Saturday, March 23, 2013

Christian Education: Simple Truth


18 years ago I was a freshman in college and my roommate introduced me to a little-known Canadian band called Hokus Pick Manouver. These guys are Christians, and they don't really pull any punches, but they also don't take themselves too seriously. The have a silly song called "Simple Song" on their album Pick It Up. Here, give it a listen...

For those of us in Christian education, I think this is something we need to think about, and talk about.

How shall we profess the Truth to our students?



I am periodically part of a Twitterchat for educators on Saturday mornings (#rechat -- check it's thought provoking!) This morning's topic was interesting and challenging: How shall we approach teaching civic and social issues? How shall we teach social justice? What is the teacher's role in this: inspiration? or indoctrination?

There were several different worldviews being expressed in the conversation, and as a person of faith it was interesting to hear such a wide variety of perspectives being shared. And despite the diversity of worldviews, much of the discussion centered around the importance of listening, and engaging students in discussion, and honestly exploring these sorts of issues. Our conversation was civil and wholesome and beneficial--a great modeling for what discussing potentially controversial topics ought to look like, even amongst people with varying perspectives and backgrounds. And that was a generally agreed-upon summary of those involved: when these issues come up in school, we ought not shy away from them, but engage our students' questions.

I was impressed by this. I made no secret of the fact that I was speaking from a Christian perspective, and I was welcomed to the table. Others had what was clearly a secular-humanist perspective, one participant openly admitted her Jewish faith, one spoke so favorably of Islam I am quite sure he was Muslim, or at least open to it. But I was impressed by the openness and willingness to listen exhibited by my fellow tweeters. Civil discourse, even though there was surely disagreement about some of the ideas being shared.

This got me thinking a bit about how it would be to have such a conversation between a group of Christian educators. I wonder if we would all agree on things?

Perhaps, but I wonder if our openness about our perpectives in my chat this morning allowed for our discussion to flow?

My fear with a group of fellow Christians is that we might think we all agree on things.



I once had a conversation with a friend who told me about her son's school experience in a Christian school. He had good teachers, teachers who clearly cared about shaping their students' faith development. But my friend shared an interesting anecdote from his elementary school days. The conversation she recounted between them went something like this:

Mom: "Hi Son; how was school today?"

Son: "Hey Mom. Pretty good, but I realized something today."

Mom: "What's that, Son?"

Son: "I'm not part of the 'we.'"

Mom: "What do you mean?"

Son: "Well, when my teacher says, 'We believe this or that...' just isn't always what I believe."

Isn't that something? To have that kind of clarity and self-knowledge in elementary school?

It just really gets me wondering about our choices for how we teach. There are a lot of times when our work as Christian Educators borders on indoctrination, whether intentionally or not. And I wonder if this collective "We" might be part of it.



Think about how often things like these might be said in Christian schools:
  • "We vote pro-life."
  • "We don't believe in evolution."
  • "We wouldn't vote for a Democrat.
  • "We go to this college and not that college."
  • "We don't listen to that kind of music."
  • "We don't read books by that author."
I'm wondering about this, because--as my friend's experience illustrates--not all of us are part of the "We." And what are we really teaching our students then?



Here's the thing: I believe there is such a thing as Truth. The trouble is we often--even among Christians--disagree about the details. The examples I list above are just a few. I know Christians who believe God created the world in six, literal 24-hour days, and I know Christians who believe God may continue to use evolution as a means of sustaining His creation. I know Christians who vote Democrat and Christians who vote Republican. I know Christians who decry fantasy literature like Harry Potter, and I know Christians who celebrate the allegorical richness of fantasy literature. 

via knowhimonline (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
I'm not trying to argue that one of these points is right and the other is wrong. But I think it's a real problem if teachers in Christian schools make assumptions that their students automatically think like them. Because even under the umbrella of Christendom, we don't all think the same thoughts and feel the same feelings. I'm not arguing for an anything-goes, we-all-believe-our-own-stuff postmodernist school of thought. What I'm saying is that perhaps it makes more sense for us to focus on Truth we all can agree on. Here are the sort of things I mean:
  • God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is.
  • God created all things good.
  • Human beings are created in the image of God, and reflect his attributes.
  • In the Fall, all of creation was twisted and tarnished.
  • Christ came to redeem all things.
  • Christ reigns over all things.
  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God.
  • The Church is the Body of Christ here on earth.
This short list is just a beginning--I'm sure there's much more about which all believers can agree. But the Truth of these is a point of commonality, a place where we can begin, because we can all agree on such ideas.

Maybe instead of creating more division and strife by trying to detail exactly how God created, we can agree on the Truth: God is an amazing creator and sustainer of this world.

Maybe instead of fighting over which party is right and putting down others who disagree with our personal stances, we can agree on the Truth: God is sovereign, and His will is always done, even in the midst of human brokenness.

Maybe instead of looking down our noses at one kind of literature or rabidly defending it, we can agree on the Truth: God has gifted His image bearers with a kind of creativity that reflects His own.

So long as we are keeping the Truth we agree on at the center, we should be able to disagree gracefully about the details and perhaps even encounter ideas that we hadn't considered before.



I think Christian schools are the perfect place to have arguments about controversial topics. (Not fights, mind you, but arguments in the finest sense.) We should be able to agree on the Truth, and then have conversations about these things that cause people to disagree. What better place to explore alternative perspectives, always holding them up to the light of Scripture? Students in Christian schools should have the opportunity to examine viewpoints other than the ones they might hold personally. And I think teachers should welcome these kinds of conversations in developmentally appropriate ways.

So long as we are careful to be sure we are majoring in majors, I think this is a perfect means of instructing students in the Truth. 

Don't get mixed up in-between; simple Truth is plainly seen.
 ~ Hokus Pick Manouver ~

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