The balance between traditional worldview approaches focused on knowledge and James K. A. Smith’s proposal of counter-liturgies is likely nowhere more significant than in a discussion of the purpose and telos of a classical Christian education. Do we, as classical Christian educators, put our emphasis on the information to be taught to the students or the formation wrought in the students? I would argue that our telos should be faithful Christian discipleship to the glory of God. If we fail to train students in how they should live as part of the cosmic story, if we fail to encourage and spur them on toward such living, and if we fail as educators to model such living ourselves, then we have ultimately failed in our educational task, regardless of how much information they accumulate in the process.
Two clarifications are in order, however. First, we must recognize that we are not ultimately in control of any student. We cannot choose for the student, and they may decide to follow a different direction. Additionally, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of each individual that brings about conviction, repentance, and growth. God may use us in the process, but we are not the determining factor. Nevertheless, we must do everything we can to help provide students with the best curriculum, environments, and life examples to remove obstacles to growth in Christ. As C. S. Lewis writes, “While we are planning the education of the future we can be rid of the illusion that we shall ever replace destiny. Make the plans as good as you can, of course. But be sure that the deep and final effect on every single [child] will be something you never envisaged and will spring from little free movements in your machine which neither your blueprint nor your working model gave any hint of.” If we are faithful to do our best with each student, we need not be devastated (though we should be grieved) by those who reject the faith, but we likewise should not be surprised (nor can we take credit) when God does an amazing work in a student’s life.
The second clarification is that we must not assume that an ultimate telos of discipleship means that we fail to engage in rigorous academic work and provide a significant amount of information. Recall that Noll suggests our relationship with Jesus Christ should motivate us to serious learning. Precisely because we have put our hope and life in Christ we should be seekers of truth in every discipline, seeking to understand the world that Christ has created, entered into, redeemed, and holds together. Additionally, it is necessary for our discipleship to be founded upon truth, and truth is often presented as information, things to be learned, memorized, and discussed. It is therefore not a decision of formation or information, but formation and information. Arthur Holmes provides a helpful connection between information and formation. He suggests that our approach to education should not be what we can do with the information we receive, but rather what will the information we receive do to us. We simply give priority to formation, recognizing that the information is not the end in itself, but part of the journey of Christian formation.
C. S. Lewis, Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harvest, 1986), 26.
Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, 24.