Before engaging in a discussion regarding a philosophy of Christian education, it is important to first recognize some problems which have crept into the Christian education arena. The first two major areas deal with society in general. The second two deal with the Church’s perspective on faith and education, and the final issue deals with Christian educators themselves. Once the major issues have been understood, it will be useful to look at the biblical and practical mandates to educate as well as the content and methods of that education.
Western society today has shifted its emphasis from that which is eternal to that which is temporary. J.P. Moreland of Talbot School of Theology writes: “Our society has replaced heroes with celebrities, the quest for a well-informed character with the search for a flat stomach, substance and depth with image and personality.”
Because of the onslaught of materialism and humanism, that which is spiritual or even abstract is no longer valued as much as that which is hedonistically practical. Image is everything, and education is quite often viewed, quite frankly, as a necessary evil. This has led to the “dumbing-down” of educational standards and the practice of “socially promoting” the student in order to save face.
To make matters worse, learning is no longer viewed as an end unto itself. What is perceived as practical in the immediate context is of more value than what may enrich the individual. Therefore, if the individual can get by with less knowledge, the individual will seek to do so. Reading and research have quickly become things of the past for the average youth in today’s modern culture. Entertainment is viewed as the chief end while boredom is viewed as the chief evil. According to Paul Spears, this perspective has come about largely as a result of the viewpoint that truth, and with it, knowledge, is relative.
Thirdly, there are several misconceptions regarding the nature of Christian education. Both of the following misconceptions are pointed out by Donovan Graham in his work, Teaching Redemptively. Some believe Christian education to be a wholly American ideal.
This conceptualization of Christian education views education as a patriotic duty. It portrays the Founding Fathers and other American men as wholly Christian in their worldview and faith. This is simply not the case. While the Puritans and others like them certainly believed in education, the concept of a good, solid education goes much farther back in history than that. My point is that education is important beyond our cultural context.
Another misconception is that Christian education should use only the writings of fellow believers. While this perspective sounds wonderful at the start, it denies the reality of the Imago Dei. Certainly, a major purpose of Christian education is to protect the student from false ideas and philosophies. However, this view ignores the capacity of the believer to redeem truth and virtue from the works of unbelievers. It presents the Fall as an absolute event which effaced any spiritual truths or positive qualities from the unregenerate soul. Some will read this and believe that I am adopting the popular views of the Emergent Church movement. I am not. The Emergent Church movement, at its worst, seeks to find some vague sense of spirituality from any part of a culture, regardless of the evil that may be present in that part of a culture. I am not suggesting that personal standards be set aside. I am simply saying that an unbeliever can produce something wonderful because he is also made in God’s image. The image is marred, to be sure, but it is not wholly undone.
Perhaps the most debilitating factor influencing the Christian education movement is anti-intellectualism. This anti-intellectualism places faith and reason at odds with each other. In this view, there must be a balance between the two in order to prevent heresy. To the anti-intellectualist, ignorance truly is bliss. This view is responsible for doing much damage to the Christian Faith and specifically to the Church’s views on education and theology. To quote the Puritan Cotton Mather: “Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but of heresy.”
This concept has taken hold of the American culture as well. Grammar, vocabulary, and syntax are no longer considered as practical as writing skills. Historical facts are no longer seen as relevant so long as the student learns the importance of a multicultural worldview. Never mind the fact that a developed intellect requires abstract thinking and concrete knowledge. Consider a recent report from Scientific American titled “Word Problems Fail Math Students.” This report summarized findings of researchers from Ohio State University. It seems that abstract math skills, not word problems, are essential to advancement in the math subject areas. In this study, students who were taught the skills earned an average of 80% in testing, while students who were taught through visual and word problems only scored a 44% average.
This is because abstract thinking carries over into new areas of life and allows for greater problem-solving and discovery skills. In every area of study, abstract thinking based upon previously memorized facts must be the bread-and-butter of learning. Sadly, fact-based learning is the Cinderella of the schoolroom today. Instead, students are encouraged to discuss and create projects long before they have conceptualized the subject they are studying. Granted, there is a place for projects and discussion, but students must spend a significant amount of time at the lowest rungs of Bloom’s taxonomy before climbing to the higher levels.
No other area has suffered because of modern anti-intellectualism as the area of biblical studies. In order to learn the Bible, one must be willing to devote the mind to study. Today, few are accustomed to dealing with propositional truths. Students are taught to express, rather than understand, their thoughts on “what the Bible means to them.” Churches and schools alike are sucked into the maelstrom of seeker-friendly, entertainment-oriented, shallow teaching.
This produces shallow Christians seeking inspirational, pseudo-spiritual experiences to bolster their equally shallow faith. Indeed, in many cases, their “faith” dissipates quickly if they are not fed another inspirational thought.
The final problem which plagues Christian education is that very often Christian educators are content with simply teaching the Bible or biblical principles without living those same principles before their own students. Teachers in Christian education must be willing to live out their faith in the best interests of professionalism, discipleship, and evangelism. It is the duty and privilege of every Christian educator to train young minds as part of their ministry. If these young, impressionable youths perceive a hint of hypocrisy, they will later rebel against their faith. Christian educators must never forget how much they can do to either edify or destroy the spiritual life of their students.
The second major area of analysis when discussing Christian education is that of the biblical and historical mandate to educate. The first thing that needs to be emphasized is that faith is based on reason.
Therefore, a child’s likelihood of mental assent to the truths of God’s Word, and consequently their ability to internalize and emotionally connect with those truths is directly related to the ability of the teacher to rationally explain the Gospel.
Of course, this fact does not negate the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Indeed, the Holy Spirit’s conviction is the key to conversation. However, it must be remembered that God in His infinite wisdom has given the believer the privilege and responsibility of sharing His love for mankind.
Furthermore, there is also a historical example set in holding to a high academic and spiritual standard in Christian education. From the foundation of the church, Christian education was basically a classical Greco-Roman education with a sanctified worldview. The early Church began educating their children by teaching Scripture in addition to, not in the place of, math, science, language, history, philosophy, logic, music, and the like. They did so with the knowledge that strong faith comes from the ability to reason well in all areas. There was no distinction between the sacred and the secular realm to their minds.
This was not because they were worldly, but because they saw in each area of a liberal arts education the fingerprints of the Divine. Christianity and education are ideal companions in the individual and in the culture.
Christianity relies heavily upon literacy and logic to communicate concepts. God’s Word is available to us through the use of written language. Therefore, literacy is vital to Christians and to the continuance of the Christian faith. Furthermore, an educated mind enhances, not detracts, the shattered remnants of the Imago Dei and allows one to understand the propositional truths of Scripture.
On the subject of both history and theology, there is much to be learned from Jesus when developing a philosophy of education. He is the wisest and most dynamic teacher of all time. He taught with authority because He knew His subject. He also lived His subject matter, an area which teachers struggle with when dealing with biblical integration. Jesus was personable and interacted with His “students.” These things made Jesus a dynamic teacher.
The final area to turn to on the subject of philosophy of Christian Education is the question of the education’s content. Christian education must be a liberal arts education. Liberal arts are worthy of study for two major reasons. First of all, the liberal arts deal with the ultimate questions regarding existence, purpose, virtue, and beauty.
The purpose for humanity’s existence is explored in philosophy. Math and grammar deal in absolute truth. History looks to the past while science in its application envisions the future. Art, music, drama, and creative writing demonstrate the beauty written into the world by a Creator God.
Secondly, the study of classic literary works enables the student to understand thoughts outside of their own. This is important when assimilating one’s own culture and values.
An understanding of these areas adds further depths to spiritual realities as well.
When discussing subjects such as the classics and an academic Christian education, objections are typically raised at the notion of becoming “too academic.” While Christian education cannot possibly be too academic, it can be not spiritual enough in spite of high academic standards. Education is academic in nature. Concerns that academia might become too academic are the result of a flaw in logic. It would be like saying a basketball player is too athletic or a pianist is too musically inclined. If the nature of something is changed, then the identity of the thing is changed as well. If we alter what education is, then it is no longer education. Of course education is academic, and the curriculum is academic because it is the expression of that purpose!
This academic nature includes all subjects, even the Bible department. Rather, it is true especially of the Bible department. A Christian school, of course, would not be a Christian school without at least one Bible class per grade level. The depth and breadth of Scripture is so vast that it must have its own time of study in the day.
Rather than a chance to earn an easy “A”, the Bible class should require intense study. Instead of a “fluff” course relying mostly on class discussion and projects, the Bible class must contain elements of reading, writing, thinking, lecture, and memorization. Those elements are pivotal to a proper understanding of Scripture.
Regardless of a Christian educator’s perspective on Christian education, certain core values are inescapable. The Bible must be given the preeminence even though biblical integration may not be overt. At the very least, the worldview presented in the classroom must be biblical. Parents and teachers must be seen as vital in the process of exhorting students to eschew evil and embrace Christ. This discipleship process should result in the student becoming the evangelist and mentor of others whom he encounters in his life.
Additionally, there are a number of goals and purposes which should be central to the Christian educator. The Christian educator should desire that the student should learn the truths of God and respond to them. The resulting secondary goals would be that the student would live in harmony with God’s truths and that he would desire to impact others. The truths mentioned here include those taught in the Bible, revealed in the natural world, or gleaned from a study of human relationships on the familial, governmental, or spiritual level.
These goals harmonize completely with accepted educational theories taught in universities today. The learning process begins with the internalization of knowledge, which in turn directs actions, which results in a commitment to that knowledge.
Of course, this process can be used to propagate both truth and error, so that the Christian educator must be careful when passing knowledge on to students.Ultimately, the Christian educator must seek to glorify God in both the content communicated and in the manner in which that content is communicated. It is a duty, but also a wondrous privilege to minister to young people and train them to think critically and biblically regarding the nature of truth and to point them to the ultimate source of truth.