Why my Christian education has troubled me….

In the fourth grade, I was sitting in Sunday School and my Sunday School teacher was teaching about the book of Revelation. During this time, he told us that God planned for a treacherous man that they call the anti-christ to come and murder all of the remaining Christians who were “left behind”. He said that God needs to destroy this earth because the people are so bad. I raised my hand in painful innocence, and, asked why God couldn’t just fix this earth instead of destroying it and planning that pain? My Sunday School teacher told me it was in the Bible, so I “better not question it”.

My freshman year of College, I was sitting in my Freshman New Testament class and my teacher told our class that if we weren’t tithing our time each day to God in prayer we were not living as “faithful followers of Christ”. She said that if weren’t dedicating 2.4 hours a day to God in prayer, and, more than 10% of our money to God, there was no way we could be right with God. She shamed the class with this belief the whole semester. I remember sitting in this class being livid, because, any person who needed to flaunt their “spiritual success” over another person to make them feel bad, doesn’t seem very Christ-like. Never mind that this “biblical teacher” with “biblical teaching” was teaching something that was clearly not biblical.

We need people to guide us in life, don’t we? There are people who are clearly more mature than we are. That’s why Churches need Pastors, Elders and Deacons. It’s why we need Counselors and Spiritual Directors. We need people who are further in the journey, to guide us deeper in our own. How can anyone who has not taken that journey themselves lead others to where they’re desiring to go?

Its as if education has become a product of consumerism. We are told to believe certain beliefs. And, when we do this, we can get confirmed or affirmed. So, we’re told our worth as students comes from repeating the answers of our teachers back to them. So what if our teachers are wrong, then our worth as students comes from believing their wrong beliefs? And, if the teacher is right, and, we consume it, then is it a part of me, or, do I just know it?

In my short life, I don’t learn by being told to consume. I learn from being wrecked by reality. We learn by being present to God, to ourselves and others. Very few things will teach us more than the failures, pain and reality of who we are, and, being present to where others are at. In these moments, we are wrecked by bigger and better questions. And, these bigger and better questions alter our path, it narrows our path to God, but, the road becomes wider for ourselves and others. Bigger and better questions, will hurt us, but, only because it is tearing open new space for others, for ourselves and for God to move within us. This space feels like life and death, because, I am dying to who I was and being reborn into something more beautiful, more hopeful, more peaceful and more filled with love, more filled with God.

The best teachers in my life, are the people who create space for me. Their thoughts, their life, their questions, create a new reality for me, which points me to God. They aren’t troubled by my questions because their space can occupy the weight of it. They aren’t troubled by my pain and doubts, because their space can occupy the weight of it. The best teachers in my life have given me more space for God to occupy within me, because, the way God works within theirs, painfully and wonderfully opens its way into me.

My hope for you, is that you have good teachers in your life. People who will lead you to a bigger reality. People who will help you be filled with the life that is dying to be awakened within you and around you.

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9 thoughts on “Why my Christian education has troubled me….

  1. Adam Mearse says:

    Well said, my friend. Education is definitely a product of consumerism
    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=feedf). I am working on a PhD in education and discovering more and more how difficult it is to teach outside of “the system”. That said, I think it can and must be done – in the school and the church (which has followed the same educational model for the most part). Blessings to you, brother.

  2. Nicky cahill says:

    Everyday Mike, your posts just get better and better. Totally agree with everything you have to say here. Had many a similar experience and l pray that God uses me to help others find that
    Bigger reality. Thank you for posting this. Nics

  3. Peri Gilbert says:

    I agree with you as a former student of a Christian University and now a teacher. Looking back, I realize how much and, yet how little learned. As an educator now, I realize must be careful what I tell my students if I want to see them grow not only educationally, but also spiritually and mentally.

    Great post!

  4. Mike your ability to give voice to the cry of the heart of a generation never ceases to amaze me. I think you are also giving voice to the heart cry of many educators as well.

    What passes for Christian education in America today is all too often “neither.” It is not education, because it is only interested in indoctrination. It is not Christian, because it doesn’t teach using the kind of educational process Jesus devoted himself to.

    Great education teaches students not WHAT to think, but HOW to think. The truth doesn’t need to be protected by limiting our conversation to “safe” answers, it needs to be let out of its cage so its dangerous questions can transform us.

    As Morpheus so profoundly told Neo in the Matrix, genuine Christian education seeks to “free minds” from false ways of seeing the world. Getting students to parrot “correct” answers within a narrowly defined band of options is as dangerous as it is counter-productive. It either leaves students “enslaved” to limited ways of thinking, or terminally “skeptical” (another form of enslavement), because they intuitively know that something is wrong with their world as interpreted by those around them, or both. That goes for most public education and its obsession with “political correctness,” and a great deal of church-sponsored education that is equally obsessed with “traditional correctness.”

    Greek liberal arts education was specifially designed to be “liberating arts” that could “free the mind from traditional beliefs accepted uncritically.” Birthed in the life and teachings of Socrates, as recorded by Plato, and refined by Aristotle, a liberal arts education was consumed, not with the acquisition of information, but the pursuit of truth. Their aim is to examine “our opinions and values to see whether or not they are really true and good.” (http://bit.ly/k6S0ZP)

    While Jesus never established a brick and mortar school in the modern sense of the word, he taught his disciples using the same methodology of all rabbinic higher education of his day. (http://bit.ly/k6lMuq). He sought to lead his disciples into liberating truth, telling them ,“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). (http://bit.ly/inAp6G)

    Both Jesus and Socrates sought to accomplish this liberation by means of a highly relational form of education. The Socratic method of instruction necessitated intimate relationships in tight-knit learning community. Socrates and his student, Plato, called their disciples “friends,” precisely because they “wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community.” (http://bit.ly/kHGM7B)

    Jesus’ teaching method was also highly relational. It was centered on the creation of a learning community where master and disciples lived in close proximity to one another and forged a friendship. Like Socrates, he told his students, “I have called you friends” (John 15:13-15). (http://bit.ly/inAp6G)

    In fact, Jesus was the one teacher in human history who could have told his students “Sit down, shut up, and listen, I AM GOD. This makes it even more astonishing that he developed such a dynamic interactive relationship with his students that they felt free to interrupt his “last lecture” with their questions no less than THIRTEEN times. (John 13-16). (Try to imagine most modern teachers doing that?)

    I think that this is what your generation longs for so desperately. As you put so eloquently in your post, “The best teachers in my life create space for me. Their thoughts, their life, their questions, create a new reality for me, which points me to God. They aren’t troubled by my questions because their space can occupy the weight of it. They aren’t troubled by my pain and doubts, because their space can occupy the weight of it. The best teachers in my life have given me more space for God to occupy within me, because, the way God works within theirs, painfully and wonderfully opens its way into me.”

    Yet, as you also put so eloquently, contemporary “education has become a product of consumerism… if our teachers are wrong, then our worth as students comes from believing their wrong beliefs? …In my short life, I don’t learn by being told to consume. I learn from being wrecked by reality. We learn by being present to God, to ourselves and others.”

    Neither Jesus nor Socrates could have said it any better!

    Plus, I think you would be encouraged to know that you are not alone.

    Last week I spent two days at a small gathering of Christian college presidents and academic vice-presidents who were voicing many of the same concerns you are raising. (Plus a few more.) We universally affirmed that our current consumer oriented, indoctrination obsessed, anti-supernaturally biased, and culturally irrelevant approach is failing. Our current way of doing “Christian Education” has done little more than produce a generation of “moralistic, therapeutic deists.”

    We need a movement of schools, churches, and committed to equipping students for personal transformation into the image of Christ, and societal transformation in every realm of culture, through Biblically faithful, spiritually dynamic culturally resonant, and missionally directed higher education. We committed ourselves to work together to write a document that could foster a worldwide conversation toward creating such a revolutionary movement.

    So Mike, I beseech you and your generation not to give up on Christian education, but instead to join us in this conversation (your post is a great start). Without your help and the help of the best in your generation, this conversation is doomed to failure. But if we can pray, and seek the voice of God together, who knows what great and mighty things he might say to us. I believe that the cry of His heart is to grant us new approaches to education that are exceedingly, abundantly above all we could even imagine. Yet, I also believe that this new day will come only if we listen “to his power that is at work within US” together!

    I love you, brother!

    Gary

    PS I know you’ve read it before, but I would encourage you to re-read my series on “The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts.” Although it isn’t the first post in the series, I suggest starting with With Prayer in the School of Christ: The Liberal Arts and the Knowledge of God, (http://bit.ly/inAp6G) since biblical scholar Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed) called it “…one of the best blog posts of the year.”

  5. Theresa Gardner says:

    Love this, Mike!! You wrote some very important things!

  6. do teachers give you the answers or show you how to discover them?

    • mfries05 says:

      I like to think of God as trauma Charlie. When we encounter God, truly, it is beyond words and definitions. Yet, we try to write it down, even though it ever does it justice.

  7. Wow – nicely said! I attended and now teach at a Christian college and often have very similar feelings, and I often also feel like I’m in the minority! I appreciated how you acknowledged the need for mature guidance while still critiquing how it’s done – some people get so frustrated with poor tactics that they walk away completely…

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