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.