This is part two of a guest blog written by CSI partner Dr. Richard Edlin, the director of Edserv International in Warrawong, Australia. What follows are discussion points for Christian schools raised by the imagination perspective presented in the earlier blog. Each point merits further discussion and critique by stakeholders in Christian school communities.
- There is such a thing as a Christian imagination. Imagination is not inherently evil; it is a part of the very character of God that he has graciously gifted to humanity. The responsibility of Christian school communities, as they nurture children with the challenge of the lordship of Christ over all creation, is to explore every subject— including the way imagination contributes to every key learning area— from a biblically faithful worldview or metanarrative perspective.
- Celebrate the imagination and the aesthetic. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are important subjects, but they are not the sum of the curriculum. When communities allow an economic rationalist perspective to dominate the curriculum space to the degree that aesthetic subjects are squeezed out or imaginative approaches to subjects are replaced by cerebral “teach-to-the-exam” routines, we are practicing an idolatrous pre-emptive capitulation that is detrimental to our students and detrimental to the vibrancy of our wider culture. Just as every child learns about science and arithmetic, so every child should learn about and practice age-specific music and the performing arts. They also should be allowed to explore key learning areas in contextualized, real-world settings that recognize the value of testing regimes, but are not artificially controlled by standardized testing.
- Allow imagination to permeate one’s content material and pedagogy. If, in fact, imagination is a part of the character of God that he has given to human beings, then as teachers we should feel liberated enough to allow the surprise of imagination to adorn our content material and our pedagogy. Furthermore, our own learning experience tells us that when our teachers (either parents at home or educators at school) balance trusted nurture with the imaginative and joyful surprise of the unexpected, the potential for meaningful learning increases enormously. The imagination-filled joy of learning among students is enhanced when accompanied by the imagination-filled joy of teaching among teachers.
- Don’t restrict imagination to the visual and performing arts. It’s interesting to note that in Genesis 2:9, when God made trees, the imaginative God also created vegetation with the aesthetic very much as a part of his creative activity. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). Imagination and the aesthetic are wonderful tools that God has given us to use in the exploration of every aspect of his world. All key learning areas can be enriched by the use of them.
- Use a sanctified imagination to view pedagogy differently. Research by Cooling and Green (2015) confirms the “Essence of Christian Schooling” survey conducted by Edlin among dozens of Christian teachers in Australasia. In both of these studies, the overwhelming majority of teachers in Christian schools imagine that the primary relationship between their Christian faith and their teaching is in the area of interpersonal relationships and so-called spiritual matters such as Bible memorization and personal salvation issues. These things are important, but the Christian school is not a church. Done properly and imaginatively, Christian school education within the subject areas themselves will challenge students with the hope-filled wonder of God and his world
Modern Christian teachers need to be encouraged to imagine their vocation differently—to see the worldview assumptions of education in general, the context of learning, and the very nature of the subjects they teach, as being deeply religious. There is no division between faith-based schooling and non-faith-based schools. All schools are faith-based in that they work out from convictions about what makes for good education. All schools have student outcomes in mind that reflect a certain set of beliefs about the world and our places and tasks in it. A Christian school will confess that because of common grace, its pedagogy has some commonalities with a secular approach, but at its hearts and in its goals, practices, and outcomes, a Christian pedagogy will also be distinctively different.
An awareness of this reality and the re-imagined exploration of a biblically authentic worldview in teacher professional development are essential for Christian schools to be true to their calling of challenging students with a celebration of the lordship of Christ over all of creation. Thus, for example, language instruction should not select content and contexts that assume that the primary reason for learning a foreign language is to be a more self-fulfilled tourist, but will have the biblical concept of service to the stranger in mind.
Imagination as God’s Gift
In my earlier blog, I wrote about Rajaram Bojji, who noted that imagination is an aspect of the very character of God endowed upon humanity when God made us in his own image. Every aspect of life is touched by it. The young couple in love looks forward to (i.e. imagines) a future life together. The grandmother and daughter play morning tea, pouring imaginary hot tea into imaginary cups and drinking it down with satisfying slurps and gulps. The architect listens to the priorities of town planners and imagines what their desires might look like in specific geographic settings, and draws up blueprints accordingly. The author, the poet, and the playwright all try to give expression in various forms to the imaginations of their minds. Railway engineers like Bojji imagine possibilities for overcoming geographic challenges to railway construction and design incredible constructions accordingly. Science teachers create imaginary models to explain principles and aspects of reality invisible to the naked eye. Musical directors choreograph dances to complement musical scores. Pious Christians, in daily prayer, have a biblically informed imagination of the just and merciful nature of their heavenly Father to whom they are praying. Imagination is everywhere.
But imagination has also been a tool of the devil. In our contemporary world, imagination is distorted and marred by sin. When left to its own deluded devices, imagination emanating from sinful human hearts, minds, and hands leads to selfish delusion, despair, and idolatry. One evening spent analyzing the advertising on television is enough to convince us of that.
We sin in our imaginations, as Jesus reminds us concerning adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:28). We are all God-seekers, but in our fallen state, we imagine God in our own image to suit our distorted desires. Therefore, the surprise and anticipation of creative imagination in the Christian school classroom will be tempered by the gentle guiding hand of the teacher, consistent with the school’s mission statements and graduate attributes. Despite its joyful adoption of imagination, the Christian school does not countenance unrestrained creativity which, because of the Fall, tends toward self-centered anarchy and a distorted understanding of the world.
In Christ, however, all things are made new. Through the imagination, we can empathize with others, and an imagination shaped by the lordship of Christ provides direction for a biblically faithful worldview and educational practice.
Imagination can be used to honor and serve God or to honor and serve a God substitute. There is no other alternative. A God-honoring imagination is a vital component of Christian schooling. When brought under the lordship of Christ, and when explored with playful passion and rigor in both a recreational and an academic sense, a redeemed imagination enriches life, declares God’s glory, and draws us closer to our Creator.
Christian educators who nurture children from the perspective of a godly, hope-filled imagination should inspire their students to soar above the limitations of youngsters’ own limited experience as these young people begin to dream about how God sees them, and the place and tasks he has for them in the world. This puts flesh on the bones when we legitimately claim for our Christian communities God’s promise to his flawed people in exile: “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). Imperfect teachers, led by a Christ-centered imagination, can help students imagine in their own developing understanding of the world what it means to know Christ, and “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
It is in this light that a Christ-honoring, hope-filled imagination, nurtured in every aspect of the life of the Christian school, can celebrate Paul’s claim (Ephesians 3:20) that God, by his power within us, and to his glory, is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ask or imagine” as we live purposeful lives for him.
– Richard J. Edlin