Recommitting to a Christian Philosophy and Community, Part 1

The idea of mission is deeply rooted in Christian thinking and the Latin theological concept of mission dei, the mission of God. The Christian school community, centered on the person of Jesus Christ, has historically been on mission to extend and build the kingdom through its ministry to children. In obedience to Psalm 78:4-7, God’s  people are to “tell the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done…that the generation to come might know…that they should put their confidence in God” (NASB).

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The apostle Paul expressed his mission when he wrote, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). This mission is the mission of Christian schooling, and it is to this purpose that Christian educators are called.

 

Mission and purpose are not unique to Christian schools since all schools and their respective curriculums are designed to fulfill a purpose.

Neil Postman declares, “There is no surer way to bring an end to schooling than for it to have no end.” He explains, “For school to make sense, the young, their parents, and their teachers must have a god to serve, or, even better, several gods. If they have none, school is pointless” (1995, 4).

Throughout the history of education there has always been a central narrative (god) that is the focal point of a curriculum and its design.

Examples of these “gods” include democracy, the economic engine, the American dream, science, technology, and multiculturalism. Each god is based in a narrative that is designed to give meaning and hope to the world (1995). These narratives are grounded in worldviews and their belief in the means to “the good life.” None of these are intrinsically bad, but when they become the unifying element of curriculum they “dethrone Christ” and become idols.

Idols can also stem from aspects of a program that have a valuable purpose and place in curriculum but over time begin to dominate the culture of the school. Should good things like athletics, the arts, or an academic emphasis like STEM become the center of attention, they may likewise become a competing narrative. This would be especially true when they mirror the values or practices of the world.

Christian schools must be proactive in their effort to resist the world’s idols. In 1983, Herbert Schlossberg warned that the apathy, pessimism, and despair of American society are rooted in a population that increasingly worships idols instead of God, the Creator. His book is a call for biblical remnant that will stand up against the world’s systems. Three decades later this call for action is more critical than ever.

One of Schlossberg’s most poignant statements expresses his belief that “the best [element] of the Christian school movement…is a determined No! by parents to the homogenization of American life, a recognition that the model to which their children are intended to be conformed [by public education] has become evil” (1983, 310). One has to wonder what the primary purpose of Christian schooling is in the minds of today’s parents. If the mission of God is to be accomplished, a commitment to a biblical philosophy must be continually renewed, lived out, and monitored.

I cannot reflect upon a Christian philosophy of education without hearing the voices of faithful mentors in my own life. It was Dr. Gene Garrick that introduced me to Christian school philosophy. He not only knew it, but he lived it. Every year he reviewed the elements of Christian school philosophy with Norfolk Christian’s staff and parents. Dr. Garrick believed that everyone needed to internalize the purpose and philosophy if the school was to stay on course.

What would I now say if I were addressing a school community? What follows is a brief review of the enduring ideas that I deem critical today. As I reflected upon these issues, I found myself returning to the pages of Dr. Garrick’s unpublished philosophy notebook.

Worldview

A worldview is the product of every learner’s education. This eliminates the myth that education can be or is neutral. Worldview answers life’s big questions, and these answers are learned through that means of a school’s curriculum. It is worldview that addresses the “whys” of life. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is life’s purpose? Does the world have meaning? Philosophy stated most simply is the study of these questions.

“The kind of heart one has determines the world view. If this heart is not Christian, the worldview cannot be Christian. Christian philosophy begins with a Christian consciousness which comes through regeneration. This comes through the revelation of God in His Word” (Garrick, 1985, 5).

Christian worldview is ultimately dependent on rebirth and the ability of the learner, through the Holy Spirit, to have the mind of Christ and think Christianly (1 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Reality (Metaphysics)

In a culture in which idols abound, the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – must be made central to all of life and learning. “Christian philosophy is the romance of seeing all things as one whole with God as Ultimate” (Fakkema 1953, 5). God is creator and all things reflect Him, and in light of His sovereignty all things are dependent on and subservient to Him.

The apostle Paul emphasized the centrality of Jesus in his letter to the Colossians: “For by Him all things were created both in the heavens and on earth…and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Jesus is therefore the curriculum’s coherence or integrating factor. In Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). It is in him that we can be released from the power of sin and “made complete,” and it is Jesus that is the “head over all rule or authority” (2:10).

Dr. Jack Layman illustrates the place of Jesus within his lectures on pursuit of truth through hermeneutics (2002). In Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens, Plato points upward in search for philosophical ideals while Aristotle reaches down to the earthly plain to uncover truth within nature. Plato’s transcendent ideals provided meaning but lacked verification, while Aristotle could verify his ideas but he could not provide ultimate meaning.

John, in his gospel, solves this philosophical dilemma when he writes, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt amount us” (1:14). Jesus entered the world to provide both meaning and verification. In a society that does not acknowledge Jesus as God or the Truth, the Christian school must glorify Jesus in everything and seek to establish His rightful place in the hearts and minds of students.

Knowledge and Truth (Epistemology)

In a culture that denies the existence of absolute truth, the Christian school must stand for objective truth as revealed in Scripture (John 17:17). The school cannot neglect the Word of God and must teach it not only with accuracy but with skill and the power of the Holy Spirit. Students must be guided to think critically and follow the example of the Bereans whose habit it was to examine everything they heard to make sure that it aligned with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). All disciplines and the concepts therein are to be examined and interpreted under the authority of God’s Word and Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:1-15). A biblically integrated curriculum is therefore an imperative.

Used by permission.  Article appeared in Christian School Education volume 18, Number 2 (2015).

Part 2 of this article will be published on Friday.

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Milton V. Uecker, EdD, serves as a professor at Columbia, International University and director of the Lowrie Center for Christian School Education, www.lowriecenter.com. His more than 45 years of teaching and administration have focused on the nature and needs of young children and the foundations of education.