Thinking Our Way Back to School
“Evangelicals throughout the nineteenth century had not worked very self-consciously at thinking about the best ways, consistent with the Bible itself, to push thinking from the Scripture to modern situations and back again. That is, habits of patient study were far less well exercised than habits of quick quotation. Proof-texting did not cause great damage so long as the culture as a whole held to general Christian values, but when those general Christian values began to weaken, the weakness in evangelical theologizing — even more, in thinking like a Christian about the world in general — became all too evident.” (p.108, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind).
Mark Noll identifies a major weakness in recent evangelical history: we have abandoned the capacity to think and substituted instead with quotes of convenience. It’s time for a change.
In the province of Ontario, our public school health curriculum will be undergoing a significant change in the fall of 2015. These changes were first introduced in 2010 but will now, it seems, be mandated in just a few months. The premise is that the times have changed, digital influence has changed and therefore we need to be educating our children about their bodies, diversity of families, and what counts as consensual sexual activity – from as young as Grade 1.
An interesting quote from a grade 8 student at the January 27, 2015 news conference:
“Whether or not teens are going to be having sex when they’re 13 or 14 … learning about abstinence isn’t realistic because sex is a part of society, part of our lives,” she said. “Not learning about consent means not knowing what consent is when you do decide to have sex.”
You can read the full article here.
Let’s just say that the conservative side, including evangelicals, of our province has been in quite a stir and it continues to get a little more frenzied as the time for implementation draws near. There is truth in many parts of this adolescent sentiment. It will serve the evangelical community well to listen to the truth within it. We must be willing to acknowledge what is true and earn the right to be heard.
“The Bible will always provide the deepest and most far-reaching orientation for carrying on the life of the mind. But proper examination of the world is required in conjunction with proper use of the Bible in order to understand the world as God ordained that it should be understood.” (p.53) While I don’t necessarily have solutions readily available, I do believe that retreat from our public education schools is not an answer. Neither are demonstrations or ‘grandstanding’. Mark Noll, in the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, said it this way: “As the New Testament so vividly illustrates, Christianity seems to work best from a modest position. That posture keeps its advocates humble, which is the paradoxically powerful servant stance.” (p. 248)
The incarnational example of Jesus is that He came into a world that had not had any sign, prophet, message or king who was God’s representative for hundreds of years. He was born into a culture of violence and fear. Mark Noll, in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, says it better this way:
“If it is true that the Word became flesh, it must also be true that the realm that bore the Word, the realm of flesh, is worthy of the most serious consideration. (Loc. 449)… If Jesus Christ shows us God in human flesh, does not God-in-human-flesh also show us something of great importance about humanity? (Loc. 478)
Yet he never came with a temporal political agenda, instead He took time to get to know the people around Him, understand their interests, points of view and then spoke clearly and resolutely about the truth of God as it related to that matter. He asked questions, and He was willing to accept ridicule and mockery along the way from those who, were inwardly challenged by the depth of Truth He spoke, while they outwardly tried to hang onto their power, position or possessions.
Jesus’ posture enabled Him to serve the needs of those who were looking for God; His words communicated that God was also looking for them. In a practical sense, for our situation, that means that:
- We need to ask for forgiveness for ways in which we, as evangelical believers in Christ have misrepresented Our Lord and His Truth.
- our churches should be looking to build relationships with our schools, seeking ways to serve the real needs (not just the ones that are convenient for us) of the schools in our area.
- Our parents should be involved on parent councils and volunteering in the classrooms as needed.
- Our people need to remember that everyone in the school is created in the image of God, loved dearly by Him and that God desperately desires to redeem their lives. Our conduct should reflect that perspective.
- Being more conscientious about discipling our children, at home, to think critically and biblically.
- To take initiative as parents and students to offer alternative work projects for any subject areas that may be outside of our comfort level.
- Prayerfully support and encourage our educators who may be struggling with teaching the new mandate.
For those who are already doing this, my prayer and encouragement will continue toward you. For those thinking of getting out of the school system, it would be a shame to lose the potential of your Spirit-given, Christ-centered, biblically-founded perspective. How can we influence change if we’re not present and ready for engagement, whether it’s this matter or any other?
I’m not sure how this will all play out when the new curriculum rolls out in September, but I do know that only those willing to think clearly with the mind of Christ and willing to serve resolutely with the love of Christ will ever gain a credible voice in the classroom, parent council or their local board of Education. “The main point, however, is…: for serious intellectual efforts, those who look to Christ as their prophet, priest, and king act most faithfully when they carry out those efforts with norms defined by Christ.” (Loc. 1396, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind)
15 responses to “Thinking Our Way Back to School”
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Hey Deve, what a perfect read for the situation you and the community in province of Ontario are faced with when it comes to this weeks readings! I think these are some of the most helpful book I have read in the program thus far. I loved what you point after Noll’s quote at the start of your post “Mark Noll identifies a major weakness in recent evangelical history: we have abandoned the capacity to think and substituted instead with quotes of convenience. It’s time for a change.”
During my earlier days in America, I thought people would be excited to talk about God in public, but I soon realized that there was shame on the believers’ side, both disdain and suspension on the side of the unbelievers. I always wondered why it was this way. When I asked unbelievers, they thought Christians where anti-science and anti intellectual. The believers thought that unbeliever did not want to listen to them.
But as you noted, “it time to change” and this changes will begin with your call to repentance and a willingness to stage engaged instead of being disengaged. Your write:
“We need to ask for forgiveness for ways in which we, as evangelical believers in Christ have misrepresented Our Lord and His Truth. Our churches should be looking to build relationships with our schools, seeking ways to serve the real needs (not just the ones that are convenient for us) of the schools in our area.
Our parents should be involved on parent councils and volunteering in the classrooms as needed.”
Why do you intend and plan to encourage members of you congregation towards what change might look like?
Michael, I think you are exactly right — Christians are often viewed as anti-science and anti-intellectual. I remember when Lee Strobel came out with his series of books – Case for Christ, Case for the Creator, Case for the Real Jesus, etc. – there was tremendous push back from the church I was serving. Perhaps it was a theological difference (I honestly don’t remember the “why”, I just remembered the craziness.), but the church did not even want to use the books as a starting point to begin discussions and encourage study. They were such staunch advocates of “faith is believing without seeing”…and that was it. No questions allowed. They were missing opportunities to create an open, safe space to ask honest questions and to explore learning together as a community of faith. Until reading these books, I don’t think I had processed how many of our congregations do not encourage seeking… Hmm…
Deve, your wisdom in connecting the text to practical, real-time situations never cease to amaze me. I love the list you created could not only apply to the school board decision your town is facing, but a number of scenarios within our churches, our communities, and our world. Perhaps I’ll scribble these down for further use! How do you plan on encouraging your members to embrace the statements you listed?
Michael & Ashley:
Thanks for your responses to this post. Since you’re both asking the same question, I could choose to ignore you both, deflect the question to one I’m more prepared to answer, or give you our actual response…I’ll choose the latter.
We can’t make people stay in the public school system if they don’t want to. However, we do regularly communicate, in different ways, the importance of being actively involved in our children’s education. It’s great accountability for the teacher, but it also provides more confidence in the child, when they know that their parent(s) are known and respected by the school. As a church leader, I try and develop relationships with the leaders of other organizations in our community. This often has a way of helping us figure out where needs might be and how we, as a church can help. I then take those opportunities to our leadership and share them with our church family. That’s where we’ve started over these last few years…we’re open to suggestions and always looking for new ways in which to deepen these relationships.
You asked the question of the day…how do we get church members to get involved? We are called to share the light that God has given each of us. The world needs to see that there is a better way to live and care for one another. Getting others to model this is often difficult, which is why we must first set the example.
Amen, Richard! Amen!
You have demonstrated what careful thinking might look like in the midst of our present (and even changing environs). I so appreciated your quotes from our reading as they provide the groundwork in which this “work” is based. And it is from your first item that might dictate the posture. You’ve reminded me of our chat with MaryKate on Monday. Examen and relinquishment are pathways to forgiveness. That posture is so evident in your post. You have also provided integration for how learning and critical thinking might take place. Practical humility.
Your quote from “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind” regarding the “Word became flesh” reveals perhaps how difficult it is for us to reconcile the ongoing revelation of what the Word became flesh means in each “age.” In our first reading (“Scandal of an Evangelical Mind”) Noll asserted that “The condemning scandal for evangelicals is that they have neglected this second emphasis (taking on flesh and dwelling among us) and all that it implies about he possibility of thinking about this realm of flesh. Their redeeming scandal is that they have not yet forgotten the first (nature of the Son of Man).” (p. 252).
This seems to be the significant growing edge in our discipleship. In your post you have provided insights into how that might look within a challenging place in society. Thanks Deve!
Carol, these matters are always a challenge and I appreciate your perspective on them. The tensions that we live with seem grow stronger and the openings for evangelical perspective are getting smaller. May the Lord give us leaders, with the mind of Christ, to help navigate these times.
A thought-provoking post Deve!
I appreciate how you apply Noll’s teaching to a present-day need – the public school system.
Perhaps it’s because we feel we don’t have the answers that we shy away from these kind of situations. But as Scripture encourages us, we need to seek out the answers from God, as He is not short of solutions. 🙂 May God give us the wisdom we need to address these pertinent issues.
Great prayer Liz, we must continually keep that in mind.
As always, thoughtful and challenging. I loved your points about what we could do differently and better. I also think it is useful when intersecting with the world about Christ based principles, that perhaps we might step away from the either-or perspective. I don’t mean to compromise the truth. I do mean to present an opportunity to consider the whole. For example, in the sex education discussion, perhaps the conversation is not merely abstinence or not. Perhaps an approach that honors the believer and non-believer is one that considers that consent (the bias of the world) also includes the ability to abstain, and for the beliefs and values of the person who abstains to be honored. Further, to recognize and teach that honoring when a man or woman, boy or girl, says no is also a means of honoring women and girls and preventing violence. It is a challenge to speak in the public sphere from a Christian perspective. But when we do so in a way that goes beyond right and wrong, to elevating respect for all people and doing so from a Chris based logic… That is good.
Julie, I could not agree with you more. Too often, Christians have taken the “our way or we’re out” mentality. This has only served to remove “light-bearing” voices from the shaping of policy, etc. Demonstrating respect for those in decision making positions can allow us to come to a point of agreement where the positions we hold become part of what is being taught, particularly if we can show how it benefits more than just our student or our situation. I think sometimes we need to remember that the chapter and verses were not the inspired parts of the bible and that we can ways to include the wisdom of God in the words we share and then allow Him to use it. There will always be opportunity, thanks for being one who shares these goals.
Great post. I’d like to incorporate your list into my interactions with others. This is something that every Christian man, pastor, or church leader should be doing in his or her personal and corporate life. We should continuously seek to be involved in an intentionally way to make a difference for Christ in the lives of others. After reading your post, the Lord has convicted me that I must become more involved in my son’s school. It has been too easy for me to leave the responsibility to my wife or others. Thank you, Deve, for reminding me of my biblical duty as a father and husband. Just because our children seem to be getting along ok, doesn’t mean that we can neglect our Biblical responsibilities.
Richard, the time spent in the places where our children go to school is always worthwhile. In particular, if men get involved…at least in our community there are so many broken families and single mom families that there are few men who are actively involved. If you have other “action” items to add to the list then let me know.
We definitely have a responsibility for our own children, but I think we also share a responsibility for others, as followers of Jesus Christ, to provide biblical perspective within the frameworks of our society.
Hey Deve. Great application of some good material. I sat next to another Colombian on my flight back from Colorado Springs. He told me of his younger brother who had become a Baptist and then presently began to push this on all of his Catholic family members. Roberto, the one sitting next to me on the flight, remained on moved in this Catholic faith. He tried to have intellectual conversations and ask deep meaningful questions to his brother but his brother would become irrational and spout off the Baptist belief as if was the only way. Roberto began to look at his brother’s new conversion as a cult the way his brother no longer used his brain to engage in meaningful dialog.
To your situation we cannot do the same as this converted Catholic and simply spout off our belief and not allow for discussion to take place, whether it be in the school system or a different belief system then our choice. How can we begin to engage the culture if we cannot even carry on civil conversation with other follower of Christ?