Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Education in God's Kingdom

Although it has been some time since my last post on women in the Kingdom of God, I want to assure my readers that I have not forgotten my commitment to the series. Currently, I am working on my next post, "Women and the Law." Even as I do so, however, I am in the process of applying for adjunct teaching positions at a number of Christian colleges and universities in our area. This process is somewhat involved and it has been occupying a good portion of my time. As a result, I have had to do a lot of thinking about education and the kingdom of God. Here is what I wrote today in an attempt to put my thoughts together.* Feel free to offer your comments and suggestions.

One's view of education must be grounded in the story of God found in scripture. The testimony of the Bible is that sin and evil have marred God’s creation. The first humans rejected God’s rule for their own and their choice has been perpetuated in every human being to follow. Rather than the harmonious, loving relationship that God intended, humanity chose a position of enmity with God and the rest of the created order became subject to the resulting chaos. Everything has been broken in the effects of sin, including every good human endeavor that God designed: art, music, politics, literature, business, science, medicine, and even education.

Yet, when Jesus of Nazareth emerged on the stage of world history, he announced that God’s reign had decisively broken into the marred creation. The gospel he preached and embodied announced the power of God to renew the cosmos and every human endeavor within it. Following his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus reigns in power over all creation. By his Spirit, Jesus is revealing his restorative and comprehensive rule through his people as they embody and proclaim the good news in every aspect of human life. Everything that was broken, God is in the process of making whole. The venture of the Christian, therefore, is to seek after God’s good creational design in whatever sphere of life to which he or she is called.

Since God is the ultimate designer of education, followers of Jesus involved in education must seek after those forms, models, and structures that fulfill God’s design. Unfortunately, even though the Bible is the revelation of God, it does not contain a “handbook” from which we may construct a philosophy and model of education that perfectly conforms to God’s design. As a result, Christian educators, being led by the Spirit and guided by the Word, are like master play-writes, seeking to complete an unfinished Shakespearean masterpiece as faithfully as possible to the author’s original intent. In this way, the Holy Scripture and the life and person of Jesus provide a number of foundational truths upon which Christian educators may confidently build.

First, it is essential to understand and affirm that Jesus is the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth, the master educator, and the Lord of all academic disciplines. It is not common for Christians to look to Jesus as the example of intelligence; we more quickly point to Plato or Einstein as exemplars of intellectual excellence. But, if Jesus is who Christians confess him to be, then he is the most sophisticated thinker who ever lived. Granted, Jesus did not write textbooks or elucidate all the mysteries of the universe, but that does not mean that he would not be perfectly at home in any academic context where good work is being done today. Indeed, Jesus must be honored as the most knowledgeable person in every field, including education, and we must seek his cooperation and assistance in everything we teach.

Second, Christian educators must also embrace the truth that nurturing transformation is just as important as conveying information. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught his followers in ways that not only convinced them of truth, but also compelled them to a new life as a result. The apostles affirm this by distinguishing a between knowledge and wisdom. Paul says of knowledge, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1b). Yet, James explains that wisdom is evidenced through godly living: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Jam 3:13). Certainly, Christian educators must form knowledgeable students in every field for which they are responsible, but more important is the formation of wise students with humble lives.

Finally, it must be remembered that for all academic pursuits, the ultimate purpose is that God would be known and his reign established. This means that students of every field, whether business, nursing, education, medicine, and more, will learn to cultivate professional lives that honor God and seek righteousness in every endeavor. In this way, every area of human life can be a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God, when all things will conform to God’s perfect rule.

*Written in interaction with the following: Albert M. Wolters and Michael W. Goheen, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, second ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 120-122; Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician," in The Great Omission (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006), 180-195.


traveller said...

Emily, as always, you do a wonderful job of articulating your ideas on a subject....and good ideas they are!

Just a thought on your final point. Education for a Christian should also prepare them to work alongside the Holy Spirit in bringing forward the ultimate rule of Jesus as it will be in the fulfilled Kingdom. Everything we do that brings forward the ultimate justice, mercy, righteousness in the world for others in accord with Jesus' Kingdom in cooperation with the Holy Spirit will be a part of the renewed creation of the Kingdom.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

That's a very good point, Traveller. Thank you.