Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. --Psalm 86:11

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Christian Education for Christian Ethics

I am, admittedly, a nerd. Analytic. Brainy. Theoretical. Theological. I love the world of ideas. I get kicks out of learning, research and reading that many today, especially among the younger generation, probably find strange. So one could say I’m predisposed to over-emphasize education.
So let me start by stressing that I recognize the value of emotion and the inadequacy of knowledge without the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). I believe body mind and heart are fully integrated. That in fact, is the only way this argument makes sense. My contention is that for the church to cultivate Christians whose new life is expressed ethically in their bodies, we must nurture the development of both their hearts and minds.
So far so good, right? But my observation of Christian people, Christian worship and Christian education leads me to believe we’ve left the mind behind.[1] It seems many American Christians fall into one of two categories: 1) basic unfamiliarity with the Bible, or 2) basic knowledge of Bible stories, usually learned in Sunday school, but little understanding of how the stories relate and together tell one Grand Story of Scripture.[2] Even the second category – knowledgeable, but non-integrated – is inadequate for training disciples who actually live like Christ.
By way of illustration, consider a ladder.[3] At the top is wisdom: life lived in light of God’s truth, in obedience and service to Christ. The first, foundational rung of the ladder is a grasp of the overarching biblical story.


Discerning Engagement of Culture

Ethical Standards for Moral Reasoning

Worldview Formation

Biblical Story

Most Christian schools rightly aim to achieve most or all of the top four rungs. We want to create critical-thinking, Christlike disciples who have a Christian worldview. But we often fail to realize that Christian ethic and worldview grow of the Christian Story of reality, the biblical Story of reality, the grand Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This story answers the critical worldview questions: Who am I? Where am I? Why am I here? What’s the problem? What’s the Solution? [4] The Christian faith is a worldview.[5] It’s a worldview grounded in a Story. And the Story is more than the disconnected mishmash of apparently unrelated teachings, miracles and hero stories found in most curriculum materials and children's Bibles. All of these are part of the Story. But the Story is bigger and more complex than all of these. Big and complex, yes, but not beyond us. And actually, when we boil down, no bigger or more complex than the fairy tales I read my five-year old daughter. We can teach the basic plot to our children.[6] As they grow, we can flesh out the Story, add details, characters, subplots, etc. We can explain how the stories relate and function together, and how the Story intersects with other aspects of life. Then, when they face the challenges of an increasingly godless culture – challenges that delude, derail, and even destroy the lives of many young adults – they will be more prepared to expose these “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) with God’s Truth from God’s Story.
May we relearn, reclaim and re-teach the old old Story with all its life-shaping and world-changing power.[7] May the story stir our hearts to sing and our hands to serve in worship of our God and King.

[1] Mark Noll has called it a scandal. J. P. Moreland calls us to love our God with all our mind. But calls seem largely unheard or ignored, perhaps because they’ve come through a medium (books) that misses the target audience, or perhaps because they drown in the noise of an entertainment culture. A notable exception (in a more culturally engaging medium is the Truth Project. It is terrific resource that raises the questions Christians should be wrestling with. But I wonder how well it motivates and equips Christians to pursue learning. If they view a 12-hour video series as a completed project rather than a few bricks in a building, it may do just the opposite. Let’s hope that it raises questions and opens doors to discovery that people actually pursue.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chs. 5 & 6.
[3] I realize this illustration focuses on the intellectual aspect of growth to the exclusion of other factors like community and the work of the Holy Spirit. But I believe these all work in harmony and the process is impaired without them all.
[4] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 122-26. For more than what’s here, but less than Wright’s difficult chapter, check out Learning the Script and Playing a Teacher in God’s Unfolding Story: Reflections on Christian Worldview and Vocation.
[5] Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Should We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1999).
[6] The only good example of this that I’ve seen for children is The Children’s Storybook Bible. There is a raft of good, recent books for adults that aim to recover the Story and help us read it. Two that I’ve found helpful are Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004) and Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), esp. chs. 3-5.
[7] On the life-shaping influence of the stories we tell our children, see Plato’s Republic, 376d-392c.

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