Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Aim of Christian Education

I have mentioned this before, but I believe that we need to seriously re-think the way we approach education in general and Christian education in particular. In order to do so, we need to ask ourselves some of the fundamental, foundational questions. One of those questions: what is the aim of Christian education?

I believe that Paul articulates well my personal feelings on the issue: the aim of Christian education is love (1 Timothy 1:5), and that love involves the values, thoughts, and behaviors of our students. In educational terms, this means instruction that targets the affective, cognitive and conative (commonly called the behavioral, but conation is actually a different issue) domains. I got there by looking at how Jesus dealt with the issue of education.

  1. When asked to summarize the law (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus begins with the shema. This calls us to love god involves the heart, soul and strength (depending on how you translate the words) but clearly refer to the effort of a person’s entire being and aspect. It involves their affections, their actions, their thoughts: everything! It is an entire life and community dedicated to this one purpose of loving God. He also says that the law rests on the other pillar of loving our neighbor. The reference to Leviticus 19:18 comes in the midst of a passage dealing with justice and impartiality with relation to fellow citizens. It calls for direct action that positively affects a neighbor. Therefore, loving God means to obey his commands and to apply that love in service to others.
  2. The law, according to Paul, served as a tutor (Galatians 3:24-4:7), as a guardian until something better came along. Jesus himself said he fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17-20): he is that something better. I believe one purpose of the law was to teach us how to contextualize the commands of God in a particular cultural setting. As such, Christian education concerns itself with understanding God’s commands and applying them according to the specific time and place in which they need application.
  3. Jesus’ parting command to the disciples, in the context of producing fruit, called his disciples to love one another (John 15:12–17). In doing so, Jesus made it clear that the disciples moved from the category of servant/slave to friend/family. In other words, in applying the love of God to our neighbor, it results in our neighbor becoming one of us. As we love one another, we show one of the marks of a true disciple which then brings us to the object of our love: God.

So the circle goes: love God -> love others -> love one another -> love God, which is the aim of Christian education. This also demonstrates the reason why I believe that Christian education has a strong evangelistic component. The transformation of “others” to “one another” in Christian education means that we must carry out the educational task with a re-conciliatory attitude (incidentally, I believe this ties into the church as the body of Christ metaphor, but that’s for another day). This principle and aim works in the home, church, and in academia.

Leaders in Christian education: love as you lead others to love.

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Defining Christian Education

While having a discussion with someone about the differences between the leadership degree and Christian education degree at Dallas Theological Seminary, they made the comment that (paraphrased) people who want to teach Sunday school or lead children’s ministries should choose Christian education (with the implication that anyone else should choose leadership). I have this discussion often, unfortunately. This common misconception plagues us (particularly in protestant evangelical circles) because it shows we really don’t understand Christian education. Today, lets try to remedy some of that by giving a couple of definitions.

Definition #1: In the interest of representing him well, I need to note that I gleaned this particular information from Dr. Mike Lawson, former chair of the Christian Education department at DTS, from several conversations with him and his students. He answers this problem by defining a Christian and defining education, boiling the essence of the definition into a core issue or phrase. Given our conversations, I suspect the root of his Christian education philosophy comes from Deuteronomy 6.

  • He describes a Christian as one who loves God through Jesus. Scriptural support comes from John 14:6 (I am the way…), Matthew 22:37 (love the lord your God…), and 1 Corinthians 15 (the definition of the Gospel).
  • He describes education as teaching which occurs at all times any by any means. I know that he recognizes education is more than teaching, but includes learning, curriculum, programs, and the environment, to name a few issues. However, at it’s essence, and when it comes to the actions and responsibility of the teacher, teaching is the main focus. Scriptural support comes from Deuteronomy 6, and particularly verses 6 through 9.

Therefore, one can define Christian education as “Teaching others to love God, through Jesus, by any means and at all times.”

Definition #2: Without disagreeing with a man who has forgotten more than I will ever know about Christian education, I follow his lead but take a slightly broader definition of Christian education. Deliberately relying on not only my understanding of the Bible, but also a broader theological base, I come up with the following:

  • There is a God.
  • God reveals Himself through creation (the universe), Christ, and canon (scripture).
  • We respond to that revelation, Christ being the highest revelation of God.
  • The appropriate response to God’s revelation is to trust and accept that revelation, and then to alter our behavior, values and beliefs accordingly.

Therefore, I define Christian education as, “Teaching others to respond appropriately to God’s revelation.

To tip my hand, I do not assume that everyone (namely the students) within Christian education are actually Christian, and so I believe that Christian education retains an evangelistic mission. I, in part, derive this from Deuteronomy 4, where God gives the reasons for giving the law in the first place (to make you wise and to bring Him glory). I believe that if Christians educate well, that educational excellence will draw people in to marvel at the God we serve. I believe we can and should promote and propagate the gospel through excellence in education.

Christian education: more than teaching Sunday school, however you define it.

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Leadership in Christian Higher Education

I have observed an odd phenomenon.

If I wanted to hire someone to run my business, I’d look for a person who studied Business Administration (e.g. an MBA). If I wanted someone to run my hospital, I’d look for someone with a Masters of Healthcare Administration (MHA). If I wanted someone to run my non-profit organization or an agency of my government, I’d look for someone with a Master of Public Administration (MPA). So when I want someone to run my seminary, I’d look for someone with a Higher Education Administration degree, right?

Wrong.

In Christian Higher Education, we look for people with training in Communications, Theology, New Testament, and Bible. Rarely, you may find someone who studied Leadership. Now, I can hear the objections.

1. “But it’s a seminary! Don’t you want someone who understands the Bible to make sure we stay true to the Word?” Yes, but a Seminary is an educational organization. If I want someone to run my educational organization, I want someone who understands (a) how to lead and run an organization and (b) how to educate someone. That means, in part, an understanding of Bible and theology, but it primarily means someone who has studied and understands Education and Leadership.

2. “But isn’t the Bible sufficient?” There are leadership and educational principles found in the Bible, true. However, the Bible speaks to many things, but not all things, and we do well to study the things related to carrying out ministerial tasks that are not in the Bible. For instance, if I’m going to run an non-profit educational organization, it would do the organization well if the one running it has studied finance, fundraising, and accounting. I don’t recall Jesus’ sermon on the principles of accounting, employment law, payroll and non-profit organizations.

3.”But if you studied enough Bible and theology, won’t it help you do those things?” Studying Bible and theology helps, especially when it comes to the ethics of running an organization. Managing the intricacies of Student Development and Academic Affairs, however, requires a specialization. Yes, I want my teachers to be experts in exegesis and to be top notch theologians. However, the people running the school should have expertise in, well, running schools.

We wonder why theological education is on the decline and why people question its value, and yet we continue to employ educational methods started by D.L. Moody. As a result, churches wonder why they should invest in a pastor who utilizes antiquated methods which cannot reach the people. Then our parents, educated in the church, cannot pass on the faith to their children because they don’t know how to disciple them. We need students and scholars committed to understanding the strengths and uniqueness of Christian education, who are willing to study and expand the understanding of the field so that practitioners can then take that knowledge and apply it in the academy, church and home.

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Ministry opportunities abound, if only we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

A Thimble-full of Theology for Daily Living

A Report on Some of the Pastors Supported by

Light of Hope Mission

In my recent trip to India I once again worked with the Light of Hope mission in Madurai, Tamilnadu. S.J.P. Vijayakumar (Vijay), the director of the ministry there, has been training men in groups of 12 for the past eight years. These men are apprenticed to minister in the Hindu villages which some estimate make up to 80% of India’s population. The following four men are his veterans who have been successful in establishing churches and are at the vanguard of this outreach ministry.

Pastor Duraichamy

I first met Duraichamy four years ago on my first trip to India. I took an immediate liking to him despite being unable to communicate with him in English. Vijay took us to his village, which consisted of several mud brick huts with thatched roofs. Without a doubt his is one…

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Aesthetics in Christian Education

In 1971, Frank Nelsen wrote an article titled “The aesthetic dimension of Christian education.” (Religious Education 66, no. 5 (September 1, 1971): 385-389.) In it, he argues that evangelicals take their distrust of art from the Puritans, who reacted to the misuse of art in their day and therefore made no distinction between “good” and “bad” art. He goes on to call for Protestants to create a theory and theology of art.

As one who values and appreciates multiple expressions of art (but especially a good story), I agree with his sentiment. Like Nelson, I think that Christian educators must ask and answer what place art, art appreciation, and aesthetics has in the place of the Christian education curriculum. I answer by saying that aesthetics is one of five fundamental values in Christian education because it concerns itself with humanity’s relationship to the environment. It asks the question, “What is of value?” and therefore ties directly to the issue and principles of stewardship.

Although typically framed as a philosophical question, I assert that aesthetics should start as a theological question. Why? (1) There is a God. (2) God reveals Himself through creation (in part). (3) We should study creation to understand God, ourselves, and the relationships between them. (4) In studying those relationships, we need to appreciate the beauty of creation in order to see the beauty of God and to appreciate His workmanship. (5) Artists, therefore, are theologians who study, see, and communicate the beauty of God, creation, and humanity as it is reflected in the created order and imagination.

This bears repeating: artists are theologians.

The artist in Christian education therefore needs the (1) theology to understand what (s)he sees, (2) the training to express that theology in various forms and (3) the requisite knowledge to express that understanding in a manner that others can understand it. Yes, this assumes that the artist creates in such a way that others can understand. I know that some disagree with that notion, but I believe that the Christian should speak in a manner so that those with ears can hear.

Give the artists the training to speak, the knowledge to speak, and the will to speak. Then let them speak.

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