Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Philosophy of Christian Education

Red School House, photo by Kristal Kraft ~ DenverDwellings

“Start children off on the way they should go [teach them], and even when they are old they will not turn from It.” –Proverbs 22:6

In the scriptures we see Jesus’ command for us to teach in the Great Commission. Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

We also see the importance of teaching emphasized in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy six, Moses records God saying that we should be taught the commandments of the Lord our God and that we should also be teaching these commandments to our children.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 says the following bout teaching:

“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2)

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Scripture also gives us some great promises surrounding teaching in the scripture. In Proverbs 22 we see that we are to “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). God’s word and His teachings will not come back void. We are promised that teaching will influence, and transform, in a way that a person who is taught God’s word will not depart from it.

While teaching is an essential command for every Christian, teaching is also listed in the Bible as a Spiritual Gift. In 1 Corinthians 12 we see the Spiritual Gifts listed and among them is teaching, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

Romans 12:4-8 also lists teaching as a Spiritual Gift:

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:4-8).

Not everyone is gifted as a teacher, but we are all called to teach in the Great Commission and elsewhere in scripture. And while we are all called to make disciples of Jesus and to teach everything that He commanded, teaching should not be taken lightly. As Donavan Graham stated in Teaching Redemptively, “The Scriptures provide evidence that God holds teachers in high regard. Teachers were both gifted by God and held responsible to Him” (Teaching Redemptively, p. 119, Donovan Graham).

The book of James talks about this important responsibility of teaching and warns, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Teaching should be taken seriously and is a privilege and a blessing, as well as a high calling from God.

As Christians, our lives and calling is to lead and teach others to make Christ known. We are to dedicate our lives to educating others about Christ. In the realm of Christian education, teaching the scriptures is very important, essential even, if we are to help others deepen their faith and grow in God’s word.

As Christian educators, we are to make a commitment to the goal of spiritual formation in our students. It is not enough to stop at conversion, or to simply make converts. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The Christian must be growing and developing in his or her relationship with Christ continuously and this includes moral and character development as well as academics.

In his chapter on Moral and Character Development in Foundations of Christian School Education Milton V. Uecker, addresses this important issue of morality and character, which is often neglected by other philosophies of education.  Uecker says, “For the Christian school, moral and character education is inseparable from spiritual formation. The goal of Biblical instruction is always a changed learner (p. 224).” This transformation is true discipleship and is evidence of true education. This transformation is also a huge goal of Christian education.

Milton V. Uecker makes the case that we must understand effective development, articulate effective standards, describe character, create a caring community, provide a moral community, allow opportunity for moral action, make learning meaningful, facilitate critical thinking, provide time for personal growth, and consistently evaluate character education in our schools. It is clear here that teaching is more than a simple transfer of basic knowledge.

It is essential for all of us as Christian educators to have, and to continue to develop, a Christian worldview. Without having the solid foundation of a Biblical and Christian worldview, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to teach Biblically, or to teach Christianly. We cannot teach what we do not first possess. As teachers, we must also be learners who are growing and developing in our own faith and in the knowledge of God’s Word and His world. Teachers are also learners.

In the book Philosophy of Christian School Education there is a chapter on Modern Educational Philosophies. In this chapter the idea that the belief of the educator influences their approach to education can be found. This idea that we must think Biblically and from a Christian worldview if we are to be “Christian educators” is strongly supported here. A Biblical philosophy of life and education, as well as a Christian worldview, is essential for Christian education.

One of the primary differences in Christian education, verses the public school system, is the ability to teach the scriptures from a Christian perspective and to share the gospel openly. In public schools, if the Bible is taught at all, it is taught as one of many religious texts, of equal value and importance, and not as the unique and true Word of God. A Christian school has the advantage of teaching the Bible for what it is, the inspired Word of God Himself, without which we cannot properly understand the reality of the world we live in as it has been revealed to us by God.

In Reclaiming the Future of Christian Education, by Albert E. Greene, the truth that all education and study concerns itself with the “stuff” of God’s own creation is explored. If the student is to properly understand anything in this created order, he or she must understand God, The Creator. Greene states that the nature of truth is unified in God and that truth is a person, Jesus Christ. Greene continues, “The Christian mind denies the possibility of a distinction between secular and spiritual truth because it realizes that every created thing reveals God and thus cannot be isolated from ‘the facts.’”

Greene also says, “Knowing God in and through the creation is what is important, and students must be helped to explore the creation along the lines of their own gifts.” Greene stresses, “If we seriously intend to reawaken as a church to the biblical view of life and reality, we dare not fail to train our children, whether in Christian schools or in Christian home schools, in a transformed, biblical consciousness.” In other words, we must return to scripture and to a Biblical worldview.

In Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey defines what a worldview is. She defines it simply as the understanding of the entire human experience. Pearcey explores the Christian worldview, the understanding of the whole human experience, through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. She says, “The Christian worldview alone offers a whole and integral truth.” It is through this perspective that we properly understand and live out our Christian faith in the world fulfilling the “cultural mandate.”

Pearcey then describes the living out of a Christian worldview, and the fulfilling the cultural mandate, as a “higher calling,” which entails being creative with our lives and work, including our teaching. It is in this higher calling that we help restore our full humanity and begin to live out of a truly Christian worldview. As Christians, we are called to “creative effort extended for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.” Pearcey states that we are to be “Participating in the work of God as agents of His grace.” As teachers, we are participating in the work of God as agents of His grace in the classroom.

In the first part of the first section of Foundations of Christian School Education, an Introduction to Philosophy, we also see that the foundation of a Christian school education is the truth of Jesus Christ and His Word. The importance of this solid foundation of Christian education cannot be over emphasized. In the beginning of Foundations of Christian School Education this is clearly stated, “We must identify our core beliefs and values, and we must reiterate our philosophical and biblical foundations” (Spears, p. 1). It is this Biblical foundation that sets the Christian school apart and makes Christian education different from other philosophies of education.

In Foundations of Christian School Education, Paul Spears also notes the importance of having and understanding a philosophy of education in chapter one, Introduction to Philosophy, when he says, “Ideas about education are grounded in foundational beliefs that construct how humans interact with reality.” Our worldview shapes what we believe, how we live our lives and how we teach. As stated at the beginning of chapter one, “Philosophy examines what underlying commitments we make regarding our beliefs and how our views come to be understood as knowledge, the concepts that form our worldview (Spears, p. 5).”

While many Christians resist the idea of philosophy and see it as contrary to scripture, taking Colossians 2:8 out of context, it is invaluable to develop and maintain a Christian Philosophy of education. Christianity, as Paul Spears points out in Chapter one of Foundations of Christian School Education, deals with major life topics, questions and issues surrounding and including metaphysics, logic, aesthetics, ethics, and epistemology. Biblical truth addresses these philosophical and important topics; they are not contrary to what we believe as Christians and what we should teach as Christian educators. These topics are our truth.

Christian schools have the unique capacity of bringing Biblical teaching and world-view into the classroom for every subject being taught. Christian Schools have a special role in teaching and equipping students and young Christians to be faithful followers of Christ in every area of life, but we must not stop there.

As educators we have the responsibility to teach all of God’s truth. As Christian educators we should be constantly recognizing that all truth is God’s truth. As Albert E. Greene says, “[All created things] are laden with meaning because they are all part of God’s way of giving Himself to us. We refuse our birthright and willfully go about as paupers if we insist on regarding ordinary things as unholy (p. 45).” All of creation and all of truth is God’s.

Scripture should be integrated carefully and thoughtfully into our teaching. When considering the Bible and curriculum, we must recognize, as Donovan Graham says, “major biblical themes form the foundation for the study of various subjects and units. Teachers [should] weave themes such as stewardship, community, environment, worship, and the purpose of life into the study of the academic subjects” (Graham, p. 220).

We do this as Christian educators because, as said before, we believe “All truth is God’s truth.” Graham goes on to say, “When we look at the materials used and the subjects studied, we [should] find that … God’s truth is not limited to what Christians think and write. Students [should] read books by authors whose ideas are not consistent with Christian thinking” (Graham, p. 223).

In her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity; Nancy Pearcey addresses the issue of the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. The divide between the sacred and the secular is a false dichotomy. This is dualism and it is a plague, according to Pearcey, which does not reflect a true Christian worldview. This would include false dichotomies concerning our mind, our thinking, and our vocations.

Pearcey seeks to recapture this idea, which our early church fathers also had, that “all truth is God’s truth” and that this truth is to be lived out in every area of our lives. She states that “total truth” captures all of life and reality. We are to be integrated and whole human beings, living in the world, while living out our faith consistently in a manner that brings glory to our God. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Colossians 3:17, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is an accurate picture of a life lived by a whole, and integrated, Christian.

We must not entertain any false dichotomies in our lives or teaching. We have a responsibility as teachers to teach holistically concerning all of God’s revelation to us in His created world. We cannot and should not divide our faith from our rational minds either. We must recognize that we should integrate our faith into every area of our lives. We must think critically and love God with all of who we are in every area of our lives, including our minds.

J.P. Moreland addresses this concern of loving God with our minds in his book, Love Your God with All Your Mind. In this book, Moreland asserts that we have lost a major premise of Christianity by losing sight of our intellectual properties, which is a product of being created in the very image of God. Without exercising our intellect, and reason, we cannot fully worship God, know God, or serve Him well.

Our intellect and our reasoning reflect our being created in God’s image and is what makes our humanity unique in God’s creation. We have been given stewardship over our intellect and over creation, and we must be good stewards of what God has given. We cannot honor or glorify God apart from fully exercising our capacities for thinking and reasoning. We cannot and must not divorce our thinking from our faith and reasoning.

Moreland asserts that Christianity in our modern day is more concerned with emotions than intellect. “Our culture is in serious trouble,” says Moreland. This trouble is coming from anti-intellectualism in today’s evangelical Christianity, which asserts that faith is “blind,” and not based on reason. Most Christians have been taught from a young age not to question their faith and that our beliefs as Christians are based solely on faith and not on rational thought, or reason. This could not be further from the truth. Our faith is based on reason and we can know why we believe what we believe. There are evidences that can be explored, and we must explore them and encourage thought and reasoning in our faith.

As Christians, we must be a thinking people who honor God with our minds, our being, and our doing, as Paul commands us in Colossians 3:17, “do all to the Glory of God.” Integrating our beliefs will encompass our entire beings, including our minds, or we are practicing something less than Christianity.

Jesus Himself declares, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).” If Christians are to reflect the image of their maker, then we will reflect and resemble Jesus, the very Wisdom of God, and we will, as Paul puts it, “have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”

As Christian educators we should also be concerned with discipline, as it is a part of overall Christian discipleship and the educational process of growth and transformation. Discipline is an opportunity to teach and correct a student with grace and wisdom, and help them to come to follow Christ more closely. Discipline can be redemptive and restorative. In the classroom, the teacher is Christ’s representative. We are redemption agents, not disciplinarians. In Teaching Redemptively, Donovan Graham says this about Discipline and Classroom Management, “As teachers who represent Christ, [we] enter the students’ lives as incarnations of the truth, not to control them but to nurture, love, and discipline them in their fallenness (Graham, p. 260).

As teachers, we are participators in what God is doing to restore, or redeem, His perfect creation back to its intended state. We are participating in transforming lives for the glory of God. Donovan Graham captures this idea well in Teaching Redemptively when he says, “While we shall see that teaching redemptively means many things, the cornerstone of our understanding is that it means to teach in a fashion that reflects the character of the creative-redemptive God” (Graham, Donovan, Introduction). Education is part of God’s redemptive plan and God invites us into this great work as teachers.

The purpose and meaning of education, presented in Reclaiming the Future of Christian Education, can be seen in these comments by Albert Greene: “Christian teaching should, above all, be meaningful. This means the learning should come to be associated in the student’s mind with the knowledge of God . . . (p. 259)” Greene says, “Love and learning must go together (p. 234).” In loving God, we also love knowledge. In loving knowledge, we also find God. It is in God that we learn. It is in Him that education has meaning and purpose and learning takes place holistically.

Greene goes on to define the purpose of Christian education, “The true purpose of Christian education is to prepare young people for a complete life under the lordship of Jesus Christ.” This definition of the purpose of Christian education is as good as any. As educators, we are looking to prepare students holistically to live comprehensive lives under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ.


Greene, Albert E., Reclaiming The Future of Christian Education: A Transforming Vision.  Purposeful Design Publications, Colorado Springs, CO. © 1998

Graham, Donovan (2009-01-01). Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom (p. 119). Purposeful Design Publications. Kindle Edition.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

Moreland, James Porter. Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO., ©1997

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Study Guide Edition), Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill., © 2004, 2005.

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Col 3:17

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