I think it was the actor Alec Baldwin who smugly quipped something like, “I am not a Doctor but I play one on TV.” Occasionally I call myself out with a similar version: I am not a theologian but I like to play one on this blog. As if in a few hundred words, I might capture the essence of God’s Good News and its relevance for our work at Edify. Nevertheless, I keep reading thought-provoking stuff and thinking about answers to questions that I get frequently from people of all faith-perspectives about Edify. A lot of what I write here, I owe to two books that you should check out if you want to learn more: “When Helping Hurts” and “What is the Mission of the Church?”
So here’s an example of a question I’ve gotten: “Edify. Wow, sounds like meaningful work but why do you limit your work to just Christian private schools?” It’s a good question and one that I wrestle with myself. There is a lot of discussion among policy makers and educational philosophers about the true goal of education. Many secular humanists argue the primary aim of education is to impart knowledge and skills to young people in a way that will make them productive and independent members of society. The role of religion within this perspective varies widely. Richard Dawkins, in the preface to his best-selling The God Delusion, commented that he liked the newspaper advertising for a TV programme he made for Channel 4 in the UK because: “It was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with the caption ‘Imagine a world without religion.’ What was the connection? The twin towers of the World TradeCenter were conspicuously present.” Others see the role of religion in education as less offensive but fundamentally at odds with the need to develop in students a rational and objective world view.
In contrast, I see education as a powerful symbol for how God seeks to restore man in relationship with Himself. Rationality and objectivity are helpful skills but they are only building blocks toward a full view of the Gospel and as a result what is means to be human. For many that ask the question, we are now on different pages so let me go back and take a running start at this. One response might be, “We fund Christian schools exclusively because Christianity teaches universally accepted ethics that in turn produce just and fair citizens, not just self-centered materialists and consumers.” Trevor Cooling summarizes the position well, “…the argument for “doing God” [in schools] is that worldviews are integral to educational policy and practice since they are the source of the underpinning vision for what it means to flourish as a human.” (Check out Professor Cooling’s work for the UK based think tank, Theos here.) This response is valid because it sees education as an inherently moral process – so if a school teaches morality explicitly or implicitly, it might as well ensure the values being taught contribute to the common good. And they do, those Christian values, but there is so much more to it. Not the least of which is the idea that thanks to our fallen, sinful nature good morals only gets one so far!
Another response might be, “We fund Christian schools exclusively because we believe that a Christ-centered school is one where students can explore what it means to be in right relationship with others: their peers, their families, their communities, their governments.” I like this response too because it applies to schools regardless of cultural or socio-economic context. Sure, we at Edify aim to serve the world’s poor. However, material poverty is just one piece of the puzzle and as North Americans we often over-emphasize this version as Brian Fikkert so helpfully points out in “When helping hurts”. Relational poverty is really at the heart of what a school community can seek to address. Just think about the potential for reconciliation among different ethnicities as we’re seeing in Rwanda and South Sudan, the former Yugoslavia and so many other places. Professor Cooling points to Croatian-born Theolgian Miroslav Volf on this point saying,
His [Volf’s] pragmatic concern for alleviating human suffering drove him to uncover theological insights into situations of conflict, where people naturally tend to pursue the interest of their own identity over and against the interests of people with another identity. His conclusion was that the solution lay not in focusing, as policy makers tend to, on particular social arrangements, as for example in structuring education so that all schools are mixed, but in “fostering the kind of social agents capable of envisioning and creating just, truthful and peaceful societies and on shaping a cultural climate in which such agents will thrive”. In other words people’s characters are ultimately more important than the institutions created by public policy. (Doing God in Education, pg 59)
In other words, schools should be about creating communities for students and teachers to be in right relationship with one another. Christ-centered schools can be an ideal community for this kind of reconciliation.
So if you are tracking with me so far – and still reading way down here at the bottom of this post – then it’s not a huge leap to think about how Christ-centered schools might be a powerful symbol for the Gospel. The best kind of reconciliation is at the center of the good news: God and man can be reconciled thanks to the atoning work of Christ’s work on the Cross. In my next post, I’m going to explore this idea of school as symbol a bit more fully but don’t worry, I don’t pretend to think that Christ-centered schools are without fault. In fact, they’re full of people like you and me: sinners in need of a Savior.