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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.