Introduction and Personal Accounts
In the last four years, while moving from place to place around the world, my wife and I have had the opportunity to attend and seek fellowship in many different kinds of churches. In most of these churches, we found the emphases to be on personal salvation and the idea that God is available to make our lives safe and comfortable; we’ve seen some interest in helping the poor, but very little context as to why this is important, and we have noticed an almost complete lack of shalom-bringing and Kingdom focus. We found few fellowships consistent with our reformed Christian education mission. This may sound harsh, but it is real.
Of course, there have been notable exceptions. One such exception is Christ Church, an Anglican church just inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The worship is vibrant and the preaching focuses on the believer’s role in bringing heaven to earth, and we found the ancient liturgical practices meaningful. So I should not be surprised that I have found Anglican cleric N.T. Wright such a joy to read!
Wright’s reformed views include the following: God plans to use his people—first Israel and now all the children of Abraham through Christ—to rescue the human race from slavery to sin while on earth, eternal damnation after death, and the full extent of the creation’s brokenness (Paul refers to this as “groaning”). It is this third point that most concerns us here, although one certainly cannot de-emphasize the first two.
Listen to Wright, “The inheritance is not heaven. Nor is it Palestine…. The inheritance is the whole, renewed, restored creation. I will say it again: the whole world is now God’s holy land.” Through the power of the resurrection and the pentecostal Spirit, the remaking and restoring of creation has already begun and “Jesus’ followers are invited not only to benefit from it but to share in the new project it unleashes” (Surprised by Scripture, pages 93-94). In one of the clearest manifestos of the role of Christian education, Wright says, “if we are already in Christ, already indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we cannot say we will wait until God does it in the end. We must be God’s agents in bringing, at the very least, signs of that renewal in the present.”
God, the Learner, and Christian Education
Who is God: some vague, faceless force, a cosmic bully needing to be placated, or a God of loving faithfulness? How we answer this question is foundational. If you are a reformed Christian educator, you know the answer, one very different from our secular counterparts! Wright points out that the learner is made in the image of that God, who is the creator of creation. As the image of his/her creator, the learner is called to reflect the wisdom and care of that creator and help reflect the praises of his creation back to him (Surprised by Scripture, page 158).
How important it is to know who God is and in whose image we are made! It is necessary for us as learners to know not only our relationship to the creator, but also through that creator our relationship to everything created. Certainly confusion about who God is leads to distortion in learning.
Let’s use mathematics as a practical example of this important question we should be asking ourselves: “How does a learner faithfully reflect the creator’s care and wisdom back to the creator and out into the world?” The setting is a seventh grade math class in California during the drought-induced water crisis. The faucet in the back of the room is leaking. The class uses its study of rate of flow to determine the amount and cost of the water being wasted and the effects on school resources and the environment. Once posed, the students did not find it difficult to address and answer the question, “In relation to our findings, how do we reflect the wisdom and love of God back to him and out into the world?”
The Learner and the Disciplines: It’s All about Relationship
Reflecting our creator, the creation is complex. In education, we tend to separate and analyze without resynthesizing and without addressing the complex relationships among the disciplines. Wright points out that disciplines are not isolated entities, but each is a part of a complex web of interrelated connections and relationships. In fact, the learner is also part of the same web (Surprised by Scripture, page 158). As noted above, all of the disciplines and all learners are related to each other and to the loving, faithful God who is maintaining and sustaining everything.
I am reminded of a study I read many years ago. I no longer have the reference, but the study asked middle school students a few questions. First, they were asked, “Do you like school? Why or why not?” Most answered that they liked school because their teachers used interesting lessons that made school enjoyable. Then they were asked, “How are your lessons connected or related to each other? Generally, these middle school students were stumped. Not only did they struggle with how science might be related to English, but they even struggled with how Tuesday’s math lesson related to Wednesday’s! We cannot assume that just because we understand how the disciplines, or lessons within the disciplines, are related, that our students are making those connections. And if they are not making those connections, we can be certain they are not making the connections relevant to Part 2 above.
Let’s develop teaching teams and strategies to proactively design lessons that lead students to become agents of transformation who faithfully reflect the creator’s wisdom and care back to him and out into the world.
– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist