Philosophy of Christian Education

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Education is a matter of discovering what is ultimately real and learning to live in relation to it in a way that produces a life marked by meaning, freedom, and even happiness. Education presupposes truth, even in the most relativistic contexts, because teachers are concerned with correspondence between thought and reality. But from a Christian perspective, truth is not just a label applied to the successful representation of reality in thought, but comes to personify that eternal reality itself. And that personification is neither metaphorical nor abstract, but is found in the person of Jesus Christ, as he says in John 14.6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In a similar way, a Christian teacher’s concern with the correspondence between thought and reality is not merely a concern for accurate representation, but faithful obedience. Jesus said in John 8.31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I believe this means that freedom comes through submitting yourself to reality.  And since in the Christian confession Jesus is the truth and, as such, the ground of all reality, Christian education becomes a matter of discovering Jesus Christ and learning to live as his disciple. Therefore, the goal of Christian education is discipleship—my life contingent upon and finding meaning only in reference to Christ. There is no deeper foundation for valuing lifelong learning than 2 Corinthians 3.18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” We are not yet like him, but are progressively being shaped into his image, which is to say that we are engaged in a lifelong pursuit of truth. But Paul says that a veil must be removed from the face (v. 13), from the mind (v. 14), and from the heart (v. 15) for this shaping to take place, which happens “in Christ… whenever anyone turns to the Lord” (3.14, 16). In other words, faith is the prerequisite for Christian education, for without faith our minds, hearts, and lives are veiled from the truth. Or, as J. P. Moreland puts it, “Faith is a power or skill to act in accordance with the nature of the kingdom of God.” In other words, faith is not just a way to discern reality, but it also provides the ability to live effectively in relation to reality. Correlating education and discipleship can sound problematic, especially since faith is often lampooned (not always unfairly) as blind faith that subverts, suspends, or even contradicts reason. Secondly, faith is sometimes taken to be a form of escapism, so its unique ability to connect us to reality may be unclear. Finally, the tendency to compartmentalize religious belief to the private realm of values rather than facts would seem to undercut the foundation of education. These problems disappear when we rehabilitate the notion of Christian discipleship, expanding the common understanding of it beyond mere devotional piety. Simply put, subsuming education under the umbrella of discipleship does not mean that talking about feelings, subjective speculations, and personal testimonies trumps academic inquiry in the classroom. It means that discipleship provides the direction and goal of the development of our human faculties, intellectual faculties included. It also means that our vision for education must expand so that it can accomplish the mandate to “develop the whole student.” The whole purpose of method is to find ever more effective means for bringing students in touch with truth in every aspect of their being. And if, as we mentioned above, it is faith that removes the veil from every part of us so that contact with truth can be established, then education is a matter of continual conversion. And this conversion is more readily accomplished as students are welcomed into Christian community, which means a place where grace and the gospel are...
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