Recently I have caught myself using a new term: the authentic Christian school. The more I use the term the more I am beginning to ask the question, what is distinctive about an authentic Christian school?
Many in Christian education are using the same qualifiers to describe a vision for Christ-centered education that has not yet been fully realized. Here is one perspective from the Association of Christian Schools International that captures this idea. Among religious schools there are many different models and approaches for defining schools along these lines. There are schools that are religious based on their affiliation with a local parish or church. There are so-called covenant schools that define themselves on the basis of adherence to a statement of faith. The covenant may apply to employees only or it may apply to parents and students as well as a condition for admission. Of course, these are institutional labels that may have only a limited impact on authenticity. While important cultural differences exist from one country to the next it seems that the temptation to settle for a prescriptive set of rules alone is universal.
So I am starting to develop a perspective on what these loaded terms – “authentic” or “distinctive” – might actually mean. To start, an authentic Christian school is compassionate. When telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is responding directly to an expert in rule-following. This expert in the law is asking a question about authenticity: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan who cut across socio-economic lines and put himself at risk to save a complete stranger. In Luke 10:33, Jesus says the Samaritan “was moved by compassion” to care for the man who had been robbed and beaten. Jesus didn’t say the Samaritan was moved by moral obligation or fear or guilt. To be moved by compassion implies an active response of care and concern. This response of care and concern is a product of Gospel gratitude – the idea that we love because Christ first loved us. An authentic Christian school – the whole community of teachers, administrators, parents and students – is one that is moved by compassion. In our ministry we serve schools that are examples of this compassion – here, here and here – but what would it look like if this was the norm? We might be able to drop the qualifying terms – “authentic” or “distinctive” – all together.