Purposes of Christian Education

The interest of the writer in this post is to glean the various purposes of Christian education as observed in the writings of Nicholas Wolterstorff. I find three relevant essays written by Nicholas Wolterstorff that are helpful in guiding us to accomplish our aim. These essays are included in his book Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. In that book he deals with the purposes of Christian education in tertiary level. Our concern is to identify those purposes of tertiary Christian education in order to inform Christian education in general about the purpose of its existence.

Five Models of Christian Education

The first essay is about Teaching for Shalom: On the Goal of Christian Collegiate Education. In this chapter Wolterstorff believes that the purpose of education is dependent on the model adopted by the institution. He discussed about four models of education. These models carry with them specific goals of education. These models are the following: Christian humanist, maturation, socialization,[1] and academic-discipline. Wolterstorff identifies the shortcomings of the enumerated models and proposes a new model with a new purpose to it, which he calls shalom model. This is what the first essay is all about. We shall elaborate the content of this essay and return later to the remaining two essays.

The dominant concept in Christian humanist model is freedom. Wolterstorff promotes the ideas of Michael Oakwshott though the latter does not teach about a theory of Christian education. He does this because in his assessment Oakwshott elaborates the concept of liberation, which Wolterstorff believes is central to Christian humanist model. Oakwshott asserts liberation by becoming human. Becoming human for him is an inhabitant “of a world composed… of meanings…” Once an individual understands this, he is liberated from his particularity and being initiated “into a more universal human consciousness.” Oakwshott adds that part of this liberation is to interpret “our cultural heritage … as religious beings…as beings of diverse religions.” At this point, Wolterstorff claims that William Harry Jellema upholds this last component in Oakwshott’s concept of liberation. For Jellema, education ultimately is “both a manifestation of the life of some religious kingdom and an initiation in that life.” The initiation in that life means initiation “into the Christian mind.” Wolterstorff concludes based on the foregoing consideration that the purpose of Christian education in tertiary level is therefore “to initiate students into the cultural heritage of humanity from a Christian perspective, thus freeing them from their parochialism and partiality.”

The maturation model is somehow difficult to grasp. Wolstertorff takes the components of maturation model from Oakwshott. The following components described this maturation model: no curriculum, no sequence, full of surprises, experimental, self-directed, discovery, freedom of expression, creativity, and action-oriented.

The same is true with socialization model. Wolterstoff gets this idea from Oakwshott. The following characteristics describe this model: nationalism, empowering the masses, alternative education, apprenticeship, connected to Christian service model, familiar, immediate, and current context, usable skills, and relevant to facts of life.

The academic-discipline model emphasizes the significance of cultural mandate. Its origin is traced in the work of Francis Bacon. Wolterstorff questions the accuracy of identifying the origin of academic discipline model with Francis Bacon. He claims that the model is older than Bacon. In fact, Wolterstorff confidently asserts that the academic-discipline model is “the dominant model in the medieval European universities.” It is “more venerable even than the humanist model.”

After describing the four models of education, Wolterstorff underscores their weakness. He said that the mentioned models were weak in terms of dealing adequately “with the wounds of humanity,” especially the moral wounds. He designates his proposal as shalom model.

Wolterstorff underlines the weakness of academic discipline model in neglecting the liberation mandate due to its emphasis on cultural mandate. The Christian humanist model is deficient in recognizing the starving people of the world and preoccupies itself only on the importance of participation “in the great cultural conversation of humanity.” The socialization model emphasizes training for occupational callings but overlooks the condition of the unemployed and underemployed. Justice is the common weakness of all the mentioned models.

The shalom model believes that justice is its foundation but it must not stop there. It must go beyond justice. The goal is restoration of a holistic relationship to God, to one’s self, to fellow human being, and to nature. In this holistic restoration of relationship, the most important component is delight.

We find out that each of the foregoing models carries with it an educational purpose. The humanist model makes humanization as its purpose, which liberation as the key theme. The maturation model exalts the self-motivation in learning. The socialization model focuses on the preparation for a specific vocation. The academic-discipline model aims to engage in cultural dialogue. The direction of shalom model gears towards holistic relational restoration.

Three Levels of Christian Response

The second essay is about The Mission of the Christian College at the End of the Twentieth Century. Wolterstorff speaks about the three levels of Christian response to the development that surrounds him. Wolterstorff mentions the power of evolution and higher criticism of the Bible as the historical contexts that brought the first level of response of the Christian church. He classified this first level of response as focusing primarily on personal piety and evangelism. In a way, this response is somehow escapist.

He designates the second level of response as cultural engagement. The key activity here is “the integration of faith and learning.” He explains that the nature of this integration is not just simply adding on faith to scholarship. Rather, it is a faithful exercise of scholarship from Christian perspective in the midst of a pluralistic academic setting. Wolterstorff accentuates that the task of the Christian scholar “is to practice scholarship in Christian perspective and to penetrate the roots of that scholarship with which she finds herself in disagreement, along the way appropriating whatever she finds of use.”

The third level of response calls for an active engagement not merely in the cultural task but in reforming the society. In order to realize this vision, there are three necessary components to be included as educational goals. The first component is international consciousness. The second component is innovative packaging of subjects utilized in instruction. He includes “programs in peace and war, nationalism, poverty, urban ugliness, ecology, crime and punishment.” The third component is praxis. The goal here “is not just to understand the world but to change it.” It is not simply to supply a Christian worldview but “a Christian way of being and acting in the world.”

He concludes his essay by adding another concept under the third level of response. He designates this as possessing a catholic understanding of the church. He reminds a specific tradition against an attitude of monopoly of wisdom and faithfulness. He appreciates the contribution of various traditions in the church. He identifies four: prayer and contemplation from the Greek Orthodox Church, sacrament from the Roman Catholic Church, the Word of God from the Reformers, and repentance and second birth from the evangelical tradition.

In concluding this section, we find three distinct educational purposes based on the varied Christian responses to the developments in society. In the first level, we find personal piety and evangelism as goal of Christian education. In the second level, cultural engagement is the obvious goal. In the third level of response, reforming the society is the purpose for the existence of Christian education.

Towards the Goal of Ethical Formation for Justice

The third essay is about Teaching for Justice: On Shaping How Students Are Disposed to Act. This essay mentions about the great shapers of disposition based on the “wisdom of the ages and the discoveries of contemporary psychology.” The author starts first with the need of an “adequate cognitive framework” that includes three elements and then proceeds to the discussion of reasons, discipline, models, and empathy as shapers of disposition for justice.

The three important components of cognitive framework for justice are a distinct Christian social ethic, a structural analysis of contemporary issues in the society, and an act to merge the Christian social ethic and the societal analysis. This distinct Christian social ethic Wolterstorff states must both be grounded in and go beyond biblical exegesis. Exegesis is claimed to be responsible if it is ecumenically and globally informed. Going beyond biblical exegesis means dealing with present issues that are never dealt both in New and Old Testament times. The structural analysis incorporates the democratic procedure, the recognition of injustice in various social strata, the awareness of interaction between ideas and social dynamics, and the commitment to be faithful to the gospel. The third element in this cognitive framework realizes the need for both appreciation and critique of current developments in the society.

This essay has one dominant goal that Christian education must learn, which is the formation of disposition for justice [1] Christian service model falls under this classification (11,21).

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