by Tommy Davis
I think now more than ever in America, Christian education is the very schooling that would provide a form of consensus in the Christian community that transcends culture. In a time when liberalism and contemporary philosophy have taken over our schools and seminaries, there needs to be an evaluation and action taken that would allow our educational conclusions to be shaped by historic Christianity. Deeply affected by the storm of conflicting ideas are the contemporary predominantly black American churches which have allowed it to be taken over by emotionalism rather than doctrinal orthodoxy and Christian educational thoughts. This has led to a higher murder rate among black Americans, a massive school drop-out rate, a high incarceration rate, political ignorance, and contemporary segregation in the inner cities and the church.
As a jail chaplain, I am deeply troubled by some of the strategies used by volunteers who are involved in jail ministry which include Bible studies and worship services. The flaws that exist in their educational philosophy are only making discipleship more difficult to accomplish. Therefore, I wish to apply my philosophy of Christian education where volunteers of all ages are trained for jail ministry, and during training seminars in churches where tutoring programs are chartered for those at risk of dropping out of school or going to jail.
This educational initiative does not target black Americans as the only group. It is prepared to emphasize and address the educational deception prevalent in clustered and crime ridden communities. Generations of ignorance have consequences such as fatherless homes, poor education, and crime. Therefore, this educational philosophy would have to incorporate and answer correctly the philosophical questions in the area of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology.
Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. Metaphysics is the most notional and abstract branch of philosophy. Since metaphysics basically means “beyond physics” or beyond the natural realm of things, it is a speculative area. Also, metaphysics is a theoretical construct; it is subject to unreliable presuppositions if not Scripture. It is safe to build ideas upon what is revealed in the pages of the Bible. Therefore, a theological groundwork must influence our metaphysical deductions. According to James Wilhoit,
“Often Christian education has been accused of drifting far from orthodox theological teaching, particularly in regard to the Christian view of human nature and spiritual growth. This drifting is unfortunate, for Christian education is lost unless grounded in biblically based teaching. No matter how much zeal a Christian educator may have, it is of little use without an awareness of the essential theological underpinning of the faith.”
God is spirit, but He revealed Himself in the physical, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Metaphysical questions regarding the existence of God were answered in God becoming flesh. The Bible says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV). Our definition of a Spiritual God must come from the Scriptures. If Jesus is the sinless God/man come down from heaven, then who are we? Since Jesus came from God, the position to adopt is for mankind to understand that God had something to do with our existence as well.
Since epistemology deals with how we arrive at our conclusions, it is important to establish a guiding principle that would help us arrive at intellectual destinations that corroborates all areas of what we already know to be truth. Epistemology is closely related to teaching and the learning process. How do we know something? One way to arrive at judgments is to seek information outside ourselves or from sources that are credible. The Bible provides a set of eternal truths; and it is from this source that educational pursuits must be subjected. It is the Bible that reveals God’s paradigm.
The Bible must be the check and balance in the quest for answers. If Christian education is to be truly Christian, it must derive from the Christian creed. In the Book of Acts, Luke records that the believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings (see Acts 2:42-47). It is important to note that the disciples acted upon what they learned from the apostles. The relationship between apostle and disciple is that of trust and truth. The disciples believed (trusted) that the apostles were transmitting truth. The truth came from the Old Testament Scriptures as the apostles taught and interpreted the events that now make up what we call the New Testament. The apostles’ epistemology derived from revelation rather than a political sect or some worldly philosophical idea.
Black Christians in America seem to overwhelmingly vote Democrat, but display a form of conservative values. It may be safe to say that the majority of black Christians are against homosexual marriage, abortion, and racism when it comes to black people. Yet, black Christians vote for the very liberal Democrats they do not agree with. This may be due to getting a fiscal advantage with all sorts of Democratic programs like housing projects and extended welfare benefits. Also, blacks are taught that Republicans were responsible for racism and slavery, when in fact, it was the Democratic Party that promoted slavery, segregation, and all sorts of Jim Crow discriminatory laws.
It will not take much investigation to find that Christian education is the antithesis of liberal political philosophy. Voting values also falls into the area of axiology because if one says they are against homosexual marriage, and yet vote for politicians who promote pro-homosexual legislation, it proves that some are dishonest regarding values, or ignorant of the facts. An axiological statement is still being made if we place fiscal opportunities over morality. A holistic Christian education is neither white nor black, rich nor poor, Democrat or Republican. Therefore, judgments should be arrived at using Scripture as the controlling criterion.
Axiology is concerned with values and aesthetics that specify what is good and right. The issues of ethics and religion also fall under the grouping of axiology. Axiology is a very important philosophical position because people are motivated by what is important to them. Moral values are under attack in the world as people seek to redefine the value system based on faulty presuppositions rather than biblical revelation. For example, the State of New York recently passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. Obviously, homosexual marriage is non-existent in the Bible but people have adopted a value system based on an incorrect epistemology. Crucial to the development of our axiological judgments are correct metaphysical and epistemological positions. Christians must believe the right things about God and the right things about people.
In order to transfer the proper ideas, we must have proven positions and valuable relationships. Transmitting truths is a great task. The Bible is the foundation for all truth. To educate people is to imply authority. Christian education is unique because the primary textbook in which all knowledge must flow is from the Bible. The Christian educator must take command as an authority figure. The student must take a subordinate intellectual position. Even though the student/teacher relationship is based on transferring intellectual capital, there must be some form of trustworthiness in the relationship in order for credibility to increase the effectiveness of communication.
Education implications penetrate the New Testament. In Philippians 4:9 the apostle Paul reminds the Church at Philippi to practice what they had learned from him. In 1 Timothy 4:11 the apostle Paul presses young Timothy to command and teach the things written in Paul’s epistle. In Ephesians 4:11 it is stated that God gave teachers and pastors to the church in order to build her up. We are built up by the truths found in revealed revelation. God’s truths are objective truths. Information is transmitted for a reason. According to George Knight, “The aim of the Christian teacher is not to control the minds, but to develop them, The use of questions can be a major instrument in that development process.” This is a great observation by Knight because pupils should become more intellectually independent of the teacher as they apprehend truths. That way the development process can lead to maturity. Maturity leads to the ability to make informed decisions.
In the book of Hebrews, the author chided the believers for their lack of spiritual development. After the biblical author explained the eternal priesthood of Christ, the author expressed interest in sharing more with the Hebrew believers but stated that they were slow of learning. The author also stated:
“For when the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and have become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
The above passage of Scripture also speaks volumes in regards to pastor and parishioners. Some believers attend church for twenty or thirty years and never participate in any form of ministry. They have not grown to the point of serving in or outside the church. The objective of transmitting truth is to produce some form of action later on in the pupil. Therefore, teaching provides the Christian with the ability to be obedient and serve Christ.
To the wise Christian educator, certain philosophical concepts can be incorporated into the curriculum as long as the Scriptures remain the controlling authority. I have been influenced by realism, the philosophical model that holds there is a real external world that can be known. But realism alone is just a reality and must not reject the metaphysical.
I have also been influenced by essentialism, which is a philosophical concept that arose in the 1930’s that found interest in transmitting truth in the classroom. Essentialism is the idea that reliable basic truths must be transmitted in order for students to engage and contribute to the culture in which they must live. Essentialism takes into account that life is a building block and certain agreed upon facts must be shared that allows the next generation to continue the advancement of society. The definition regarding what is fundamental or essential must be acquired from Scripture.
Another feature that impresses me about essentialism is the fact that this educational concept recognizes that learning is hard work and requires effort. In one of my previous response papers I wrote that the essentialists incorporate the perspective that learning requires discipline and sometimes is accomplished through much effort. I also wrote that scientists have determined that our brains change as we acquire news skills and information. This is opposed to being hardwired in which we would function based on a predetermination rather than cognitive development. In addition, I made the point that musicians are not born musicians; they become instrumentalists’ through practice. Athletes become good at sport through a willful interest and rehearsal that allows them to utilize the brain’s flexibility to acquire new habits and develop their skills.
By highlighting essentialism, I am not agreeing that other concepts are not important. The position of essentialism emphasizes the authority of the teacher. While it may not clearly define truth, essentialism characterizes the relationship between student and teacher that find some biblical support. For example, in his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul instructs him to train qualified men who will teach others (see 2 Timothy 2:2). In the book of Titus the elders were told to hold firmly to what they have been taught (1:10).
While I do emphasize the authority of the teacher, the primary matter should be on what is taught. In order for me to have a great influence in the area of Christian education, I must teach in a manner that glorifies God. The right things must be said about political parties in relation to the Bible. The correct things must be communicated about God, about mankind, and about the world whether seen or unseen. Thus, the core purpose of Christian education is to produce disciples among those who have given their lives over to Christ, therefore fulfilling the Great Commission given in Matthew 28.