“What is your theology of education?”
It’s a question I ask candidates during those infrequent moments I find myself on an interview committee. I challenge you, dear reader, to stop for a moment and ponder that question before continuing. Go ahead … I’ll wait.
A Series of Questions
If you’re like most people to whom I’ve posed that question, it causes you to stop in your tracks for a moment. Perhaps it even prompts more questions. We have entire classes dedicated to the philosophy and psychology of education, but what exactly is a theology of education and how does one apply such a theology to a diverse catalog of courses, many of which seem disparate from Scripture and the Christ revealed within? Does such a question even matter to a Christian teacher whose subject matter rarely intersects with questions of faith? As I said, that simple question prompts many more.
Consider another series of questions I often ask my students:
“Why do you go to school?”
The first response is the most varied; it’s either “Because my parents make me” or “To get good grades.”
From there, the answers become consistent.
“Why bother getting good grades?”
“To get into a good college.”
“Why does getting into a good college matter?”
“So I can get a good job.”
“Why is that important?”
“So I can make a lot of money.”
“And is that your ultimate goal?”
“I want to have a good life.”
The answers are predictable in our modern age. The sad thing is, the final conclusion is the right answer, but it has been woefully corrupted by a materialism woven so deeply into the fabric of our society that even well-meaning Christian teachers fall for it, even though they know better. The words are correct, but the sentiment is ladened with a seduction not dissimilar to the taste of the forbidden fruit of Eden.
An Abundant Life
The abundant life is not one surrounded by material wealth. Of course, few Christian teachers would disagree with that statement, but then what else do we mean when we look for “a good job” as an end to which education serves as the most convenient means? The good life is a life full of joy. Likewise, the good job is one filled with joy. True joy is not found by busying oneself with a single-minded career. True joy is found within one’s vocations. The plural is not an accident. We all have our vocations—both formal and informal. These are the various callings into which the Lord has placed us. He has gifted us with the tools and the skills to serve others and, in turn, serve Him. Therein lies the secret of true joy—it’s discovered when we take Christ at His word and die to ourselves, living out our vocations in servant relationship with our employers and co-workers and students and spouses and children and friends and siblings.
When Jesus told the Pharisees that as the Good Shepherd, He “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), He wasn’t speaking of material abundance but the joy that comes from knowing Christ as Savior and being inspired by that relationship, laying down our lives in service to those whose lives intersect our vocations. As He expounded upon this abundant life, He pointed clearly to His own act of service whereby He laid down His life for the sheep. Although we may not be called upon to die for others, we are called to lives of service.
Equipped to Serve
The purpose of learning grammar and mathematics and geology and consumer science isn’t to get rich off of other people but to be equipped in every way so that we might be prepared to serve others in whatever purposes the Lord calls us. Hidden within those moments of service are the joy by which the good and abundant life are defined. Education prepares us to discover joy by equipping us to serve.
So, what is the theology of education? It’s simple: education is the process whereby we are formed to do the good works of service, “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Education is the predecessor and the companion of all vocations, both religious and secular, enabling God’s people to honor their callings as St. Paul admonishes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24).
As an educator, your vocation is an exhilarating mix of steady theology and shifting cultural trends.