As Christian as possible? (A phrase borrowed from my friend and former colleague at the Stony Brook School, Dr. Peter K. Haile.) That's Right! "As Christian as possible."
How often have you viewed promotional material from a Christian school or college which stressed, "Learning from a Christian Perspective?" For years Christian educators spoke of this as the, "Integration of Faith and Learning." More recently, since many felt the "faith and learning" phrase was ready for a "nervous breakdown" or perhaps a "traumatic stress disorder," educational commentators have been looking for fresh language. Now you're likely to hear or read, "faith influenced education," "incarnational learning," or more commonly "worldview learning manifestation." But, in the end, "the more things change the more they stay the same!"
In 1952 Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein at the "Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures" at Dallas Theological Seminary delivered a series on Christian education. Subsequently in 1954 The Pattern of God's Truth was published and discussed the "inner workings of education" with the "external meaning of God's truth," the "living union between Christianity and learning." For many years Dr. Gaebelein maintained oversight for the summer educators' seminars at Wheaton (IL) College dealing with this very subject of faith and learning integration. And also we can't forget the importance of another proponent of faith and learning practice, Wheaton College Professor and Chair of Philosophy and author of All Truth is God's Truth and The Idea of a Christian College, Dr. Arthur F. Holmes.
Dr. Holmes was so committed to the practice of the integration of Christian faith and learning that he offered to mentor new faculty hires for me at a yet to be established C. S. Lewis School in New York City. Why would this be needed?
Here is Reason #1 to be "as Christian as possible:
Dr. Holmes said, "You will be hiring Christians to teach won't you?" "Yes," I replied, "only Christians." He continued, "These Christians will have been graduated from: NYU, Penn State, Rutgers, and other non-Christian colleges and universities where Christian education philosophy was not of importance."
For that matter, educators coming from Christian colleges would also need mentoring as well since their professors weren't "integrating," but teaching their courses as they had experienced at their college. This you see creates a vicious cycle in need of conscious interruption.
This "call to arms" generally falls flat! The practice of this "living union" doesn't simply mean adding a Bible verse here and there, or using God as a reference, and certainly not adding a prayer to begin class. Since it demands "refashioning" a syllabus, including extensive research, most are unwilling to "take the plunge."
I was floored when, in conversation with a noted Christian professor at a respected Christian college, was told, "I don't get involved with the integration thing. I just teach the subject." I was speechless and my thoughts clouded for the moment. Hiring a teacher who is a Christian isn't enough!
Reason #2: Simply educating within a Christian academic community, where Christian practice is emphasized, does not mean that a "living union" will naturally follow. The reality of this context does not assure our desired result.
Some years before the experience mentioned above I had established, in New York City, The Annual Colloquy on Christian Education and Culture. This shocking statement from a seasoned Christian professor fell upon my ears about seven years into the project and ultimately reinforced my commitment to encouraging Christian education which would transform and last. An authentic Christian education will prepare students to "… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15).
Some who have encountered the concept of the "integration of faith and learning" think it involves not teaching some of the subject matter. It doesn't!
Reason #3: We need to teach it all, go where it leads. This means teaching the "Theory of Evolution," "Freud and Jung," "Concepts of Aleatoric Music," "American Abstract Art," and the "Theater of the Absurd." The study, however, must establish a "biblical basis" for understanding and forming in support of or divergence from Christian thinking. Years ago, for instance, I taught a high school course on the "biblical basis" for Pascal's Pensées using Dr. Peter Kreeft's book Christianity for Modern Pagans.
It is my opinion that a Christian education is a truly "liberal education." Christian educators shouldn't avoid diverse views, but establish the milieu from which to reach and establish an educated position, a Christian educated opinion, which is "as Christian as possible!"