CategoryChristian Education

Conversation with a Textbook

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You won’t believe what this textbook said.

This is a conversation I had with a few pages of the new edition of  “Pathways,” a Social Studies textbook used in grade 8 classes.  The section was called “Religion and Civilizations.”

Me: Since you are written for use in public schools, it must be a little dicey when you talk about religion given that you are supposed to remain neutral on this sort of thing.  What do you see as the relationship between religion and civilization? 

Pathways:  “Religion is an important aspect of civilization.  In many civilizations, both in the past and in the present, religious beliefs are one way a civilization defines and describes itself.  Religion also influences people’s values and actions.” 

Me: I see.  And why do we study religion in grade 8?

Pathways: “Learning about different religions allows us to understand the civilizations to which these religions belonged.”

Me: That shouldn’t upset too many people, but as a religious person myself, I’d consider this a bit of a limited view.  Religion is more than a means by which we understand others, but I guess you’re limited in how much you can say about religion and still maintain your neutrality.   Tell me, what is your view on why we have religions in the first place?

Pathways:  “Human beings have always asked what we call ‘big questions.’  You have probably asked them, too.”

Me: Yes, I love the big questions.  That’s one of the reasons I like to blog.  But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what do you mean by big questions?

Pathways: What happens to me after I die? What is the difference between right and wrong? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How was all this created?

Me: Yes, these are pretty much the same as my questions.  I’ve heard them called worldview questions, and you are right; everyone asks them and everyone answers them (whether they admit it or not).  So what do these “big questions” have to do with why religion exists?

Pathways: “Human beings like to have answers to their questions.  Having answers make us feel more secure.” 

Me: Whoa! I might be jumping ahead here, but are you one of those people who think that the function of religion is to create a feeling–a feeling of security?   A safety blanket for the weak?  I’ve heard some ardent atheists call it a crutch for those who can’t face “reality.”   Aren’t you supposed to be neutral on issues of faith?  I mean, it is a pretty low view of religion, isn’t it?  I mean, most religious people understand that any security they may feel is merely a by-product of the more important search for truth and meaning–religion itself is actually a product of this search.   I understand I’m not being neutral either, but I don’t think it’s possible.  Is there no sense in which the big questions that religion answers might be rooted in a search for objective truth?

Pathways:  “[T]hese big questions cannot be answered the same way ordinary questions can be.”

Me:  “Ordinary” is a bit of a loaded word the way you are using it, it’s it?  Ordinary as in more “factual”?  Just because they cannot be answered in the same way–or are harder to answer–does not mean the answers aren’t true.  Anyway, you were saying something about the difference between big answers and “ordinary” answers?  Can you elucidate?

Pathways: “For example, science tells us that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.  This is based upon creating a hypothesis and then using experiments to discover if our original ideas were correct.  With religion, people have to accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. “

Me: I’ve noticed your word choice.  Did you know you consistently use the term “us” when speaking of knowing and the word “people” when speaking about believing?  I thought it was interesting how you distance yourself, and, consequently, your readers from the act believing.   Where were we?  Oh yes, you said that ordinary questions are the ones that can be answered empirically and big questions can’t be answered empirically so their answers are non-scientific.  That sounds bad when you put it that way.  Are you implying they are just sorta made up?

Pathways: “In effect, [people] have to accept them based on their beliefs (faith).”

Me:  You are saying that something can’t be” correct,” unless it is proven empirically: with scientific evidence.  That means the only things that can be true are things having to do with the properties, history, and function of matter.  This would make sense, I suppose, if matter was all there is. 

Hold on a minute!  If you think that, you just answered a big question: “Is matter all there is?”  This is not an “ordinary” question, it’s a big question.  You can’t know if you are correct because this answer is based on non-scientific evidence.  If you are going to be answering big questions, I might accuse you of being religious.  Then what would happen to your neutrality? 

But let’s move on.  How do you explain why we have so many different religions?

Pathways: “Different Faiths, Different Answers”

Me: Could you elaborate?

Pathways: “There are many religions in the world, and each one has different answers to the big questions.” 

Me: Which one is right?

Pathways: “Which one is right? No one religion has the ‘right’ answers, because the big questions have no scientifically provable answers.”

Me:  So a religion can only be right if it is scientifically proven to be right?  That’s not very rational, is it?  It’s not even logical.  If all religions are different, some much be getting closer to some “correct” answers than others, even though it can’t be proven “scientifically”; it’s only logical.  Let me ask you this.  Isn’t a religion that teaches to love of one’s neighbours a little closer to the truth than one that teaches it’s OK to kill innocent children?  It’s not scientific proof, but it’s rational; correct in another type category, yes? 

But, I digress.  Your claim to neutrality seems to be a little suspect; you seem to have very clear views as to how we understand the beliefs of others, but you aren’t really admitting when you accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence.  I’m not sure that you are suitable for use in a public school, because you seem to support one set of unscientifically supported beliefs, over all other sets.  My concern is for the students.  What do you say to a grade 8 student who is thinking about the big questions?  I don’t think it would be appropriate to explicitly discourage them from being involved in religion.

Pathways:  In Canada today, there are many different religions.  If you were looking for a religion to belong to, you could find out what different religions say about the big questions.  Then you could choose the religion with the answers you are most comfortable with, or that fit best with what you already think. 

Me: Are you saying it doesn’t really matter what religion someone belongs to? At least you are consistent.   Do you suggest that the choice between religions is to be based on feelings or preexisting ideas?  I understand that you think you are being equally fair to all religions, but you are not really.  I think it’s much more accurate to say you are being equally unfair–degrading all of them.

People aren’t looking for comfort when they ask and answer the big questions, they are looking for truth because they believe they can find it.   Given this, people can’t just shop for a religion as they do for a dress–take the one that fits.  If you are going to respect religion, you must recognize that the individual conforms to religion, not the other way around. Your suggestion as to how to pick a religion is legitimate only if all religion doesn’t really matter, or are equally silly.  

Aren’t you really saying that we ought not to take our religion too seriously?

Pathways:  “Even if you had a different religion than your friends, that probably would not matter too much.  If fact, you could probably learn something from each other.”

Me:  By that statement, it is clear you are advocating religious tolerance.  Good, but your are trying to achieve tolerance by viewing religious beliefs as “not mattering too much.” 

True tolerance is only possible if we take each others beliefs seriously.  Wouldn’t the picture of true tolerance be a materialist, such as yourself, talking with a Christian and a Muslim over a good cup of coffee, disagreeing, but enjoying the company, the conversation, and the coffee all the while respecting the sincerity of each other’s beliefs? 

Wouldn’t this be a better picture to present to grade 8 students? 

Objections to Christian Education

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My principal told me of a conversation that he had with a Christian minister who was strongly against Christian Education.  I asked him if he could send me a list of his objections.

Here are 7 Objections to Christian Schools and a brief response to each.Click To Tweet

1. Children need to be salt and light in the public school.

The first objection to Christian education is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and by sending our children to a public school we are fulfilling this mandate.  I agree that it is vital that Christians “let [their] light shine before men,” but this injunction is meant for Christians, not the children of Christians.  I’m not saying that children of Christians aren’t Christian (although some would), but I am suggesting caution.  To be salt and light requires the supernatural strength provided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Children of Christians are often well mannered, respectful, kind and encouraging.  A lot of children are, Christian or not, if have been raised in stable and principled homes.  Being polite and encouraging is not the same thing as being salt and light.  Children of Christians are not necessarily equipped for this task for it requires more wisdom and spiritual maturity than a child usually possesses.

We always take the injunction to be salt and light to be a command for individuals.  This is, how we understand everything, but the biblical default is set to community.  Jesus’ metaphor was to be like a “city on a hill.”  To be salt and light, then, is a command to create communities that spread the light.  A Christian school is this sort of community.  Our light is showing how education ought to be done in our particular time and place if Jesus Christ were truly Lord of all things.

2.  Where will the world be if all Christians pulled out of the world

Behind this objection is the assumption that Christians are to function (as “salt and light”) in culture only as individuals.  This mistake is understandable, since we are incredibly individualistic in our culture. This is one of the very idols that a good Christian education attempts to reveal and combat. We tacitly interpret our world through an individualistic lens. There is no doubt that the world would be in bad shape if there were no Christians, but Christian schools do not cause Christians to disappear.  They are still there.  They are just in schools that proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life.  The Christian school is salt and light in the world, but it is a corporate response, rather than an individual one.  Christian school must, then, be very deliberate in engaging culture–their local community as well as the education community–so as to truly be a blessing to “the world.”

3.  Children who attend Christian schools experience culture shock when they enter ‘real world’

This is a great danger if the purpose of the Christian school is to protect students from the “real world.”  Some religious schools exist for this very reason, because they overemphasize the power of sin in the world.  Other schools are only Christian in that they have morning prayer, weekly chapels and offer Bible classes.  The problem with these schools is they overestimate the created goodness in the world.  There is a third type of Christian school that believes all things are created good, and all things profoundly affected by sin.   This Christian school would explore all aspects of creation, including culture, and celebrate the creational goodness that we find there, but it would also train students to discern evil, not just “out there”—where it certainly is, but also inside our most intimate circles and within ourselves.  A child educated in this kind of school would not be shocked, but would be prepared to faithful living in the world.

4. Science, English, Math… its all the same whatever school you go to… the religion part can come from home and church.

This objection comes straight out of the Modern worldview.   Modernism separates reality into public/private categories.  The public sphere is where reason guides political, economic, educational, (etc.) discussions.  The assumption is that reason is neutral, and out of this value neutral position, we can dialogue on how we can best organize society.  All the non-rational, things, like beliefs, opinions, religion, etc. are relegated to the private sphere.  Society works if these things are kept in the church, the mosque or the bedroom.  The public school is such a place.  Reason directs the curriculum and, in the absence of beliefs, it is value neutral.

Many Christian parents also accept the neutrality of reason and, therefore, of a public education.  The church and the home need add the religion component and the overall experience of the child tips toward the religious.  The problem is that the public sphere is not neutral at all.  Modern rationalism is a belief system that stands in opposition to the teachings of the Bible.  C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.

5. Christian schools inoculate youth to authentic Christian living and foster indifference to the beauty of the Gospel.

This is a danger whenever the gospel is merely an abstraction.   If the church and family do not embody the gospel, the child will probably become desensitized to the “beauty of the Gospel” as well.   At school it isn’t enough to study truth and then leave it in the students head.  A Christian school needs to help student blur the lines between knowing and doing, and not just in extracurricular activities, like “missions trips.”  And not just within the lessons themselves.  The embodiment of the gospel needs to be systemic involveing, course offerings, programs, assessement, discipline, Special Education and Learning Assistance, athletics, awards, councelling, etc.

But the road along which we travel is fraught with perils on all sides.  There are significant dangers in sending Christian children to the public school as well.  One of them is probably not the desensitization to the Gospel by constant exposure to it.  The dangers to which children of Christians are exposed in a public school are pretty serious.  The idea that Science, English, Math, etc. are neutral is one pretty big one.

I think a better approach is, rather than risking these far greater dangers, addressing the “desensitization” issue of Christian schools very deliberately and ask how we can, individually and collectively, embody the Gospel.

6. My Christian school experienced was meaningless for growth for me as a Christian

Perhaps this is true.  Of course I can’t possibly say.  Perhaps his Christian school experience has no bearing on the fact that today he is a pastor.  But there is some pretty good evidence that Christian education in general has a long term effect on the future of its graduates.  The Cardus Institute published a study on Christian Schooling in both the United States and Canada.  In the Executive Summary of the Canadian report, it is reported that

graduates of evangelical Protestant schools not only show more commitment to and involvement in religious rituals and activities compared with their government school counterparts with similar religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, but, despite having been educated among peers from similar religious backgrounds, are likely to be just as involved in civic affairs as all public school graduates, with the exception of protests.

7. The best thing for us is to have our kids going to school with their neighbours, and to put the onus for children’s discipleship back on the church.

My response to this objection is mathematical.  In a seven day period a child spends at least 35 hours at school.  The church cannot possibly compete, and it is a competition if we are talking about the public school.  Even with the most incredible curriculum and leaders, how much can the church do in its few hours a week?  If, however, the church and the school worked together in the discipleship of the children, how much more effective would we both be.  I teach at a Christian high school, and the youth group leaders of the local churches are regularly at the school interacting with students and coordinating with administrators and teachers to discuss how to better serve the children, their families and our Lord.

At the Christian School, young people are meaningfully interacting with Christian adults.  As they work on cars in the mechanics shop, or delving into Shakespeare, or practicing basketball students are being discipled in faithful living and their character is being developed through authentic relationships with Christian staff.  The Christian school is not in competition with the church; the church, family and school work together in nurturing of children.

Christian schools aren’t all the same.  My response to each of these objections is from a particular approach to Christian Education.  For a more detailed description of the three types of Christian schools, read :

Why Christian Education? — Part 1 and Why Christian Education? — Part 2

Legalize Hit Men?

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I observed an English class at my school reading the recent post by Betsy Childs entitled “Why We Should Legalize Murder for Hire.”

Some were horrified at first at the suggestion that “hit men [could] provide a valuable service to society” by helping women deal with “unwanted marriages,” but they quickly understood they were dealing with satire.  Their appreciation of the author’s wit was evidenced by the readers’ giggles and parenthetic comments.

Students see that the author is building a parallel between killing one’s spouse and killing one’s unborn child.

The students commended the cleverness of Childs’ analogy when she says that “matrimony severely curtails a woman’s freedom” and that “the better course is to avoid unwanted marriage in the first place,” and “it is her marriage; only she can decide when it must end” . . .

One student pointed out that Childs correlates adoption to divorce when she says the latter “may be an attractive alternative to murder” but “some woman do not have the emotional and financial resources to go through a divorce.”

The students’ initial reaction to this article was positive.

Critical Thinking and Discernment

Teacher: How would you take this if you were pro-choice?

Student: I’d be mad.

It wasn’t very long and one student used the word “fallacy.”

The students continued to ask each other questions:

Stacked evidence?

Not quite.

Faulty analogy?

Yeah, that fits.

(Faulty analogy: an argument is based on misleading, superficial, or implausible comparisons.)

The students suggested that this argument is only effective if someone accepts that premise that a fetus was comparable to a husband.  Someone who is pro-choice would not accept the premise.  They concluded that if your audience was pro-life, Childs’ argument was effective, but if it was pro-choice the argument would be ineffective.

Who is the audience?

Since this article was posted on The Gospel Coalition website, one can assume that the audience was conservative to moderate Christians.  The effect of the article was to reinforce the views of the audience.  In other words, it was preaching to the choir.

What’s the point of writing this if your audience already agrees?

It was observed that the only effect of the article was to reinforce the view of those who agree that our society “celebrates [the murder of] family members”.  Several students pointed out that this, in itself, is not wrong, but because the tone was mocking this article would simultaneously alienate opponents and inflame the passions of supporters.

Was this the purpose of the article?

Students wondered, if you get the two sides all riled up you can’t get anywhere.

How can Christians write about this issue that promotes dialogue?

Why Christian Education? (Part 3): Three More Objections to Christian Schools

There are a few other objections to Christian education that I wanted to address directly. The first is that Christian schools shelter children from the real world. The second is that the Bible calls us to be salt and light to the world, and by sending children to a Christian school, we are, in effect, hiding our light under a bushel. And third, Christian education is too expensive.

Christian schools shelter students from the “real” world.

This is an objection that comes from the assumption that all Christian schools are as Niebuhr’s Christ against Culture stance. Hopefully, the awareness of the other two has taken care of this objection, but I will offer one more word.

Do Christian Schools needlessly shelter students from the *real world*?Click To Tweet

First of all, it is not even possible to shelter students from sin. Sin lives in the Christian school when the first person unlocks the door in the morning. So we have to deal with idolatry and selfishness and gossip and bullying and theft just like every school does. The difference in the Christian school is that it brings the Word of God to every situation in the lives of the children. We don’t just “explore, evaluate, and experience” sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but “all of life under God.”

The selection of teaching materials and library books, etc. is not based on the protection of our students from the evil in the world, although age appropriateness is one of the criteria. These resources are selected for their usefulness to explore as well as discern the world. We don’t shy away from issues around sexuality, violence, justice, nor do we avoid non-Christian thinkers and authors, filmmakers, or artists.

In Christian schools, we hold up culture to the light of faith.  To do this, we have to engage culture. Our work is not characterized by isolation, but inoculation.

In Christian schools, we hold up culture to the light of faith. To do this, we have to engage culture. Our work is not characterized by isolation, but inoculation. Click To Tweet
Christians are called to be salt and light

A second objection to Christian education is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and by sending our children to a public school we are fulfilling this mandate.

Is the mandate to be salt and light in the world and argument for or against Christian Schools? Click To Tweet

I agree that Christians ought to “let [their] light shine before men,” but this injunction is meant for Christians, not the children of Christians. I would also suggest that even if a child is a Christian, to be salt and light requires some wisdom and spiritual maturity.

Further, the command to be salt and light in the world is not just an injunction for the individual Christian.  Christ gives us a metaphor; we are to be a light, “like a city on a hill.”  A city is a community–we are to set up communities of faith that will be salt and light in the world.

North Americans, including North American Christians, are tremendously individualistic. We tacitly interpret our world through an individualistic lens. We naturally read the “salt and light” injunction individualistically.  This is one of the very idols that a good Christian education attempts to reveal and combat. The Christian school is salt and light in the world as a community.

We have something to share regarding teaching practices, employee relations, special education and learning assistance, recycling, bullying, assessment, supervision of teachers and students, etc. We have something to share because what we believe about Jesus Christ is true, not just for Christians, but for everyone and everything. So, we collectively witness to all those involved in education.

Christian School staff are involved in many professional groups relating to their specific field within education.  Our schools are also visited frequently by teachers and principals, special education and learning assistance teachers and coordinators, coaches, counselors, government inspectors, and elected officials. Further, our students are involved in their communities.  We are being salt and light in the broader community, as a community.

I am not saying that Christian teachers ought to be teaching only in Christian schools, as a matter of fact, this is a vital place where the light of the gospel needs to be reflected. I also want to be clear that I am not saying that sending one’s children to the public school is the wrong thing to do. I have heard many stories of Christian children being a blessing in their local schools. What I do want to claim is that the salt and light argument ought not to be understood as a Biblical injunction to send Christian children to a public school.

CHRISTAN SCHOOLS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE

A third objection is that Christian Education is too expensive. I agree that it is expensive—especially where the schools receive no government grants and the full cost falls to parents. In general, though, I would say that there are many things we can do without, or delay, that are less important than an education that reinforces a transformational and integrative view of life.

I see this in our school community. For many, the family summer vacation is camping at the local provincial/state park. The cars that drop off the kids at school in the morning are often older than 10 years. It helps that Christian education is a community project in that the older generations continue to support the school which helps keep costs down. Also, local church congregations and the school itself may have programs available to help cover the costs of tuition for those who can’t afford it.

I wouldn’t be honest if I said that any school executes this model of Christian Education perfectly because it’s very difficult and we suffer from all those human limitations. Also, it’s hard to discern the degree to which our collective view of the world is acculturated; it’s easier to swim with the cultural current than against it, and to constantly evaluate every part of life through the interpretive lens of the Gospel is hard work.

There are many things to talk about – How we celebrate the graduation of our students in a way that reflects Christ’s Lordship? How do we create meaningful interaction between students of different ages and between students and older generations? We also need to continually talk about technology, which is always changing. There are many more.

It is most effective, and most fun, when we engage in the process of discerning and shaping our culture in a community, that includes students. I also find it a tremendous blessing to work with others that have a clear focus—to be faithful, discerning, obedient and creative servants of God and of neighbour, and stewards of His creation.

Why Christian Education? (Part 2) A Philosophical Objection to Christian Schools

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Several years ago, my pastor and I had a long discussion regarding Christian Education. He felt that for Christian parents to send their children to a Christian school was dualist.  Dualist in the sense that the things of Christ are considered separate from the things of life—a sacred/secular dualism. My response to this was that the sort of Christian school that I worked at was founded on the premise that that one can’t separate Christ from the rest of life. He may have been equating Christian schools in general with the sort that arises out of what Niebuhr called Christ against Culture stance [see Why Christian Education? (Part 1)]. This view is certainly dualist for its advocates see a separation between the things of this world and the spiritual world ruled by God. My school, and others like it, expresses a rejection of the sacred/secular dualism.

In this part, I would like to address this objection to Christian schools.

Are Christian Schools Dualistic?

To my pastor, I argued that if he wanted to avoid dualism, he ought to be hesitant about sending his children to the local public school which operates under the same dualistic philosophy as the Christ against Culture model, albeit from the other side. My contention is that the ideas of modernism are still deeply rooted in our culture and foundational to modernism is the separation of the religious from the secular.  The Christ against Culture schools separate the two for the sake of the religious, and public schools isolate the secular.

Many aspects of North American culture are still largely under the influence of modernism. In a recent installment of the CBC program Ideas (“After Atheism, Part 3”) producer David Cayley says,

“To be modern is to divide the world up into two realms, a public, secular sphere in which things are judged rationally according to agreed standards of evidence and argument, and a private religious sphere in which irrational opinion and existential decision hold sway.”

Religion was seen as the “source of oppression, obscurantism, and unending war, until the state tamed this unruly power and put it in its place.” This idea, says Cayley, “is in many ways the founding myth of modern society.”

Not surprisingly, this modern view of religion is apparent in our modern institutions. In the United States, the idea of the separation between church and state has come to mean exactly this. In Canada, the courts have determined that the “freedom of religion” guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, means that citizens have the right to follow their own religious beliefs, but it does not only mean freedom OF religion, but also freedom FROM religion.  In order to satisfy both, religion is relegated to the private sphere.

Canadian courts have also said that the Charter applies to school boards. Schools recognize the importance of religion in providing a moral and spiritual framework for life so religion can be taught, but must be done so in a neutral and academic fashion.

Two Problems with Public/Private Dualism

There are two problems with the separation of public secularism and private faith.

The First Problem: Neutrality is not Possible

The first is that neutrality is not possible. A neutral stance toward religion is not a neutral stance.  In that the preferment of neutrality is a way of looking at reality in general and all other religions in particular; it is, in essence, a religious claim. To claim that we ought to exclude the religious voice from public discourse is implicitly religious for it is based on a set of beliefs about the world and the human beings’ place in it.

The idea of a non-religious school is a myth. The question is not whether or not one should send one's child to a religious school; the question is, to which religious school will one send them? Click To Tweet
The Second Problem: Private convictions can’t be left at the door

The second problem with relegating religion to the private sphere is that religion can’t be private. It is impossible for anyone to enter the public sphere and leave their convictions at the door. This is true of every belief, including those of secularism.

Christianity certainly cannot be relegated to the private sphere. Paul says this of Christ in Colossians 15-17.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together

I like how Abraham Kuyper puts it. In his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University, he said,

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

C. S. Lewis echoes this idea:

“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

My pastor friend was resistant to the dualism inherent in the Christ against Culture type of Christian school because it limits the Lordship of Christ to only a narrow slice of life. But I think that it is equally problematic for those who believe in the universal sovereignty of Christ to send their children to a school which insists Christ’s authority is to be confined to the private realm. Both are based on false dichotomies: public/private, culture/Christ, physical/spiritual, reason/faith, to name a few.

Christianity, at its core, is an orientation of one’s entire life toward a person—the Son of God and Redeemer of all that is. Every other belief is subordinate to this Truth. Our culture, however, asks us to subordinate this Truth to the truth claims made by a secular religion–that this idea is merely a private belief.  I do not hold this against its proponents, for every religion subordinates the beliefs of every other religion to its truth claims. It’s just that the devotees of this modern secular religion insist that their beliefs aren’t religious.

This is why I am a passionate supporter of Christian Education for all Christian families.

No education is neutral and all education is religious. For Christian families, the education their children receive in school ought to be one that places Christ at the center.Click To Tweet

There are three more objections to Christian Education.  Read about them here.

 

Why Christian Education? (Part 1): Three Different Types of Christian Schools

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I was at a church service some months back and a guest pastor was, in essence, exhorting the congregation to get out of their Christian ghetto and do some good for the world.  He has a point, of course.  It’s easy to live in the suburbs and surround ourselves with other Christians who indulge in the same flavour of the faith that we do.

I agreed with the guest pastor completely until he suggested that this meant getting children out of Christian schools.  I was taken aback when some in the audience responded with applause and cheering.  Maybe I am a little sensitive, but I thought I heard some vindication in their applause.

As someone who has dedicated over 30 years to the furthering of Christian education, I was saddened as I drove home, first, because there seems to be a passionate opposition to Christian education in at least part of the congregation, but more so, because the minister’s comments were based on a complete misunderstanding of Christian Education as I experience it every day.

Many sincere Christian parents send their children to the local public school.  This may be because there is no local Christian school, or because of financial constraints.  These can be difficult barriers.

There are other reasons given for the renunciation of Christian Education.  There are some, like the guest pastor, that believe the children of Christian parents are to be salt and light in the world.  Other more philosophical types have told me that they wish to avoid a sacred/secular dualism.  Against these positions, I would like to push back and assert that the school that best addresses these concerns is the Christian school.  I don’t mean just any Christian school, however.  There are different kinds and I’m not ready to defend all of them with equal fervor.

There are many reasons parents send their children to a Christian school and behind these reasons is often a particular view of culture and the Christian’s relationship to it.  The various views of the relationship between Christ and culture will produce different types of Christian schools.  In his book Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr describes several Christian responses to culture.  These responses are useful for distinguishing different types of schools.

Different Types of Christan Schools

Christ Against Culture

One group of Christian school advocates sees an antithetical relationship between the culture and those who proclaim Jesus as Lord. Niebuhr calls this stance, Christ against Culture.  Adherents of this view believe that to be loyal to Christ one must reject culture.

Niebuhr identifies several problems with this stance.  The first is that separation from the world isn’t really possible.  Secondly, this view seems to presuppose that sin lies in culture and that by avoiding culture, one can avoid sin.  A final problem is that, at its root, the Christ against Culture model seems to suggest that Christ has little or nothing to do with culture—that the material world of which culture is a part, is at odds with the spiritual world, ruled by God.

It is not difficult to understand why adherents of this view of culture would seek a separate Christian education for their children.  The public school, like culture as a whole, would be seen to contain much that is in opposition to the ways of God.  The purpose of the Christian school, then, would be to further the separation of the Christian community from the culture as a whole.

Some Christian schools pull out of culture which they see as evil. This stance overemphasizes the fall and fails to see the creational goodness in culture. Click To Tweet
Christ with Culture, Christ of culture, or Christ Above Culture

Not all Christians frame the relationship between Christ and culture as an either/or proposition.  Many see much good in culture that may, or even ought to, be embraced.  Some of these views can give rise to the second type of Christian school.  In these schools, because of a positive attitude toward culture, there is little reason for the curriculum to be much different than that of the local public school.

It is a Christian school because various devotional practices have been added to the schedule.  These would be things like devotions at the beginning the day, weekly chapels involving corporate worship, religious instruction and prayer, and Bible or religious education classes.  We might think of the Christian aspects of this sort of school as the creamy icing spread over the already pretty decent cake that is the standard curriculum taught in the public school.

This view of the relationship between Christ and culture is perhaps at the root of many sincere Christian parents sending their children to a public school.  What the child learns at school may be considered as, at worst, philosophically neutral and the religious instruction and devotional activities that occur in the home and at church are considered adequate for the spiritual nurturing of the child.

Where the first anti-culture view underemphasizes the good in creation, the critique of this pro-culture view is that it under-emphasizes the extent to which sin has distorted God’s good creation—including culture.  The failure to appreciate the extent of sin’s corrupting effects often results in a corresponding failure to appreciate the scope of Christ’s redemption.

Some Christian schools maintain an open stance toward culture which they see as neutral. This stance overemphasizes the creational goodness and fails to appreciate the effects of the Fall in culture.Click To Tweet
Christ Transforming Culture

There is a third type of Christian school, one that is unlike the Christ against Culture model in that it has a far more hopeful view of culture.  It is unlike the second in that it places greater emphasis on the depth and breadth of the effects of sin.  The view of culture from which this school arises is what Niebuhr calls the Christ transforming Culture model.

Adherents of this third type of Christian school recognize three fundamental truths.  First, that culture is a manifestation of God’s good creation and a product of human creativity and community.  Second, that sin distorts every part of this good creation, including human culture.  Thus, there is nothing created, that was not created good, but there is nothing that has not been distorted by the Fall.  A third truth is that Christ is the redeemer of all that God created.  This process began with his death and resurrection, and continues, even now, by the work of his Spirit in and through his people.

The task of the Christian, then, is to explore what it means to live faithfully. This means that we strive to shape God’s world by enhancing and celebrating the creational goodness and also discerning the presence of sin and working to reduce its effects.  The role of the Christian, then, is to take care of the environment, feed the hungry and take care of the sick.  It also means to be involved in culture as movie-makers, lawyers, florists, plumbers and union leaders that bless our neighbours.  It means being available if God chooses to work through our meager efforts and transform our local communities, or even the world.

The work of Redemption is Christ’s, but we are invited to participate in it.  Rikk Watts of Regent College in Vancouver once left me with this analogy:  We are called to imitate Jesus, like a child who enthusiastically pushes his plastic lawnmower behind his dad when he’s mowing the lawn.  “Look Mom! We’re mowing the lawn!”

What kind of Christian School arises from this worldview?  It would not disengage from culture for that would be a failure to recognize the essential goodness of the creation found in it, but neither would it indiscriminately embrace the culture, for to do so is a failure to appreciate the distorting effects of sin that is present in all aspects of life.  This Christian school would explore all aspects of creation, including culture, and celebrate the creational goodness that we find there, but it would also train students to discern evil, not just “out there”—where it certainly is, but also inside our most intimate circles and within ourselves.

Not all Christian schools are the same. Some exist to escape the evils of the world. Others simply add a Christian veneer to a *neutral* curriculum. Still others accept Christ as Lord of all aspects of school life. Click To Tweet

Holistic Christian Education

It’s not just daily devotions, weekly chapels and Bible classes that make a Christian school.  Neither is the Christian content in the curriculum the full picture.  All aspects of the school fall under the Lordship of Christ: our understanding and use of technology, our approach to learning assistance and special education, the way discipline is carried out, how budgets are finalized and decisions about the programs we offer.

Human experience in this world cannot simply be divided up between good and evil where we, as Hamlet says, “Throw away the worser part of it, and live the purer with the other half.” Nor can we live as if Christ is something we can add to the surface of culture like icing on a cake.  Rather, Christ’s Lordship is at the core of every aspect of life—and this would include the way we educate our children.

Rather than isolating children, as the guest pastor supposed, a Christian education is about preparing students to meaningfully engage the world with a full understanding of the gospel.

Read: Why Christian Education? (Part 2): Three Objections to Christian School

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