The Measure of All Things

April 14th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

Humanism, as Francis Schaeffer noted, is what happens when “man is the measure of all things.” In our educational system, is man the measure of all things—or the Man? That is, are we Christian or humanist?

 

Stemming from recent, fruitful conversation with colleagues about what makes education truly Christian instead of humanist, I have tried to compile a short, and undoubtedly inchoate, list of distinctions. As always, comments—corrections, suggestions for improvement, additions—are more than welcome. (The points proceed in tandem.)

 

Humanist Education . . .

  1. Is driven by a concern for results. Schools clinging to a humanist mindset emphasize quantifiable measures of success, such as standardized test scores and number of graduates who attend college, as if these numbers were a reflection of genuine learning—or even the most important aspects of education.
  2. Produces productive members of capitalist/socialist societies. Part of the problem with a results-driven approach is that the results only measure one’s aptitude for entering the marketplace, which is the sole goal of humanist education today.
  3. Encourages self-esteem, and does so openly and proudly. However, what is lacking in this world is not self-esteem, but a true understanding of biblical anthropology, which humanist education will not provide.
  4. Embraces postmodern epistemology, leading to subjectivity, and stealing away such core concepts as truth, certainty, and even judgment.
  5. Enforces cultural (and moral) relativism. As part of its uncritical acceptance of postmodernity, humanist education assumes no culture or code is intrinsically superior to another, and insists that all members of its system adhere to the same rigid dogma, ironically.
  6. Exhibits a vapid yet undimmed enthusiasm, undoubtedly springing from a belief in the inevitability of progress and the innate goodness of humanity—both of which empirical evidence (and sheer common sense) seems to deny.
  7. Adopts democratic egalitarianism as the norm within and without the classroom. Other than the academic elite themselves, no one can claim certainty, superiority, or expert status—not even the teacher, really. Every idea is as good as every other, whether academic, cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, or even theological.
  8. Is student-centered, the corollary of democratic egalitarianism. Modern educational fads push teachers to empower students to learn and then to serve as mere guides on a journey of self-discovery. While this may work in some subject areas, it often leads to the equalizing of unequal ideas, especially in classes where certainty and precision must prevail (such as Bible, of course, but even literature and the social sciences).
  9. Employs behaviorism as classroom management. Because the problem is external behavior, not a corrupt, sinful heart, the solution is simple behavior modification—detentions and demerits, gold stars and “good jobs.” Even within Christian education, we reward those whose behavior is acceptable, no matter how twisted the heart, and punish those whose behavior is less than spectacular, no matter how willing the spirit.
  10. Leads to absolute fragmentation. Dismantling the curriculum into discrete subject areas, each with largely unrelated standards, and then dividing the day into short, interrupted bursts of fragmented learning has become the accepted norm. Beyond that, even, we have the separation of academic instruction from every other type—spiritual, moral, emotional, etc., leading to compartmentalized, fragmented existence.
  11. Practices an uncritical acceptance of technology. While much technology is good and has its place in the classroom, the trouble stems from assuming it all is good and should be embraced uncritically. In practice, technology often leads to greater fragmentation, a shorter attention span, an inability to read and comprehend the written word, and the diminishing of sustained, reasonable thought.
  12. Commits to human-centered paradigms. Christian schools that seem more humanist than godly accept that what the world has to offer them will be good enough—bell schedules, curriculum, standards and benchmarks, educational fads—rather than discerning and sifting, or even reworking the whole paradigm from a Christ-centered framework.

 

Christian Education . . .

  1. Is driven by a concern for fruit. Numbers do not matter, but hearts do. The measure of “success,” if we may even use that term, will be the invisible, eternal qualities, such as conversion, revival, loving obedience, and obedient love.
  2. Leads students to pursue vocation—God’s calling—apart from purely economic concerns. Because preparing students to enter the marketplace per se matters but little (and attending university may even be superfluous), Christian schools help students glorify God in the way he has called them instead, equipping them to use their gifts in the service of his kingdom.
  3. Encourages Christ-esteem. A biblical anthropology, centered on the cross, assures us we are both profoundly sinful and profoundly loved. Students develop a healthy sense of who they are when they embrace both of these points in glorious tension. What matters is not what others think of them, or even what they think of themselves, but what God thinks of them in Christ.
  4. Embraces Christian epistemology, leading to conviction and humility, a willingness to espouse adequate (if not absolute) knowledge in key areas.
  5. Engages in honest frustration and painful dialogue that moves toward humility before the Creator of all intricacy and nuance. The culture-shapers of the institution, such as the administration, faculty, and chaplains, then “enforce” this humility and dialogue.
  6. Exhibits a Christ-centered historical hope built on the substantive sacrifice that is shaping the school culture. Humanity will not progress, nor even individual humans, except by the grace of God and the work of his Spirit, which we seek regularly in spontaneous prayer.
  7. Adopts the hierarchical model of Scripture itself. All who are in Christ have ideas to share, as Paul reminds the Corinthian church; but some have been given unique roles within the church to equip others, as Paul reminds the Ephesian church. Those whom God has specifically called to pastor and teach the church will shape discussion of the ministry (and even vision) of the school especially.
  8. Is God-centered. Teachers and students, within and without the classroom, submit to Scripture, follow the Spirit’s guidance, and recognize the God-ordained authorities over them. Especially in Bible classes, but ideally in all, teachers will eschew both teacher- and student-centered approaches, allowing the Center to be the center.
  9. Employs relational authority as classroom management. With an unwavering and outwardly visible commitment to the gospel, teachers will strive to reach the heart of students as instruments of God’s grace, knowing that behaviorism produces naught but whitewashed tombs. Love is, of course, the ethic of the kingdom, and thus it will be the ethic of the classroom, for both teacher and student.
  10. Strives after full integration. Being willing to rework the model from the ground up, Christian schools will pursue not only academic integration, as well as educational integration into a biblical framework, but absolute integration. There is neither secular nor sacred, mind nor spirit, education nor discipleship, for all are one in Christ Jesus.
  11. Practices a discerning use of technology. Teachers will utilize what will aid in achieving real integration and advancement; but they will also sensitively discern the differences between contemplation and stimulation, information and knowledge, thought and activity.
  12. Commits to submission to the Spirit’s leading when it conflicts with our pre-conceived (and often humanist) paradigms. For example, teachers will joyfully spend instructional time on prayer when necessary, or even hold a class “late” when the Spirit is moving in a discussion. The administration will critically evaluate all humanist ideas, models, etc., before (if) adopting any of them.


From Athens to Jerusalem

March 30th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

The last 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.

 

Modern educational principles apply unequally to the various disciplines. Owing to the unique content and skills objectives in each discipline, very little of what works in one class will work in another, except in the broadest possible terms. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bible classes. Because of the special character of biblical content—it alone of all texts is living and active—much of the modern (i.e., humanistic) approach falls woefully short here in particular. I would suggest three crucial areas where Bible classes must resist faddish techniques and philosophy and recognize its curricular uniqueness.

 

Bible classes must be Word-centered.

Contemporary wisdom says that education must be student-centered in order for real learning to take place. Undoubtedly there is much truth in this, though likely the pendulum has swung too far from the days of teacher-centeredness. But whatever may work in other classes, when it comes to Scripture, the educational approach must be Word-centered. In an age where democratic egalitarianism rules the day, we must be careful to recognize the limits of subjectivity. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid, and this is especially so when it comes to expositing God’s Word. Student-centeredness will result in shallow, subjective readings, pooling ignorance at precisely the moment where wisdom is most needed. Teacher-centeredness, contrarily, will result in an unfortunate elitism, as though the teacher alone had all knowledge and understanding. Better by far to center the curriculum and the class on Scripture itself, letting God speak through his living and active word (while recognizing that even God’s Word affirms the unique calling and equipping of some individuals to handle and instruct others in its truth [cf. Ephesians 4:11-13). I have watched scores of fifteen- and sixteen-year-old students sit rapt with attentive awe to countless Bible lectures (yes, lectures—you know, that thing you’re never supposed to do as an educator) because God’s Word was working actively within them, producing eternal fruit. Educational philosophy simply cannot contain the wonder of God’s revelation.

 

Bible classes must be text-driven.

I have been told on a handful of occasions that text is passé, that image now drives our thinking. Administrators have paraded research before us, insisting that the brain better grasps and retains images than words. This may be so. I am hardly qualified to dispute the research. But I do know that God did not reveal himself to his people through a series of images;[2] he revealed himself to us through the Word. I suspect some of this springs from the fact that image is even more difficult to read than text, allowing for greater misinterpretation. This is undoubtedly part of the reason God forbids anyone to image him: distortion would be inevitable. Because we live in such an image-saturated world—and an increasingly post-literate culture—we must emphasize text and its interpretation even more than our secular counterparts. Of all people, Christians must be literate, even literary. We must train our students to handle and interpret spoken and written word, so that they can handle and interpret the spoken and written Word. Images or activities that distract from patient, integrated, meditative reading we dismiss.

 

Bible classes must be knowledge-based.

In the age of Google, education has grown increasingly skills- and concepts-based, as memorizing content now serves almost no purpose. We all forget whatever facts we do not rehearse regularly, and we can all find them again whenever we need them in the time it takes to type our inquiry into a search box. In every other course, I think this makes a good deal of sense—but not when it comes to Scripture. We have been called to hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), to meditate on it constantly (Joshua 1:8; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Being able to locate verses in a search engine hardly fulfills this injunction. Against the grain of almost all modern educational philosophy, we must emphasize memorization and mastery of content. Living single-minded, Christ-centered, biblically integrated lives requires that we plant God’s Word deep within our hearts, allowing it to take root and produce redemptive fruit in every aspect of our being (heart, soul, mind, strength). This demands internalization of the Word—and a resolute faith that God’s Word, apart from clever educational gimmicks, can and will produce the desired result. Teaching Bible-study skills seems a valuable enterprise, but teachers must balance it with clear communication of non-negotiable content (such as the Trinity, Christology, substitutionary atonement)—knowledge that they will not receive apart from direct instruction. God has raised up teachers for this purpose, not to serve as guides on a journey of self-discovery, but to communicate clearly “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).

 

Like Tertullian, then, we ask the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”[3] Athenian—that is, secular—wisdom has much to teach us in certain arenas. But ultimately these humanistic methods of study have little to do with teaching by the authority of Scripture.



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

[2] God uses images too, of course, not least his creation (cf. Psalm 19:1-2; Romans 1:20). The tabernacle/temple also springs to mind.

[3] De praescriptione haereticorum, ch. 7.



How Good Is Christian Education?

March 29th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,

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.



Educational Integration

March 27th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,

The first 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.

 

“Teachers, don’t you care if we drown . . . in a sea of humanism?” (cf. Mark 4:38).

 

Much of modern education is self-avowedly steeped in liberal humanism. In America, since the time of Horace Mann and John Dewey, public education has been a conscious tool of indoctrinating the unsuspecting masses in American, capitalist, egalitarian, progressive thinking.[2] In this regard it has been remarkably successful. The aims are humanistic, viz., to become productive workers (or what we sometimes call “earning a living”) and to produce responsible members of a liberal society. And the means are humanistic, as we would expect from those who deny biblical anthropology, such as total depravity and even the notion of sin. Unabashed (and ultimately fruitless) behaviorism, uncritical acceptance of technology, the emphasis on merely human effort, and democratic egalitarianism are all examples of this.

 

The question, though, is whether or not this thinking has seeped into much modern Christian education too. Undoubtedly the answer will vary from school to school. Yet I suspect that frequently it has. We adopt the framework of this liberal-humanistic project, and then integrate a Christian worldview into it. In its best sense, of course, biblical integration means that the whole worldview, and its ensuing activity, is thoroughly biblical, informing and directing all that we do. In practice, biblical integration often means using the standards, practices, philosophy of secular humanists—and then sprinkling a smattering of verses and activities to redeem the process for the sake of Christ. We have done little more than shave her hair and cut her fingernails; at heart she remains thoroughly pagan (cf. Deuteronomy 21:11-13).

 

I would suggest a different approach. Biblical integration assumes a (liberal-humanistic) educational framework into which one inserts biblical thinking. What is needed instead is educational integration: starting with a biblical framework (cf. Proverbs 1:7) and then inserting the best of modern educational practice and philosophy. To paraphrase a friend and colleague who put it better than I: we need to turn our paradigm and communal praxis upside down and seek to redeem educational theories by subjecting them to biblical critique and wrestling them into submission under the lordship of Christ within the Scripture-formed community. In other words, we need educational integration, not biblical fragmentation.

 

The challenge of any reorienting (disorienting?) theory is praxis. To what extent do we abandon the “traditional” model and adopt a wholly new, radical approach? I am not sure I have the answers. Few things are less helpful than suggesting a paradigm shift (without a clutch) and then refusing to offer practical steps to take. And yet I fear I must leave this task to better, wiser educators. Until then, may God take every thought captive to the obedience of the Teacher (2 Corinthians 10:5).



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

[2] See, for example, Stephen L. Carter, The Dissent of the Governed: Law, Religion, and Loyalty (Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press, 1998): 35-48.




Teaching Itching Ears

November 10th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
Tags: , , , ,

Youth ministry can be a frustrating activity. Not the youths themselves, mind you; they bring curiosity, energy, vitality to the disciple-making enterprise. No, the trouble is the warnings shouted at those of us who have the privilege of ministering to youth.

 

You mustn’t talk of theology, we are told, for they will grow bored quickly. Our children need games, activities, to keep them interested and involved. No wonder many youth leaders seem better equipped to lead games than rightly divide the Word of truth—useful though it is for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. (And if youth ministry isn’t about those things, then what is it?)

 

In a bit of perverse irony, some in the church have now turned Paul’s teaching on its head: Don’t preach the Word; instead, to suit the “desires” of your audience, say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2-3).

 

Give them biblical meat and they will choke on it, we are told. They are just children. Keep giving them milk. But considering that a majority of teens who attend youth group abandon the church after they graduate, perhaps it is time for a different tack. Cut the spiritual umbilical cord. Teach them to chew and swallow the most rigorous truths of Scripture.

 

In trying to make our youth groups “relevant” and “applicable,” have we lost our way?

 

As Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. . . . Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity!”

 

The Scriptures are difficult but powerful, God’s word does not return to him void, Christ alone has the words of life. Let us live and minister like we believe this. Even when it comes to our youth.