I’ve been around education my entire life, nearly 50 years. My father began teaching at a small Bible college in central Indiana when I was not yet 2 years old. He was an educator, professor, and administrator his entire ministry. I grew up on the campus of that Bible college. With the exception of about 2 years off for good behavior, I was in school from 1978 until 2011 when I finished my doctorate. That’s 33 years of school! And, yet, can I tell you that the I didn’t like or do especially well in the first two-thirds of that? I went on to earn 96 hours of graduate studies in Christian education and pastoral ministry plus a doctorate in philosophy. I’ve been in full-time educational administration and leadership for over 20 years. I’ve taught in every level from junior high school up, including overseas as well as to adults in the church. I’ve read countless books and attended numerous seminars on educational method, pedagogy, philosophy, and administration.
I don’t rehearse my pedigree here in order to impress. I mean to first illustrate that I have been significantly shaped by my own background, context, and calling. This is the world to which I was called, for which I have trained, and in which I have been immersed. Now I’ll be the first to say that some parts of that I’m far better at than others! I’ve had plenty of failures and have a whole lot still to learn. But here’s one big thing: knowledge does not equate with success and knowledge, credentials, and vocational success does not necessarily mean a “good life.”
In the previous article in this series, I raise the question as to how we to define “success” and “good” in life? This article continues that conversation.
For me, the starting point both philosophically and biblically is captured in this statement from James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we KNOW but about what we LOVE?” Interestingly, the book is about the link between worship and education.
What if education is not about the information we acquire and retain but about the formation of something deep inside of us? Less of what happens in the head and much more about what happens everywhere else? This idea is in no way unique to James Smith. Many others have written and made similar arguments.
It is simply recognizing a basic principle of human nature: We are what we LOVE.
But this is not even a modern insight. We find Jesus teaching this same message, for instance, in the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18. “Teacher,” the wealthy young man of elite privilege asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the wider context of this story, this is not just a simple question about “going to heaven when I die.” Not spiritual salvation in the way our modern, western, rationalistic view of the gospel has tended to reduce it to. To a 1st century Jew, this idea was about God’s promise that the Messiah would restore the glory of Israel and establish God’s reign over the earth.
Rather, this is a question about the good life, the ultimate life. How can I have the fullness of what God intends for me? That’s really the question. Jesus, ever the teacher, points him first to the 10 commandments. He’s testing his commitment to biblical truth – what he knows, what he believes. The young man has all of this down pat: “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. He’s won the awards. He’s aced the tests. He knows this information.
But something is missing, Jesus tells him, “Go and sell your possessions and give the wealth away, and come follow me.” The student goes away sad. Not because he was missing information, but because, in the end, he loved the wrong thing. This was precisely the issue that Jesus put his finger on right away. It was his heart, you see, not his head, that kept him from having the good life God offered.
You might object, “But, the point of this story is about spiritual salvation and eternity. That doesn’t have anything to do with life and here now. Salvation is important, but we have to be concerned about practical matters such as a career or taking care of our families. This is what school is for!”
Maybe. But Jesus is very directly challenging the premise of the love of wealth and its impact on one’s life. This concern about living a good life here and now is one of the very first things the gospels record Jesus talking about in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus is specifically and directly addressing this matter of our fundamental concerns for daily living. How to provide for yourself and ensure security, prosperity, wellbeing, and opportunity – these are legitimate concerns and the long-term aims of education. But consider what Jesus says about this: So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (31-32). As followers of Christ, we are to think differently. God will provide all of these things. He knows the need and takes care of these needs.
What’s the key? 6:33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“Seek first the kingdom of God.” Seek=desire, look for it, crave it, want it – WE ARE WHAT WE LOVE
Even in Christian education historically, we’ve placed a great deal of emphasis upon the life of the mind. And indeed, Scripture has much to say about our right thinking and beliefs. Paul prayed constantly for his readers to grow in knowledge and spoke in Romans 12 of the essential need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. But the Bible – and the Apostle Paul – understood this in terms of the whole person. Education is primarily concerned with what happens below the head.
WE ARE WHAT WE LOVE.
The definition of success in life is loving the right things in the right order. St. Augustine, the great early church theologian from the 4th century, wrote, “we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously.”
More recently, Thomas Merton, the American Catholic monk, reaching back to Augustine and medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, wrote, “The things we love tell us what we are.” When our LOVES are ordered, our LIVES are ordered. What we are taught to love is what will determine the direction of our lives. Seek first God’s kingdom and everything else will fall into its rightful place. This kind of learning involves heart, mind, and body. We are what we love.
But there’s a sobering reality confronting us. We are in a cultural battle today for the hearts and minds of our kids unlike any we’ve faced in generations. Our culture with its false religion of wokeness, its priests of gender, marriage, and social deconstruction, and its liturgies of Critical Race Theory and Marxist revolution is in steep moral decay. All of our core social structures are under heavy attack with political and media rhetoric used more and more to divide us based on the color of our skin – or our confused preference of gender — rather than the content of our character or the biology of our bodies. These are unprecedented challenges facing our nation and there are few questions we face as the church and as parents more important than this: What will our children learn to love and who will be the ones teaching it to them? Because they will love something and someone will teach them to love it. Who and what?
Consider these statistics: the typical school-age child in an evangelical Christian home spends:
- 1 hour per week in a church service;
- less than 15 minutes per day of conversation with their father;
- more than 8 hours a day interacting with digital media, electronic devices, video games, social media, or watching television.
Of the three voices, which one do you think will have the greater influence over that child?
In a normal school year, this same student will spend at least 35 hours (or more) every week in the school setting. Over 1,200 hours every year. If you add in sports, extracurriculars, trips, social events, and afterschool care, those hours could as much as double. Across the 12 years of a child’s education, that’s over 15,000 hours.
What message about the world and truth is being reinforced in school during all that time? Who is deciding what that student is being taught to love? Church and family? Or media and culture?
Apart from the family, nothing else we do in ministry or in discipleship comes close to this kind of access to our children. Whether it be in the home, with godly public school teachers, or in the Christian school setting, what we do with those hours is crucial if we are going to win the battle for the hearts and minds of our children.
Read Part 1