Philosophy would have us think on the deepest possible levels of our existence and that of the world. Literally the love of wisdom, Philosophy exhorts us to learn, and learn some more the core and basic nature of our purpose. Historically, this lofty exhortation has been relegated to the greatest minds. Locke, Epicurus, Aquinas, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, and others have sought to explain man, his nature, and his existence. They searched, they debated, and they wrote; and the masses read. The winds of intellectual thought, available knowledge, and the prevailing school of thought at the time, blew through these great minds to arrive at truths that were sometimes true, but often times folly at the hands of brilliance; a true chasing after the wind.
As time winds on, philosophies ebb, flow, multiply, and fester. Progressive thought has permeated our educational system like a frog in a pot. Gradual seeping of humanistic philosophy into the framework of our curricula has almost inperceptibly eroded absolute Truth, and what we are left with is a modern philosophy of education that seeks to elevate folly and suppress solid, Judeo/Christian principles that had in the not-so-distant past successfully guided generations. The effects are ubiquitous and terminal. An entire generation has sat under the tutelage of educators who have been duped into believing that man is at the center of existence, and therefore his happiness and equity are the end goal. Gone is absolute truth. Gone is a celebration of integrity and work ethic. Gone is a sense of sacrifice and a looking to the future. In their place are relativism, tolerance, narcissism, momentary happiness, elevation of entertainment, shifting morals, and a strenuous effort to see to it that everyone gets a fair shake. The advent of technology has accelerated this erosion of philosophy at an astonishing pace. Educators can barely keep up. How are we, then, as Christian educators, to discern truth from folly? And more importantly, how are we, as Christian educators who are competing for the minds and hearts of our students, to convey truth and not folly? Simply put, this daunting charge can only be accomplished through a serious, constant, and prayerful study of God’s Word as we seek to “ascertain facts or truth, and the causes of things” (Webster).
It is essential for Christian educators (actually, all Christians) to become biblical scholars. Granted, we are all endowed with various levels of gifts and abilities, but being ignorant of God’s Word is not an option for any Christian, let alone a Christian teacher. Puritan Cotton Mather declared, “Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of Heresy” (Moreland 16). If Timothy asserted that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV), then it is a given that a teacher who is a follower of Christ would cultivate habits that would develop in them the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV). Sound theology is priority in the conveying of the knowledge of Christ and His creation to the students with whom God has entrusted us. Sound theology not only fosters a growing love for the Lord, it lends credibility to teaching, and compels students to realize that their teacher is imparting Truth, and not personal opinion or the opinion of others. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them to realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact-not gas about ideals and points of view” (Lewis 88).
Here Lewis is talking about apologetics, but it can certainly be applied to teaching. Our goal as Christian educators is to disciple students so that they see the objective and absolute Truth of God’s Word, as opposed to a nice, moral opinion that they should consider when choosing their path as they grow. The Christian educator’s ability to convey his or her beliefs as Truth is greatly dependent on the extent to which he or she develops a clear and firm understanding of Scripture.
TRUTH NOT SUBJECT
Because many Christian educators have been raised in the public school system and secular colleges, they have been trained to teach individual subjects. In other words, the goal of teaching is to convey knowledge of a particular slice of the world. As Christian educators, however, the end goal is to point students to the Creator, and through knowledge of the creation, to develop a realization of how holy and beautiful He is! In most educational settings, as Philip Yancey writes,
“The created world has lost its sacredness. (Even) Christians have abandoned it, not to paganism, but to physics, geology, biology, and chemistry. We too have cleaved nature from the supernatural” (Greene 47).
When we keep in the forefront of our understanding that all absolute truth is God’s Truth, then we will be effective in teaching all subjects through the lens of Scripture.
For our students, some subjects lend themselves more easily to seeing the Creator in them than others. Science, for example, obviously points to an intelligent, omnipotent, creative Being. Other subjects, however, take a bit more explanation. (Again, it behooves the Christian educator to immerse himself in the constant and vigilant study of scripture and theology.) Math, for example, may not evoke in a student’s mind lists of scripture, but math is replete with illustrations of the character of God! Students are fond of saying that they hate math. It is important to point out to those students that saying they hate math is saying that they hate a very central part of God’s nature. Math is in everything God created. It is inescapable. When children are taught this and other truths about Creation and the nature of God, they may not be as quick to complain about learning. As a child’s (and an educator’s) knowledge and love of the Lord grows, his enthusiasm for learning more about the world God created grows with him. We must be ever intentional in imparting God’s truth in everything that we teach.
CHILDREN ARE IMAGE BEARERS
“Education is the process whereby we learn to act like God and to do His work. As we commune with God in that process, and as we study His creation, we are able to do the work that He has called us to do, and do it in His ways” (Graham 52). Teaching is a high calling, and it is a difficult one. Christian teaching calls us even higher. In those neatly arranged desks, on those small uncomfortable chairs, sit a couple of dozen individuals who bear the image of God. The calling becomes higher still when we understand that those image bearers are fallen-and so are we. When we understand that God calls us to educate each uniquely created individual soul, we may be more compelled to cover ourselves and our colleagues in prayer as we seek the Lord together in our charge to bring our students to an understanding of God’s creation and what their purpose is in it. Far too many teachers burn out because they endeavor to teach subjects and not children. To teach children is to understand that God has gifted every person with styles of learning, strengths, interests, and bents. The fallen nature of our image bearers makes it challenging to focus on cultivating Christ within them. Our tendency is to discipline the individuality out of them so that they conform. A wise educator will prayerfully discern how to reach each child in order to foster their own individual reflection of Christ.
God’s Principle of Individuality says that “our God is Himself an Individual who made us in His image for a providential purpose. My unique individuality has a purposeful destiny that can only be fulfilled through Christ's redemption” (face.net). Psalm 139:13-14 affirms this Principle of Individuality by exclaiming, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (ESV). Seeing each child as a unique and precious individual created for a specific purpose is a work of the Holy Spirit, and is yet another example of why we as educators must endeavor to remain steadfast in our study of God’s Word and to a commitment to prayer!
THE GOAL IS CHRIST
In our lesson plans, we list objectives for each lesson. In our curriculum guides, we list goals for our courses. Goals and objectives give us a framework that guides our teaching toward the completion of a subject. They keep us focused, organized and on track. As we build, year by year, on the knowledge we impart, we must remember that there is nothing more important than the knowledge-the fundamental awareness- of the supremacy of Christ! We must, along with Paul, bring our students to an attitude that says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV).
Each class, from the first day of Kindergarten to the last day of senior year, should begin and end with Christ. Our students should know, without a doubt, that He is supreme, and that “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV). Yes, we want our students to be knowledgeable, to be leaders, to influence their world, to be able to reason, think, and act with integrity. In the end, though, none of it matters if they do not have the highest view of Christ. John Piper said,
“What is sin? It is the glory of God not honored .The holiness of God not reverenced. The greatness of God not admired. The power of God not praised. The truth of God not sought. The wisdom of God not esteemed. The beauty of God not treasured. The goodness of God not savored. The faithfulness of God not trusted. The commandments of God not obeyed. The justice of God not respected. The wrath of God not feared. The grace of God not cherished. The presence of God not prized. The person of God not loved.” (desiringgod.org)
The most crucial element of a Christian philosophy of education is to, on a daily basis, through the imparting of knowledge and through example, point our students to Christ.
It is a sacred calling to teach. It is one of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12. When this gift meets the training of children, and is used for the express purpose of glorifying God, we make an impact on the world for Christ. When we are able to cultivate the unique gifts of each child, help him to see his purpose in God’s plan, when we are able to bring a child to a realization of the beauty and reality of Jesus Christ through the teaching of His creation, we can be sure our philosophy is sound. This high, sacred calling is achieved only by a reliance on the One who called us, and through an intentional, vigilant, and consistent study of Scripture and theology. What a privilege to guide children to an understanding that will allow them to join us in enjoying our Creator forever!
Piper, John. "Desiring God." Desiring God. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.
"Foundation for American Christian Education." Foundation for American Christian Education. Foundation for American Christian Education, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.
Graham, Donovan L. Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications, 2003. Print.
Greene, Albert E. Reclaiming the Future of Christian Education: A Transforming Vision. Colorado Springs, CO: Association of Christian Schools International, 1998. Print.
Holy Bible ESV. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. Print.
Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Moreland, James Porter, and Dallas Willard. Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997. Print.
Webster, Noah. Noah Webster's First Edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language. Anaheim, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967. Print.