We live in a society in which the central emphasis could be described as anything but God. Even more alarming is the thought that this same trend can be observed in Christianity itself. The reality of our cultural crisis is a fact we must come to terms with and, in context of the Christian School, we must open our hearts and minds to our own negligence of God-focused paradigms and practices. What are the distinctive qualities of “Christian education” and how does our answer to that question impact the daily practices of the classroom?
Like it or not, true biblical education over time will always result in a division between those Christians who build their cultural endeavors on a biblical foundation and who will prosper under God’s cultural blessing, and those Christians who do not, and who remain in the cultural ghetto typified by a modern Christian merchandise shop. We once built great cathedrals; now we throw gospel Frisbees. -Douglas Wilson, Repairing the Ruins
The erosion of our Christianity has equally eroded our vision for Christian education. There aren’t enough curricular, programmatic, or state standard sandbags to fix the decades of degradation we have suffered. This may all sound dire, but truth needs to ring with reality if hope can ring with possibility. The following points are an attempt to define, clarify, and specify education idolatry. The conclusion is a hopeful call to repentance from education idolatry.
1. What Is Education Idolatry?
Everyone is partially blinded to the degree that we are influenced by our culture. Like the pagans in Habakkuk, we are enamored with our own glory instead of the glory of God. Such a foundational paradigm is not easily recognized and less easily removed. In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet laments the iniquity and judgment of Judah. At one point he cries out, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it ” (Hab. 2:18-19). Instead of metal images and silent stones, we deal with different idols: atheistic and agnostic philosophies of education. Can this teach?
2. Education Idolatry Clarified
Education idolatry is the result of any educational philosophy that is less than comprehensively centered around God. C.S. Lewis frames the issue so clearly it is worth quoting him extensively.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.
–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
The actual pursuit is of God himself and education is merely a means to better equip students in that pursuit. Lewis understood that education, in general, is idolatrous when it fails to recognize this ultimate pursuit. However, when Christian education is insufficiently permeated by Christian truth the result is particularly idolatrous.
3. Education Idolatry Specified
So what does education idolatry look like practically? In purpose, perspective, philosophy, and programs there are numerous ways this becomes integrated within Christian schools.
If the ultimate purpose of education matches the worlds (Is the American dream the goal?)
If our educational philosophy could be summarized as supplementing secular education with Jesus
If each subject is not taught from an all-encompassing Christian worldview
If Bible class is the extent of the biblical curriculum of the school
If public school is viewed as the measuring rod for academic excellence
If chapel is understood as the spiritual component of the school
There are undoubtedly other ways that idolatry can infiltrate Christian education; however, these serve as overarching entryways.
4. A Call to Repentance
Education is not philosophically, theologically, or spiritually neutral. Worldview affects every facet and Christian education must be held to a higher standard of thinking through curriculum, pedagogy, policy, discipline, and spirituality in a distinctively Christian manner. Christian educators must engage in self-examination, institutional examination, and philosophical examination to determine where idolatry has crept in. Then our call is to confess and diligently pursue the beauty of gospel driven, biblically faithful, and spirit-empowered education—Education…for the glory of God.
Chris (Michael Christopher) Dunn believes that God is worth his word being studied well and his desire is to study it seriously without taking himself too seriously. He teaches Bible at a private Christian School and serves as Director of Discipleship at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, NC. Follow him at @mcdunn85.