Sunday 25 March 2012

Education as formation

Education is a topic of interest to all people. This is hardly surprising, since God created us as learners; creatures with an in-built desire to know. But curiously, educational debates always seem to go around in circles, even within Christian communities. We think it’s important, but often as people of faith we offer confused and sometimes contradictory views on why it is. Visit three or four websites for the schools linked to or controlled by Christian churches and you will find some confusing messages.

Photo courtesy Wiki Commons

Typically, you will find an array of words and statements used to describe the type of education that is being offered and why it is important. These reflect categories such as success, lifelong learning, citizenship, academic excellence, tradition, academic performance, community, care, quality, self-esteem, values, faith, heritage, culture, sport, well-being, justice, belief and innovation. The categories sampled, as well as the order in which they are expressed, might well give some sense of what the school administration sees as important. But even so, how does this translate into the classroom, the playground, and the sporting field? Are the words on the websites just ‘spin’, or do they reflect authentically how the school and its staff see themselves? And if they do, how does this reflect the best of our knowledge about learning, teaching and human flourishing, not to mention our biblical understanding of the type of people God created us to be?

In the1950s, influential educator M.V.C. Jeffreys suggested in his book 'Glaucon: An Inquiry Into the Aims of Education'  that ‘Education is in fact nothing other than the whole of life of a community viewed from the particular standpoint of learning to live that life’. Is this an accurate description of education’s role and purpose? What might this ‘whole of life’ in community look like within the context of schooling? Christian parents ask, what school is best for my child? Christian teachers ask what should motivate me? Where should I teach? How does my faith impact on or shape my teaching?

I'm one of the authors of a new book that explores these questions and more - 'New Perspectives in Anglican Education'. My co-authors are Bryan Cowling and Michael Jensen.  It is the outcome of a year of intensive reading, thinking and discussion with a group of nine other Christian educators. We have explored the why, what and how of education. Why do we school in the way we do? What should be our priorities? How do we make wise choices each day at school?

We’ve concluded from our work that an understanding of God’s plan for humanity should also shape our purpose for education, its content and the way schooling, teaching, curriculum and pedagogy are implemented. What we do as teachers is meant to help the children we teach to take their place as grown humans and mature citizens in the family of God. It matters what the priorities of the school are, how we teach, how we encourage learning, the nature of the social structures we promote, the methods we use to discipline our children and so on. If we keep our sights fixed on the goal of seeing children knowing, accepting and following Christ, does it matter how we offer them education in our schools? We think that it does, because there is a relationship between our priorities shaped by the gospel, our faith in Christ, how we live out and speak of this faith, and our actions (Phil 1:27; Jas 2:14-26). Education is all about the formation of the whole child.

Haro Van Brummelen in his book 'Stepping Stones to Curriculum: A biblical path' reminds us that knowing, being and acting are all tied together in the biblical view of knowledge. Authentic Christian teaching and education should demonstrate this and be shaped by priorities that are shaped and oriented to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdoms we seek to create on earth. We are keen to continue a conversation with teachers, parents, school leaders and people who value education and its God-given purposes.

Those readers who live close to Sydney might like to take part in a significant conference that will address these issues. The conference titled 'Education as Formation' will take place at New College on Saturday 26th May and will feature Prof James K.A. Smith as the keynote speaker. Professor Smith has been invited to Australia to present the 2012 New College Lectures as well as speaking at the conference.

The program will include:

James K.A. Smith – ‘Educating the Imagination: Christian Education as a Pedagogy of Desire
Trevor Cairney – ‘Pedagogy and the nurturing of the child
James Pietsch, David Hastie, Anne Johnstone & Richard Ford - 'Case studies in Christian Education'

You can register HERE

Saturday 10 March 2012

Christian Apologetics - Who needs it?

In Issue # 20 of Case Magazine in 2009 William Lane Craig offered an interesting discussion about the place of Christian Apologetics. This is an extract from the article.

I agree wholeheartedly with contemporary, so-called Reformed epistemologists like Alvin Plantinga that apologetic arguments and evidence are not necessary in order for Christian belief to be warranted for any person. The contention of theological rationalists (or evidentialists, as they are misleadingly called today) that Christian faith is irrational in the absence of positive evidence is difficult to square with Scripture, which seems to teach that faith in Christ can be immediately grounded by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.14-16; 1 John 2.27; 5.6-10), so that argument and evidence become unnecessary. Further, the Christian evidentialist faces other severe difficulties:

(1) He would deny the right to Christian faith to all who lack the ability, time, or opportunity to understand and assess the arguments and evidence. This consequence would no doubt consign untold millions of people who are Christians to unbelief.
(2) Those who have been presented with more cogent arguments against Christian theism than for it would have a just excuse before God for their unbelief. But Scripture says that all men are without excuse for not responding to the revelation they have (Romans 1:21).
(3) This view creates a sort of intellectual elite, a priesthood of philosophers and historians, who will dictate to the masses of humanity whether or not it is rational for them to believe in the gospel. But surely faith is available to everyone who, in response to the Spirit’s drawing, calls upon the name of the Lord.
(4) Faith is subjected to the vagaries of human reason and the shifting sands of evidence, making Christian faith rational in one generation and irrational in the next. But the witness of the Spirit makes every generation contemporaneous with Christ and thus secures a firm basis for faith. 

So I do not, in fact, think that apologetics is necessary in order for Christian belief to be warranted. But it does not follow that Christian apologetics is therefore useless or of no benefit in warranting Christian faith. If the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences are successful, then Christian belief is warranted by such arguments and evidences for the person who grasps them, even if that person would still be warranted in their absence through the Spirit’s witness. Such a person is doubly warranted in his Christian belief, in the sense that he enjoys two sources of warrant.

Moreover, Christian apologetics may be useful and even necessary with respect to various other ends. Permit me to mention three ends with respect to which Christian apologetics plays a vital role in their realisation.

1. Shaping culture. Apologetics is useful and may well be necessary in order for the Gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today.

2. Strengthening believers. Not only is apologetics vital to shaping our culture, but it also plays a vital role in the lives of individual persons. One of those roles will be strengthening believers.

3. Evangelising unbelievers. Apologetics strengthens the faith of Christian believers.

You can download the complete article free HERE.