Kierkegaard on Christian learning

"The sort of learning which is not in the last resort edifying is precisely for that reason unchristian. Everything that is Christian must bear some resemblance to the address which a physician makes beside the sick-bed: although it can be fully understood only by one who is versed in medicine, yet it must never be forgotten that it is pronounced beside the sick-bed. This relation of the Christian teaching to life (in contrast with a scientific aloofness from life), or this ethical side of Christianity, is essentially the edifying, and the form in which it is presented, however strict it may be, is altogether different, qualitatively different, from that sort of learning which is 'indifferent,' the lofty heroism of which is from a Christian point of view so far from being heroism that from a Christian point of view it is an inhuman sort of curiosity."

(HT: Todd Wedel)

Education that produces gratefulness

Eugene Peterson says:

We wake up each morning to a world we did not make. How did it get here? How did we get here? We open our eyes and see that “old bowling ball the sun” careen over the horizon. We wiggle our toes. A mocking bird takes off and improvises on themes set down by robins, vireos, and wrens, and we marvel at the intricacies. The smell of frying bacon works its way into our nostrils and we begin anticipating buttered toast, scrambled eggs, and coffee freshly brewed from our favorite Javanese beans.

There is so much here — around, above, below, inside, outside. Even with the help of poets and scientists we can account for very little of it. We notice this, then that. We start exploring the neighborhood. We try this street, and then that one. We venture across the tracks. Before long we are looking out through telescopes and down into microscopes, curious, fascinated by this endless proliferation of sheer Is-ness — color and shape and texture and sound.

After awhile we get used to it and quit noticing. We get narrowed down into something small and constricting. Somewhere along the way this exponential expansion of awareness, this wide-eyed looking around, this sheer untaught delight in what is here, reverses itself: the world contracts; we are reduced to a life of routine through which we sleepwalk.

But not for long. Something always shows up to jar us awake: a child’s question, a fox’s sleek beauty, a sharp pain, a pastor’s sermon, a fresh metaphor, an artist’s vision, a slap in the face, scent from a crushed violet. We are again awake, alert, in wonder: how did this happen? And why this? Why anything at all? Why nothing at all?

Gratitude is our spontaneous response to all this: to life. Something wells up within us: Thank you!

(from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 51)

Does your school’s education foster wonder or flatten the world? Do students doze off to the texture and intricacies of creation? Do your high schoolers seem dulled by their years in your school or enlivened? Are your students filled with gratitude?

How would education look different if educators framed the educational task as an effort to develop wonder and gratitude in students?


A Freudian Slip

Life without God is difficult to sustain; this became apparent to me while reading Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.’s The Question of God. In this book, Nicholi pits the thinking of C. S. Lewis (the theist) against Sigmund Freud (the atheist) and the result is a fascinating interaction between these monumental minds. One of the more interesting moments in the book occurs when Nicholi brings to light some of Freud’s letters. Curiously, these letters are laced with references to God. Here are some excerpts:

“I passed my examinations with God’s help”; “if God so wills”; “the good Lord”; “until after the Resurrection”; “science seems to demand the existence of God”; “God’s judgment”; “God’s will”; “God’s grace”; “God above”; “if someday we meet above”; “in the next world”; “my secret prayer.” In a letter to Oskar Pfitser, Freud writes that Pfister was “a true servant of God” and “was in the fortunate position to lead (others) to God.”

Confused? These are certainly peculiar words coming from an atheist. Nicholi says, “Can we not dismiss all this as merely figures of speech – common in English as well as in German? Yes, if it were anyone but Freud. But Freud insisted that even a slip of the tongue had meaning.” A Freudian slip indeed.

These glaring examples point to the difficulty of maintaining a purely materialistic view of the world. After all, when one loses God, they lose themselves. In order to retain the pieces of one’s humanity, the atheist must often become a bundle of contradictions. This is how Lewis felt during his atheist days. As Nicholi reminds, Lewis, although denying the existence of God, remained angry at God for not existing. And Lewis was just as upset at this God for creating a world and thrusting humanity – against their will – upon its stage.

It would be easy to puff ourselves up over Freud’s apparent inconsistencies, but I wonder whether Christians do something similar. For Freud, there existed a discrepancy between what he publicly professed and what Freud privately expressed through his letters. Freud appears to have lived a divided life. Might Christians be tempted to do the same? While publicly claiming belief in God, could it be that many Christians live their lives without giving God much thought? In other words, is it possible that many Christians live as practical atheists?

Classical Christian education, at its best, seeks to develop students who live fully integrated lives. By filling a student’s day with worship and aiming to understand all subjects in light of Christ, we will assist students in living consistent, unified lives.

Resurrection Power

Christian education and formation, by its very nature, is difficult because it's always working against the grain of the universe. All around us, life is marked by breakdown, decay, death. Christian formation, on the other hand, is about healing, growth, and life.

How could we ever succeed in bringing about healing and life in our students? What would make us think that we could push back against the deluge of death and decay that marks our existence in a fallen world? The short answer: Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection did not defeat death; instead victory came when Jesus stated with absolute finality, “it is finished.” In other words, death’s defeat came on Friday, not Sunday. John Stott puts it this way, “the cross was the victory won, and the resurrection the victory endorsed, proclaimed and demonstrated.”

This resurrection of Jesus will not be an isolated event. On the contrary, resurrection is the way of the future. Jesus is described as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23), and his Church will undergo resurrection and reside in a gloriously transformed and resurrected new creation. Jesus’ resurrection completely redirected the course of western civilization, something recognized by both Christians and non-Christians alike. French Philosopher and secular humanist, Luc Ferry, attributes the unlikely move from Greek to Christian thought as a direct result of the Christian hope of resurrection. If Jesus’ resurrection changed the course of western civilization, can it change the course of a student's life? I believe it can. Christian educators in the throes of discipleship, take heart, your energies and efforts are accompanied with resurrection power (Ephesians 1.19-20)!