In recent years, the Christian faith in America has seemed like little more than an enormous episode of Survivor. Far from attempting to build a society of justice, peace, welfare, and human flourishing (what the Hebrew authors called shalom), Christians have all too often seemed to hide in defensive positions, shutting themselves in metaphorical (and sometimes literal) bomb shelters as they await the end of the world. In his work For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemman suggests that those who respond to secularism with “an almost Manichean rejection of the world” and who “morbidly rejoice in their apocalyptic doom” have a distorted view of Christianity. Perhaps nowhere has this been more evident than in one of the more fundamental settings of American society—the college or university. Christians have often taken an attitude of survival, hoping (although this suggests an expectation of success that I think many lack) that they or their children will survive the university gauntlet of secularism and retain the Christian faith. For those that do, however, many leave a broken shell of what they once were; even at its best, this is far from human flourishing.
In response, Christians have often responded with one of two courses of action, neither of which has proven helpful in correcting this secularizing trend. On one hand, many Christians have abandoned intellectual life altogether. As Mark Noll has poignantly written, “Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of ‘high’ culture.” This failure is not merely targeting Christian students, but also highlights the failure of Christian adults to have much sustaining or impactful influence in academia and the fine arts. A second attempt is at least initially more appealing, yet ultimately unsuccessful. This attempt is to reassert the “Christian” in college, marketing institutions as Christian environments for learning. Few Christians would object to a Christian environment, but often a Christian environment does little more than provide a “safer” environment in which to procure the same “secularized” education as their unbelieving counterparts. Indeed, Arthur Holmes is correct in asserting that we cannot even ensure a protective atmosphere, “for Christians believe that the source of evil is ultimately within the heart, not without.”
In response to these trends, many Christian colleges have begun to talk about an integration of faith and learning, taking seriously the fact that the removal of faith from education does not make it more objective; rather, it merely substitutes one faith (secularism, materialism, naturalism, etc.) for the Christian faith. As Arthur Holmes has asserted in his work The Idea of a Christian College, “all truth is God’s truth.” If all truth is God’s truth, then we should expect our Christian worldview to shine light on all disciplines.
But is there something more than simply integrating faith and learning, by which I mean seeing each discipline through a Christian worldview? It is my purpose in this series of posts to suggest that there is. A common analogy of worldview is a pair of glasses in which the lens through which we see represents our worldview. If we succeed in putting on the right lens, it enhances our vision, allowing us to see the world as it actually is. I have no particular problem with such an analogy; in fact, I have used it often myself. But let us extend the analogy further. Glasses, for example, have blind spots—our periphery, the edge of the frame holding the lens, and at times dust and other debris that obscure the clarity of our lens. Putting on a Christian worldview as if putting on glasses, then, does not guarantee success in the Christian educational enterprise. What we need is not the correct glasses, but the proper eyes. We need, if one will permit me the analogy, a spiritual Lasik surgery. Additionally, we need not only new eyes, but new hearts. My aim in this essay is to propose a way in which educators in classical Christian schools specifically (and Christian schools, colleges, and universities generally) can faithfully educate students so that they better become the type of Kingdom People that Jesus taught us to be. Far from lessening the academic rigor in each discipline, I propose that an education focused on becoming Kingdom People will inspire us to be the best educated, the most creative, and the most productive in any discipline. I therefore agree with Mark Noll in his work Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind when he argues that “coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the task of human learning” and that “evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning.”
In the next post I will draw some educational implications from the conclusions of James K. A. Smith in his work, Desiring the Kingdom, in which he suggests that humans are not primarily thinking beings, but loving or desiring beings. I will suggest that faithful education must be an education of the head, the heart, and the hands, that is an education that focuses both on how all truth is God’s truth (the head), how to rightly order our desires toward the kingdom (heart), and how these come together in faithful discipleship in the present (hands).
Alexander Schmemman, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, Revised Edition (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 8.
Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 3.
Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 45.
Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), ix-x.