One of the foundational questions that every Christian school needs to respond to is that of purpose – Why do we exist? The answer, for some Christian schools, has been deeply rooted in the concept of whether they are a covenantal Christian school or a missional Christian school.
Intermountain Christian is asking this question as they re-story. For ICS, and for many Christian schools, their story (as defined by their origin and educational philosophy) comes out of a covenantal approach. An overly simplistic definition of the concept of covenantal Christian education would be the imbedded faith of the parents who are choosing to enroll their child(ren) at the local covenantal Christian school. Schools who claim the banner of covenantal Christian education will likely have an admission policy that requires at least one parent to be a believer, living out a faith-filled life that has its identity in Christ Jesus. Dan Beerens traces this model back in his paper, Covenantal vs. Missional Enrollment, which can be accessed here. Dan notes that “Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper used the theology of the Covenant of Grace as foundational thinking to give parent-society Christian schools a rationale in theology; in essence, children of believing parents were a part of God’s covenant of grace and parents needed to follow the admonitions of Deut 6:1-9, Psalm 78:1-8, and Ephesians 6:4 to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord.”
A missional approach to Christian schooling is also seen in the admission policies of schools who claim this title. Students of non-believing parents are allowed to enroll their students. Some schools require parents to approve the theological underpinnings of the school by signing a statement of agreement, a physical artifact that states the core beliefs/values of the school. A missional approach might acknowledge the perceived decline of the traditional church-home-school model that many Christian schools were founded on. Missional schools might see themselves as potential pathways to bring families to salvation. Christian schools that are “seeker-friendly”, according to blogger Harold Klassen, can be the place to set the stage for presenting truth in a less threatening way than the church. A youth pastor friend recently told me that schools have so many more opportunities to share the Gospel than he does, and can share it in so many different ways.
So, which one is correct? A covenantal approach or a missional one? I don’t think the question is that simple for ICS or for any Christian school.The response to this question is so much deeper than an admissions policy. I believe it is rooted in theology, the coherent system of Christian beliefs and practices that a school adheres to. We should be able to best see a Christian school’s response to this question through the pedagogical activities that happen each day in the classroom. Every pedagogy, the methods and practice of teaching, assumes a belief about anthropology, or what it means to be human. And, every anthropology assumes a theology. The school board, administration, faculty and staff need to share this theology. It needs to be clearly stated and communicated.
I believe this is the conversation that answers the question of “Why do we exist?” Is your school having this conversation? InterMountain Christian is…
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.