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What Christian Education Is
Defining Biblical Christian Education
Recognizes the family-centeredness of Christian nurture throughout Scripture
Reaffirms the centrality of biblical revelation in the educative process
Reviews the example of Jesus as teacher, mentor, and leader
Rekindles the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit in the teaching-learning process
Responds to the Great Commission by balancing evangelism and edification ministry
Refocuses on education for spiritual growth—producing mature disciples
Thomas Talbott once ruminated over the idea that God may have called him to be a teacher in order to show him how biblical revelation had been formed. Talbott suggests that the way teachers struggle and study to communicate truth to their classes offers a microscopic metaphor of how God revealed His truth throughout the centuries. His appropriate title simply affirms "What Teaching Can Teach Us About Scripture."
In this chapter we will strive to reverse Talbott's idea and—indeed—his title. Our concern at the beginning of this important book is to ask "What can Scripture teach us about teaching?" Or more broadly, "What can Scripture teach us about the nature and role of Christian education among evangelicals?"
Christian education has been diversely defined over the past half century. In 1963 Randolph Crump Miller commended a simple definition by Adelaide Case: "Christian education is the effort to make available for our generation—children, young people, and adults—the accumulated treasures of Christian life and thought, in such a way that God in Christ may carry on his redemptive work in each human soul and in the common life of man.
More recently, Mark Lamport observed that the primary difference between secular education and Christian education is the adjectival descriptor Christian. "To be Christian, Christian education must: have God's esteem for the human being, sense the task to be a whole-life experience of growth and maturity, and give opportunity for service through experiential action."
What seems obvious from both of the above definitions (and from numerous other contributions by evangelical educators) is the absolute link between Christian education and theology. In this respect we refer to Christian education rather than religious education. The distinction falls not between New Covenant and Old Covenant truth, for evangelicals affirm the Old Testament base for Christian education. But the difference comes in articulating an education distinctly based upon theological propositions derived from the text of Scripture rather than education developed to perpetuate and propagate the tenets of a designated religious system.
To be sure, Christian education owes a great debt to the social sciences—and in the framework of a secular university, that would be its normal home. But a secular university cannot provide the natural habitat for Christian education; its absolute link to Scripture pushes the social sciences to step-child status.
Perhaps one of the best recent discussions of this linkage was prepared by Jim Wilhoit in Christian Education and the Search for Meaning.
Theology is crucial to Christian education. Often Christian education has been accused of drifting far from orthodox theological teaching, particularly in regard to the Christian view of human nature and spiritual growth. This drifting is unfortunate, for Christian education is lost unless grounded in biblically based teaching. No matter how much zeal a Christian educator may have, it is of little use without an awareness of the essential theological underpinning of the faith.
Education in the Pentateuch
In a brilliant article published in 1987, Timothy Thomas pleads for a greater respect of the Old Testament among Christian educators, asking us to abandon our "folk canon."
The "folk canon," which often does not include some sections of the New Testament, is content to leave out most of the Old Testament. The Old Testament "folk canon" is often comprised of Genesis, narrative materials up to the end of Esther, Psalms, the occasional Proverb, the "Christmas" sections of the prophets (courtesy of Handel), and, for those of an eschatological bent, additional sections from the prophets. Little attempt is made to see a holistic picture. Context is of low priority. Further, an undue literal emphasis on the words themselves removes from the reader and interpreter the responsibility of hearing God's Spirit speaking through the whole.
In addition, Thomas suggests that "folk canon" may often be augmented by denominational publications and popularist writings. But his main complaint stems from the minimal accord afforded the Old Testament among educators.
CENTRICITY OF JEHOVAH
Education for the early Hebrews focused on learning about God. The Bible's opening statement leaves no room for flexibility regarding its main topic (Gen. 1:1). God controlled the events in the lives of His people; He initiated the covenants and law; He raised up leaders to instruct His people regarding personal and corporate righteousness. And when a generation failed to follow God's truth, turmoil inevitably followed (Ex. 1; Judg. 2:10-15).
William Barclay's classic work Educational Ideals in the Ancient World spells it out clearly:
It has always to be remembered that Jewish education was entirely religious education. There was no text-book except the Scriptures; all primary education was preparation for reading the Law; and all higher education was the reading and the study of it.... Josephus says of Moses: "He commanded to instruct children in elements of knowledge (grammata), to teach them to walk according to the laws, and to know the deeds of their forefathers."
Long before written portions of the Scripture were circulated, God's people viewed His Word through His anointed servants as absolute. Noah proclaimed the coming Flood, and his family entered the ark (Gen. 6-7). Abraham announced his vision from the Lord, and a nation came into being (Gen. 12-24). Moses thundered down from Mount Sinai and the law was given (Ex. 19-20). The Pentateuch allows no room for discussions of interpretation, no flexibility for different viewpoints. When God speaks, His people respond.
Evangelical education retains its commitment to absolute truth—namely, that truth throughout Holy Scripture is not subject to change. In a world that almost universally considers truth relative (subject to change and revision), Christian educators affirm the centrality of absolute truth.
FOCUSING ON THE FAMILY
Respected Christian educators understand the significance of the family in teaching, but rarely do we see covenant continuity more dramatically displayed than in the early books of the Old Testament. A treatment of Deuteronomy 6 will come later, but here note the dramatic text of Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." Earlier in the chapter Moses stands before all the Israelites and reminds them one final time that the covenant of God is with the nation, but the nation is represented by its families (Deut. 29:9-15; Ps. 78:1-8; Prov. 4:3-4, 10, 20-22).
Again Barclay is helpful in emphasizing that in addition to focus on God, the center of education among the Jews was the home, "and the responsibility of teaching the child is something that the parent cannot evade, if he is to satisfy the law of God."
THE TEACHING TASK
The Hebrew word for teach (lamad) is translated in the Septuagint by the word didasko, which occurs about one hundred times. We find it most commonly in the Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah. Old Testament usage does not primarily denote the communication of knowledge and skills but rather centers on how one's life ought to be lived (Deut. 11:19; 20:18). Deuteronomy 6:1-9 introduces a portion of Scripture dear to the hearts of many Christian educators. Moses reminded his people that "God directed me to teach you" and showed again how teaching takes place in the matrix of the family.
Though developed to a much greater extent in the New Covenant, the germinal idea of serving God begins early in the text of Scripture. Adam and Eve serve God by caring for His creation. The heroes of the Pentateuch are shown at their best as the servants of Jehovah. Wilhoit sees in this a call to a special kind of Christian education:
The focus of God's concern was on action. Later in Scripture an emphasis on affections and intentions appears, but in the final analysis God requires properly motivated action, not just good intentions or a warm heart. For this reason Christian education must teach not just knowledge or skills but service of God through responsible action.
Education in the Historical Books
In the historical books little new truth surfaces regarding the teaching-learning processes of God's people. All the elements developed in the Pentateuch are retained to a greater or lesser extent, but now different kinds of teachers appear. Judges rule and prophets proclaim. Eli teaches Samuel, who in turn teaches Israel's first two kings.
Old Testament patterns begun in the Pentateuch and carried into the historical books are summarized nicely in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:
How then does the education of the young proceed in Israel? God commands that they obey their parents as next to him in importance. The father acts like a priest to the family. He hands on the tradition to the family; he does so in answer to the question of his children (Ex. 12:26 f.), and his answer is a confession of God's saving activity toward Israel. The children are told of this not only in words, but also by means of impressive signs in the form of monumental stones (Josh. 4:6 f., 21 ff.).
By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, scribal emphasis on education had developed to an extensive degree. We learn the secret of Ezra's success in one poignant verse: "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10). Some scholars suggest that Ezra's ministry may have been a turning point in the whole pattern of Jewish education.
Education in Wisdom Literature
In the wisdom literature the moralizing and humanizing trend in education not only continues but expands. The focus changes, and a prevailing lifestyle emerges. This change is seen devotionally in Psalms and practically in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
Educational ideals have now been developed in Israel, but the point of reference continues to be God and His revelation. Appropriately, three-fifths of the references to wisdom appear in the wisdom literature. The Greek word sophia, though it may denote skill in art or craft, economic shrewdness, or governmental ability, most commonly reflects the godly behavior that enables one to master life (Prov. 8:32-36). Wisdom takes on a personal connotation as the mediator of revelation (Prov. 8:1-21) who calls people to learn (Prov. 1:20; 8:32; 9:1).
We look in vain for widespread Septuagint usage of didaskalia in the wisdom literature, for it appears only in Proverbs 2:17 in reference to the law considered as the will of God. Katechesis and paradidomi, New Testament Greek words used for instruction, are not in the Old Testament. However, the Hebrew word mûsar rises to great importance since it appears thirty times in the book of Proverbs, usually emphasizing discipline but most commonly translated as "instruction," synonymous with wisdom throughout this portion of the Old Testament.
Of great concern to Christian educators is the role of discipline in preparing disciples. The New Testament makes a clear distinction between discipline and punishment (Heb. 12:4-13), but that distinction is less clearly defined in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs introduces the dimension of physical correction, not earlier seen as a part of the Old Testament instructional process (Prov. 13:24; 17:10; 22:15; 29:15, 17).
Education in the Prophets
As the book of Isaiah opens, the Bible reader experiences something of a déjà vu or a first-time experience with the earlier historical books. A nation that had been taught by God and given His truth for its individual and corporate life now faced national judgment and temporary oblivion because it had rejected God's teaching. Isaiah moans, "The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isa. 1:3). Prophets served as the teachers in Israel both before, during, and after the Exile.
In Jeremiah 8:8 we learn of the role of the scribes, the professional class of teachers in Israel whose task it was to preserve the written and oral traditions of the nation. They became copyists, editors, and interpreters of God's truth (and man's fallible interpretation thereof). We have already noted the impact of Ezra. A. Elwood Sanner suggests that the scribes provide us with ancient historical background for varied methodology in teaching.
The teaching methods of the scribes included public discussion, questions and answers, memorization, the exact verbal reproduction of the teacher's words, stories, oral laws, precepts, proverbs, epigrams, parables, beatitudes, and allegories.
After the darkness of Exile and the strange "silence" of the intertestamental period, the stage was set for the dramatic entry of Jesus Christ into human history.
God selected earth to be "the visited planet," and genuinely Christian education, as we attempt to understand and practice it today, was initiated at the coming of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. What Isaiah prophesied concerning Zebulun and Naphtali can be said of all those who saw His arrival: "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Matt. 4:16).
Education in the Gospels
The fact that Christian education must be biblical is precisely what makes it Christian. And to be entirely biblical, it must center in Christ. Students who wish to grasp firmly the theological and philosophical foundations of Christian education must master various passages in the New Testament that develop those concepts.
THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
The presence and power of the Son of God dominate the first four books of the New Testament. Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection are essential, of course, but His modeling/mentoring role as Master Teacher has provided Christian educators a poignant demonstration for almost two thousand years. Forty-five times the gospels call Jesus "teacher," and fourteen times they refer to Him as "rabbi." Howard Hendricks wants his readers to grasp the significance of Christ's method as well:
No one could ever accuse Jesus of a truncated educational philosophy. He understood that all learning involves a process. He not only knew what He was to teach, but He also knew how to teach. Learning was more than listening; teaching more than telling. How did Jesus become so effective without bells and schedules, a fixed classroom, and an overhead projector or flannelgraph?
THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
How important is Matthew's brief notation at the end of his record of the Sermon on the Mount: "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matt. 7:28-29).
Christians argue about the significance of Matthew 16:19 and the curious phrase "keys of the kingdom." But Jews have commonly referred this to the office of teacher. Jesus called His followers to a higher righteousness and to carry through His calling as a teacher.
TEACHING OF THE DISCIPLES
In Matthew 28:20 and Mark 6:30 we see the disciples commissioned to teach; and in Luke 12:12 we learn that the Holy Spirit will be their teacher. Indeed, discipling becomes the centerpiece of teaching in the gospels, providing the link between teaching and learning. Eleanor Daniel emphasizes the significance of maturity in the discipling process:
The purpose of Bible teaching is to bring change into the life of the learner until he has reached maturity in Christ—a life long task. This maturity is achieved when a person has a knowledge of God's Word, with understanding, that results in changed behavior: bearing fruit, growing in knowledge, becoming stronger in endurance and patience, and being thankful.
Excerpted from Christian Education Foundations for the Future by Robert E. Clark, Lin Johnson, Allyn K. Sloat. Copyright © 1991 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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1. What Christian Education Is - Kenneth D. Gangel
2. Establishing Biblical Foundations - Edward L. Hayes
3. Reviewing Historical Foundations - Wayne A. Widder
4. Developing a Philosophy - James C. Wilhoit
5. Trends: Waves of the Future - Wesley R. Willis
Part 2: The Teaching-Learning Process in Christian Education
6. Christ the Master Teacher - Warren S. Benson
7. Teaching for Learning - Lynn Gannett
8. The Holy Spirit in Education - C. Fred Dickason
9. The Teacher: Facilitator for Change - Dennis H. Dirks
10. Biblical Feeding for Leading - Irving L. Jensen
11. Planning for Teaching and Learning - Larry Richards with Lin Johnson
12. Managing the Classroom Experience - Michael S. Lawson
13. Teaching and Learning Strategies - Robert J. Choun, Jr.
14. Instructional Media and Learning - C. Keith Mee
Part 3: The Ministry Is to People
15. Infants and Preschoolers - Valerie A. Wilson
16. Elementary-Age Children - Robert E. Clark
17. Junior and Senior Highers - Pamela T. and Stanton D. Campbell
18. Adults: An Introduction - Perry G. Downs
19. Young, Middle, and Senior Adults - Brian C. Richardson, Stanley S. Olsen, and Allyn K. Sloat
20. Single Adults: One Is a Whole Number - Carolyn A. Koons
21. Exceptional Persons - Julie A. Hight
22. Understanding Learning Styles - Marlene le Fever
23.World Christian Education - James E. Plueddemann
24. Ministering to Major Cultural Groups - Colleen Birchett, Marta Alvarado, and Johng Ook Lee
Part 4: The Church's Strategies for Christian Education
25. The Church's Educational Ministry - Doris A. Freese with J. Omar Brubaker
26. The Pastor's Educational Ministry - Donald M. Geiger
27. Professional Church Leadership - Ray Syrstad
28. The Board of Christian Education - Dennis E. Williams
29. Evaluation and Long-Range Planning - Harold J. Westing
30. Principles of Leadership Recruitment - Mark H. Senter III
31. Equipping the Educational Staff - Richard Patterson
32. Understanding and Using Curriculum - Lin Johnson
33. Dynamics of Small Group Ministries - Julie Gorman
34. Utilizing Computer Support - Lowell Brown and Wesley Haystead
35. Facilities and Equipment for Education - Lowell Brown and Wesley Haystead
Part 5: The Church's Allies for Christian Education
36. Biblical Perspective for the Family - James R. Slaughter
37. Building Healthy Families - Wayne Rickerson
38. Spiritual Formation in the Home - Craig Williford
39. Public, Christian, and Home Schooling - Cliff Schimmels
40. Parachurch Educational Organizations - Robert A. Barron