Is education in the liberal arts a bane or a blessing, a liability to the faith or an asset? Why should evangelicals invest time, money, and effort in non-theological learning? Traditional answers have ranged all the way from an unqualifiedly humanistic optimism about the educability of man to a fearful and cynical pessimism about the results. The present generation wants neither extreme. Unqualified optimisms may have flourished in the theological and political climate of several decades ago, but we have learned the hard way that education is no panacea for the ideological fevers and the cultural crisis of today. Anti-intellectual pessimisms may have seemed feasible once upon a time, but we learn increasingly that delight in ignorance yields only evil and grief, even within culturally isolationist segments of the church. In an age of unprecedented educational opportunity, in a culture dominated by scientific technology and peopled by organization men, education inevitably assumes a place of strategic priority.
In this context the Christian—student, teacher or administrator, parent or pastor—must surely face his responsibilities. It is not enough to verbalize about dependence on the Spirit of God. We must remember that the Spirit of God uses men of God, that men of God must meet their God-given vision with God-given initiative. Moreover, we do well to remind ourselves both of the meaning of education and of those biblical concepts which provide the guiding image for our educational activity. Such is the purpose of this article.
Nature Of Education
Two things stand out about the nature of education. First, it is a crucial means for propagating a civilization, culture, ideology, or religion. This fact is a truism, to be sure, but a statement of the highest importance nonetheless, one which in recent years has been forced anew upon our consciousness. The Nazis propagated their ideology by controlling schools and universities, suppressing the free interchange of ideas, and indoctrinating the German mind. Russia pursues similar practices, adopting and utilizing curricula for the dissemination of Marxist views in history, politics, science, and the arts. The same strategy is now apparent in Castro’s control of Cuba’s schools. Even American education, though in a different way, exhibits the same underlying awareness. Current debates over federal aid to education, over school integration, and over the bearing of loyalty oaths on academic freedom, all reflect the desire to transmit the American heritage. Personal liberty under law with equal opportunity for all can brook favoritism to no one political, economic, racial, or religious group. The evangelical conscience is often far more defensive over these specifics than it is alert to the far-reaching implications of the underlying principle. There is a stewardship of opportunity to be faced. Effective strategy requires renewed and constructive efforts in education.
Second, to avoid the pitfalls of zeal-without-wisdom, we must distinguish education from both indoctrination and training. Indoctrination, as we use the term, imposes dogma, “the truth,” upon individuals. It has a ready-made set of “answers” for every question. It mass-produces organization men who, given the right stimuli, always recite appropriate sentences and respond with appropriate behavior patterns. But when they meet the unpredictable, or perchance start to think for themselves, they have neither answers to troublesome questions nor the mental keenness to seek them. The result of such indoctrination is either an obscurantist head stuck in the sands of time, or else an emotional upheaval toward skepticism. These outcomes are not infrequent. Responsible and purposeful education must recognize the proper highway from which such indoctrination has strayed, namely, the pursuit of affirmative thinking, thorough discussion and evaluation of every alternative in order to construct a positive Christian view. Among those interested in education the Christian especially must respect the individual, must develop his God-given critical powers, and must press on to the frontiers of learning. Proper education helps liberate the mind from passionate and prejudiced bigotry and equips the free man to choose wisely and well for himself—under some conditions, even to withhold judgment. Honesty is a Christian virtue. As the student comes to grips with ideas and interpretations, with answers to questions and even with unanswered problems, intellectual honesty must figure large.
Training, in contrast to education, develops skills and techniques for handling given materials and facts. Education admittedly includes training, but operates primarily in the earlier stages of learning. The educated man shows independence and creativity of mind to fashion new skills and techniques, new patterns of thought. He will have acquired research ability, the power to gather, to sift, and to manipulate new facts and materials. The educated Christian exercises critical judgment, manifests the ability to interpret and to evaluate, particularly in terms of the Christian revelation. In a word, if he is to speak with ease, cogency, and clarity to the minds of his fellows, the educated Christian must be at home in the world of ideas and of men. Christians, unfortunately, often talk to themselves. We think in ruts, and express ourselves in a familiar kind of family jargon. Unless we understand the thought and value-patterns of our day, as well as those of biblical revelation and the Christian community, and unless we speak fluently the language of our contemporaries, we tragically limit our effectiveness. Again we sense the strategic importance of education properly defined.
A Sense Of Direction
If the Christian is to communicate conscientiously and intelligently, he needs a biblically-rooted sense of direction. What doctrines compose this core of perspective? We suggest five in particular.
First, the biblical concepts of creation and providence impart sanctity to all realms of nature and to the whole history of man. This is my Father’s world. To Him it owes its existence and order, its developing structures and exciting possibilities. Every event in nature and in history plays its part in carrying out his purposes and in manifesting his glory. For the Christian neither nature nor history is self-originating, self-operating, self-sustaining, or self-explanatory. We therefore approach the works of God, probe their mysteries, and harness their potentialities with humility but with boldness as well. Both the natural and the social sciences lay before our inquiring minds old vistas and new horizons. In the humanities we grapple to express our reflections with a precision and beauty becoming the sanctity of the materials. To neglect this educational enterprise betrays either shallow understanding or fearful disbelief, for surely the doctrines of creation and providence inspire, elevate, and sanctify the responsibility.
Second, the doctrine of the imago Dei reminds us that in this vast universe that reflects God’s glory, man is uniquely “crowned with glory and honor.” He is a person equipped by God with rational, moral, and artistic powers to rule nature and its resources for God. He is a sinner also, it is true, whose original image of God and personal powers are corrupted, so that “we see not yet all things put under him.” He is nonetheless the object of a divine providence that limits evil and preserves man’s personality. He is the object of a divine grace that restores God’s image and sanctifies human powers for His glory.
In other words, man has a God-given, God-preserved, God-restorable potential, a potential to be developed, disciplined, and directed. Such development, discipline, and direction are the Christian’s responsibility and stewardship. To educate the whole person, to encourage the zest for learning and the quest for excellence is a sacred trust. The Christian gives himself contagiously to critical thinking and creative expression, to the exploration of nature and to the transmission of cultural heritage, as well as to the impartation of Christian values and beliefs. The educator’s task is not to dictate people’s deeds, thoughts, and decisions; rather to inspire and equip individuals to think and act for themselves in the dignity of men created in God’s image.
Third, the biblical relationship of faith and reason establishes a sound pattern in education for the Christian. The Scriptures nowhere consider faith and reason antithetical; believing does not exclude thinking, nor does becoming an intellectual automatically exclude one from the community of faith. It may still seem, comparatively speaking, that not many wise are called. But some are. And certainly every educated believer is called upon to “give a reason,” to ponder that philosophy which is “after Christ.” Faith, we are reminded, is a conscious commitment of oneself to God in Christ—an unreserved commitment of all we are and have to his redemptive grace for the manifestation of his glory. Faith does not cancel out normal human activities; rather it motivates, purges, and guides them. It devotes “all my being’s ransomed powers,” including reason, to God. Like any gift, the intellect can be misused. It is still God’s gift, however, intended by him to be fully enjoyed and rightly appropriated within the context of a living faith.
For the evangelical in education, therefore, Christian commitment, values, and beliefs do not restrict intellectual opportunity and endeavor, but rather fire and inspire him to purpose and action. Evangelical strategy has always needed not only committed believers, not only educated believers, but also Christian intellectuals to wage zealously for truth and righteousness in the ideological conflicts of the day. God summons such men to stand in the gap. To implement this warfare personally and through others is the constant vision and burden of the evangelical educator.
Fourth, the Christian concept of freedom implies responsibility. Scripture speaks of it in three ways: freedom from condemnation, freedom from sin’s bondage, and freedom from man-made legalisms. Together these interrelated concepts chart a path between the extremes of irresponsible license and Pharisaic legalism. Liberty should be exercised in loving concern for others, not as “an occasion to the flesh.” Men is to worship and serve God freely and for conscience sake, not out of legalistic bondage.
A Christian’s education accordingly should not blindfold his eyes. Rather it should enlarge his horizons, deepen his insight, sharpen his powers of choice, and open new and welcome areas of responsibility in life and service. For both student and teacher academic freedom and its problems require similar understanding. It allows him ample room to move about in his thinking and expression, to confront problems and even unbelief honestly because he knows him in whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Christian freedom releases the believer from the bondage of fear. Frequent, unwarranted cries of “wolf” only harden the ear. Or they may hinder constructive progress by their apprehension over new horizons of thought or honest scouting of assumptions. Personal fears imposed on others produce new legalisms. If the evangelical voice is to be heard it must ring with integrity and confidence, not with fear of the unknown, fear of problems to be met, fear of honest inquiry. Not freedom and commitment but rather freedom and fear are incompatible. Freedom flourishes in the presence of law, but not under the reign of fear.
Finally, we include the Christian doctrine of vocation. Closely allied to the doctrine of freedom it invites us to the educational enterprise. Today the Judaeo-Christian concept of the sanctity of work is seldom enunciated. We overlook the mandate to stewardship in all things for the glory of God. Doing everything with all our might includes the quest for excellence in education, too; it forbids us to bifurcate sacred and secular work to downgrade the arts and sciences. God calls a Christian’s investment in “secular” teaching, studying, research, and scholarship as much a divine service as preaching and missions.
Both Marxists and existentialists agree that modern man has lost the meaning of life; he merely sees himself as an automaton enslaved by mass society. The Christian Gospel, on the other hand, gives perspective to life; it imparts dignity to man, and value to his labors. This conviction the Christian in education is uniquely privileged to exemplify in his own life, and to help others discover for themselves. Christian strategy in education therefore calls for alert, purposeful students, and creative, scholarly teachers and administrators to colabor in fulfilling God’s commission.
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