We were pleased to receive considerable positive feedback regarding Pastor John Lee’s sermons on Christian Education. Below are a selection of the thought-provoking questions from readers and responses by Pastor Lee. Thank you for engaging with CACE as we question and explore the challenging role of Christian Education and strive “to narrow that gap between the ideal and reality” as Pastor Lee so thoughtfully stated.
Q: Is it true that without explicit reference to God as creator of all, academic subjects are not (and cannot be?) understood by properly or in their fullness, even by Christians?
Lee: With John Calvin I would argue that true and solid wisdom consists of two interrelated parts: knowledge of self and knowledge of God. Certainly a Christian in a public school setting can grow in both sets of knowledge. But I would argue that the project is necessarily difficult. A public education derives knowledge of God via general revelation, but is legally required to avoid God’s special revelation. For me, the real deficiency in public education is not the introduction of exotic ‘pagan’ ideas into education (c.f. fundamentalists’ concerns with public sex ed. or evolutionary scientific perspectives), but the muting of the essential narrative in which all true ideas cohere. Public education can teach the spokes (English, Biology, Math) but is required by law not to explore the hub (God).
Q: Does Christian education primarily consist of a “what” (educational content) and a “how” (its delivery) or is it better understood as being about processes in people and relationships? Is it about knowing the most important answers in advance or getting a glimpse of things that must remain mysterious but act as goad to a lifelong quest and more questions?
Lee: I think ideally Christian Ed. aims for a “both/and” — an embodied learning community in which the “what” (content), “how” (delivery) and “who” (community) work together. When any of those elements is lacking, a student’s education suffers .
Q: Can what you called “creational wisdom” violate “sphere sovereignty?” Can the partnership between families, churches and schools become too close and fail to recognize their different and distinct goals? Is the overlapping rather than intersecting of spheres a violation of their individual integrity, such as when Christian school attendance is made compulsory?
Lee: My concern here is less with the overlap between the spheres than with the balance between them. Increasingly I am seeing Christian schools implement peer community groups (approximating the family), and a rich offering of chapel + Bible studies (approximating church) – so that school becomes not just the educational leg of a three-legged stool, but the whole piece of furniture. That dynamic is compounded because of the sheer amount of time schools claim of a student’s waking hours (to the detriment of family and church). In this area, schools open their doors (and coaches expect) for athletes to lift weights at 6:00 AM with practices/games/musical rehearsals, etc. running to late in the evening Monday-Saturday. Increasingly, students in musical groups are also required to attend performances in area churches every other Sunday. Time is a zero-sum commodity. When schools claim that much time from students’ lives, church and family time does suffer.
Q: What is the right understanding and public witness of covenantal theology as applied to schooling in a diverse community with very different types of Christians and people of other faiths or no faith? Can we be particularistic, inviting, engaged, and inclusive? Are we too often creating injuries and rifts, even in and between children from Christian homes? What actual models of success and failure can we look at to aspire to — and take responsibility for reforming?
Lee: The CRC’s study committee report on Christian Ed. realizes a tension here. The report lists three pillars for Christian Ed: Covenant, Kingdom, and Mission. Of those, “mission” is the new kid on the block – recognizing both the diversity of communities within and around today’s Christian schools.
Q: If what is really meant by “Christian Education” is “Protestant Education” as distinct from “Catholic Education” but instruction is not generally of a confessional, doctrinal, denominational nature anymore, then what is the Protestant contribution as distinct from Catholic education? Especially if “Christian (broadly Protestant) education” does not aim to produce or admit only specifically Protestant students, is it engaged in an ecumenical activity that actually exceeds that of the CRC? Should non-reformed or Catholic students be evangelized, or should they be embraced as Christians? Should “Christian (broadly Protestant) education” be more catholic in its exploration of Christian traditions and resources?
Lee: At the denominational level, there continues to be rich dialogue between, for example, the best CRC theologians and their Catholic counterparts. (See for example: “This Bread of Life” or “These Living Waters“). I would not use the language of “evangelize” with regard to such conversations. I would prefer to see such conversations as in-house dialogues between siblings who agree (usually) on essential matters and are seeking common understanding and the leading of the Holy Spirit on other matters of remaining disagreement.
Q: What drives quality in a Christian school when free market forces are not acting much on it due to a substantial degree of compulsory attendance and church+philanthropic funding sources?
Lee: In the past, Christian schools may have been able to coast. Increasingly, however, most find themselves in extremely competitive situations where constituency loyalty is no longer a given. I would argue that such dynamics can drive quality as well as compromise. That’s why discussions like this are so valuable.
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