According to the New Testament, Christians are always different. They have the tangy, preservative quality of salt. They are as light in an age of spiritual darkness. Christians are called to be a different kind of people, and the degree to which they allow God’s Spirit to transform them as people will be reflected in their vocations.

The Christian teacher should be professionally competent but never stagnantly satisfied with his present level of performance. He should not be in the profession because of the pay or the holidays involved. He will know the hours of forced isolation required for preparation and marking. He will love the children he teaches but be wary of courting popularity. He will always be more concerned for the quality of instruction and scholarship than for marks in an over-competitive system.

But these, surely, are features of any good teacher, not just of the Christian teacher. What characteristics distinguish the Christian teacher from all others?

1. He is governed by Scripture and thinks in a scriptural way. Romans 6:17 and 18 is one place where a certain way of thinking is clearly taught: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” It is the mind that is in a central, controlling position, and not the feelings or emotions (the heart). Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit directs the mind to an acceptance of doctrine clearly taught in the Bible (but often despised today). There is, then, an acceptance of the doctrines of fallen human nature, of man’s inability to save himself, and of man’s personal redemption through the finished work of Christ. These doctrines are accepted through the Holy Spirit’s activity upon the mind, and then the heart (feelings) responds, so that we love the Saviour we have come to know.

But this is not the end. This knowledge and this love affect the will and lead on to determined action. We set out upon a Scripture-directed path—this is real conversion—aimed at making us slaves to a new Master, the One who has set us free from selfishness, futility, and despair. The mind is thus at the head of our faculties but not autonomous. It takes its cue from Scripture (God-given truth) and is subject to Scripture. The emotions are to be controlled, and the actions are to be constantly checked, by Scripture. Scripture is thus the reference point outside of fallible humanity, and since Scripture was given by a God who loves us and who directs us for our own good, this reference point can produce stability of character and unified, purposeful action.

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2. The Christian teacher discerns what agrees with biblical truth and what opposes it. There are two levels at which educational thought should be examined; the philosophical base and the curriculum base. The former ultimately decides the latter, and the teacher who does not think independently will find himself merely drifting within the system. If the Christian really thinks and lives according to the revealed truth of Scripture he will make it his business to examine the underlying influences in the educational system. Dr. R. S. Peters, professor at the London University of Education, has remarked that in education there now is “controversy about almost everything of importance … conflict about the aims of education, about the curriculum, about teaching schools, discipline and school organization.” Within such a turmoil of ideas it is important for the Christian teacher to discern the drifts.

In considering curriculum, one must question also and not merely accept trends automatically. Professor J. F. Kerr has defined “curriculum” as “all the learning which is planned and guided by the school—the outcome of deliberate intention.” Here is a clear statement that what is taught and what is left untaught and unmentioned are the results of deliberate choice. Who makes this choice? How do the personal beliefs and values of the leaders affect the choices, i.e., the curriculum? In an age of increasing secularization and widespread rejection of Christian standards, just what are we allowing to be fed to youth?

We need to keep asking two questions: What does this mean? Where does it lead? The Christian will be concerned to accept that which is meaningful and wholesome, and that which leads to a better knowledge of God and his truths (and not just a better knowledge of mankind).

3. The Christian teacher recognizes the areas under attack and the sources of the attacks. He will recognize that absolute freedom is an unattainable ideal that only panders to self-indulgence and irresponsibility. The established traditions and institutions are all under attack, and one should not fool oneself into believing that any single one will remain untouched. From the dissatisfied Left and from the rallying Right, from universities, teachers’ colleges, theological colleges, from spokesmen in the Church and in society, the attacks come. Permissiveness and materialism increase, and spiritual values are not insisted upon.

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Oddly enough, many people see no relation between the discarding of Christian standards and such developments as the collapse of family life, and the decline of the individual’s ability to cope with the pressures of life, juvenile delinquency, and so forth. R. B. Kuiper has described the situation well in The Bible Tells Us So:

Two supremely important questions are with us every moment of our lives. It is utterly impossible to dodge either of them. They are: What is true? and What is good? God has answered both of these questions for us in the Bible, and, of course, His answers are right. To reject the Bible as the Word of God is to reject those answers. And he who does that is like a vessel drifting on the ocean without rudder or compass. He is “at sea” in the most complete and most terrifying sense of that term.

The Christian teacher will be testifying constantly to the truth of such words, and while the world turns its back on God, he will not be surprised when personality disorders and role conflicts spiral and little children show signs of utter frustration and confusion.

4. The Christian teacher is aware of the clash between the traditional Christian values and the permissiveness or despair of the ultra-moderns. The latter reject learning by antithesis and discard all absolutes. They wield a tremendous influence (though many Christians still seem to be unaware of it), an influence that is shifting our whole culture into an anti-Christian relativism. When children have been brought up almost entirely on the value system of the ultra-moderns, they will tend to reject out of hand the traditional Christian values. The tragedy is that they will have, in fact, no real free choice to choose Christian standards. On the other hand, if Christian training is given and if the children choose to reject it later, at least they have a valid choice open to them.

5. The Christian teacher sees connections between people, and between beliefs and teachings. In general he sees that our twentieth-century world is largely the product of an almost unchallenged acceptance of the ideas of Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud. When one looks more closely one sees that even seemingly harmless entertainers are peddling serious philosophies of life and presenting life-styles contrary to the Christian way of life. The popular American comedian Woody Allen is far from funny, really. He is philosophically akin to the great and serious Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, whom he most admires. Bergman, in turn, has been most captivated by August Strindberg, the rather mentally unstable Swedish playwright of the turn of the century who repeatedly failed to find happiness in marriage and turned to Indian religions in order to find some meaning in life. Bergman has twice tackled one of Strindberg’s greatest plays, A Dream Play, for he is fascinated by its nebulous, mystic character. Bergman’s films reflect this interest, and many film makers follow Bergman. But how far these people are from the world of reality and historic Christianity! Strindberg wrote a preface to A Dream Play in which he says:

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Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist: on an insignificant basis of reality the imagination spins.… The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble. But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no illogicalities, no scruples, no laws. He neither acquits or condemns, but merely relates.

The Christian teacher sees connections between people, and seeks to analyze and reveal the beliefs of the leaders of today’s culture.

6. He builds on the truth revealed by God in Scripture. He does not build on feelings and experiences that fluctuate and cannot be analyzed. Faith rests on fact, and faith is reasonable (though it is more than reason). The Christian teacher appreciates the whole of Scripture and does not believe that the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on a few verses such as John 3:16 and Romans 3:23. He will evangelize in depth by declaring the whole counsel of God and not favorite passages only, passages that some Christians have come to believe have a magical way of converting people. The Christian teacher should be careful to point out two things that are often neglected today: that the Christian enters the narrow way by a narrow gate. The gate is narrow and unpopular for it involves a cost; the way is narrow and unpopular for it involves a cross.

7. Finally, there are things that the Christian teacher does not underestimate.

First, there is the frailty of human nature. He knows that “the heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt” and that it is easier to lead people in an immoral direction than in a godly one. He knows that we all tend to choose soft options, to save our own skins, to conform, to become absorbed with the material things that cannot really satisfy our heart’s desires.

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Secondly, he does not underestimate the strength of the attacks being made upon the Christian faith, especially through the mass media. He recognizes how they lower moral standards, stimulate and feed our lusts, encourage greed and selfish ambition, emphasize the outward and superficial.

Thirdly, he does not underestimate the power of God to intervene. In fact, this is what encourages him to oppose all that is ungodly and to face the loneliness and criticism that will inevitably be his lot. The longer he lives, the more God’s Spirit reveals to him the emptiness of men’s philosophies and the selfishness of their designs. Increasingly, like the prophets of old, he walks by faith and abides in Christ’s Word, and he declares the old remedy as the only remedy, for there is only one name given under heaven by which men must be saved.

The Christian teacher is called to be different: different in his walk; different in his insights; different in what, for Christ’s sake, he opposes; different in his positive commendation of a loving, holy God whose reality he knows.

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