In my previous post I considered how many Christian institutions have begun to speak of an integration of faith and learning, and agreed with Mark Noll that “evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning.”
Speaking of a faithful education, although not saying less than the integration of faith and learning, does suggest more. If “all truth is God’s truth,” then a faithful education in any particular discipline means more than incorporating faith—it means that a faithful education (i.e. both a Christ-centered and an honest and diligent education) would require correctly discerning God’s truth in one’s discipline, not merely importing it as if it were an alien concept. Rather than simply adding Jesus to the current content, truly faithful education begins from a recognition that all things were created through him and in him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17). C. S. Lewis explains this idea well in The Weight of Glory: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Only when we understand each discipline from the vantage point of Christ as the creator and sustainer of all things can we rightly see the world, which is why we need more than simply the right lenses—we need the eyes of Christ.
Lewis gives another interesting perspective on this concept in The Magician’s Nephew. Through the voice of the narrator, Lewis explains why Uncle Andrew could not correctly understand what was happening in the newly created Narnia: “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.” Not only do we need the right eyes (i.e. the right vantage point from standing in the right place), we also need the appropriate character—we need the right heart.
In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith suggests that we would be more effective in Christian educational endeavors if we recognized that we are “more concretely homo liturgicus,” by which he means that we are “loving, desiring, affective, liturgical animals who, for the most part, don’t inhabit the world as thinkers or cognitive machines.” Smith goes on to argue that as primarily loving and desiring beings the concept of worldview, at least those that see a Christian worldview as a set of propositions and knowledge to be learned, misses the mark. Smith suggests the following instead:
“I suggest that instead of thinking about worldview as a distinctly Christian ‘knowledge,’ we should talk about a Christian ‘social imaginary’ that constitutes a distinctly Christian understanding of the world that is implicit in the practices of Christian worship. Discipleship and formation are less about erecting an edifice of Christian knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively ‘understands’ the world in the light of the fullness of the gospel.”
Smith’s point is well-taken in that we so often act according to our desires in a specific moment, often desires that we know are wrong, unwise, or unhelpful. Smith’s critique of worldview, moreover, is not unique. Karl Barth argues that a focus on worldview (Weltanshauung) reduces the Christian faith to a specific time and place that is therefore inevitably inadequate. Despite these legitimate warnings, Philip Graham Ryken argues that “we can learn from these and other criticisms without jettisoning the vital project of articulating a Christian view of the world.” He adds, “while it is true that what we love often shapes what we think, it is also true that the biblical remedy for disordered affections is for God to speak his truth to the mind.” Ryken is correct, and it highlights the most glaring omission in Smith’s otherwise excellent work—the importance of knowledge and the life of the mind. Smith proposes that since we are primarily loving beings Christian education should focus less on Christianity as a system of beliefs and rather seek “to discern the shape of Christian faith as a form of life.” This way of life is to desire the kingdom. Moreover, Smith recognizes that everyone, believer in Christ or not, desires a kingdom, it is just not the same kingdom. Herein lies the problem, for the goal of Christian education certainly implies pointing students to the right kingdom, but one can only pursue the right kingdom if he or she has a proper knowledge and understanding of the kingdom being pursued. Smith does not provide an answer to this question in the work. What Smith does provide, however, is a strong case against the notion that teaching students a Christian worldview that consists only of a comprehensive set of beliefs will be enough to lead students to faithful living. Rather, Christian institutions must develop counter-liturgies that will establish practices and rituals and behaviors that will cultivate virtues that will lead to faithfulness. In this I think Smith is correct.
How, then, can Christian institutions faithfully educate their students? It seems 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). I suggest that if we allow a distinctly biblical liturgy to inform our view of the kingdom and what we desire, then it will manifest itself in living out the cultural mandate as individuals created in the image of God.
In the next post, we will introduce and propose five ways in which classical Christian schools can pursue this type of faithful education.
Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), ix-x.
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 140.
C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 75.
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 40, 34.
Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 68.
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, trans. G. T. Thompson (New York: Harper, 1959), 59.
Philip Graham Ryken, Christian Worldview: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 27-28.
Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 134.
Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 54.
This is not to suggest that Smith does not have an answer, neither is it to argue that Smith does not value the life of the mind. He certainly does. Rather, the point is that he does not provide such answers in the book, so I mean to build upon some of his work and fill in the gaps.