617-627.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1983). Theories as practiced. Religious Education, 78, 307-322.
  • Melchert, C. F. & Little, S. (1983, January 3). Recent books on Christian education theory. The Presbyterian Outlook.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1981). Understanding as a purpose of religious education. Religious Education, 76, 78-86.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1980). Competencies for ministry which integrate disciplines. In R. L. Browning (Ed.), Integration: Objective Studies and Practical Theology, Report of the 16th Biennial Meeting of The Association for Professional Education for Ministry, Denver.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). What should I read? Religious Education, 74, 442-444.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). A comment . . . Response to Kalevi Tamminen. Character Potential, 9:1, 18-19.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). The sage as paradigm for the religious educator. The Living Light, 16, 79-89.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). The human prospect and our educational ministry. Religious Education, 74, 17-27.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1978). What is the educational ministry of the church? Religious Education, 73, 429-439.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1978). Understanding and religious education. In Iris and Kendig Cully (eds.), Process and Relationship: Issues in Theology, Philosophy and Education (Festschrift for Dr. Randolph Crump Miller) (pp. 41-48). Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1977). What is religious education? The Living Light, 14, 339-352.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1976, May). Response to Cooper's `Some effects of denominational schooling'. The Morning Watch.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1976). The future of religious education: Commitment in religion and education. In G. Durka & J. Smith (Eds.), Emerging Issues in Religious Education (pp. 88-98). New York: Paulist Press.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1976). Theory in religious education. In M. Taylor (Ed.), Foundations for Christian education in an era of change. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1974). What Catholics can learn from Protestants in religious education. The Living Light, 11, 87-96.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1974). Does the church really want religious education? Religious Education, LXIX, 250-263.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1972). Hope for the profession. Religious Education, LXXII, 359-362.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1969). The significance of Marc Belth for religious education. Religious Education, LXIV, 261-265.

Book Reviews

  • Melchert, C. F. (2001). [Review of Growing in the life of faith: Education and Christian practices]. Theology Today (58:2) 238-241.
  • Melchert, C. F. (2001). [Review of Multicultural religious education]. Journal of Beliefs and Values, 22.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1991). [Review of Educating in faith: Maps and visions]. Interpretation, 45, 328-30.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1989). [Review of No ladder to the sky: Education and morality]. Religious Education, 84, 312-314.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1988). [Review of Does the church really want religious education?]. Religious Education, 83, 477-478.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1987). [Review of The psychological dynamics of religious experience]. Religious Education, 82, 510-512.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1977). [Review of The necessary illusion]. Religious Education, 72:5, 561-562.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1974).[Review of Generation to generation]. Religious Education, 69:4, 502-595.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1974). [Review of Images of life: Problems of religious belief and human relations in schools.]. Religious Education, 69:1, 90-92.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1972). [Review of The shape of religious instruction]. Religious Education, 67:4, 305-306.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1972). [Review of The new world of education: A philosophical analysis of concepts of teaching]. Religious Education, 67:3, 223.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1970). [Review of Demands on ministry today: The issue of integrity]. Religious Education, 65:3, 281-282.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1970). [Review of Understanding Christian Education]. Drew Gateway, 40:3, 175-176.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1970). [Review of Language and concepts in Christian education]. Drew Gateway, 40:3, 176-179.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1966). [Review of Education in the New Testament]. Religious Education, 61:4, 313.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1966). [Review of Kerygma in crisis]. Religious Education, 61:1, 68-69.

Lectures, Presented Papers (not published)

  • Melchert, C. F. (1999). Looking back to see forward. PSCE Founders Day Address.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1999). Practice what you teach: Patterns of truth and self-deception in education and ministry. Kulenkamp Lectures, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1998). What is pedagogical self-deception and what to do about it? Presented at International Seminar in Religious Education and Values, Carmarthen, Wales.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1998). Why didn't Jesus tell Bible stories? Presented at the North of England Institute of Christian Education, University of Durham.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1996). How electronic media alter religious and educational agendas. Plenary Presentation at International Seminar in Religious Education and Values, Los Angeles.
  • elchert, C. F. (1994). Pluralistic religious education in a postmodern world. Paper read at International Network of Philosophers of Education meeting in Leuven, Belgium, and at International Seminar in Religious Education and Values in Goslar Germany.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1993). Those who counsel peace have joy: Proverbs and educational ministry. Paper read at Research Interest Group, Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Fort Worth, TX.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1992). The book of Job: Education through and by diversity. Paper presented to the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1991). Biblical sages and today's educational ministry. Showers Lectures, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1991). Educational ministry and practical theology: Changing the subject? Paper to be read at Theory and Practice Task Force, Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Chicago.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1990). Teasing out truthful lives. Paper read at Research Interest Group, Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Boulder, CO.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1989). Creation and justice among the sages. Paper read at Research Interest Group, Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, New York City.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1988). Jesus as sage-teacher. Paper prepared for International Seminar in Religious Education and Values, Stoney Point, N.Y.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1988). Democratization, education and ethics. Paper read to the Social Ethics Society of Seoul, Korea.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1988). Wisdom and educational ministry. Paper read at several universities and theological seminaries in the Republic of Korea.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1987). Interplay of theory and practice in religious education. Paper read at Theory and Practice Task Force, Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Toronto, Canada.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1986). Obedient serving. PSCE Oral History Project, Founders Day Lecture, Richmond, VA.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1985). Is education intrinsically tragic? Paper read at Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Chicago.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1984). Religious education as a helping relationship. Paper read at International Seminar in Religious Education and Values, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1983). Education as a helping relationship. Paper read at Mid-Atlantic Association of Graduate Professors of Religious Education.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). Buying a house? A critique of `Kohlberg revisited: An evangelical offers alternatives' by Don Joy. Paper read at Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, Toronto, Canada.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1979). Challenges for the church's educational ministry. Paper read at Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1975). Commitment in religion and education. Paper read at the International Convention of the Religious Education Association, Philadelphia.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1974). Wisdom: A new-old paradigm for education. Paper read to Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education.
  • Melchert, C. F. & Melchert, J. (1973). Lawrence Kohlberg: Stages in the development of moral thinking.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1972). Is theological education moral? Paper read to Mid-Atlantic Association of Graduate Professors of Religious Education.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1971). The functions of grading. Paper read to the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education.
  • Melchert, C. F. (1970). The future of religious education. Delivered at Conference on "The Local Church of Tomorrow," University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.

Reviews and Responses

  • Crenshaw, J. L. (2000). [Review on Wise teaching]. Teaching Theology and Religion, 3, 118-119.
  • Murphy, R. (1999). [Review on Wise teaching]. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 61, 757-758.
  • Lamport, M. A. (1999, Winter). [Review on Wise teaching]. North American Professors of Christian Education Newsletter.
  • Blomberg, D. (1999). [Review on Wise teaching]. Journal of Education & Christian Belief, 3:2, 1999, 155-156.
  • Moran, G. (1983). Response to Melchert. Religious Education, 78, 323-326.
  • Dykstra, C. (1981). Understanding the place of "Understanding." Religious Education, 76, 187-194.
  • Westerhoff III, J. (1977). [Review on What is Christian education?]. The Living Light.

Excerpts from Publications

Melchert, C. F. (1998). Wise teaching: Biblical wisdom and educational ministry. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

To learn anything requires a basic attitude of being or becoming open to what is unknown or not known. To learn, one must respect "what is there" even when it is not yet fully comprehended. This entails a certain degree of risk, for what is there is not yet known, even as it claims our attention. If a fundamental attitude of attention and reverence for what is there underlies all educational activity, then both teachers and learners must continually expect the unexpected, or not be too surprised at being surprised. What is worth learning cannot be exhausted by identifying the doctrinal or theological content to be taught, nor can that content be treated as exclusively cognitive. For the sages, "it is not the theoretical expression of belief that is the heart of the matter," yet the sages point to "a faith response that is not explicitly related to a particular historical revelation of God." (p. 39)
Jesus' sayings seem to invite the hearers and reader-learners into an imaginative space where they can see God's ruling. In that space, conventional standards are seen in the light of strikingly different standards- and we catch a glimpse of how things might work out if ordinary people were to live within God's way of working. (p. 230)
Jesus provided little basis upon which people could study what is required and then calculate whether the effort was worth it. Rather Jesus seems to have reflected upon God, who God is, what God has created, and how God acts and thus decided what are God's intentions for humans and how humans can become more like God. Many today see teaching as mastering right thinking or training in right behavior. Such an emphasis has led to extended ethical, psychological, and theological debates about heteronomy versus autonomy. Educators ask, Is learning from the outside in (heteronomy) or from the inside out (autonomy)? Jesus seems to agree with both because the pedagogical task is more basic than what one thinks or does but has to do with who one is. Who am I becoming? Whose subject am I? Who am I becoming like? (p. 234)
The study of texts is vitally important, but texts are, not ends in themselves, but a means to learning how to steer a path through life. Ultimately what is worth learning is how to live. Too often teachers use texts as a substitute for dealing with life itself. (I've done it myself.) To see reading texts as reading for life, especially in today's mass-media and computerized world, we must slow down our reading (the opposite of what is often recommended) -make it more reflective. Slower reading not only allows time and space for the text to begin to read the reader-learner. It allows time for resonance. Being read by a text is more a matter of receptivity (than of time and space), and one is more receptive if one sees that these texts really can and do address our knowing how to live with one another as subjects. (p. 273)
There seems to be a history of desire for religion to produce a picture-perfect, postcard world. That may be the realm of Hollywood or magic, but it is not world of the sages. The sages do use aesthetic devices, but not to make things pretty or beautiful. Rather it is to help reader-learners face reality and truth, even when they are uncomfortable. Jesus' parables are art, but not art for art's sake. Here art serves truth because the issue is how to live. The same is true in our teaching. The point is not just to appreciate the brilliance with which the author has used his aesthetic resources to move the reader along certain lines, no matter how fascinating and valid such study may be. Yet just as there is no one right way to live, so there is no one right way to move reader-learners to discern truth. (pp. 288-89)
These texts call reader-learners to go beyond intellectual appropriation of experience and tradition to "practice what you teach." Loving and being truthful are not put on. They are not professional roles but are to be part of one's character. In this respect, as in others, teaching itself is a lifelong apprenticeship. Perhaps if we want to learn to live with or overcome some of these separations, we can find ways to put young and older more fully in touch with one another's lives and with how one's own experiences and the communal traditions are critically and creatively engaged in daily living. (p. 306)

Melchert, C. F. (1978). What is the educational ministry of the church? Religious Education, 73, 429-439.

If one were to take seriously recent rhetoric about the tasks of religious education, the church's educational ministry is responsible not only for having misled Sunday School children, but also for having mis-formed the American public by not giving people prophetic courage for societal transformation and for not converting all to liberation theology by means of experiential rituals. One of the emerging issues in educational ministry is to avoid panicky responses to the apathy decried in the most recent issues of the "Sunday Review of Religious Health" (to borrow an apt phrase from my colleague Sara Little), and to make more measured responses which not only address root causes of the disorder, but which are also attainable educationally. (p. 429)
First, calling an activity "educational" or a person "educated" entails a value judgment. In the naming we imply the person has been improved of helped by the process and is "better off" as a result. Second, calling something "education" implies the presence of a helping relationship. A similar observation can be made about the caring quality of the helping relationship in ministry and education. Indeed, research has consistently shown that a teacher who genuinely cares about both students and subject matter enables quantatively and qualitatively better learning. In other words, education is indeed a form of ministry. (pp. 432-33)
Fourth, just as "ministry" can be distorted when one relates to others in a self-serving or self-representing manner, so education and Christianity are distorted when the church "uses" education solely as a means for attaining institutional loyalty, or "churchmanship," or "faith-development" (which is too often viewed as a means of ensuring conformity of belief and behavior patterns). Integrity is a fundamental necessity in all ministering relationships for without a basic respect for what is being represented and a caring regard for others in their own fullness, others become tools or pawns in personal, institutional or religious purposes. Admittedly, education is a risky venture, but no more risky than adopting a faithfully eschatological hope in God's promises.(p. 438 )

Melchert, C. F. (1974). Does the church really want religious education? Religious Education, 69, pp.250-263.

Thus education implies a mutuality of relationship, insofar as possible, and a highly ethical respect for each other as persons and as thinking beings. What is being valued in the search for understanding is not simply the beliefs themselves, but also the integrity of the persons holding them and those seeking to acquire them (or resisting them). Education is not a matter of overpowering others intellectually, or coercing by forced options, or leading another to some position by any means necessary. Nor can the giving of reasons to learners simply be a veiled form of authoritarian imposition such as suggesting they believe something "…because I say so," or "because God and the Bible say so." In other words, to approach religion educationally entails seeing that the learner is encouraged to reach as far in his or her understanding as he or she has reasons for reaching at that particular time - while at the same time not allowing anyone to stay permanently on one level of understanding. (260-261)

Melchert, C. F. (1981). Understanding as a purpose of religious education. Religious Education, 76, pp.178-186.

Note that while there are only four modes of coming to understanding, there are no limits to the number of ways one might express an understanding once achieved. Dancing may be a means of reaching some particular understanding, or it may be a means of expressing an understanding achieved in some other mode - or there may be modification of the understanding reached by an analytic mode, for example, as one tries to express it in a bodily way. This means that the variety of educational methods now urged on teachers are not to be desired simply to prevent boredom among learners, not even to enable more effective learning by pursuing one mode from several different methodological approaches. A variety of methods is necessary to permit the learner to grasp a variety of differing modes of understanding. I suspect there is no need for me to demonstrate that an incarnational Christianity, in its fullest expressions, requires participation in all four modes of understanding. (pp. 182-183)

Melchert, C. F. (1983). Theories as practiced. Religious Education, 78, pp. 307-322.

In other words, there are always at least two set of theories operative in any action, and thus in any educational interaction. One set of theories are espoused theories. (such as "If I want them to know I care, then I must take them seriously.") about which one is reasonably conscious, and which are often somewhat carefully thought out. Indeed, they are often theories derived from or analogous to those offered by the experts in the field. The other set of theories are the "theories-in-use"; i.e. the theories which are implicit (and often unrecognized) in the actions taken, in the behavior itself. These theories-in-use have the same structure as espoused theories, since they are also action theories. (pp. 312-313)
As approach such as the one suggested here could provide a paradigm for educational theorizing, educational research and theology which would make it possible both to attend to individuals, to hear specifically what the are experiencing and how they interact with their world, their religion or theology, their educational thought and practice, while at the same time enabling prediction of what procedures and thought processes would more likely lead to what outcomes and effects. It would at the same time, allow a combination of action in the real world with a continuous reassessment of the assumptions and rationales upon which the research, the theology and the education are based while they are being carried on. (pp. 321-323)


Melchert, C. F. (1998). Wise teaching: Biblical wisdom and educational ministry. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. This book searches educational theory in biblical wisdom, making a dialogue between pedagogy and biblical texts from Proverbs to Jesus' sayings. Focusing upon the texts, the author asks each text four basic pedagogical questions: What is worth learning? How is that to be learned? Why learn and teach? What counts as education? At the last chapter he concludes by asking again all four questions in a wisdom approach.


Melchert, C. F. (1990). Creation and justice among the sages. Religious Education, 85, 368-381.. Examines the sages of Israel's teaching on the relationship between ecological responsibility and justice among the world's people. Contends that the sages' conception of a God whose presence and will are manifested in the world offers insight to the contemporary discussion concerning the relationship between the global ecological system and human justice. (cited from

Melchert, C. F. (1983). Theories as practiced. Religious Education, 78, 307-322.. Pointing out the duality of theory and practice in educational settings, the author suggests how to examine the congruence between "theories-in-use" and "espoused theories" in any educational interaction, by using a sample case study. It is an attempt to provide a paradigm for educational theorizing, educational research and theory.

Melchert, C. F. (1989). Learning from suffering, silence and death. Religious Education, 84. 37-47. Reflecting on the author's own experience of the death of his son and his experience of his suffering and God's silence in that time, the author articulates what he has learned through that intense personal experience about educational ministry.

Melchert, C. F. (1979). The human prospect and our educational ministry. Religious Education, 74, 17-27. Focuses upon basic questions, raised by Robert Heilbroner, which inform and transform the future concerns of religious educators. Suggests ways in which the educational ministry within Judaism and Christianity can begin to enhance the human prospect for more authentic and fulfilling living, while being consistent with and expressive of the Judeo-Christian values which have shaped our heritage over the centuries. (cited from

Melchert, C. F. (1978). What is the educational ministry of the church? Religious Education, 73, 429-439. This article tries to define title question, breaking down it as follows: 1. What is ministry? 2. Is education ministry? 3. What distinguishes educational ministry from other modes of ministry? 4. Is educational ministry important or necessary to Christianity? 5. How might ministry and education both distort and reveal possible ways of being human and Christian?

Melchert, C. F. (1974). Does the church really want religious education? Religious Education, LXIX, 250-263. Pointing out how religious education has been misled and the need for a renewed understanding of what religious education is, and what it is for in the church, this article provides us criteria of "education" as (1) intentional activity, (2) something of value, (3) involving knowing and understanding in depth and breadth, (4) a length of time, (5) interpersonal interaction, and (6) involving the whole person. It concludes that the church really does need education

Author Information

Nam Soon Song

Nam Soon Song, Ewart Professor of Christian Education and Youth Ministry, teaches Christian Education at Knox College, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. She graduated Presbyterian School of Christian Education with Ed.D. and translated Wise Teaching into Korean with Prof. Doil Kim.