Reformed Critical Realism as A Dynamic Intellectual Paradigm for Christian Educators

The Center for the Advancement of Christian EducationThe CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

ClassroomIt’s wonderful when you observe Christian educators make the giant leap forward in realizing that education is not neutral but is always driven by beliefs, as they come to understand the domineering influence, even in Christian schools, of the religion of secularism on pedagogical theory and practice. It then often turns to distress when you observe these same educators running backwards and forwards between modernity and postmodernity, like a chicken with its head chopped off, as they try desperately to find a philosophical framework that is an authentic Christian expression of their beliefs. Though there are some useful things that can be said about modernism and postmodernism, and content-centered learning and child-centered education which are their education offspring, neither of them will satisfy Christians who want to honor God in their teaching and learning.

But there is real hope. Somehow, we need to share the joy and purpose that is found in the philosophical construct of reformed critical realism. As fervent Christian thinkers like Andrew Wright, Dirk Vollenhoven, Don Carson, Kevin Vanhoozer, and N. T. Wright have discovered, paradigms akin to reformed critical realism have a vital perspective with a threefold commitment:

  • First, the starting point or presuppositional commitment of reformed critical realism is the existence, authority and involvement of a knowable God who has revealed himself through His word including Jesus, and that all of life is lived out in obedience or disobedience to his authority. In other words, reformed critical realism has an a priori commitment to commencing any discussion from a declared Christian worldview position.
  • Second, a commitment to the sustainer-creator God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ and in his faithful written word, the Bible, which declares God’s truth. This means that truth and reality exist independent of our grasp of them, but fully dependent upon a creator-redeemer-sustainer God.
  • Third, a recognition that we as fallible human beings only grasp a small portion of who God is, and that our understanding of God, his kingdom and his word must be critiqued as the constructs of sinful people and not be mistaken for divine precepts.

This perspective provides a gracious relief from being chained to the two prevailing perspectives that are antithetical to Christianity, offers a credible intellectual foundation for Christian thought, and provides an exciting context in which Christian scholars and educators can imaginatively shape and explore what it means to approach teaching and learning in a humble but confident manner that provides faithful, dynamic, Christ-centered, compassionate understanding and real hope in areas such as curriculum design and classroom practice. You can read more about my reflections on reformed critical realism here.

As already noted, whether we realize it or not, what we as Christian educators do in our classrooms is shaped by systems of belief, usually dominated by the fundamentalist (ie as if it’s beyond critique) religion of secularism in its modern or postmodern garb. Exposing these assumptions, and replacing them with ones that are authentically Christian, as reformed critical realism allows, provides us and our students with, as Jamie Smith puts it, an alternate vision of human flourishing. Such an exposé and replacement requires principals and school boards to resource and require sustained, communal, longitudinal professional development for teachers and school board members. This is not an optional extra. It is core business if we are to be genuine and faithful in what and how we teach in Christian schools.


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