This post offers more of the wisdom shared at last fall’s conference “Celebrating the Past, Imagining the Future.” As we planned for this event and considered speakers who could articulate the essence of Calvinist Reformed day school education, we quickly decided to invite Dr. Neal Plantinga. He is President Emeritus of Calvin Seminary and Senior Research Fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
Plantinga’s award-winning book Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living is one I highly recommend. Although written specifically about Christian higher education, it has frequently been used by K-12 educational leaders as part of staff development and new teacher orientation.
Every time I have heard Plantinga speak or preach, I have luxuriated in his gift of crafting language. He packs each sentence to the bursting point of meaning. In the 22-minute video linked below, Dr. Plantinga begins his conference speech by acknowledging that “much today deserves lament.” Life is not only disappointing in the little day-to-day encounters, but we witness constant brokenness in personal, societal, and creational realms.
Plantinga shares the lament expressed in Jeremiah but also the hope of shalom. Shalom is “the background vision for Christian education.” He calls Christian educators to be “the kinds of people who want shalom and work every day toward it–that is what a Christian education is all about.”
If I had to select the most compelling quotation from this speech, I would choose this one:
We want students to learn what they need to know to be useful to God in the great project of increasing the net amount of shalom in the world.
What is needed, then, in a Christian education? Plantinga suggests that knowledge, skills, and character are critical to develop in our students. The pursuit of shalom demands deep and broad understandings. Like a basketball team preparing for an opponent by studying that team’s strengths and weaknesses, “no Christian in the world hoping to be an agent of shalom can remain untaught–it simply won’t work!” As learners and agents of shalom, we must “climb inside the skins of others to understand human character.”
Plantinga closes with this vision for Christian education: “In all these [subject] areas, our students develop knowledge, skills, and character. Accordingly, they prepare to become citizens of the kingdom of God, agents, models and witnesses of shalom. . . . That is the main purpose of what we are all about.”
Enjoy this inspiring speech from Dr. Neal Plantinga.