Christians engaging in education is indeed an imperative. But what exactly is a Christian view of education? How does it differ from a non-Christian view of education? Do we simply stick bible verses unto mathematics? In an attempt to better understand just what it is that makes Christian education Christian, we asked Brian Cox, a distinguished, experienced educator and frequent conference speaker, to give us a taste of what the answers might look like…
Tell us a little bit about your background and experience in education…
Over more than 40 years I have taught elementary, High School and University students. I became committed to Christian Education more than 30 years ago. This led to pioneering a Christian school in Australia which expanded to two campuses and more than 800 students then spent about six years working as a Regional Director for Christian Schools in three states of Australia. This involved working with parents; School Boards and professional development for teachers. I also began an involvement with Teacher Education.
We made the move to Indonesia in 2002 and have spent time since then with the Pelita Harapan foundation developing Christian Education in schools and universities.
Honestly, I “fell” into education. I don’t remember it being a considered decision. But I look back and see how God steers us to be in areas where he wants us to minister. About five years into my education “career” – I realized that the Lord had guided me to this vocation. I have found immense satisfaction ever since.
If I had to give a really short reason for ‘Why Education?’ I’d say it’s because it enables an exploration of Truth; that truth then determines our life and eternity; gives us meaning and purpose…
What do you think is the connection between the Christian Worldview and education?
My understanding of Christian Worldview is very simple. It is seeing all things, including this world, the way God tells us it is… It is the ONLY way that things make sense. This gives us a purpose, a goal, a context and a content for education.
It leads us to see and proclaim that Christ is preeminent (Colossians is very informative for educators).
We can see that redemption through Christ brings people back to a restored relationship with the Father. But that’s not the end of the story…. We are now to be people that are engaged in making God’s redemption of all things visible in the world. So the redeemed Artist now needs to be engaged in redeeming Art; the redeemed Politician now has to work out how Politics may be undertaken in the light of redemption….
So education has a function of bringing young people to understand Truth and then equipping them to live out that Truth wherever they may be, and whatever vocation they have.
Sounds simple – but of course it’s not.
In dealing with students, the great majority do not have a clear view of their relationship with God and do not have a coherent understanding of the “Big Picture of God” that is to be found in the Scriptures. They are frequently distracted by competing narratives that guide how they live out their lives. So sometimes education is a battle. Schools are very different places to universities or seminaries where students chose their tertiary education based on the compatibility of the courses with their worldview. Most school students simply have confused worldviews at best; or an eclectic approach to life: which usually means choosing what benefits the individual most at the time. The Christian teacher must be totally clear about his/her purpose and find ways to communicate Truth to their students. Often times this means relating with students in ways that transcend the classroom. We educate in future hope that our communication and exploration of truth in a school community will bear fruit. That fruit bearing may be at school, many years later or, for some, never. Christian Schools are not driven by outcomes but by a calling to communicate truth.
What would be problematic about a non-Christian worldview in the field of education? How might a Christian educator function in a non-Christian way in this field?
As many have said – every single person operates out of a narrative; a way of understanding the world and the place of people in it. If a teachers worldview is not Biblically Christian; they’re simply telling an incorrect story and passing on an incorrect context for their students.
Norman DeJong poses questions about how we evaluate the quality of education. He concludes that the quality of education is determined by its proximity to Truth; therefore the quality of education is determined by its proximity to Christ. An incorrect view of God and His world will simply lead to a skewed view of truth, meaning and purpose.
But the Christian teacher who has an undeveloped view of Christ and His purposes can also cause harm and confusion. Teachers, for example, who are synergistic in their view of salvation and sanctification will be telling students that they, in some way, contribute to their salvation. This is an inevitable detraction for the glory of God.
Understanding the grace of Christ leads us to engage with His redemptive work; a wrong view might communicate that engaging in Christ’s redemptive work will bring us grace.
What is the role and responsibility of parents in education; how should schools and families interact?
Biblically God creates three “institutions”.
The family which is to be the place that represents the nature of the Triune God and in particular the fatherhood of God. It is the place where children should be nurtured, disciplined and developed.
The Church – Christ’s community on earth. It exists for community worship of the one true God; edification of the saints and equipping them for ministry.
The State (Government) – the purpose is to ensure justice and fairness.
So where does a school fit? It is an organism that can support parents in the nurture and development of their children. It should support the churches work by pointing to the supremacy of Christ and helping to equip young people for ministry.
It is a way of providing education that leads to honoring God’s ordained institutions and assisting with justice and fairness.
The first educators therefore are parents. Parents need to have a choice of schools that best support the way that they want their children educated.
The relationship between school and parents is not one-way. Schools should relate to students in such a way that they see the Biblical truth that they are to honor their parents.
The school has a secondary responsibility of helping parents to understand their parenting role. The biggest “problem” I have seen among parents throughout the world is that they find significance in their children rather than in God. Our confidence to be parents does not come from knowing the right techniques and succeeding in implementing them, but in knowing that God is our Father and trusting in His kindness. If parents are not secured by this truth, then they will live in anxiety.
We do not find security in the behavior of our children but in knowing God.
You talk a lot about the relationship between the biblical concept of Shalom, the Kingdom of God, and education. What is the relationship, specifically?
Redemption in Christ leads us to a developing ability to see things as God sees them. We begin to see that the Shalom that existed at Creation and will exist abundantly when the Kingdom is fully revealed; can begin to occur in shadowy form now.
Shalom simply means that all things were intended to flourish in purity and great joy. Shalom is about restored and flourishing relationships: between God and His people; among His people and throughout Creation.
In practical terms it means there will be wholeness and justice; joy in, and adoration of, the Triune God. Christian communities can live now in the promise of that future. As a simple example; our vision of, and for, the future determines the nature of our journey and actions now.
So education now becomes practical as well as intellectual. We celebrate those things that bring us closer to seeing and experiencing shalom; we struggle to bring a sense of shalom to difficult and unjust situations and we pray and work towards restoration of right relationships.
We can provide frameworks for thinking. For example we need to challenge students to celebrate the good things that we still experience in God’s world; counteracting the cynicism of the twenty first century. Then we encourage students to critique; what is happening in their community and beyond that is good and should be encouraged; what is deficient or unjust or ineffective and how that situation might be confronted with grace. Students need to consider how they might contribute to more just or wholesome situations. There are many different frameworks and guides to achieve good restorative thinking and practices.
What do you think is the best way forward for Indonesia, and Jakarta, in particular, for the educational enterprise? And how could young people contribute to that?
I have found great encouragement during my “Indonesian Period.” The whole population of Indonesia has a God consciousness. The latest National curriculum implies that the major purpose of education is to “know God”. So already most people believe that faith in something other than themselves gives life meaning and purpose.
Secondly, there is a growing inquisitiveness among young Indonesian people. There is a bold vulnerability in the hearts and minds of young people. There is a sense that Globalization has not brought nirvana.
Thirdly much thinking needs to be done with regard to where education will lead a culture and nation. It would be a travesty to simply import an overseas, predominantly western approach to education, which has an economic materialist purpose.
I am privileged to witness growing numbers of young people who have been gripped by the Gospel of the Grace of Christ and are living their lives in response to Him. They, in turn are boldly, but humbly, challenging their peers. We must keep talking about how these people view life differently and how they are involved in redemptively restorative actions. Schools need to help young people to identify their calling, asisit in equipping them and pointing them in directions for further growth.
There is also a wonderful opportunity for the growth of Christian Schools. Indonesians generally welcome faith-based education. Christians need to grasp the opportunities.
For Further Reading:
Berkhof, Louis, and Cornelius Van Til. Foundations of Christian Education. Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990.
Machen, J.G. Christianity and Liberalism. New Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.