How Good Is Christian Education?

March 29th, 2012 | | 2 Comments
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The second in a three-part series on Christian education.[1] As I am a pastor by training and an educator by hobby, I am certain my reflections will be limited and misguided. I invite correction by those with greater wisdom and experience. Please comment below.

 

Today we set out to answer a challenging question: Can a Christian school ever be as good educationally as a secular school? I would suggest two possible answers—both true, paradoxically.

 

No.

The harsh reality is that a Christian school can never do what a secular school does, precisely because a Christian school attempts to do so much more. In addition to a regular course load, Christian schools add Bible classes and chapel, filling up an already full schedule. But an additional class would be easy to accommodate, truthfully, though the students may have less flexibility in choosing electives. The real trouble comes with everything else. Beyond classes, Christian schools provide one-on-one and small-group disciple-making relationships and various ministry opportunities, including service, outreach, and missions. They also encourage the spiritual disciplines, ideally training students in the value and practice of Bible reading and study, prayer, journaling, silence and solitude, and other time-consuming activities. And, in contrast to many secular schools, they do all this while expecting active family and church involvement. We would never want to (though I imagine we frequently do) impede connection in these vital communities of faith. In light of this, we would be fools indeed if we think we could compete with the more single-minded approach of secular schools. We have more to do than our secular counterparts, and because we recognize the eternal value of the activities competing for precious time, we willingly take a backseat when some conflicts arise. There is not enough time to do everything well, no matter what lies the world (and our own idolatry) feeds us, and so we ruthlessly prioritize. We cannot be what public schools are. We will never match the academic level of schools committed to a single, worldly, idolatrous end. Or so it would seem at first glance.

 

Yes.

In another sense, of course, a truly Christian school—recognizing that many schools that call themselves Christian are just wealthy, private college preparatory academies with a glossy Christian veneer—should be able to provide the very best education, even if it cannot keep up academically with its secular cousins. For only Christian schools consciously recognize and submit to biblical truth, thus providing students with a fuller understanding of life and the world into which they will shortly depart. Secular schools cling to and breed a faulty humanism that is ultimately unlivable. They may churn out academic overachievers, but they do not produce genuine humans by and large. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV). How much do secular schools attempt apart from the Giver of life? Think for a moment. Can the secular transform the eternal? Can those who worship the world and its puny gods (i.e., success, career, money, power, even human knowledge) bring life to dry bones? produce the fruit of the Spirit in depraved hearts? see salvation come to any house? Because secular schools do not make disciples, they do little to provide the essential training for life—the abundant life that Jesus alone offers (cf. John 10:10). There is more to life than what we learn in school textbooks. Christian schools better understand the limits of formal education.[2] Should it come as any surprise that the Greek word for “disciple,” mathetes, signifies “pupil”? How could it be otherwise? True education requires following in the footsteps of a worthy Master, not memorizing facts or mastering concepts. At their best, Christian schools recognize and pursue academic instruction within the broader framework of discipleship, preparing students to glorify God vocationally in this life and eternally in the next. No secular school can accomplish that.



[1] For more on Christian education, see my article “The Principled School” in Christian School Education.

[2] For example, we forget the overwhelming majority of what we learn within a few short years of graduation. How many among us can solve differential equations now? describe the Krebs cycle? identify anaphora? Few indeed.



Peter Worrall says:

Again, I resonate with the sentiment here. I agree with dr. Healan of Westlake who put on his public announcements board, “Scholarship is a function of discipleship.”

Mac says:

I told the 5th grade today, better to get a ‘B’ through prayer… heck better to get a ‘C’ through prayer than grasping for an ‘A’. We were talking about Philippians 2:6. The entire class tilted their heads and looked at me like a dog does when it hears a funny sound. Then, I told them, if you’re getting a ‘D’ or ‘F’ and praying through your homework… it could be God is telling to go to your teachers for help. I also asked for their forgiveness too, because sometimes as teachers we give the impression that an ‘A’ is a sign of worth or value. I think heard an audible sigh of relief after that comment also. I really like messing with students’ minds sometimes, hehe.


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