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Is Christian Education Being Dumbed Down?

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In St. Paul's farewell speech to the Christian elders in Ephesus he says, "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26–27, ESV). What could the Apostle have meant by saying the whole counsel of God? If we examine these verses in other translations we discover "the whole will of God" (NIV) or "the whole purpose of God" (NASB). St. Paul essentially is saying that he has spoken the complete gospel, presented the whole truth about God's salvation.

"This salvation, "mystery" was the theme which prophets pondered and explored, those who prophesied about the grace of God awaiting you." (1 Peter 1:10 NEB) Peter goes on to say "These are things that angels long to see into," but openly been announced to us! This is the omnis veritas a Deo, truth with a capital "T," its "God's Truth."

"These are things hidden and they belong to the Lord our God, but what is revealed belongs to us and our children for ever; it is for us to observe all that is prescribed in this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29 NEB) We must discover ways to integrate these two worlds: (1) biblical/theological knowledge and (2) knowledge in the academic disciplines. Each must be informed by the other.

In 1999 I convened a "Colloquy on Christian Education and Culture" in New York City and invited Dr. Harold Heie to moderate. After the event I wrote a paper using the discussion from this session as the source, therefore it was collectively authored by the 17 participants of this session. (Note: 2018 will mark the 21st annual Colloquy.) Much of what I will observe is based on that paper and my personal observations both before and after the 1999 event.

A coherent worldview draws together both of the aforementioned spheres. Both natural and special revelation, are important, derived from God, and provide the proper foundation for integration. From this starting point we reclaim "the mind of Christ," discarding the things that compete for Christian understanding, and returning to the biblical perspective on human knowledge. The "Word of God" thus becomes the basis for authority.

While "integration" of faith, learning, and living has become a slogan at Christian schools, Christian educators seldom seem to achieve it. More often than not, these elements merely coexist. Instead of integration, the model for Christian education usually includes little more than placing Bible courses side by side with other courses, or opening a class with Scripture and prayer. These are good things to do, but they are not integration. A dualism/bifurcation thus exists between biblical/theological studies and knowledge in other academic disciplines.

There never has been a separation of faith and learning in the mind of God. I remember hearing Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein say this in Philadelphia in 1961. So perhaps the term "reintegration" would be more accurate, reuniting the two areas of knowledge we have separated, but which have always been unified in God's view. All courses should be informed by biblical and theological understanding since nothing is fully understandable apart from God (see: Romans 11:33-36, I Cor.2:16, & Isaiah 40:13 & 14).

Having said all of this as a foundation I believe I can be faithful to scripture which says, "Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish." (Proverbs 18:13 NLT) Not only are Christian educators "spouting off," but many actually refuse to consider "incarnational" education. Some time ago one history teacher said to a friend of mine, "I teach history not a Bible version of history." He obviously didn't understand. The complete integration of "faith and learning" will produce a most liberal arts education, an education which could be describe as rigorous!

So why are so many institutions "back-peddling," dumbing down? That's what the Christian schools and colleges in my area are doing, and so are many others around the country.

Within short driving distance of my home are three Christian schools and a Christian college. These four are struggling both financially and academically, and that's "Struggling" with a capital "S." I know this because I have taught at all of them and I continue to keep close watch of them as well. Just yesterday a close friend and Christian educator wrote me about this very thing saying, "...you can't expect people to produce what they've never seen or heard done successfully by somebody they admire. We need to beat that drum until somebody shoots us—or starts to act on its truth."

As I have examined these institutions what is clearly apparent is that each school has lowered requirements for graduation, for individual course work, and for receiving a satisfactory grade point average. This has essentially "dumbed down" the Christian education they so boldly announce as "excellent," and substituted a second and third rate pretense of education. Two and three honor rolls exist so no one feels left out, multiple valedictorian or salutatorians are selected, and everyone seems to receive some kind of award. Overall students are not receiving and education and certainly not a Christian education! The fact is that teachers who possess educational expectations are moved out.

I have been of the opinion that school things begin to change when family time around the dinner table becomes, tense when the children begin to complain about school work and school discipline. Then the parents, not wanting to deal with this discomforting situation, carry these thoughts to the school and the school acts on the complaint. Boy, have things become reversed. Now it's the schools fault, the teachers fault. Actually its yes to both because the school, instead of presenting the education as equipping students succumbs to the pressure. This is also true of the teacher, only doubly so, bending to both the administration's pressure and the parent's. The "real pressure" should be for a "first-rate" education which is truly a "Christian" education.

"Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:6-10 ESV) As educators we cannot, must "not shrink from declaring to (all) the whole counsel of God." Our children's future depends on it!

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.

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