When a Christian family is choosing a school for their child, what factors do they consider? To what do we as Christian educators invite them to participate? In this article, three common views of Christian schooling as identified by its claimed benefits are considered and critiqued against biblical priorities with the hope of encouraging Christian educators to be courageous in their vital endeavour. At the heart of the article is a belief that as Christian educators, we tend to focus on outward behaviour and too little on knowing God—relating to him, and living as participants in the metanarrative of scripture and the redemptive activity at its heart.
To establish a current understanding of common ways Christian schools make their case to potential families, the two phrases “benefits of Christian schools” and “reasons to send your child to a Christian School” were put into an Internet search engine. The analysis of the first 25 distinct results generated 150 statements which presented a benefit of Christian schooling. These were then coded and the following categories emerged.
|Quality of education||
|Teachers and staff||
|Family, church, school concordance||
|Training different from non-Christian schools||
|Role of the Bible||
There is much which could be written about the findings of this small foray into how Christian schools position themselves in the public arena. However, for the purpose of this article the focus is on the way the above categories combine to generate different approaches to education and the Christian school. For example, there is a fortress view, which claims that a secular school “can destroy what the church and home are trying to do” and where “atheists have taken over the world.” In such a view, the Christian school is a haven from the influences of the non-Christian world, and is there “to assist parents who want to educate children to resist the pressures the world offers.” Desirable characteristics of the learning environment are that it is safe from worldly influence and a good place to make friends.
A second view of Christian schooling may be described as an apologetic view, where schools argue (on the world’s terms) that they do as well or better than public schools and that their teachers are qualified or authoritative in their field. In terms of quality of education, two characteristics were dominant over non-Christian or public schools: “better academics” (48%) and “better discipline” (35%). In this view, academic instruction that “exceeds that of public schools” combined with “strict standards of behaviour which are enforced” is seen to result in high academic standards where the “level of learning in most Christian schools is well above the national average” with the result that this “opens more doors” in the future. These are the facts, but what story are we telling with such a view? Education is often viewed pragmatically (will it help Susan get a job or a place in an esteemed university?) as compared to formationally (will it contribute to Susan’s ability to live as an effective child of God in this place and space?). How do an apologetic view of Christian schooling and its boasting of better academics and discipline line up with biblical priorities as found in Jeremiah 9:24?
But let him who glories glory in this: that he understands and knows Me [personally and practically, directly discerning and recognizing my character], that I am the Lord, Who practices loving kindness, judgement and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord (Amplified Bible).
Albert Greene notes, “Properly knowing anything in the creation ultimately involves knowing the Creator. In our sinfulness we vigorously suppress this truth, but that does not change it” (1998, 44). Greene suggests that one’s study “lead to deepening awe for the Creator, to thanks and love and service to Him. And so we begin to see the ordinary school subjects as a means by which our students can develop a friendship with God” (1998, 33).
There is, within the data, another view of Christian schooling that I have termed a concordant view. Within this view, the school works with parents to fulfil their responsibility before God to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Desirable attributes in this view are the way that teachers and the school share parental values, teach morals and character and the way “all subjects are taught from a Christian perspective” or that “every element of the curriculum is permeated with God’s Word.” The claim is that the Christian school offers training not available in a non-Christian school. An example of this may be that the Christian school caters to spiritual facets of life, views the Bible as the basis of all knowledge, and that these things direct students’ living, loving and learning. These are honourable claims indeed. We wouldn’t argue with this as such a view reflects biblical teaching.
However, there is a sense in all three views that both teacher and student tend to be positioned on the outside of a created world that is loved and sustained by an awesome God. What might be the result if we focused more on inspiring students to live their life responsibly before, and in relationship to God as part of the redemptive story?
What might be the effect of a courageous change of focus from learning about a Christian perspective to living in a dynamic relationship with God? Jesus is our model and he described his life as “the Father living in me … doing his work” (John 14:10). Plantinga notes that “. . . to be a Christ person is to be a kingdom person. Working in the kingdom is our way of life (2002, 107)” Similarly, Wolterstorff concludes that “the comprehensive goal of Christian education was not just a certain way of thinking but a certain way of being in the world, that its goal was not just to induct the student into a Christian understanding of the world but to lead the student in a Christian way of being in the world (Stronks and Joldersma, 2002, 115, italics added). Christian education provides a vehicle within which a Christian community can learn how to live kingdom priorities “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). At its heart, Christian education is of a different nature. It does not exist to serve us or the secular world’s priorities, but rather to serve a great and wonderful God whose character and actions inspire us to live every moment out of gratitude and appreciation (see Rom. 1). This notion of a life lived in relational response to God is captured in expectations of a Christian education that “models and teaches a life of reforming discipleship that is responsive to God as it works in creation and in the structures of society” (Stronks and Blomberg, 1993, 18). Similarly, Hollinger writes, “we are called to reflect that coming kingdom of peace, righteousness and love in every dimension of life and in all corners of society (Rom 13:11–14)” (2005, 55, 56). Consequently, we not only teach about kingdom priorities, but rather intentionally provide opportunities to live these priorities and be characterized by them.
Parker Palmer’s notion that “to teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced” (1993, 69) is a challenging idea that resonates with the ideas within Deuteronomy 6:5–7, which Jay Adams paraphrases as follows:
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, in all of life, when you are standing up, sitting down, walking, lying, in your house, wherever you are, in every situation teach the Word of God by your words and examples as it grows out of and applies in each situation.
A biblical view of education informed by Psalm 78:4–8 would have as its purpose and claim that our students know God personally (who he is) and practically (what he has done) in a way that informs their everyday decision-making and fills them with a sense of hope and purpose. The cultural mandate as described in Genesis 1 suggests that God created people to know him and to live in creation showing that they understood his purposes—organising, researching, caretaking—so that all was full of shalom and displayed God’s glory. Within a redemptive view of schooling, these purposes remain and provide compelling and coherent motivation.
Key to a redemptive view of schooling is the importance of narrative and memory making, because stories create a vision of ways life that can be both understood and lived. The scripture invites us, in fact, requires us to be storytellers (see Deut. 4:9, Ps. 145: 4–6, Ps. 78, and Judg. 2). Careful consideration of scriptural passages such as Psalm 78 shows that consequences of not educating our youth within a powerful narrative that rightly engages with “who God is” and “what he has done” has horrific consequences for both individuals and nations. When responding to the question concerning the end result of education and the consequential nature of the society that is shaped by that education, Postman wrote:
The answer to this question has nothing whatever to do with computers, with testing, with teacher accountability, with class size, and with other details of managing schools. The right answer depends on two things, and two things alone: the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling (1995, 18).
Not just any narrative will do. Everything in a school—whether it be caring, serving, knowing, or doing—must emerge from the school’s sense of what is important. It isn’t the facts we tell so much as the encompassing framework that gives meaning to those facts. The biblical narrative is one which:
“… tells of origins and envisions a future, a story that constructs ideals, prescribes rules of conduct, provides a source of authority, and, above, all gives a sense of continuity and purpose…Without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” (Postman, 1995, 6).
This article argues that key to courageous, compelling and coherent Christian schooling is the all-encompassing metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption. Redemption is restorative. It is not a matter of adding something spiritual, but rather the opportunity to live in a way that sees all of life restored back to its rightful owner for its rightful use. This is God’s grace at work in healing what is broken, in putting things back the way they are supposed to be. The biblical story moves from creation to fall to recreation (Rev. 21:1) and our role as salt of the earth and light of the world implies an active, redemptive involvement with a broken world. We are invited to participate in God’s work! And, as Christian educators, it is to this redemptive endeavour that we invite Christian families.
- Greene, A. 1998. Reclaiming the future of Christian education: A transforming vision. Colorado Springs, CO: ASCI.
- Hollinger, D. P. 2005. Head, heart and hands: Bring together Christian thought, passion and action. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Palmer, P. J. 1993. To know as we are known: education as a spiritual journey. San Francisco: Harper Collins.
- Postman, N. 1995. The end of education: Redefining the value of school. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Stronks, G. G., and D. Blomberg, eds. 1993. Vision with a task: Christian schooling for responsive discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing.
- Stronks, G. G., and C. W. Joldersma, eds. 2002. Educating for Life: Wolterstorff’s Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- van Brummelen, H. 1998. Walking with God in the classroom: Christian approaches to learning and teaching (2nd ed.). Seattle: Alta Vista College Press.
- Wolterstorff, N. 1980. Educating for responsible action. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.