At our recent Engage conference, two friends from “inside” Calvinist Reformed day school education addressed us in keynote speeches: Dr. Neal Plantinga and Ron Polinder. Growing up in and working in the Dutch Christian day school tradition, they helped us see the strengths and weaknesses of 100+ years of our approach. The next two Engage speakers, Dr. Justin Bailey and Dr. Lynn Swaner, were friends from “outside” the typical circles: they were raised with different theological perspectives and school experiences, so from a different angle they, too, see the strengths and weaknesses of our tradition and current practice. What a gift to have four talented friends help us celebrate what is good and to suggest areas for growth!
In the video below, Justin, Associate Professor at Dordt University, suggests that the greatest contribution Christian education can make is to prepare students to become skilled interpreters of our world. Our job in Christian schools is to help students recognize that, while they inhabit a world tainted by sin, they can lead others toward faith, love, and hope through postures of curiosity, discernment, and presence.
Schools of faith will resist reductionism as exemplified by the one-line social media analysis, will help students tolerate ambiguity and complexity, and will operate with intellectual humility. We don’t need to have all the answers. We can be curious because we are rooted in God’s faithful love and sovereignty.
Schools of love recognize “the complex glory of creation and the beauty of the ordinary.” As someone from outside the Dutch Reformed culture, Justin sees intellectualism, triumphalism, and tribalism as flaws; he is concerned that these things incline us to dismissal and suspicion. He advocates for a non-dismissive discernment that allows anyone of good faith to join the conversation and recognizes the dignity of everyone bearing God’s image. Whereas these relationships may be marked by creative tension, Jesus alone remains our judge and model of non-dismissive discernment.
Schools of hope require that we know who we are so that we can be a non-anxious presence to others, resulting in a grounded openness. Justin points to Jesus as the example of being fully grounded as the dearly beloved Son of God, thus being able to enter into hostile cultural settings. He suggests that cultivating experiences where our students are strangers may help them practice both their grounding and their openness to others.
In this ever changing world, are we preparing students to be interpreters of the gospel, offering interpretations that are “the most powerful and persuasive, illuminating the world with their beauty, goodness and truth”? I encourage you to view this video and then to challenge yourself and others through the helpful questions Justin provided:
- What are some of the biases (intuitions, predispositions, postures, core commitments) that shape the way you pursue your vocation in Christian education? How do these biases (interpreting fast) relate to the longer and slower work of Christian interpretation (interpreting slow)?
- Of the three postures (non-reductive curiosity, non-dismissive discernment, and non-anxious presence), which is the most difficult to cultivate? What are the forces that work against them, and how can we develop them more fruitfully?
- How does the statement “your interpretation is your life” shift the way we think about the educational task? What would it mean for your school to function as a sort of Interpreter’s House (from Pilgrim’s Progress), seeking to form Christian imaginations for the journey ahead?
Very thought provoking. Particularly the idea that our tendency for reductionism leads to a false sense of security that we are in control. That this lacks both faith and curiosity. May we strive for faith based on God who is our secure base and safe haven, hope where we may remain connected with others without absorbing their anger, and love where we recognise the inherent dignity of all people, and may we inspire in our students a lived interpretation of the gospel.
This speech is even better hearing it a second time, after hearing it live the first time. In fact, at my age, I probably should listen yet again. We are having trouble in our tradition with the discipline and skill of “differentiation.” This superb presentation calls us to think and teach mindful of habits that we need to personally practice, and cultivate in our Christian schools. My daughter Shawna puts it another way, “I want my kids to be critical thinkers, not critical of thinking.”